They’re one of the most formidable names in South African music. They burst onto the scene over 30 years ago and made a huge impact with their music both during Apartheid and today. Now, Mango Groove are back with their first new album in seven years and lead singer Claire Johnston opens up about the record, their hiatus and the future.

‘Faces To The Sun’ is your first album in seven years and South Africa has missed Mango Groove. What took so long?

Life, I guess, got in the way, to some extent. On a personal note, John (founding member of Mango Groove) and I separated and subsequently divorced, and in the same year my mom passed away. It was a very hectic time but all of those events fed into the Faces album and, I believe, gave it more emotional depth. I also like to think we’ve made up for it as ‘Faces to the Sun’ is a double album!

You said that the album started as a solo project for you and evolved into a Mango Groove project. Talk to us a bit about the songwriting process.

You’re quite right! Faces to the sun began as a solo concept album almost 5 years ago titled ‘Sing The Beloved Country’. The idea was for me to pay tribute to some of my favourite South African songs. John and I soon realised that it would make for a very interesting Mango Groove project. Once we were close to completion, John was so inspired that he found himself writing new material and the idea of the double album was born. The first CD is the tribute album and the second the new material.

You’ve worked with some incredible artists on powerful renditions of some of Mzansi’s most-loved songs. How did that idea come together?

We thought that it would be both appropriate and exciting to involve some of our SA music heroes as this would add so much to the initial concept which was all about celebrating and honouring our country’s musical legacy. We were super lucky that we got our wish list of collaborators, all of whom understood and liked what we were doing. It was a joy and honour working with all of them – Zolani Mahola from Freshlyground, Juanita du Plessis, Kurt Darren, Vusi Mahlasela, Rebecca Malope to name but some.

‘From The Get Go’ has been met with a positive response. Why do you think this was the perfect lead and comeback single for Mango Groove?

I think ‘From The Get Go’ was a good choice as it’s very much the Mango Groove sound, which after a seven-year break, is important to re-establish. It’s also a fun summer tune which makes people smile. We really are happy that it’s been so well received. The first time you perform a new song on stage you are genuinely anxious that people will simply stare blankly at you waiting for one they know and love.

You’ve been performing at festivals and shows around the country. How does it feel watching thousands of people who have been affected by your music?

It remains a thrill after all these years. What’s been especially surprising and humbling has been the extent to which we have a whole new audience in people who weren’t even born when our first album came out in 1989.

You have a song in memory of Nelson Mandela on the new album. How did ‘The Road’ come about?

The Road was written around the time of Madiba’s death. When ‘Faces To The Sun’ morphed into a double album, it just felt right to add the track to the collection.

Mango Groove celebrate 31 years in the music industry this year. What is your secret to success?

To a large extent it’s support from the public that keeps us inspired and confident to keep going. We’re so glad that after all these years we are still making music that inspires people.

What does the rest of 2017 hold for the group?

A lot of live shows! We are hoping to get to as many parts of our beautiful country as possible, as well as some international travel as well.

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