A beat code which speaks not only to South Africa but to the world at large
Written by Skye Mallac
This last decade has seen Spoek Mathambo establish himself as one of the most proficient and indispensable facets of the multifarious sphere which is South African music culture. His latest album is offered up on a socio-political platter and piled with a generous assortment of vociferous collaborations from all over the globe. This thirteen-track offering is a synonymous marriage of a plethora of genre, a unification statement of sound gathered beneath the broad umbrella of the “Mzanzi Beat Code”.
This is the fifth release from a creative pioneer who has played a significant role in the shaping of the rich and undeniably powerful urban-electro movement which has bridged the gap between township-tech and the masses. The idea behind the release is for the de-exoticism of South Africa’s post-Apartheid history – an ambitious feat at best for the rapper and producer. As a result the album is a rippling melting-pot of influence and heady African hip-hop culture.
Opening track, ‘Want Ur Love’ has been around for a while. A gritty baseline is paired with bubblegum bounce as looped vocals give way to rap verses. Although it is underpinned by an almost indistinguishable, grappling radio-jazz sequence, the centrifugal force remains in the hands of house music, off which a spray of accompanying genres are pivoted. It’s coarse, it’s sexual, and it’s delivered with delightfully polished grit.
Caribbean sunshine is woven into the Soca influences which Mexican vocalist Ceci Bastida lends to ‘Volcan’. Chatter then bleeds into warping melody and township jive, and rural rubs shoulders with Western hybridised sound in ‘The Mountain’.
“Every day that you exist in your body without apologizing is activism.” These poignant, liquid words form the cornerstone and opening of ‘Black Rose’, featuring Damao, Suga Flow and Tamar. A frugal, warping beat finds its feet as vocals swim to the surface, while what could almost be mistaken for electro swing digs its roots ever deeper to settle into a familiar house groove.
‘Blast Fi Mi’ and ‘Landed’ are dominated by infectious kwaito rhythms juxtaposed by baritone vocal stylings and a softly rapped, pillow-y sound – almost indistinguishably off-kilter, quietly urgent, and gentle powerful. Mathambo has musical fingers in a number of pies both locally and globally, and now his sticky fingers pluck strings and leave patterning prints on synth keys.
‘Pula’ is as African-encompassing as you can get and wraps up the offering with a delicious medley of sound. Children’s-choir verses give way to traditional African instrumental melody and wavering female vocals – and Western terms slip in like slang. This is contemporised tradition – it’s an oozing medium which leaps cultural borders and bridges with little thought and effort. This is a beat code which speaks not only to South Africa but to the world at large.