The most striking thing about sitting down with Bongeziwe Mabandla is not his beautiful MaXhosa jersey with geometric lines. It’s not even how serious he is as we discuss his second album, Mangaliso.

It’s that even the word “um,” which punctuates sentences as he searches for the next words to say, sound like he’s humming.

Mabandla is a Xhosa folk singer who has a penchant for production by 340ml members. His critically acclaimed first album, Umlilo, was produced by the dub band’s drummer, Paulo Chibanga. This time, Mangaliso, which was released this year, is produced by its guitarist, Tiago Correia-Paulo.

Mangaliso is way more upbeat than the melancholy of Umlilo and although it deals vastly with themes emanating from spirituality, the album also straddles lines of ambiguity and certainty.

“Um,” Mabandla hums once we’ve settled down at a table in a rectangular courtyard behind a restaurant, “this is the first time I have ever made an album that seemed to revolve around one thing. It’s about shifting, I guess. When I started writing the album, I was going through what you can call a transitional time in my life, I guess.”

“Because I was going through that in real life, it was hard to make music about anything else because that was my real focus. It was a hard decision to make. When you do albums like these, you invite people into very personal sides of you and I worried about that. But it felt like the correct thing to do.”

I probe about this shift and before I am done asking the question, Mabandla laughs.

Then he explains: “No, it’s just that I met someone yesterday who said: ‘hey man, are you Christian now?’ ” He screws his face up in an attempt to embody the person who asked the question. His um becomes a mmmmm and I begin to feel like the probing turns me into one of the people he was hesitant to invite into his personal space through music.

“I feel like the album starts off from a very dark place in my life,” he eventually explains. “And there were times I felt overwhelmed about certain situations. I was worried that people wouldn’t understand that this isn’t necessarily a Christian album or even a traditionally spiritual album. I’m talking in a very universal sense of what God is.”

“I wanted to be inclusive of all spiritual parts. Being a South African, I went to church when I was growing up but I am also attracted to African spirituality, so I wanted to bring that conflict into the album so that you don’t know what kind of spirituality I’m talking about but I am talking about spirituality.”

Mangaliso starts off quite sombre but by the time we get to Bawo Wam featuring Spoek Mathambo, the mood and the yes, spirits, are lifted. The most engaging song to me is Yini, which I describe as the sophisticated, Xhosa version of Mgarimbe’s Sista Bettina.

Mabandla is tickled by this. “Ohhhh,” his shoulders fall inwards in delicious laughter and he says: “I’m glad you picked that up. It was from a very depressed time in my life. There was a sense of regret and a lot of sadness there. The song is about intoxication to numb your pain.”

I ask him what he was sad about.

“I’d say a lot of the sadness and the problems I had stemmed from my career and the non-success of the first album. I would try hard to fill that void.”

Umlilo is definitely one that critics loved and even garnered him a few fans but it wasn’t a commercial success. When I mention that critics and fans loved it, Mabandla says: “I still lost my record deal though… I took it hard.”

Now, he has a new record deal with Universal Music and he still has plans to travel the world with his music. I even tease him about which 340ml member he’s going to task with producing his third album next since he already took two.

“I struggled to find a producer for the new work and then KylaRose Smith (of Freshlyground) was like: ‘why don’t you talk to Tiago?’ It actually made sense and was easy to work with Tiago because he was also around Paulo when we were making the first album,” he nods.

“It felt like a departure but also still like we’re keeping it in the family.”