Benjamin Lebrave hits up South Africa
I just spent my first week in South Africa. Johannesburg to be specific. I had a very difficult time getting to the music I came for, which would have been very frustrating had it not been for the constant bombardment of great people, sounds and braai.
The music I came for is the music that doesn't end up online, made by artists who are not all that connected to what goes on globally. I find that there are enormous gaps in SA between genres that are very accessible online and others that are quasi-invisible. Music, like people, seems very divided here. Yet within music, just like within society, there are connectors.
One big connector is kasimp3, a site that I highly recommend for anybody interested in South African electronic music. While you're at it check out Tseliso Monaheng’s article about it, on the great Mahala website.
If you read more on Mahala you might come across another great piece, an interview of Cape Town-based producer Jumping Back Slash. Among the many artists I listened to during my stay, I feel JBS is one of the beat-makers who best blends South Africa's many sounds.
Download: Jumping Back Slash, "Midnite Bheng"
"I don't particularly feel connected to any scene per se here or abroad. I'd like to think my music is something that stands alone and has it's own flavor." JBS's music certainly stood out as I skimmed through dozens of pages on soundcloud. Maybe because it mashes together so many influences I love, from classic house and techno to specifically South African sounds, most notably kwaito and house. JBS tells me: "I think my style is to bash all those things together somehow into a slightly coherent whole."
Another inspiration for JBS is gqom, which is by far the biggest revelation for me on this trip. "That's maybe a little hard to define. But I guess [gqom is] a more broken sound, a lot more minimal than normal SA house and rarely four to the floor, it's a raw sound. […] Everyday on my way to work I walk past this group of school kids always banging out gqom stuff on their Blackberrys." To give you an idea of what these kids are rocking, check out these few tracks.
There are all kinds of bands, beat-makers, rappers and singers sprouting in the underground and reinventing what South African music is today. As an outsider in South Africa obsessed with African music, I heard a lot of music that I thought was great, but had nothing distinctly African about it. Like everywhere I've been, Western is often thought to be better, and this reflects in music. JBS sums it up way better than me:
For myself, it's only been in the last year or so that I have picked up traction in this country. Up until that point all the interest and releases I have had have been international. Personally, I think there is a strange reticence to music that sounds like it comes from this country in any way, particularly in regards to that fat crossover audience in the middle of it all.
That said, it is changing slowly, which is good news, but it's sad that people over here don't realize how popular SA music is overseas. There is music made here that doesn't exist and couldn't exist anywhere else on the planet and it often gets overlooked. Also the great EDM machine that's consuming the world is consuming SA too which fucks things up for us that don't want to make midrange electro/dubstep/whatever it is.
Jumping Backslash's new EP just came out on Monday, be sure to cop it here.