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South African musician Spoek Mathambo is taking the country by storm. His collaborative, controversial and often political music expresses feelings and undercurrents traveling through the country, within the ‘safe’ harbor of music. This singer, rapper, producer and DJ has released two CDs, Mshini Wam (‘Bring Me My Machine’) and, more recently, Father Creeper.
His sounds are unique. His music videos are unashamed. His message is strong: African music is having its day. His music is an experience not for the faint of heart: it will take you over, consume you and infest you with its commentary on life and politics.
Johannesburg-based Spoek Mathambo (real name Nthato Mokgata) witnessed the dying era of apartheid, having been born in the 1980s and raised in Soweto, a township in Johannesburg, at a time when apartheid was in full swing. He made his first splash into the music scene with a series of inventive and collaborative projects, such as ‘Playdoe’. Tracks from these projects are not easy listening – they are unique, often jarring, products of the underground South African hip-hop scene.
So how did such an individual, not exactly a crowd-pleasing artist become so well-known? A project which certainly shot Mathambo into the spotlight was his cover of the English rock band Joy Division’s She’s Lost Control, featured on his first album Mshini Wam. Initially debuted by Joy Division in 1978, She’s Lost Control is about a girl having an epileptic seizure. Lead singer Ian Curtis (who also wrote this song) shows audiences the raw emotions associated with having an epileptic seizure – emotions such as paranoia, fear and nervousness.
Mathambo’s cover of She’s Lost Control feeds on the original’s haunting character. Mathambo’s rendition features an eery, low, almost monotone voice murmuring the lyrics of the song to a beat that rises in intensity throughout the song. The rising intensity creates a growing feeling of uncontrollability and hysteria throughout. The beat also has a distinct African flavor. However, Mathambo’s voice and beat composition seems to compliment the character and sound of She’s Lost Control perfectly.
The music video was directed and shot by Pieter Hugo and Michael Cleary and edited by Richard Starkey. Mathambo wears spectacles and a white tuxedo on the music video. The music video sets the scene for the upcoming song: in an initial few moments of silence, a (yet to be identified) worm-like creature crawls across the screen after which scenes from an empty graveyard are shown.
Throughout the song, clips are shown of African people being covered in white paint and having what seems to be epileptic seizures. Towards the end of the music video, Mathambo himself is covered in paint and attacked by a mob of these Africans.
This music video won a Young Director Award at the Cannes International Festival of Creativity and a Gold Award at the Loeries (a prestigious South African award) – certainly not bad for a number from Mathambo’s first album.
This style of African music is definitely ground-breaking. Mathambo calls his style ‘Township Tech.’ His latest album, Father Creeper, released this year, features collaborations between Mathambo and some of his close friends and family. It builds on Mathambo’s Township Tech style and promises to make a splash – just listen to the album’s first single Put Some Red On It.
If you want to be at the forefront of the international music scene, Spoek Mathambo is definitely a name you need to know. But his tracks demand a courageous ear and some hard-core dancing shoes. And, possibly most importantly, his music demands a critical stance.
Image Courtesy of http://www.spoekmathambo.com