THE FADER MAGAZINE MARCH 2008
THE FADER MAGAZINE MARCH 2008
NUMBER 52 MARCH 08 THEFADER.COM
ESAU MWAMWAYA RESHAPES GLOBAL POP
BLK JKS TAKE OVER SOUTH AFRICA
TAKE OVER SOUTH AFRICA BURAKA SOM SISTEMA HIGH PLACES CONGOTRONICS SWEAT.X
NEW LANDSCAPES WORLD POWER
ESAU MWAMWAYA RESHAPES GLOBAL POP
THE INDESTRUCTABLE BEAT OF KWAITO HIPLIFE UNRESTRAINED FASHION IN MOZAMBIQUE
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Fader 52 March 2008 Africa Contents
Kwaw Kese, shot in Accra, Ghana by Carolyn Drake, January 2008.
Authors, artists, gadgets and gadflys
146 Vinyl Archeology
The most crucial looks
148 Mixtape: Musics
Synthesizer Sounds of Western Africa
152 DVDs GEN/F
Buraka Som Sistema
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Fader 52 March 2008 Africa Contents
BLK JKS shot in Johannesburg, South Africa by Mikhael Subotzky, December 2007.
Kwaito Will Never Die
106 BLK JKS
132 Esau Mwamwaya
52 2 0 T H E FA DE R
Uniquely original art from the world’s most original artists.
VICE PRESIDENT & PUBLISHER ANDY COHN FOUNDING PUBLISHERS ROB STONE AND JON COHEN
DIRECTOR, ADVERTISING & BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT MELANIE SAMARASINGHE
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF ALEXANDRA WAGNER
WEST COAST ADVERTISING DIRECTOR PAUL FAMILETTI
CREATIVE DIRECTOR PHIL BICKER
ACCOUNT MANAGERS GRAHAM HETH, DANA KROZEK
DEPUTY EDITOR ERIC DUCKER
ADVERTISING COORDINATOR SUSANA CARDONA
ASSOCIATE EDITOR MATTHEW SCHNIPPER
PUBLICITY DIRECTOR ED JAMES
EDITOR-AT-LARGE, AFRICA ISSUE EDWIN “STATS” HOUGHTON
MARKETING DIRECTOR KAELA LAROSA
ONLINE EDITOR PETER MACIA
MARKETING, MEDIA AND EVENTS JEFF ANDERSON, MARLINA FLETCHER, EVAN FRANK, REBECCA SILVERSTEIN
EDITORIAL ASSISTANT SAM HOCKLEY-SMITH STYLE EDITOR CHIOMA NNADI CONTRIBUTING STYLE EDITOR MOBOLAJI DAWODU FASHION ASSISTANT ERIN HANSEN PHOTOGRAPHY COORDINATOR JOHN FRANCIS PETERS DIRECTOR OF AUDIO & VIDEO CONTENT JOE ANGERONE CONTRIBUTING EDITOR T COLE RACHEL INTERNS SAM DUKE, JAMIE JOHNS WRITERS SARAH BENTLEY, DAVID BEVAN, JACE CLAYTON, RAFAEL COHEN, RANJANI GOPALARATHINAM, SIMON GREENBERG, HELEN JENNINGS, JOHN MCDONNELL, KAT POPIEL, CHRIS RICHARDS, JESSE SERWER, JULIANNE SHEPHERD, BRIAN SHIMKOVITZ, NAT THOMSON, SCOTT WRIGHT PHOTOGRAPHERS/ILLUSTRATORS JULIAN CHATELIN, JEAN-MICHEL CLAJOT, ANDREW DOSUNMU, CAROLYN DRAKE, BEAU GREALY, JAMES HEIL, DOROTHY HONG, KRISANNE JOHNSON, LIZ JOHNSON ARTUR, STEFAN JORA, ANDREW KUO, LEAH NASH, GUY MARTIN, LEONIE PURCHASE, IVOR PRICKETT, MIKHAEL SUBOTZKY CUSTOM FONTS KEVIN DRESSER, PAUL ELLIMAN, JÉRÉMY BÉGEL FADERJAPAN@BLS-ACT.CO.JP BLUES INTERACTIONS, INC. 9-2-16 AKASAKA, MINATO-KU, TOKYO 107-0052 JAPAN EDITORIAL SHIN’ICHI IWAMA ADVERTISING TAKASHIRO TAGUCHI
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ARTWORK BY: NOBUMASA TAKAHASHI 2 2 T H E FA D E R
you make it you
Hurricane Chris photo by Irene Aguilar Photography
Fader 52 March 2008 Africa Contributors
JACE CLAYTON Writer
KRISANNE JOHNSON Photographer
JÉRÉMY BÉGEL Graphic Designer
ALEX WAGNER Editor-In-Chief
Assignment: “Wildin,” page 84
Assignment: “Kwaito Will Never Die,” page 90
Assignment: Map of Africa, page 88
Assignment: Running things
What happened: Audio provocateur DJ /rupture assumed his mildmannered, Harvard-educated Jace Clayton persona to track down Sweat.X front man Spoek Mathambo for us. The South African duo (one white, one black) describe themselves as “both Jewish, half-brothers, and liars,” says Jace. “So on the phone I said ‘Are you Jewish?’ Silence. ‘Am I Jewish?’ ‘Yes. That’s the question.’ ‘You know man, over here you can get killed for asking a question like that!’ Awkward pause. ‘Well, I’m from Brooklyn, we are kinda direct around here!’”
What happened: In her senior year of college, Krisanne Johnson ventured to South Africa to photograph postApartheid youth culture. “Once you go to South Africa, you just want to go back,” says Johnson. Ten years later, she returned to photograph the kwaito scene. Although she was familiar with kwaito, she wasn’t quite prepared for the all night block parties in Alexandra township where neighborhood kids, kwaito musicians and middle aged businessmen dance until the morning before going right back to the office. Her future plans? “Try to get back to Africa as soon as I can.”
What happened: In addition to designing the opening four pages of the features section, Parisian designer Jérémy Bégel lent us his custom font to use as opening letters for each feature. In order to shine a light on the complicated musical landscape of Africa, Bégel undertook a crash course in all things African. “I knew about artists like Amadou et Mariam and Cheb Mami,” he says, “but I made some amazing discoveries while listening to the artists on the map.” Seeking to create a visual that was equal parts functional guide and chic was a learning experience as well. “I admit it,” he says, “I basically learned my geography of Africa by designing this map!”
What happened: When Alex joined the staff four years ago as Managing Editor, she was saddled with unenviable tasks like making us actually turn things in on time and generally getting our shit together. Though she was great at that, she also quickly displayed an unparalleled talent for knowing what among the unending cultural barrage actually mattered the most. (She also totally upped our lunch game.) Since becoming Editor-In-Chief she has steered us towards the meaningful movements and away from the dubious ones, had mind adventures with the likes of Cat Power and Devendra Banhart, filled an entire passport on assignments to countries including China and Iceland and written Pulitzer-worthy drink reviews. As our representative to the physical world she has embodied everything we imagine The FADER to be—insightful, hilarious and a little bit reckless. Though this issue is her last, it captures the daring and unexpected direction she has always pointed us in.
Where else you can see his work: As Jace Clayton: Bidoun, The Wire and Encyclopedia Africana. As DJ /rupture: Tigerbeat6, Soul Jazz and his own Dutty Artz label.
Where else you can see her work: US News and World Report, The New York Times and krisannejohnson.com
Where else can you see his work: jeremy-begel.com
Where else you can see her work: Improving the world as executive director of the human rights organization Not On Our Watch and as curator of the “Get Weird” series at the New Museum.
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Hurricane Chris. How do you Fila?
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With A Tribe Called Quest, Q-Tip revolutionized the way hip-hop sounded, so it’s no surprise that he’s a fan of The Wire, a show that has changed the way we view society and humanity. We talked with Tip about the show’s reflections in his own life as well as its overall impact on television.
wasn’t trying to lean one ideology against the other. It seemed very conservative. It’s very selfderived motivation, instead of thinking for the people. I think when you have that kind of philosophy going on, people start resting more on their survival tactics.
What first drew you to The Wire? The grittiness, the reality, the edge of it—it just seemed really true to life. It takes that edge and that grittiness and completely captures it as it is day to day. Is there a certain character that you were drawn to? I like a lot of the characters. I like Snoop, but I think there is an edginess that is real about all the characters and I think they really bring the show to life well. I think that the dynamics of the characters and the dynamics of the storyline and how there are so many different subplots and stories within one single episode is impressive. Is there any issue that The Wire has tackled that you feel they really brought to the general public’s attention? I think in season four, how they really showed how there is a process to street life and the drug game in terms of how kids are indoctrinated into it at a young age. How does that start, do you think? Part of it comes from feeling that you don’t have any alternatives. You kind of fall into what you are around, and I think if you look at the evolution of the show and the characters themselves, they rise and fall— by default some become top dogs when they were underdogs before. I think that plays into the reality of the game. These kids fall into these things not by choice but by situation. And you feel this is true to real life? I grew up in the ’80s, so it was Reagan, there wasn’t a lot of money, and there wasn’t a lot of opportunity for black folks. There was robbery, drug dealing, there 2 6 T HE FA DE R
"I’M SURE FOR THE AVERAGE PERSON IT SEEMS UNREAL. IT’S JUST AMAZING THAT SOMEBODY HAD THE GUTS TO BE ABLE TO WRITE LIKE THAT AND PUT THAT OUT THERE." was a myriad of things. In Baltimore it’s crazy because usually it’s a reflection on what is going on socio-politically, and I think that, judging from how everything is going, it seems like there definitely wasn’t a lot of opportunity going on. Teachers weren’t really inspired to teach kids in public school. A lot of it seems like it
So you feel The Wire portrays drug dealing in a real way. I think it portrays it in the weirdest most accurate sense. A lot of people, when they think about drugs, they think it’s cut and dry. On the show there’s a whole web that goes into this situation of being a dealer and living that life, and I think The Wire probably more than any other show has put that in front of you. When you think about how many plots and storylines and twists that are going on within this variety of characters, you think it wouldn’t be possible but it is.
R E A D
B E T W E E N
T H E
Do you think there’s been anything like The Wire in terms of the issues it touches? Never. The way that it goes in on the issues, the truth that comes out. It’s very daunting and I’m sure for the average person it seems unreal. It’s just amazing that somebody had the guts to be able to write like that and put that out there.
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L I N E S
Fader 52 March 2008 Africa Letters
NO PROBLEM Hey, Thanks a lot for killing TRUE HIP-HOP just a little more. Peace Jeremy
RESPECT THE SPEX! Hey FADER Folks, As a long time fan of the magazine, I was ecstatic when I saw Keri Hilson and Santogold on the cover of FADER 51. It was so great to see two talented and sassy women on the cover. I also love that you featured photos of Santogold in her glasses. As a bespectacled young woman, I have to respect that. I hope to see more ladies on the cover of the FADER in the future—in the words of your editor, this is the YEAR OF THE WOMAN! Jenny
THERE IS A LIGHT THAT NEVER GOES OUT (IN THE COOKIE AISLE) Hello FADER, In issue 51 it said you are looking for cookie bribes for a Panda Bear hat? I’ll be in Beijing and am planning on seeing the giant pandas there. If they have any panda cookies would that work? Please please please let me get what I want! Thank you Sean
TBA Dear FADER-ites, You really knocked issue 51 out of the park! I loved the background color on the Santogold side. I do have one question though: why haven’t you ever done a feature on Dan Deacon? I think he’d be perfect for your magazine. Thanks! Tim
DOWNLOAD THE LATEST ISSUE OF THE FADER PLUS AN EXCLUSIVE MIX OF MUSIC FEATURED IN THE MAGAZINE, ALL FOR FREE! GRAB A COMPUTER AND GO TO:
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Fader 52 March 2008 Africa Editor’s Letter
I 4. 29 )# 0 , % 3 / 5 , 3 ) . # %
t’s not without reason that the popular image of Africa is outlined in chaos and heartbreak: political upheaval, disease, genocide, corruption and what has seemed like—in the lives of the FADER staff, at least—a continuous march towards an inexorable decline, buffeted only occasionally by good news. This is, of course, a thoroughly incomplete portrait of a continent, a people and the many, many countries and societies that make it up. The last year has shown all of us who make it a point to digest and seek out some New Shit, that Africa—in its multitudinous zigs and zags—is not just the most newsworthy continent in the world right now, but, in many ways, the most culturally influential. Traditional soukous music has threaded its way through indie rock, afrobeat now underlines folk, club music owes as much to kuduro as it does Miami bass. Rarely, however, does anyone acknowledge Africa’s incredibly relevant and totally fucking awesome exports, so we’ve taken it upon ourselves to do just that. We’re not proposing a rainbow at the end of a very dark day—the bleak reality of the carnage on the ground will dismiss anyone’s fantasies—but this issue is something to be taken in hand and perhaps remind the world out there that Africa is a dynamic and complex continent of civilizations and cultures before it is anything else. Here I have to thank contributing editor Edwin “Stats” Houghton for his tireless research in putting together this issue—as well as the feature stories on South African kwaito music and our cover story on soon-to-beyour-favorite band, BLK JKS. We’ve packed the issue front to back with everything from Ghanaian hiplife to the electrifying Esau Mwamwaya to Malian throat singing and fashions from Mozambique. It’s a great set of stories and one we hope you hold onto for a very long time. It is also my very last issue as the Editor-in-Chief of The FADER. For all the exhaustion of trying to find something not only new but also, somehow, impossibly, lasting in this climate of rapid change, I couldn’t be happier or more proud to finish my tenure with this issue. I am lightheaded for all of the things I have seen and heard over the last four years. Thank you for bearing with the bullshit and, most importantly, having the faith to ride for the weird, extraordinary people and songs that have been in this magazine. It is—if you can believe it—only going to get better.
BLK JKS shot by Andrew Dosunmu and styled by Mobolaji Dawodu. Esau Mwamwaya shot by Liz Johnson Artur.
T H E FADER 31
Proving that greatness can travel through generations: Seun Kuti, son of Fela, photographed December 2007, atop his fatherâ€™s Kalakuta Compound in Lagos, Nigeria. PHOTOGRAPHY ANDREW DOSUNMU
NWS PRNT • Katinga MC must drink Drano to have a voice that deep. And thank God for canalangola.net for linking me to his video because winter is better with throaty raps and African club. Though over time I’ve gotten better at research, I’ve never been married to ancient facts and Dewey decimal systems. Canalangola breaks it down much simpler, with infinite links to Angolan music videos categorized by genre. From tinkly zouk froufrou to acid house-y kuduro, it’s the free African version of the Box on the internet. MATTHEW SCHNIPPER
• Twice a year Byron Kalet recruits a trio of bands to record for his Journal of Popular Noise. Big deal, I do that in my basement. But Kalet puts a spin of his own on the recordings. “It was all about finding the pop song structure that served the same purpose as different parts of a magazine,” he says. Translated, that means a magazine’s template is simulated sonically, from table of contents to the stockist list. What results is a musical journal with finely fashioned pages that unfold origami-like to reveal three 45s tucked within a letter pressed poster. ERIN HANSEN
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• Karen Kilimnik is a middle-aged Pennsylvania woman who seems fairly content to do whatever she feels. Here are some things she has done: drawn a leather jacket and fancy hair on a blurry photograph of herself and called it a self portrait as Chrissie Hynde, painted snow and ice onto a brick townhouse with Wite-Out, built a large hut inside a gallery for her paintings, painted a big blue circle, painted the Pink Panther, painted the forest, painted the night. The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago has collected her artistic whims into her first major retrospective, on view through June. Add it to your list. MATTHEW SCHNIPPER
• Damon Albarn’s connection with Tony Allen goes beyond the Good, the Bad & the Queen. Albarn’s Honest Jon’s label released Allen’s Lagos No Shaking in ’06 and, since then, 12-inch reworks from names like Waajeed and Carl Craig have regularly arrived. Lagos Shake collects the highlights on CD, and the organic versions shine brightest. Hypnotic Brass Band’s “Sankofa” was supposed to be a straight cover of Allen’s “Losun,” but, instead, they spiked it with Addis Ababa accents and crafted something else entirely. JESSE SERWER honestjons.com
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HOW TO DANCE IN GUINEA
Translated, the •Dundunba means “dance of the strongmen,” and it happens to be the name of a dance from Guinea. From a frontal stance, the first step is to leap forward and diagonally to the left, while throwing the right
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arm as violently as possible on the same plane in the opposite direction over the head. Next, reverse the step while moving along the perimeter of a circle. For as many hours as possible. The skill and success of the dancer is measured by
how fully one is able to let one’s body turn to putty and flail one’s limbs as if without bones. The Kuku is a dance traditionally performed by women of Guinea while their husbands are out fishing or harvesting
rice. The movements of the dance mirror the movements of the field. Move one foot diagonally forward while bending down from the waist and waving the hands under the knees. Repeat this progression in all four lateral
directions and then twist the arms in a circular motion while slowly rising to a standing position. Raffia pom-poms, if available, are often used to accentuate these movements. SIMON GREENBERG
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WRITING HOME DINAW MENGESTU AND THE BEAUTIFUL THINGS THAT HEAVEN BEARS
PHOTOGRAPHY JULIEN CHATELIN
• Washington, DC is a
square town. To most, it’s only the city where the President lives and where laws are made. To those who reside there though, they know that a vital part of the city is Little Ethiopia. Until he was three years old, Dinaw Mengestu lived in real Ethiopia, then he moved to the Midwest for
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the bulk of his growing up years, and later went on to DC to attend Georgetown. Not far from the apartment he lived in at 17th and U is Logan Circle, where Sepha, the protagonist of Mengestu’s first novel, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, lives and works. Sepha too is an Ethiopian immigrant living in Washington, but unlike Mengestu he has lived in both places many years. DC’s “power and poverty” are now just as routine in his life as Ethiopia’s, which he left to avoid genocide. For Sepha, a lengthy subway
ride to the suburbs becomes a metaphor for loneliness and immigration: “There’s a solitude and isolation that come with knowing that out of everyone you had begun your journey with, only you and the few faces across the aisle are left. That alone seems enough to make a connection, but as it stands, the opposite is always true. The empty space, whether it’s only a few feet or the entire car, becomes impassable.” This blankness shapes both Sepha and the book, a world of weathered routine gnashing with unmeshable foreignness.
“I wanted Sepha’s voice to have a strong, quiet undercurrent of melancholy without becoming overly dramatic,” Mengestu says from France, where he is temporarily living as he begins work on his second novel. “He lives with the emptiness and loneliness of exile every day, and for me that sense of dislocation and loss could only be best expressed through a voice that was restrained, almost muted.” Early in the novel, Sepha accompanies a friend on a drive, and apropos of essentially nothing, he says
he will bear the friend’s poor driving skills as “we had all suffered enough mockery and humiliation to last us well beyond our lifetimes.” Beautiful Things is ultimately carried by that dry panic and inherent calm, large stories told through little movements. MATTHEW SCHNIPPER
METAL MACHINE MUSIC THE HOMEMADE MOTOR OF CONGOTRONICS
Sometime in 2006 •a group of Congolese musicians who for 40 years have been making traditional Bazombo trance music on a soundsystem made of megaphones and car batteries suddenly became darlings in the
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(admittedly tiny) universe that is the alternative festival circuit. Most fools who’ve experienced the likembe and feedback cocktail that is Konono No 1 have some idea of their back story and the role homemade tech
played in the evolution of the style they call tradimoderne. But Konono is only the most famous of a flourishing subculture of tradi-moderne bands playing (and sometimes combining) different ethnic music on outdoor
amplified sets to compete with the traffic and urban noise of suburban Kinshasa. We dipped into the extensive visual archive of Belgium’s Crammed records (where congotronic bands like Kasai Allstars and Sobanza Mimanisa—
literally “orchestra of light”—share the roster with Detroit techno heavy Kevin Saunderson) for some glimpses into the scene. EDWIN “STATS” HOUGHTON
• While some pockets of humanity might still exist where the simple wonders of Forrest Gump or the tragic romance of Titanic are still a mystery, audiences throughout East Africa are experiencing the magic of American moviemaking in record numbers, thanks to the rise of the local video veejay. Part interpreter, part commentator, part shaman, the video veejay not only tells audiences— via a live running audio commentary—what the characters are saying, he or she also breaks down the complicated morality tales hidden within most Hollywood blockbusters. In Uganda popular dubs of western films routinely get traded like fresh mixtapes. T COLE RACHEL
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• Accra’s dozen local radio stations all play slight variations of the same format: gospel in the morning, hiplife all day and night, and highlife randomly thrown in for good measure. The best way to listen is to buy a little radio by the side of the road, dial until something comes through and don’t turn it off until you get on the plane home. Fortunately for the world outside of Ghana, this experience is no longer site-specific because of the newly launched Kwadu.com, an internet radio station streaming channels of hiplife, highlife, gospel and a few other Western genres 24-7. And in case you’re wondering, kwadu means banana. PETER MACIA
©2008 ESPN, Inc.
17northparade.com PHOTOGRAPHY JAN CHIPCHASE (VIDEO VEEJAY). FRANCESCA COCCO/CONTRASTO/REDUX (KWADU.COM).
• Anthropologically minded record collectors will thank Drag City Records for bringing to light some of Mali’s most hard-to-find music. Their Yaala Yaala imprint is the curatorial vision of Jack Carneal, a collector of bootleg cassettes and field recordings from rural Mali. There are currently only three Yaala Yaala releases available; Carneal and co are struggling with complicated Malian music laws and West African cassette pirates to bring even more music to the masses. “I don’t weigh our label with any great cultural responsibility or import,” says Carneal. “We do this for the simplest of reasons: we think this is good music.” T COLE RACHEL
• Of all the legendary studios dotting Kingston’s historical landscape, Randy’s Studio 17 still remains one of the lesserknown production houses in reggae history. Everyone worked there—Marley, Scratch and Bunny Lee among them—and now the selectors over at VP Records have started 17 North Parade, a reissue imprint dedicated to the studio’s diverse output. Spanning the classic dub of Joe Gibbs to the early dancehall of Penthouse Records, the discs also come complete with bonus reissue extras. Old time DJ come back again! SAM DUKE
BACK BY POPULAR DEMAND MELINA TAKES IT TO THE BETA MAX
In the video for Ludacris’ “Shake Your Money Maker,” Pharrell sings the chorus laying on a floor covered in cash. It was director Melina’s breakthrough video, and in her subsequent work—whether it was
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for a solid gold Beyoncé or a platinum Jennifer Lopez—the message was the same, and it looked expensive. Then came Snoop Dogg’s “Sensual Seduction,” Melina’s clip that not only recalled the soul of early ’80s video,
but its low definition looks as well. Made in tribute to Shalamar, Zapp and Prince’s “When Doves Cry,” it’s Snoop’s best period piece since “It’s a Doggy Dogg World.” “He wanted to go further and wear jheri curls,” says Melina of the
star’s enthusiasm for the concept. The camcorder quality of “Sensual Seduction” not only makes for effective YouTubery, but it is also a more accurate reflection on the current state of the music industry than Beyoncé in the
backseat of a Rolls Royce. As Melina admits, “It’s the cheapest video I’ve ever done that I didn’t have to pay for out of my pocket.” ERIC DUCKER
UNHEARD OF SUBLIME FREQUENCIES OPENS A WORLD OF MUSIC
Last year, Sublime •Frequencies, a label run by ex-Sun City Girls member Alan Bishop and filmmaker Hisham Mayet, released an LP by Baamar Salmou, a guitarist from Western Sahara, who with his wife and son, records under the name Group Doueh. The record is familiar, strange, funky and brash, like many of the nearly 40 recordings and five DVDs on the label. Could you speak about the Group Doueh project and how it came about? Hisham Mayet: The Group Doueh project was first realized when Alan and I were on an expedition in Morocco and Algeria in the summer of 2005. Alan was trolling for radio in Essaouria and came across this searing guitar tone that was unlike anything else we had ever heard before. We took that tape all around and asked anyone who might have known who this might be. I decided to go back to the Western Sahara and look for more of this music.
Baamar Salmou of Group Doueh.
I started in Casablanca and worked my way south. I finally arrived at the last outpost in the southern most fringes of the Western Sahara. No one could help. One last attempt was to start asking the shopkeepers and one told me of this studio. Upon my arrival, a man with a baby blue tracksuit answered. I told him what I was looking for and he invited me in. He pulled out his boombox and played the tape. After about 10 seconds, he looked at me with the most ecstatic grin and says, “That’s me!” Suffice to say, it was one of the most glorious moments of my life. So I was able to spend the next week with Baamar Salmou and comb through his cassette archive. I
was the first person to be granted permission to release his music. Is that how these recording situations usually take place, hunting someone down on a hunch? HM: Those situations seem to transpire by sheer will and destiny. On any of these trips, recording these performances is my main focus. It has a lot to do with charm, trust between myself and my subjects, and a determination in believing in what you are doing in some of these remote locations. How do you feel about terms like “world music” and “African music”? Alan Bishop: They dull and oversimplify. Categories
and definitions are the cages everyone seems to buy into. I’m not sure anyone can change the way large corporations, media and academics have been defining music, art and culture, but we do what we can to avoid it ourselves. How does Sublime Frequencies work? AB: I refuse to hire employees and turn it into a “business first” situation. We function like a family or group of friends with similar interests. We love what we do and it will stay that way. How do you see the label fitting in with past “world music” labels like Smithsonian Folkways
“A man with a baby blue tracksuit pulled out his boombox and played the tape. After about 10 seconds, he looks at me with the most ecstatic grin and says, ‘That’s me!’”
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or Nonesuch Explorer? AB: Judging from the conversations I have had with the many who listen to our releases, very few [outsiders] had ever heard anything quite like Group Doueh or many other Sublime Frequencies artists—until we released those records. Original recordings by artists, whether they were pop, rock, folk or whatever, from many places in the developing world between the years 1960-1980 have been completely ignored in the West. Investigating this music from Africa, the Middle East and Asia for the past 25 years, I have discovered for myself that there are unlimited amounts of amazing musical documents in all styles from these areas. At least a minimal amount of international recognition and respect for the previously “unheard by the West” world of sound has resulted from the Sublime Frequencies releases. RAFAEL COHEN
WHAT’S GOIN ON BERKELEY HENDRICKS AND THE BIRTH OF THE COOL
a certain amount •of While fancypants art historical analysis will explain painter Barkley Hendricks’ lauded place in African American Art History (graduate of Yale Fine Arts—BA and graduate degrees, group
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show at the Whitney when he was 26, major solo show at the Studio Museum by the age of 35, etc) the thing that really speaks to us armchair aesthetes is Hendricks’ series of bold portraits from the mid-late ’70s,
a grip of which will be on exhibition beginning this February. I’m not just talking about the nude self-portrait (with Kangol and tube socks!) of a black, male artist painted in an era when Andy Warhol was poncing around with
Liz Taylor lithos and a Brillo box of cocaine, but the sassy, downtown-asfuck portraits of Hendricks’ fellow movers, shakers, neighbors and lovers. This is the black bohemia of the ’70s that birthed the self-determination of the
Panthers and the swagger of Marvin Gaye. ALEX WAGNER
ROBOT ROCK SILVER APPLES RETURN FROM THE STRATOSPHERE
“We found out later that because of our little prank some fairly high executives lost their jobs.” psych-electronic duo Silver Apples showed up for a gig at Manhattan’s Max’s Kansas City, frontman Simeon Coxe and drummer Dan Taylor found themselves greeted by New York City Marshals. Pan Am
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Airlines, who sent the marshals to seize their equipment, was suing the Apples and their label over the cover image on their second album, Contact, released the same year. Though Pan Am allowed the Apples to shoot in the cockpit of an actual passenger jet in return for the free publicity, they were furious when the record was released showing that the band had snuck joints into the cockpit and placed a photograph of plane wreckage on the reverse cover. “We found out later that because of our little prank some fairly high executives lost their
jobs,” says Coxe almost 40 years later. “[After the Max’s incident] we literally went into hiding. Outlaws, like Frank and Jesse James. We hid our equipment in an artist friend’s loft and lived in a dive hotel under assumed names until the smoke cleared. No band can survive that.” In the aftermath, the label folded and, without a home, the Apples split. What did survive the incident was their music— woozy, apocalyptic protoelectro drone tunes that would influence bands from Suicide to Spacemen 3. After witnessing the underground electronic explosion of the past
two decades, Silver Apples reformed in 1997, recording and performing sporadically until 2005, when Taylor passed away. Coxe resurrected the name two years later and released the new “I Don’t Know” 7-inch this past June. “I am addicted to creating new stuff,” he says. “When Danny died, I went into the reels of tapes of him practicing in our studio, both from the ‘60s and from sessions in the late ‘90s, and spent about a year sampling his sounds and patterns. I put together our songs with his sampled drums so I could play on top of them just like we used to do.”
He chalks up their initial split to the confined thinking of the times. “Today, acceptance, even if only out of curiosity, is much more widespread,” he says, “And that makes it more fun to do what I do.” SAM DUKE silverapples.com
IMAGES SILVER APPLES ARCHIVE.
• In 1969, when pioneering
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Sure, I own a t-shirt with emblazoned with Gilbert Arenas’ face, but my new favorite wizard is a spiritual electronic music guru from Houston, Texas. His name is JD Emmanuel, and his superlative
self-(re)-released 1982 album Wizards still bristles with ancient intensity and futuristic wonder. Influenced by Emmanuel’s “extensive background in spiritual and metaphysical studies” and a love for Reich, Riley
and Glass, these blissful analog synth jams should instantly appeal to fans of Eno, Cluster and the music from “Legend of Zelda.” And there’s plenty more electric relaxation available on Emmanuel’s website. Go for the
“Wizards” download, stay for the free meditation advice. CHRIS RICHARDS jdemmanuel.com
*Price and participation may vary. 52 T HE FA D E R
• Inspired by a concentrated splurge of jetsetting—part work, part play—Matina Sukhahuta’s latest collection of jewelry immortalizes her favorite landmarks in glittering shades of silver and gold. Want a chunk of Bondi Beach for on your ring finger? The Chrysler Building for your index? Or maybe just a good old-fashioned English pub for your thumb? “I like the idea of taking something ordinary and making it extraordinary,” says the Thai designer of her line Matina Amanita. Thanks to Sukhahuta, the eighth wonder of the modern world is at your very CHIOMA NNADI fingertips. matinaamanita.com
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• And-i kicked off in 2006 with gawky knitted trousers and a shirt with a mitten-shaped pocket on its back for friendly hugs (and warm pinkies). Two years down the line, the British menswear brand is still dedicated to bespoke detailing, ie, if you’re in a no logo mood, you can unbutton and remove the inside label. But what’s really neat for spring ’08 is and-i’s first stab at shoes—a skinny lace up and a hole-punched brogue. Both simple styles have ultra low heels and come in mellow colors like burgundy, leaf green and pastel grey. Best worn scuffed. HELEN JENNINGS
• Inspired by urban environments and the peculiarities of “redneck style,” Bérangère Claire designed her first collection of button-downs while on vacation in New York. “New York style is so extreme in comparison to Paris,” says Claire. “Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between hipsters and actual rednecks.” Seeing the plaid shirt as “a sort of uniform that goes through the generations,” she highlights simplicity but maintains her singular vision with refreshingly unexpected color ways, snug fitting cuts (for boys and girls) and her trademark deer insignia. “Everyone owns a shirt,” says the French designer, “I just wanted to make mine, the way I like it.” KAT POPIEL berangereclaire.com
PHOTOGRAPHY JOHN FRANCIS PETERS (AND-I, MATINA AMANITA).
• A dayglo print of metalite King Diamond sporting Tibetan death masks is exactly the kind of ironically dark world that designer TJ Cowgill likes to conjure for his new line of tees, Actual Pain. With a cut and sew collaboration for Vanguard under his belt and upcoming pieces with Mexico Citybased designers Santa Muerte and NYC-based Mishka, Cowgill’s offkilter style is in demand, adding a refreshing—and deathly—flair to the often monotonous terrain of streetwear. “I am metal, so Actual Pain is metal,” Cowgill says. Shoes and jackets will be added to his repertoire for fall ’08, a first in metal sophistication.
EYE TO EYE KSUBI TAKES RICHARD NICOLL BACK TO THE FUTURE
• Richard Nicoll (Central
Saint Martins alum, London Fashion Week hot ticket) has teamed up with Ksubi (cheeky tattooed scamps, cult Aussie brand, purveyors of denim with attitude) for a new range
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of sunnies. The small but perfectly constructed eyewear collection consists of three styles: the aggressively scientific Jacob, the super serious Justin and the ever so slightly scary Jason. Each
pair draws its sparse color palette from Nicoll’s spring/ summer ’08 womenswear line (white, silver, grey and crystal clear) and is as uncompromisingly crisp as the designer’s tailoring. “We’re all
interested in pop culture and personal expression over status fashion, so the decision to collaborate with Richard was a nobrainer,” says Ksubi cofounder George Gorrow. “The sunglasses are
inspired by idiosyncratic 1940s futurism with a nod to social misfits.” Max Headroom, get ready. HELEN JENNINGS
STYLING MOBOLAJI DAWODU.
PHOTOGRAPHY ANDREW DOSUNMU
GARMS FOR SALE JME ALREADY KNOWS
STYLE PHOTOGRAPHY DOROTHY HONG
• From hip-hop festivals
What you think I make T-shirts for these stupid ratty girls with no arse. Bit harsh isn’t it? In real life I don’t cuss them, but Skepta does all the time. At first girls wore them thinking they were supporting us. By now they should know they’re bootlegs.
in the Czech Republic to market stalls in rural England, T-shirts baring the slogan Boy Better Know have been popping up on all corners—with a slew of unofficial bootlegs. Brothers JME and Skepta are the MCs behind the movement, one that originally started as a one-off promo stunt in a grime club on the island of Cyprus. From their East London HQ, BBK poster boy JME waxes lyrical about the sartorial viral. When did the whole Boy Better Know thing kick off? Summer 2006. We went to Ayia Napa with 200 shirts to give away for free to ravers, girls, artists to create a party vibe. No one in grime gives anything away for free, we’re all too broke, but it was the best thing we ever did. How did it evolve into a business? When we saw the response in Napa, we came home and started selling them for tenners on eBay. Then we upped the quality with I Wear My Own Garms embroidered badges and better quality fabric—so now
JME stops off in Chinatown, NYC
they retail at 25. I processed the first 600 sales myself. The postman had to leave bundles of recorded delivery stickers so I didn’t hold up the post office queue. Where did the phrase “Boy Better Know” come from? It’s a lyric from back in the day. None of us can remember who said it first. I’d say, Boy Better Know, CEO and Everybody Knows, Boy Better Know. The first track I put it in was “Awor” in summer 2006, and then I used it as the title for the mixtape series. Is Boy Better Know a crew? It’s not a crew ’cos no one’s in it. It’s more an enterprise ’cos it’s our label, mixtapes and tees. Everyone that’s down with what we do reps for Boy Better Know—Wiley,
Skepta, Tinchy Strider, Maximum, Frisko—but they represent rather than belong. How many Boy Better Know tees have you sold? Ten thousand all over the world through MySpace. If you include the bootlegs it would be 30,000. Tell us about the bootleggers. The only official design is Boy Better Know, everything else—Girl Better Know, Girl Better Blow, Girl Better Show—is a bootleg. When I first clocked mans selling the tees on eBay I was angry but then thought, OK, they’re just hustling like me. Then it got out of control with people using my image and saying they had exclusive deals. A girl
modeling a Girl Better Blow hoody on MySpace put me in touch with the main people. I considered working with them but they got rude so I thought, Let them make their money with the bait versions and I’ll beat them by staying two steps ahead. It’s getting as bad as a few years back when you could buy bootleg versions of Wale Adeyemi’s tag beanies and denims at every market in England. It’s crazy though, ’cos we’ve come from grime, whereas [Adeyemi] had David Beckham wearing his gear before the bootlegging took off. On your “Expensive Freestyle” on MySpace you cuss girls wearing Girl Better Blow T-shirts by saying, Girl better know ain’t in my class/
“No one in grime gives anything away for free, we’re all too broke, but it was the best thing we ever did.” 5 8 T H E FA D E R
Why have the shirts caught on? I designed them based on what I’d like to wear. I guess also it’s because they’re really British, especially now that we’ve added the I Wear My Own Garms badges. Most streetwear is very hip-hop influenced. These are fresh ’cos they represent grime. Are we going to see any more catch phrases immortalized on chests? Maybe, but I wouldn’t do Shut Yuh Mut ’cos I won’t promote anything aggressive. The thing with Boy Better Know is you can wear it to a club, for a date. If my mum couldn’t wear it, I wouldn’t make it. SARAH BENTLEY
THE CRAFT KLOSET IS THE NEW WARDROBE
a stuffy school uniform to set Mallika Ruangkritya’s primal fashion instincts in motion. “Hairclips and headbands were the only way to modify my look,” says the designer. Growing
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up between Thailand and Europe, Ruangkritya carried a love of all things crafty with her, and on returning to Bangkok, started the line Kloset. “Most Thai brands are either extremely traditional or western,” she
says. Pleated bolero jackets, custom floral prints and shirt dresses with gauzy paneling are all pieces in the current collection that mesh the look of traditional Thai handcrafting with more contemporary techniques.
Now six years and two boutiques deep, she’s ironed out some of the early cutesy tendencies (“Looking back, the line was maybe too sweet,” she admits), confidently toeing the line between whimsical and
worldly for her US debut. “It used to be the girl-next-door, playing with dolls,” she says. “She’s still cute now, just a little more adventurous.” CHIOMA NNADI
• It took little more than
STYLING MOBOLAJI DAWODU.
PHOTOGRAPHY ANDREW DOSUNMU
STYLE • Japanese textile and clothing line minä perhonen make delicately constructed textiles of day-to-day images (cats, clouds, licorice). Custom fabrics with names like Neighborhood, Flowerbed and Fogland reveal a storyboard of fantasy landscapes mapped out with everything from colorful marker pens to hand-embroidered yarn. “There’s lots of contrast between the colors, textures and patterns we use,” says Yuko Mori of Mina Perhonen. “But when you look at the entire collection—the composition as a whole—all the pieces connect together quite perfectly.” ERIN HANSEN
•Like two newborn kitties frolicking in a flowery field, this spring collaboration between two spankingly new brands is good vibes and promising futures all around. The two brands, Public School (they of tailored street sensibility) and Rkives (Sean Ziran’s newly minted bag atelier), met at the drawing board to create a two-item collabo with the stated undertone of “perfection in imperfection,” say PS’s Maxwell Osborne and Dao-Yi Chow. “Both bags were designed with big city attitude in their blood.” Produced in a limited quantity of 15 totes and 15 duffles, this spring will be a season to remember for two on the cusp. NAT THOMSON
Available at Fred Segal, LA.
6 2 T HE FA DE R
• Hotshot UK designer Jonathan Saunders has taken a swipe—in blood red, sunshine yellow and mocha—across his eponymous new line of hybrid women’s shoes by Gola. A brand that’s better known to those who recognize “soccer” as “football,” the Gola/Saunders collabo comes through with cool, preppie, ultra-British shapes (oxfords, flats, spectators) that mix suede, canvas and patent leather. Perfect for those of us who fancy a walk in the park, but start on the subway.
PHOTGRAPHY JOHN FRANCIS PETERS (KANGOL, PUBLIC SCHOOL).
• Soaring temperatures, droughts, massive coastal flooding—it’s fair to say global warming is not much fun or remotely fashion-friendly. The more practical-minded among you will note that as the Earth burns, good headwear will become very necessary, and, being stylish sorts, you’ll want to create your own shade without looking too shady. Step forward Kangol with a range of lightweight, multicoloured sun hats. Climate control features include an extra long peak to shield your face and a roll-up/down Lawrence of Arabia cloth to protect your neck. SCOTT WRIGHT
SQUARE BY DESIGN IOANNIS DIMITROUSIS GIVES FASHION A SHAPE UP
Dimitrousis harbors a secret obsession with geometry. “Squares, triangles, pentangles—out of geometric shapes I can make my clothing,” he says. “And it’s not just
6 4 T HE FA DE R
the prints, it’s in the very silhouette of each design.” The fascination manifests itself in his entire spring ’08 collection, from the tiniest crocheted square in a silk dress to the hexagonal shoulder pads on a men’s
jacket—a piece that happens to be structurally akin to Mongolian armor. The Central Saint Martins graduate happily indulged himself in the mathematical delights of art deco for his fourth collection (trompe
l’oeil tiling!), as well as Chinese architecture. Lest the cold rationality of mathematics play too much into the design, Dimitrousis has his mother hand-crochet almost half of the collection using
locally sourced Greek silk yarn, ensuring that a labor of love is embedded into the very fabric of his designs. CHIOMA NNADI ioannisdimitrousis.com
• Greek designer Ioannis
STYLING MOBOLAJI DAWODU.
PHOTOGRAPHY ANDREW DOSUNMU
DIVINE INTERVENTION WORSHIP WORTHY SPREADS THE GOOD WORD
STYLE PHOTOGRAPHY DOROTHY HONG
• For the past year or so,
the women of Worship Worthy have been clearing out a corner of the streetwear blogosphere, creating a site that is entirely by-the-ladies-forthe-ladies. Operating under the pseudonyms Saint Agnes, Mary Madaglene and Santa Maria, the trinity is comprised of two fashion designers ( Jennifer Wannarachue and Gabriela Lardizabal) and marketing exec Grace Santa Maria. Between them they transmit pearls of sartorial wisdom over the internet— as well as art tidbits and event news—via what’s commonly known as “Our Daily Bread.” Down at their offices, Saint Agnes and Mary Madaglene gave the good word. Why did you decide to adopt fake names? St A: We wanted to be anonymous mostly because of what we call the “Hail Mary” list, a list that spotlights female trendsetters in New York. It’s essentially more about giving props than anything else, but you never know how people
The women of Worship Worthy at their space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
are going to react. Then maybe six months in, we realized that in order to grow the business we needed to use our allies. Lots of our friends didn’t know it was us. What was the reaction? St A: Most people were really flattered. Before girls were writing in thanking us and asking, “Who are you, mysterious women?” But now that we’ve revealed our identity I feel it has become a little more political. MM: It really isn’t a popularity contest. It isn’t about who you know, where you’ve been hanging out, or what outfit you’ve been wearing. It’s about your contributions to your industry or your artistic expression.
What does a girl have to do to be worship worthy? St A: We spotlight women that are pioneers in their field or doing jobs we admire. It’s inspiration for younger girls that come on the website and say, “Wow, these girls are really doing things, that’s what I wanna do.” MM: And that it’s also about showing that it’s possible to have a successful life doing nontraditional things. St A: Part of the reason that we started this is because there are so many blogs for guys, and it’s just guys jocking other guys. New York is such a competitive place that many women try to keep what they are doing to themselves. So it’s important for me to put positive vibes out there
for other women, like, look, we can do this and not be catty. Just trying to change the way women work together or don’t work together in New York City. Before Worship there wasn’t really a platform to talk about what was going on with cool chicks. We have male readers out there too. We don’t have the same content as Hypebeast, but we are the female version of them as far as what’s going on with new art openings, book signings, brands.
How has the scene changed since you moved to New York? St A: We grew up in the decade right before blogs, before young people’s lives revolved around fast fashion, global
“Who are you, mysterious women?” 6 6 T H E FA D E R
communication and news sharing. Things were slower, a brew took a little longer to stew. So it’s actually been a challenge for us to do Worship Worthy. Five years ago, we were the cool kids going out every single night. Priorities change, and now we have to make more of an effort to stay in the loop, even though it may not be as important to us. That’s actually Worship Worthy in a nutshell, we want it to have a different voice, a more experienced voice. An old school way of thinking in comparison to what is going on today. MM: These days, if you want it, you can get it really fast. St A: Back then it was a lot more fun finding out about parties through friends that you met, through people you worked with. It was more word of mouth—there were no e-blasts. MM: And pray to God you knew someone in PR that would tell you where all the industry parties were. That was insider information— now anybody can go to a party. CHIOMA NNADI
©2007 Colgate-Palmolive Company
HYPER LINKS CHRIS HABANA BRINGS HOME THE BLACK LIGHT
A self-proclaimed “natural illustrator,” Chris Habana’s fantastical explorations have marched across elaborate textiles and womenswear, but 2008 finds him expanding his
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repertoire of audacious baubles. For his spring jewelry line, Habana has paired darker bits of earlier collections (skulls, teeth, hair) with eye-popping neons, oversized silhouettes and
lanyards to evoke the hyper, right-now energy that dominated ’90s club culture. “I was a raver,” he admits. Nowadays, he’s making further inroads by casting his own forms instead of recombining
found objects. Espousing an early ’80s love affair with artists like Basquiat, Keith Haring and Bernard Wilhelm, we know the blueprints for a new wave of radical objects to party in are currently
percolating in Habana’s mind. RANJANI GOPALARATHINAM
STYLING CHIOMA NNADI. MODEL RYAN SCAILS. RYAN WEARS JEANS BY H&M.
PHOTOGRAPHY DOROTHY HONG
“WE’RE VERY PROUD TO COME ‘FROM THE OUTSIDE.’”
GENF NEW WEIRD AFRICA THE MYSTICAL YIP OF TARTIT
Tartit at a youth hostle in Liège, Belgium.
hat I mostly remember of Tartit is their pastel kaftans. I saw them five years ago on the National Mall in DC, and while apparently the men in the group danced with swords, I don’t remember that. Instead I recall the trilling of five seated women with swaying torsos. This is no slight to the non-choral/nonfemale members of the group, but simply a testament to the weird incanting power of Tartit’s mystical yip. “Our music is really traditional,” says Tartit leader Fadimata Walett Ourmar through a translator. Though he is speaking of Malian Tuareg musical traditions, it is still difficult to believe that their rhythms could be anything but universally odd. From their 2006 album Abacabok, “Houmessia” is the song that congeals best, replete with an electric guitar solo. The bitter twang of North African blues is immediately identifiable as Malian and evokes their acclaimed peers Tinariwen, for whom Ourmar has a “special fondness,” though Tartit could never be anything but Tinariwen’s bizarre foil. Thirty seconds into “Eha Ehenia” from Abacabok someone coughs, then continues to do so (muffled) throughout the song’s next four minutes. It’s peculiar, both that it happened, and that they decided to include it on the record. Tartit has a cadenced found-soundness that is more in tune with an avant garde underground than All Things Considered-style world music. But, says Ourmar, “Every music is world music!” Though some of Tartit’s members are not professional musicians, about half of the group is. Their origins are fuzzy in prior press, some saying that they met in refugee camps, but Ourmar corrects this. “We knew each other before,” he says. “We met a Belgian woman who asked us if there was a group of Tuareg women playing music. We said, ‘No, but let’s give it a try.’” This combination of Making the Band and desert music evolved into a diverse merging of Malian styles. “We’re very proud to come ‘from the outside’ and be the ambassadors of our culture,” says Ourmar. And while in some ways they are clearly ambassadors—releasing music on the Belgian label Crammed that may not otherwise be heard outside of Mali—Tartit truly exists in a culture of nebulousness. There is no definitiveness to relay. “You know, for us Tuaregs, the future is in the hands of God,” Ourmar says, and without any other Earthly guide, that loose spirituality will continue in their music. MATTHEW SCHNIPPER myspace.com/tartit
PHOTOGRAPHY JEAN-MICHEL CLAJOT
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T H E FADER 7 1
“TO MAKE MUSIC THAT IS BASS-DRIVEN IS HEAVEN TO ME.”
GENF GET PHYSICAL T2 AND BASSLINE PUNCH IN
2 came up in Leeds—a high crime kinda town where schools send bad seeds to boxing class to work out their anger issues before they become institutional drains, or worse. So before he became the go-to guy for the ass-damaging, post-grime UK dance music called bassline house, T2 was a teen welterweight with a nasty left hook. “I boxed from when I was about 14 ’til about 17. It was not to be my career—I love music too much— but I pack a punch,” says the now 19-year-old. Though T2 is no knuckle-dragging alpha dude, he credits his boxing days for giving him the focus to become the producer/DJ he is today. “Boxing brings you a peace of mind,” he says. “Getting stronger made me start thinking properly and gave me great mental stamina.” Bassline’s low-end pulse has vibrated off North England’s walls for seven or so years—reverberating in Sheffield’s Niche Club around the time that a 12-year-old T2 started making music. It was a sound birthed in, and confined to, places like Sheffield and Leeds where, lacking London’s network of pirate radio channels, the music is more commonly circulated the old fashioned way via DJs and in clubs. And since Londoners commonly view North England as the problem stepchild they don’t discuss, bassline’s heavy, garage-y chunes never really broke out of the region’s club circuit. That is, until T2 came with what he describes as “the missing link”—the essential dance banger “Heartbroken,” a twittering
firestarter whose tragic, babylike soul vox and zigzaggy hunk of sub-bass appease both the emotional heart and the bouncing badonkadonk (a trick harder than it sounds). Recruiting Jodie Aysha, an angel-voiced old friend, to sing the hook over his oscillating, hip-hop/garage-informed punch and pulse, the single updates the soulful 2-step formula of the early-oughties with R&B vocals over a distinctly dirty, 4/4 whomp. Coming off the surprise British chart success and interminability of “Heartbroken,” T2 signed to dance imprint Powerhouse/NV, where he’s developing the R&B duo Addictive and working on more layered, wobbly tracks, like “My Baby’s Song” and the Tamzin-featuring “Wot Can I Do.” T2 hinges all his work on hummable melody, but it’s the boom that defines his beats. “Bass has always been an obsession. Since I was a kid I loved it, so to actually get to make music that is bass-driven is heaven to me,” he says. “I’ve always craved it. It’s what gets me up in the morning.” Well, that and a stringent workout regime, which explains why he’s pumping iron in the “Heartbroken” video. “Wake up, eat, go to the gym, eat again, go home, go to the studio, eat again. That’s my routine,” he says. “When you do music, what can you do, really, besides keep to yourself, stay out of trouble and do it?”
T2 shooting a video in South London.
PHOTOGRAPHY LEONIE PURCHASE 72 T H E FA D E R
Get in touch with your dark side. YourOtherYou.com Prototype shown with optional equip’t. ©2007 Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.
“I’M STOKED TO GO ON KRS. THEY GIVE US HOODIES.”
GENF COOLEY HIGH HARMONY THAO NGUYEN’S BAG OF DELIGHTS
here are a lot of cutesy press releaseish factoids about Thao Nguyen: she identifies with late ’80s sitcom characters Denise Huxtable, Zach Morris and Uncle Jesse; she is a “borderline vegan” who fucks with brie cheese; her Vietnamese parents listened to Lionel Ritchie and Yanni while she was growing up. Yar lol etc…but Nguyen’s music doesn’t really need to be quirkified—or, for that matter, obscured behind a scrim of irony just because it happens to be one hundred percent pop loveliness. A veteran of the Northern Virginia coffee house/open mic circuit during high school, Nguyen has been peddling her wares—sunny day melodies with slyly dark lyrics—for a couple years now, and late January saw the release of her first proper album, We Brave Bee Stings and All, on a proper label (Kill Rock Stars). For the record, Nguyen isn’t bothered by the fact that she had no idea what KRS even was when founder Slim Moon first approached her about management (which is, uh, awesome?), and instead maintains a peppery optimism about all the proceedings. “I’m stoked to go on KRS,” she says. “And plus they give us hoodies.” Bee Stings’ opening track, “Beat (Health, Life and Fire)” has a marching, proclamatory thump and Nguyen’s cloudy, saucy voice sounds like a less cathartic Chan Marshall, full of shiny penny charm. “Bag of Hammers,” the first single, trucks along with smiling
strings and Nguyen’s beatboxing (more Bobby McFerrin than Rahzel) while she sings As sharp as I sting/ As sharp as I sing/ It still soothes you/ Doesn’t it? This is music for picking yourself up by the bootstraps, ending a gloomy weekend/relationship, thinking better about your enemies—the stuff of instant charmed karma. Unsurprisingly, Nguyen has already opened up stadiums for the Indigo Girls, toured with personal hero/Nonesuch star Laura Veirs, and, as she notes, “signed a boobie in London!” When we speak, she is in San Fran for a few weeks, staying with friends who brew homemade pomegranate kombucha and preparing for a life on the road. This spring will see Nguyen in Paris and Arlington and a bunch of other places in between, as she blithely hopscotches her way down a path all the lovelier for having seen her footprints.
Thao Nguyen on her friend’s porch in San Francisco, CA.
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PHOTOGRAPHY STEFAN JORA
74 T H E FA D E R
“WE JUST LOOK WAY COOLER WITH THE WIND BLOWING THROUGH OUR HAIR.”
GENF HAPPY TOGETHER WHAT HIGH PLACES FOUND
igh Places began as a long distance relationship. After Brooklyn’s Robert Barber and Kalamazoo’s Mary Pearson befriended each other as touring solo artists, they began mailing each other incomplete musical ideas for the other to finish, the collaborative result always more gratifying than the original. “If Mary’s involved with it, I can enjoy it a lot more because there is this other person that makes me step outside of my brain,” says Barber. “I have all of these recordings, but without her in the mix, they feel like something’s missing.” Listening to High Places is like an epic white water rafting trip with Gang Gang Dance or cliff jumping with Jesus. The duo has blended a sonic smoothie of Pearson’s lithe vocals, Barber’s thick collage of rhythms and the Earth’s natural sounds—oddball ingredients that dart and nose-dive in directions nearly impossible for the ear to follow. Each song is fuel for barefooted spazzery or guiltless navel-gazing, the cosmic byproduct of two weirdos finding each other. Although their intensely DIY stance has found them at plenty of basement and loft shows, Barber and Pearson believe the band is best suited for playing outdoors. “We just look way cooler with the wind blowing through our hair,” says Pearson. “Yeah, in shorts,” adds Barber. High Place’s outlandish soundsystem of gnarly knobs and weird
frequencies has become somewhat of a nightmare for sound guys and girls, with only the less controlling ones willing to let the duo make their ruckus the way they want to make it. “In a lot of ways, you can hide behind that,” says Barber. “It’s almost like when you have a guitar and you’re playing clean, you have to be more precise. But if you have a ton of distortion, you can windmill it and play behind your head.” Since Pearson moved to Brooklyn nearly two years ago to further the duo’s creative (and platonic!) partnership, High Places have been playing and writing without much rest. Between recording a series of split 7-inches with and for their friends, compiling tracks for a full length and touring the far reaches of the country, they are almost always with each other. “But at the same time we’ll miss each other super bad when we’re not together,” admits Barber. “It’s weird, we’re creepy.” DAVID BEVAN
High Places in their practice space in Brooklyn, NY.
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“THERE IS NOTHING ELSE IN THE WORLD LIKE KUDURO.”
GENF THE MOTHERSHIP CONNECTION BURAKA SOM SISTEMA AND THE AFRO-EUROKUDURO CONTINUUM
o matter who plays London’s Fabric, the club always seems filled with huggedup/drugged-up teenage drum & bass ravers and tourists in search of the fabled speakers underneath the dancefloor. But last summer when Buraka Som Sistema played Switch and Sinden’s Get Familiar night, it was worth dealing with such insalubrious obstacles. Halfway through their set, BSS made the entire crowd sit on the ground, then they unleashed an elephantine drum roll that propelled everyone to their feet as they launched into the next track. It was one of the most jaw-droppingly effusive club moments I’ve experienced. Lisbon-based trio Buraka Som Sistema make kuduro music, but their particular strain has been mutated by their relationship with the past and present of Europe’s dance music. Kuduro began in Luanda, Angola’s capital city, as far back as the late ’80s, when African producers trying to make techno and house invented something entirely new. They sampled traditional carnival music like zouk from the Caribbean, as well as semba and kilapanga from Angola, arranging the sounds around a basic 4/4 kick drum. Soon MCs were rapping over the beats and its popularity spread. Kuduro arrived almost immediately in Portugal via Angolan immigrants and eventually made it to the ears of local DJ and producer Lil John. “There is nothing else in the world like kuduro,” he
says. “If you go to an African club in Lisbon it always ends in kuduro.” Along with DJ Riot (an old production partner), Lil John got together with Conductor, an Angolan producer and MC. As Buraka Som Sistema they combined kuduro with some more contemporary influences. “Drum & bass was really big in Lisbon in ’96 or ’97, and we loved that. Now we love dubstep,” says Lil John. Although the sounds of urban London echo throughout their recent Buraka to the World EP, BSS’s breakout single “Yah!” (set to be re-released on Modular Records) recalls the bleepy techno of LFO as much as anything else. At times it seems that BSS has made good on kuduro’s original techno reproduction dreams, even if they’ve possibly done it by accident. Buraka Som Sistema’s style pasticherie has lead to everything from tours with MIA to remixes of current dubstep anthems like Rusko’s “Cockney Thug.” It’s also being heard in both the super clubs of Europe and the streets of Luanda. “We went to Angola four weeks ago and we loved it,” says Lil John. “They knew us on the streets probably more than they do in Lisbon. It was totally crazy.” JOHN MCDONNELL
Buraka Som Sistema on their UK tour in Birmingham’s Custard Factory.
PHOTOGRAPHY GUY MARTIN
78 T H E FA D E R
“Come March 18, 2008, Dan Bejar will return to re-blow your mind.” -Paste Magazine
“MY ESSENCE IS IN ALL OF THIS.”
GENF QUEEN VALET IS PORTLAND’S STREET DREAM
n a converted Portland warehouse called the Oak Street, Honey Owens lives in a loft with her cats Casper and Tiger and her boyfriend Adam Forkner, who makes music as White Rainbow. Below them is Adrian Orange, creating quavering folk, and under him is the office of his label, Marriage Records. Owens has been in Portland for 11 years, doing what you do in the Northwest: starting lots of bands and playing in everyone else’s. She’s cleared rooms with the outer-orbit rock experimentalists JackieO Motherfucker, co-run a CD-R label with Forkner called Yarnlazer and co-owned bars. The whole time she’s been making psychedelic, reverby shoegaze free jazz under the name Valet, and will release her most recent album Naked Acid on Kranky. “This whole record is this kind of ‘I live in the Northwest but what would happen if I was ancient and I lived here and went through time and was psychic’ thing,” she says. Like a fever dream, Naked Acid weaves through your brain until it ends and you’re left trying to figure out what you just heard and why you can’t remember any of it. Then you want to listen again. It’s so fluid that it’s almost like it doesn’t exist. Though Naked Acid is loosely a concept album based on Owens’ perception of Portland, it is also about her idea of the original woman, as well as her dreams about Casper and Tiger. The whole thing sounds
pretty fucking alien, but it’s also her most accessible album yet. “It’s like when you look in a mirror and you’re like, Oh I’m not very good looking,” Owens says. “You spend your whole life trying to get away from that first thing, trying to become something else, then all of a sudden you make something you really like, and you pull up the first thing you made and you are like, Whoa, it’s the same thing. My essence is in all of this.” Unintelligible words—vowels and consonants fractured and tonal—flit in and out of the songs, making the music sound like the perma-grey top left corner of this country, as occasional bursts of bright hot desert heat punch through in clipped guitar strains. It’s an album for anywhere, but Owens makes it about Portland, because ultimately she and it are the same.
Valet at the Oak Street in Portland, OR.
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“NOISE DOESN’T HAVE TO MAKE YOU WANT TO HURT YOURSELF.”
GENF NU NOISE FUCK BUTTONS WON’T DO YOU ANY HARM
uck Buttons’ “Bright Tomorrow” begins with the incessant hammer of a mechanized bass drum. From there, sheets of static and melody build methodically over the beat, threatening to punish, but never causing any pain. But just when it seems like the beast is powering down, the song transforms into a gauzy freak out of mangled threats and circuitry climbing down your throat. Then it’s gone. And all that’s left is that same bass drum thud and you, staring stupidly at the back wall of your mind. Fuck Buttons performances are infamous for improvised screaming into plastic toy microphones and bruising decibel levels, and when talking to childhood skate buds Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power, they come off more like adolescents with nothing to prove than masters of dynamic sound collages. “There’s never been a point, really,” says Hung. “We’ve just literally played with anything we wanted.” When Hung and Power formed Fuck Buttons in 2004 while attending art school in Bristol, they just wanted to make full-on abrasive noise. After their initial gigs were greeted less than ecstatically (they literally had the plug pulled on them during their second show), their songs began to change into a woozier brew. The hymn-like keyboard melodies and tribal programming help soften the blow of an alienating genre, making it
nearly accessible. “It’s nice to really hurt people’s ears, but I guess we grew bored of that kind of thing,” says Power. “Noise doesn’t have to make you want to hurt yourself. It can be nice. It can be joyful.” Along with pending world tour plans, Fuck Buttons has also signed with the label arm of festival gurus All Tomorrow’s Parties, who will release their debut album, Street Horrrsing. Recorded with Mogwai’s John Cummings and Part Chimp’s Tim Cedar, the 25-year-olds insist there is no grand statement behind all the racket. “One thing I’ve learned about approaching work is to not intellectualize it during the process,” Hung says. “When we’re playing and when we’re making music, it’s literally what we feel is right. We’re doing exactly what we want to do.” Well, obviously. It’s hard to imagine anyone would have told them to name the band Fuck Buttons. SAM DUKE
Fuck Buttons at Candid Cafe in Angel, London.
PHOTOGRAPHY IVOR PRICKETT
8 2 T H E FA D E R
“I’M LIKE A SLAVE TO MY OWN SEXUALITY.”
GENF WILDIN SWEAT.X’S COOCHIE CLASH (NOW IN HYPER-COLOR!)
poek Mathambo is a slippery postApartheid glam-rap prince from Soweto who is descended from distant African royalty, or Jewish, or both. In addition to our online communications trail, I have two weeks’ worth of phone bills—a Paris mobile, a London office number, some digits that connect to a voice speaking Arabic—to prove how hard it is to catch up to him. Mathambo wasn’t always so busy. “As a teenager I was fucking up with the girls!” he says. “Then I hit this bridge where I started getting mad girls and started getting busier and busier. Now I’m like a slave to my own sexuality and that development is bang with the music.” Making smart, dirty, overwhelming music— and fucking—is just part of Mathambo’s Sweat.X project with Markus Wormstorm, a white South African he met when they were both actors in a short film. Ebonyivorytron isn’t simply the title of their first EP, it’s also a mission statement that has struck a chord across Africa’s bottom. Now-thing young designers from Capetown and beyond have stepped in to help realize Sweat.X’s wildstyle afrofuturist vision where tailored neon dashikis and cyclops shades jostle with culturally complicated robot minstrel outfits. Wormstorm spent years on IDM productions and Mathambo started rapping when he was nine, but when Sweat.X was born two years back, they spiked their styles
with what Mathambo calls “a speeded-up idea of what that deep heavy funk could be.” That funk is kwaito, South Africa’s hugely popular, blinged-out, slowed-down house. Cop Sweat.X’s free Nuflex Cowabunga Sex Mix online and you’ll realize that, no, it doesn’t sound anything like kwaito, but it’s guaranteed to burn down any house party. When asked about his favorite performance, Mathambo replies, “A hyper-glamorous show in France.” Then he explains, “My memory of it is skewed because the photography that came out of it was so beautiful. It’s kind of a tainted memory because it looks so fuckin’ glamorous!” Replay that show through digital visions on a computer screen and Sweat.X are easily the most colorful kids in the room. Zoom in: Wormstorm stabs buttons to unleash throbbing nu rave electro that switches up every few bars. Pan left: Mathambo raps about “bulimic bitches wasting my money” and skipping “from Soweto to the mall to the Louvre.” Pullout widescreen: the camera captures girls everywhere and a smiling black man in a dapper suit and sunglasses, the gold chain gracing his neck flagrantly brass. Pre-recorded deadpan chants from Sweat.X conspirator Wendy House tell a compliant audience: Go black, go low, go fast/ Go pussy, go titties, go ass! It’s hard to disobey. African coochie pop redefines Eurochic. JACE CLAYTON
Spoek and friend in Newtown, Johannesburg.
PHOTOGRAPHY KRISANNE JOHNSON
8 4 T H E FA D E R
The International Rescue Committee has been aiding and rescuing refugees from conflict areas for 75 years. Help at theIRC.org FROM HARM TO HOME
We flew to Ghana, walked the streets of South Africa, dressed up in Mozambique. We emailed Mali, called France and made contacts in Portugal. We asked Dutchmen about Ethiopia and went to Brooklyn to get Nigerian records. Africa is bigger than its borders and its culture is global.
DES IG N & T YPO G R APH Y JÉR ÉMEY BÉG EL
As Johannesburg steps onto the world stage, the indestructible beat of kwaito competes with foreign sounds for the city’s soul
KWAITO WILL NEVER DIE
STORY EDWIN “STATS” HOUGHTON PHOTOGRAPHY KRISANNE JOHNSON
tep off a plane into a lounge full of artsy types in Johannesburg’s Melville district and ask them what Jo’burg is really about and they’ll tell you straight out: Kwaito is dead. Next they’ll start listing their favorite kwaito songs, snap your picture, ask you where you got your jacket, buy you a drink and before you know it you’ll be debating the relative merits of photography versus music as a medium of expression. Shortly after that, a drunk choreographer from Soweto will be breathing whisky in your ear, telling you that Mandela sold the country out and black South Africans need to get together and run all the whites out, just like dictator Robert Mugabe did in neighboring Zimbabwe. “Mugabe did it in a really dumb way…” conﬁdes dude, with a look that says you get it, you’re from New York. “We need to do it the smart way.” Drive around Soweto on a Saturday night looking for spots and you might start to believe them—at least about the kwaito thing. Such a mission means navigating the long stretches of silent streets that separate one club from another only to be stopped at the gate and told, “No techies [sneakers]. Strictly house and R&B.” Dead or alive, the landscape that gave birth to South Africa’s only indigenous electronic music has changed beyond all recognition. A hypnotic mid-tempo pulse somewhere between reggaeton and a Chicago stepper’s beat, ﬂeshed out with the urgent mix of Africanized English and native languages called “vernac,” kwaito was born in the black townships of Apartheid-era South Africa just before the racist regime fell apart back in the early ’90s. When democracy came, the unstoppable 4/4 sub on every beat, the offbeat hi-hat marching between and the upward melodies all captured the new energy of independence and ﬂourished in the “grey areas”—neighborhoods like Yeoville and Hillbrow which were among the ﬁrst to be racially integrated. By the turn of the millennium, Rockey Street in Yeoville grew with the genre’s rise, as venues like Rockafella’s and Tandoor featured kwaito shows every week, if not every night. Now, Soweto—not a traditional name but an abbreviation of SOuth WEstern TOwnships—is no longer a ghetto, but a sprawling city unto itself. Light years from the images of school kids and white soldiers clashing amid tin shacks that inevitably accompanied its name in 1980s news clips, 2008 Soweto houses shiny monuments to democracy like the Mandela Museum, as well as some 20 or so millionaires and as much diversity—from posh suburbs to shantytowns—within its wide reach as the rest of the country combined. Meanwhile, Hillbrow has become so ﬂooded with immigrants—mostly Nigerians and Zimbabweans ﬂeeing the Mugabe regime—that these days people just call it “Zimbrow.” The clubs on Rockey Street are shuttered and in Yeoville racial harmony has given way to a crime wave so out of control that the area is speciﬁed by name in guidebooks and travel advisories with a “here be dragons” type warning. The crowd at the Soweto Music Festival.
9 4 T H E FA D E R
But the new South Africa is not all crime and dystopia. Johannesburg—Jozi to natives—is bubbling: with optimism, with preparations for the World Cup, with talk of South Africa joining the UN Security Council. Like the generation that spawned it, kwaito has not so much disappeared as moved uptown. Appropriately it’s at a ﬂossy industry event in the booming business hub called Newtown that I get my ﬁrst real taste of it. In a tent underneath the iconic Mandela bridge I get a few minutes to sit and build with Mr. Bouga Luv Two Shoes, a rapper born Kabelo Mabalane who can plausibly claim to be king of this kwaito shit. As front-man for the trio TKZEE, he revolutionized the genre in the late ’90s, transforming a white label dance style built on one word hooks into pop music with full song structures. “Shibobo”—a football anthem that interpolated Europe’s “Final Countdown” into a kwaito beat long before Bonde do Role raided their hair metal closet—was propelled by South Africa’s ﬁrst appearance at the World Cup into the country’s biggest and fastest selling single of the decade. It was just one of TKZEE’s many genre-deﬁning hits. Since their split some six years ago, Kabelo’s remained constantly in the spotlight, both for his solo albums and his personal saga, including a battle with drug addiction and reinvention as a bodybuilding born again Christian. When we talk he’s just taken a triumphant star turn hosting the South African Music Awards, but he’s oddly downbeat about the musical form he’s championed. “We’re going through a big transition right now,” he explains. “Four or ﬁve years ago our music was quite prevalent in the clubs, but now it’s out. Kwaito is more like in people’s houses, the lifestyle side of things.” If kwaito is in the houses, then house music is in the clubs, and Kabelo, like kwaito, is struggling to keep up with the pace of change in SA. “What’s happened to this country over the past 10 years is frightening,” he says. “They’ve done a survey to say that when we were big in the late ’90s, people were receiving about
“IN ’94, THE ELECTIONS CAME, SOUTH AFRICA BECAME A FREE COUNTRY, BOOM! KWAITO WAS BORN. WHO CAME UP WITH THE TERM? I DON’T KNOW. KWAITO JUST MEANS HOT.”—DJ CLEO three hundred messages a day through the media. Compared to today, people are receiving a minimum of four thousand. And that’s visual. It’s kind of like, the electricity in the air, that’s why I feel the house music thing is just so happening right now because it just goes hand in hand with all the…gadgets.” A subdued superstar, Kabelo doesn’t even waste too much time talking up his soon-to-bereleased solo record, modestly titled I Am King. Instead he puts the future of kwaito on a TKZEE reunion slated for mid-year. “With the three guys, the dreams are just bigger, everything is bigger,” he says. “With me, it can only go so far. I’ll be honest, I’ve chased TKZEE’s success for the longest time, but none of us come close to the three of us. When it’s the three of us, I mean, jeez, it’s big.” While reports of kwaito’s death have been somewhat exaggerated, one thing Kabelo’s right about is that on a whirlwind survey of Jozi’s night spots, house music rules the set, with European imports mixing more or less seamlessly with South African productions by DJ Fresh or Bantu Soul. It’s weird to see a crowd go crazy for “Put Your Hands Up for Detroit” in a corner of the world where most people assume Detroit and Chicago must be part of the UK because it’s all “ova seas” anyway. But house music is a natural counterpart to a certain freaknik atmosphere that pervades the city right now, that electricity in the air Kabelo mentioned. My initial lounge encounter was no ﬂuke. Everywhere you go in Jozi— from trendy Melville to the townships—the moneyed, the poor and the hustlers in between are all posing off, scoping one another out, snapping pics and jumping into conversation with total strangers. Years after the end of Apartheid and the commencement of real democracy, South Africa’s coming out party is just getting into full swing. Dancing near the taxi rank in Alexandra township.
T H E FADER 97
The PYTs hitting drinking age now are the ﬁrst generation to grow up without the mental segregation that came with Apartheid. Every camera snap, every pose is an expression of their birthright, a dance that says: our moment, our city, our country, our space, ours. Even the Mugabe talk feels less like the frustration of the oppressed and more like the joy of realizing this is our debate, our decision. To understand the vibe, think the optimism of Motown, the pageant of black expressionism that was late ’90s Atlanta, the “Good Times” of Chic. Then multiply it by a whole country. House music is the soundtrack of those aspirations, and the future wouldn’t look good for kwaito except that kwaito in some sense is house music. “First you had Groove City 1, 2, 3, 4. Then you had House Masters, and then you had LA Beat, Vol 1-4 and Dance City 1-5. I had all those tapes, whooo!” says Cleophas Moneypao, better known as producer DJ Cleo. Cleo is so commonly referred to as “the Timbaland of kwaito,” that it’s more of a nickname than a boast. Masaitall with hair dyed beach boy blond and a popped-collar hot pink polo shirt, he is bent over his home studio’s mixing board, cuing up beats and reminiscing. “As far back as I can remember, the country was in a turbulent time,” he says. “You had everyone singing about the struggle: ‘One settla, one bullet,’ ‘Kill the Boers.’ Those songs are nothing to be proud of now. I mean, a small percentage yes, because they were like some sort of mission statement. Now the mission has been achieved, I don’t even play those songs. ’94, the elections came, South Africa became a free country. Independence day. Boom! The music changed completely. Now, black people, we can sing about whatever we want. Kwaito was born. Who came up with the term? I don’t know. Kwaito just means hot.” Circa 1994, “hot” meant bootlegging house tracks and re-Africanizing them— slowing them to folk speed, adding zulu jive melodies and catchphrases in vernac.
“WHAT’S HAPPENED TO THIS COUNTRY OVER THE PAST 10 YEARS IS FRIGHTENING. IT’S KIND OF LIKE, THE ELECTRICITY IN THE AIR.”—KABELO MABALANE Though pioneers like Cleo and Kabelo have long since raised the bar for original production, many kwaito records still rely on that same architecture of 909 traps and electric pianos. Much of its originality comes in the lyrical content and the township subculture attached to it: the pantsula dance style; the uniform—a ﬂoppy Gilligan hat called a sporty (pronounced spotty), Dickies and Pro-Keds or Chuck Taylor techies; the slang called tsotsi-taal, or gangster talk. Take all that away and kwaito is basically slow house, making the current resurgence a weird return to its roots. But although Cleo is equally deft at house and hip-hop production, he doesn’t see himself going in that direction. “It’s inspired me to wanna do kwaito more, and release my own kwaito album,” he says. “I’m taking it back to its roots, when kwaito was kwaito. Kwaito is dance music, it was a beat before anything.” Just then he loses the plot of his sentence and spaces out to the instrumental playing in the background. “I think that’s the nicest groove ever discovered on planet Earth. I’ve always been one to say, ‘Kwaito will never die.’ I still stand by that, kwaito will never die.” In the next room of DJ Cleo’s suburban compound is Brickz, one of Cleo’s artists and the author of “Left, Right,” the kwaito anthem of the moment. He convinces me to join him later in the week for a Styrofoam plate of cow’s head (tastier than it sounds) in the section of Soweto called Zola. For him, visiting the “location,” as he calls his old hood, means locals hailing him like the ghetto celebrity he is and little kids bopping behind the car doing the “Left, Right” dance. Like almost every artist I speak to—Cleo, Brown Dash, Drencko, Gumshev—Brickz tells me kwaito is dead but he personally is going to resurrect it. Of all people I poll in SA, the one who is best able to articulate the line between house and kwaito—and what’s at stake in the difference—is a former DJ called Mdu, or just “The General.” Looking every inch the elder statesman in dashiki and Dick Gregory beard, Mdu made radio station YFM synonymous Kwaito in the streets of Alexandra township.
T H E FADER 101
with kwaito as program director, then left when its musical selection followed its audience into premature middle age, instead of reaching out to the next generation of township youth. Though he feels kwaito may have to change, it’s not going to lose the support of the indie labels, African language radio stations and the township people. They, like him, are turned off by “the sanitized nature of house music. It’s like the new South African trend to wear suits, it ﬁts into some kind of perception of what a civilized world is. And you can’t do that to kwaito.” If there’s one section of the cultural landscape that hasn’t changed, it’s Alex. Established back in 1912, Alexandra is Jo’burg’s oldest black community, even pre-dating Soweto. At Joe’s Butchery, you can select your raw chicken at the counter and then have it cooked to taste at the outdoor grill that turns into a love jones backyard barbecue every Sunday afternoon. The DJ plays house, but the vibe is kwaito in a way that’s almost impossible to explain—the music is somehow reinvented every week when CDJs are pitched down to minus 16 until the house becomes African reggaeton. From Joe’s everyone migrates to an open air club up the street, and then on to the exclusive Club Zambezi. The next night they repeat the ritual on a bigger scale, spilling out of a shebeensized nightclub called Cheeks to transform 15th street into a Monday night street dance, like a Jamaican soundclash without the warlike undercurrent… or the gender politics. Here, girls grind openly on girls and rail-thin township lady-boys in full make up out-whine their female rivals. Somewhere in this club crawl I let myself get kidnapped by Gloria and Itu, two Alex girls who take me on the full-package tour, including: a stop by Gloria’s house to meet an impressive squad of cousins, loitering in a beauty
“I THINK THAT’S THE NICEST GROOVE EVER DISCOVERED ON PLANET EARTH. YOU KNOW, THE KICK JUST GIVES THE RHYTHM AND THE SNARE IN-BETWEEN. THAT’S THE SIMPLEST, NICEST GROOVE.”—DJ CLEO parlor and collecting a plastic jug of water from the public standpipe to cool off Itu’s overheating radiator. They seem to know exactly everybody in Alex and they have to stop for every Audi A4 coming the other direction to say, Nigga what? Meet our new friend from ova seas. Their take on kwaito is pretty much the same as everyone else, but the whole time they seem to be conducting an unspoken seminar on what it really is. It exists not just in the vernac rapping and distinctive beat on record but also in a DJ’s blend from slow house to Daddy Yankee to a new age steppers beat like Slum Village’s “Disko.” It’s in the way you say “ayebo” and pose off for the whole club to see, give the next man a thumb ﬂick and a greeting of “sharp-sharp.” Kwaito the industry may beneﬁt from a backlash against sanitized house and the sanitized identity it represents—the nationalistic swing of South Africa’s recent election seems to suggest this—or it may collapse, a victim of its own success. But kwaito as a subculture is alive and kicking in Alex. Pretoria and Durban and Capetown all have their own scenes and the same Zimbabwean refugees that have made Hillbrow unrecognizable are now creating an audience for kwaito in London. At around 3AM when the energy on 15th street is winding down, some dude in a sporty will jump on top of a speaker stack or a dumpster and bust some pantsula steps, stiff arms held out dramatically, accentuating the long angles of the body like something between a pop & lock contortion and those ’70s funk poses you see on the intro to Good Times. The slim, dreadlocked girl running the CDJs looks out the plexiglass window of Cheeks, across the sea of people and the twinkling valley of shanties behind them, pitches down a house record that sounds more or less like the last one and suddenly everybody goes crazy. F Above: The ubiquitious sporty. Previous spread, bottom right: Brickz.
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BLK JKS are out to map the African brain, or kill the patient trying
AFRICAN HEADCHARGE STORY E DW I N “STATS ” H O U G H TO N PH OTO G R APH Y MIK H AEL S U BOTS KY/MAG NU M
“WE’RE LIKE A GROWTH ON THE SIDE OF THE AFRICAN THING. AN ABSCESS. IT
COULD EITHER IMPLODE, EXPLODE OR, LIKE, GIVE THE CONTINENT SUPER POWERS.”
t’s a superﬁcial thing, and at this point probably more curse than blessing, but the ﬁrst thing that hits you about the South African dub metal quartet BLK JKS is their look. There’s a certain afropunk unity to their style that makes them seem like a movement unto themselves, yet even more striking is how strong a presence each member has, pulling away from that center in his own direction. There’s guitarist Mpumi Mcata, reggae star handsome in his ’80s Black Uhuru wears. Tshepang Ramoba, with drummer’s arms and those thick baobab dreads. The bassist, Moleﬁ Makananise, with his professorial air and the ubiquitous kwaito-style sporty (pronounced “spotty”) on his head. And then there’s Linda Buthelezi, the frontman: shirt buttoned all the way up and thick glasses sitting heavily on his babyface. He looks tight-laced and intellectual in a young Dr Frankenstein kind of way, so that even when he’s quiet you can sense a tortured side that’s got to come out—if not in music, then somewhere. If you can see it, then A&Rs can deﬁnitely see it, and perhaps not surprisingly, BLK JKS (pronounced “black jacks”) are something of a hot property lately. The vapors started with a self-titled EP pressed up for their birthday gig at the Apartheid Museum in a Johannesburg theme park called Gold Reef City two years ago. Those ﬁve songs ﬂoated around the web for a minute, ultimately turning up as a limited edition CD in certain stores in London and New York last June. It’s a heavy collection. “Lakeside” starts the set with a minor-keyed “House of the Rising Sun” intro that leads into grungy dub, Mcata’s rhythm guitar turning over on itself in the mix as Buthelezi moans ominously about paramedics and broken lesions. Just when you give up on deciphering this pseudo-medical diatribe, he breaks into a Zulu jive falsetto and the beat morphs into something like ska, the guitar changing into ﬁnely-worked Ernest Ranglin trills. “UmZabalazo” is an echoey mosh pit interpretation of a toyi-toyi, an anti-Apartheid protest chant based on the vocalized sound of AK-47s. If it doesn’t exactly celebrate the possibility of black fascism implicit in those war cries, then it doesn’t blink at the idea either. You can imagine antecedents to their sound if you try—the nya-rock of Cymande, maybe Fishbone if they broke through their surf metal conceits into something deeper, more afrogothic—but you’d more likely extrapolate the existence of an unknown black planet to explain BLK JKS’ origin. That sense of something new has hovered around them since their very ﬁrst gig—a club rehearsal that turned into a show as on-lookers gathered. The immediate word of mouth about those black dudes that play that weird music underscores how desperately South Africa—or at least its all-white indie rock scene—needed that something.
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Guitarist Mpumi Mcata (left) and bassist Molefi Makananise (above) in Soweto.
T H E FADER 1 09
“FORGET THE WHOLE, ‘WE’RE GONNA GET THE
RASTAS TO LIKE OUR ROCK.’ IF YOU HAVE A GIG,
CALL US. JAZZ EVENT, WHATEVER, WE BECOME
THE COLOR OF THE GIG. WE DON’T HAVE A HOME.”
1 10 T H E FA D E R
T H E FADER 1 1 1
B L K JKS
“WITH A BIG MELODY, PUTTING WORDS TO IT IS A DRAG. SOME LANGUAGES JUST FIT BETTER
Drummer Tshepang Ramoba (above) and singer/guitarist Linda Buthelezi (right).
1 12 T H E FA D E R
PHONETICALLY. SO WE’RE LIKE, “WE GOT A LANGUAGE THAT DOES DA- DADA-DA VERY WELL
Those expectations, and the look that so effortlessly embodies them, are BLK JKS main problems these days. “We’ve met with most of the majors in SA, they come to us like, ‘Black rock band, sign them and make a lot of money.’ Then they ﬁnd out we’re crazy,” explains Mcata, sitting in a café in Melville, a suburb of Johannesburg that’s painted a Martian purple by the Jacaranda trees blooming everywhere in the November spring. Mcata is clearly the spokesman and allaround conceptualizer for the Jacks, to such an extent his credits in the liner notes could easily read, “Mpumi Mcata: Rhythm Guitar/ Minister of Propaganda.” Buthelezi, the vocalist and main lyricist is actually the least vocal of the four. These two form the original core of the group, having grown up together in a section of East Rand called Spruitview. BLK JKS was formed when Buthelezi and Mcata brought on more experienced musicians Makananise and Ramoba, both from Soweto, to form the rhythm section. The insanity charge Mcata mentions may not be totally unfounded. The main result of the Jacks’ initial buzz was a chance to start recording at SABC—the country’s biggest and best-equipped studio, housed beneath a corporate tower that dominates, no, intimidates Jo’burg’s skyline. Those sessions became the unedited masters of an LP project titled After Robots (in SA, trafﬁc lights are called robots. Nobody knows why). Nominally a sort of rock opera built around a surreal Mulholland Drive-esque trip through the city, the music is nebulous, sprawling and psychedelic, the narrative often seeming like a pretext for long, winding jams full of that one mind, four directions dynamic. “It’s better when we’re not on the same page,” says Mcata. “On those masters, there’s parts where we play for like 35 minutes of not listening to each other. Like, Moleﬁ’s checking the tone on his bass, and just so that it doesn’t make you physically sick, I’m checking in the same key. Tshepang is doing his thing on the drum, getting everything set up, and basically what you hear is the most beautiful thing.” Like the jams, the conversation in the café tends to drift, meandering through church choirs, the Mars Volta, Boyz II Men, Tortoise, Cameroonian bassist Richard Bona, Jack Dejohnette, Canadian psyche and luminaries mostly unknown outside of SA like Vusi Mahlasela and Busi Mhlongo. Trying to wrap his tongue around the role that inﬂuences play in the Jacks’ sound, Makananise gets a little worked up, “We’re listening to all different stuff, but the ﬁrst time we played together I was like, ‘Yeah! Shit like this exists!’ Yes, but no…it’s something quite hard, to be fair. I never seen that, to be honest…” And then he lapses into silence, defeated by what he is trying to express. He’s more comfortable talking formally about the music, which makes sense, since it is his session bassistability to play comfortably in many different styles that holds the schizophrenia together. In a way, the secret ingredient of BLK JKS’ sound is the long and venerable tradition of township jazz that pervades the musicianship of Makananise and Ramoba. As Makananise says, “In jazz there are suspended chords and stuff that gives you some kind of a discord. If Mpumi’s playing his fears at that moment when I come in, sometimes I have to play what I feel too, but in the process I have to ﬁgure out
T H E FADER 1 1 3
B L K JKS
where he is. That’s where the jazz shit comes in.” There’s also metal there, in the sense of Cream, Deep Purple and early-early Sabbath, when metal was not a genre with rules and uniforms but a tendency, a serrated edge occasionally cutting the surface of rhythm and blues like the tailfin of something terrifying just below the surface. Then there are the traditional South African strains the members grew up with, alongside Fela and reggae. Somehow the force of all those elements swinging away at each other lifts the whole thing off the ground like a fish-tailing helicopter. In an attempt to position the Jacks within this swirl of traditions, Mcata says, “I feel like we are like a growth on the side of not just the South African thing, but the African thing. An abscess. It could either implode, explode or, like, give the continent super powers.” It seems somehow appropriate to this dysfunctional pan-Africanism that even BLK JKS’ shared South African identity comes from different language groups: Xhosa, Zulu, Tswana and Pedi. This polylinguism expands the Jacks’ range rather than limiting it. “When you talk about vernac [vernacular] and how you bring that in it’s always melody ﬁrst,” says Mcata. “If you have a big melody, putting words to it is a drag. Some languages just ﬁt better phonetically, so we’ll be like, ‘Oh we got a language that does da-dada-da very well.’” Put four dudes in a room with four different languages, a few words in common and a movie script to shoot, they might come back with a mess of a ﬁlm or maybe some grand Chomskian thesis that offers a breakthrough understanding about the structure of language itself. After Robots sounds like that at times, and though the South African majors are hardly good guys in this story, they could perhaps be forgiven if they didn’t know what the fuck to do with the fourheaded dub monster that walked into their office speaking in tongues, when all they wanted was the local equivalent of Living Colour. The SABC sessions were partly paid for with a Jacks promo spot on national radio, adding further to their aura. But with no label and no money to pay for their completion, the masters languish raw and unmixed under the tower. The whole experience has left the group less inclined than ever to target their music for any imagined audience. “Now? Fuck it, we’ll play wherever,” says Mcata. “Forget the whole, ‘We’re gonna get the rastas to like our rock.’ If you have a gig, call us. Jazz event, whatever, we become the color of the gig. We don’t have a home.” As a result, their résumé is less a catalog of recordings than a The Killarney loft that serves as BLK JKS headquarters.
1 14 T H E FA DE R
collection of war stories about the weirdest shows imaginable: the old jail in Grahamstown, Youth Day at the Apartheid Museum, a private performance raising money for rural soccer teams held on the land of a wealthy farmer that meant driving ﬁve hours out into the veldt and sleeping beneath the heads of the farmer’s hunting trophies. There was the gig for kwaito station YFM with rapper HHP and the one where Ramoba got in a shouting match with the homeless guy standing on a pedestal as some kind of performance art. With each of these gigs, the legend—and the expectations—continued to grow. Even if they were too weird for primetime, “the only black rock band in South Africa” was too good for the press to resist and sooner or later the buzz had to go international. 2007 brought an offer from Diplo’s Mad Decent label, management by exFADER editor Knox Robinson, the appearance of a collector’s 10-inch of “Lakeside” in Other Music and Rough Trade, and a booking for SXSW for 2008, roughly in that order. The Jacks meanwhile, having more or less given up on storming the SABC tower to liberate Robots, started on a series of lo-ﬁ mini-disc recordings called Kilani Sessions after the sunny, eclectic Killarney loft of Makananise’s white girlfriend that serves as the Jacks’ headquarters. The new recordings have, if possible, even less light, more mass, more sucking gravity than After Robots. “Baragawana” brings more of Buthelezi’s medical obsessions, with references to the largest hospital in Africa. In “Vampire Stand-by Power” he employs a metaphor about machines using 40% of the electric current even when they’re off that somehow becomes the story of a pregnant girl and her dysmorphic baby. “Tinstaa” starts with the sound of CD skipping malfunctions, dissolving into acoustic blue-veldt guitarwork before the Sabbath-like bass comes in under the refrain, One by one, they gonna shoot us down. There are moments here that sound like African metal, not a pastiche of inﬂuences but a different thing altogether. Back at the café, after sitting out of the conversation for a good hour, Makananise picks up his thread exactly where he wrestled it into silence, “I think what I was trying to say before, that from the ﬁrst time we played together, I thought that BLK JKS could be like unexplored territory…some totally different kind of music.” It’s not the vision, so much as the sincerity, the struggle to articulate it, that give you pause. It’s enough to make you wonder what you wish more for the Jacks: that everything clicks into a fully realized visit to the black planet repeatedly glimpsed in the soup of their mind jams, or that they just keep looking forever, standing, so to speak, on the verge of getting it on, mapping their own brains as they go. &
T H E FADER 1 1 5
MODERN HYMNS The unassuming Esau Mwamwaya is poised to bring his uplifting vibe to the global pop sphereâ€”from a junk shop in East London
STORY SAR AH BENT L EY PH OTO G R APH Y L IZ JO H NS O N ART U R
his is the police. The party is over.” It’s 2:30 AM and the constabulary have come to eject a hundred-plus revellers—mainly inebriated artsy kids in smash-andgrab ensembles of nu rave, boho and other bugged out wears—from a squat party going off in an unused toilet factory in South London. Among the throng are Johan Karlberg and Etienne Tron of London-based production outﬁt Radioclit and their latest protégé, Malawian singer Esau Mwamwaya. Thirty minutes earlier, during Tron’s DJ set, Mwamwaya performed an impromptu PA of his song “Tengazako”—“Take what’s yours” in Chichewa—a sweet afropop melody voiced over MIA’s Clashsampling “Paper Planes” beat. The tune has created a load of internet hype around Mwamwaya and though no one at the party knew who he was or what the hell language he was singing in, they responded to it with the same fervor as they would a Klaxons or Simian Mobile Disco show. As the trio wades towards the exit through bottles, lolling bodies, broken hand fans and Mickey Mouse ears, they are accosted by a posse of dudes in the mold of Pete Doherty, who are propping up chicks in 1940s frocks and red lips. “Awesome sound, man…” says the least destroyed one. “No idea what you’re singing about…but fucking awesome sound.” After decades of being lost in the decidedly uncool and absurdly allencompassing sonic terrain of world music, contemporary African sounds like kuduro and Cote d’Ivoire party music coupé decallé are suddenly on London’s radar. Unlike France, where African music is comparatively mainstream (in 2005 Malian duo Amadou et Miriam’s album Dimanche à Bamako reached number two and sold 300,000 units domestically), the UK’s immigration history has kept it a stronghold for West Indian culture with scant attention paid to Africa—until now. In the last two years, BBC 1xtra has launched a weekly African Rhythms show, new club nights like Kalabash and Out of Africa play upfront sounds from the continent, and in July 2007 the UK’s ﬁrst legal African radio station, Voice of Africa, began broadcasting on 93.4FM. If there were an ideal moment for an artist like Mwamwaya to launch, it would be now. The fact that Radioclit—a production outﬁt on the frontline of adventurous pop music—have
decided to record Mwamwaya for their first artist-driven album is a massive testament to that. As Tron says, “The time is now for African sounds.” Malawi, tucked into the continent’s left breast between Tanzania and Mozambique, is known as the heart of Africa. Mwamwaya was born there in 1975, 11 years after the country gained independence from Britain. He grew up with nine brothers and sisters in the capital city of Lilongwe. Like the majority of Malawian youth, he had a traditional upbringing deﬁned by family, Christian values and the strict rules of President Hastings Banda, who governed the country as a one-party state from 1970 until the 1993 referendum. During this era, entertainment and media were heavily censored. Women were forbidden from wearing trousers or skirts above the knee and men from wearing hair past the collar. The main radio stations played a few traditional Malawian musical genres like tchopa, manganje and vimbuza, but the bulk of broadcasts featured government propaganda. Mwamwaya’s father, however, was a civil servant and a music lover who bought tapes back home whenever he travelled abroad for work. The elder Mwamwaya introduced his son to the joys of Jim Reeves, Gregory Isaacs and Dolly Parton, while Esau’s older brothers indoctrinated him in Lionel Ritchie and locally-produced pop. Mwamwaya began singing at a young age. At his audition for the Heaters—the house band of one of Lilongwe’s few plush nightspots— Mwamwaya sang Ken Boothe’s “Everything I Own,” Elton John’s “Sacriﬁce” and Burning Spear’s “Identity.” At 22, he’d never been in a band before, yet by the weekend he was the group’s lead singer, performing a gumball of covers—or “copyrights” as they are called in Malawi—and traditional songs. Months later during a rehearsal, he strode over to the drum kit and started to play. Despite having not touched a drum since his youth (“I’d watched the drummer a bit during rehearsals,” says Mwamwaya) his efforts impressed his bandmates, including four ex-members of the hugely successful group Masaka. Two weeks later, Mwamwaya was singing lead vocals and playing drums, a talent that prompted Karlberg to dub him “the African Phil Collins.” When he met Radioclit, however, Africa’s answer to Phil Collins hadn’t been involved in music since he came to England in 1999. Leaving Malawi to have “a new life experience” (Britain was easiest because he spoke the language and didn’t need a visa), Mwamwaya worked in a bakery and then on a construction site. These days, he owns a second-hand furniture store in Hackney, where he only stocks items obtained from house clearances in order to ensure that the goods aren’t stolen. Tron met Mwamwaya while perusing the store’s eclectic goods—battered furniture, two meter-long stuffed toy sharks, life-sized ceramic statues of Bruce Lee. He bought a £30 bike and subsequently invited Mwamwaya to his housewarming party, where he was introduced to Radioclit partner Karlberg. “I saw this guy across the room with a massive smile,” Karlberg says, and after talking music, that night Mwamwaya and Radioclit laid down “Chalo,” a track about using love to stop the world’s problems. Esau Mwamwaya with Johan Karlberg of Radioclit.
“AFTER HEARING ‘CHALO,’ I HAD SO MANY IDEAS. I’VE GOT EIGHT
1 18 T H E FA D E R
YEARS BOTTLED UP INSIDE ME. IT’S A LOT TO GET OUT.”
E SAU MWAMWAYA
Since then the tunes haven’t stopped. “It’s exactly what I want to do with music at the moment,” says Karlberg. “Every time Esau sings something new I get goose bumps.” For his part, upon hearing “Chalo” Mwamwaya had “so many ideas—I’ve got eight years bottled up inside me. It’s a lot to get out.” So far, Mwamwaya has been seizing every insane beat Radioclit has thrown at him—from Baltimore club and nasty-ass crunk to poppy electro and Enya samples. There are songs in Chichewa, Swahili, Portuguese and English, the latter two a result of collaborations with Marina Vello (formerly of Bonde do Role) and MIA. What could sound like a haphazard pillaging of global grooves works seamlessly, with Mwamwaya’s charismatic voice the light, upward-seeking yang to Radioclit’s dark production yin. The duo’s tracks earmarked for the likes of Lil Wayne, Kylie Minogue and Kano have been passed over to their protogé to whip into 21st century hymns for mankind that, although described by Mwamwaya as “sitting in the middle of secular and gospel,” are incredibly pious. Regardless of the beat he’s singing over, Mwamwaya’s cinematic vocals reach for a universal appeal, akin to a Michael Jackson or Elton John mega hit, but remain bolstered by the lush emotional timbre of African choral music. As his full repertoire of material plays at the Radioclit studio, it conjures admittedly hokey new age images of the sun rising over a placid sea or children dancing in the rain after months of drought. “Every time I hear him sing, I get this image of him standing on a mountain, arms outstretched, singing to the world,” admits Karlberg. “We’ve tried to make less pompous tracks—but they always come out like this.” Though his voice has that mountaintop quality that could make anything sound deep, Mwamwaya’s lyrics are actually as meaningful as they feel to those who don’t speak the language. “Chilombo” tackles the AIDS crisis, with Mwamwaya asking his grandparents to give me a bow and arrow so I can kill the beast. “Zikhulupiliro” urges people to spiritually unite with lines like God and us is one/ It doesn’t matter what religion you’re from/ Your mom told you one plus three equals four/ My mom told me two plus two equals four. “Angonde,” the name of his tribe, pays homage to dead ancestors who (as is tradition in Malawi) are buried in the back garden of the family home. “We believe in family sharing life and death together,” Mwamwaya explains. In keeping with this tenet, Mwamwaya’s brotherin-law Leonard Simbananiye plays guitar on the record, and his three nieces—11-year-old twins Zena and Adine, and 18-year-old Louise—have added harmonies. A distribution deal has yet to be signed (though offers have begun to pour in) and Radioclit hopes to have a street mixtape out for spring and an album by summer. “The UK and US are bored of hearing the same shit,” says Tron. “People are ready for something not in English to come through. Growing up in France listening to Wu-Tang, I didn’t have a clue what they were talking about, but I was still the biggest fan in the world. Some musicians are so good they can reach everyone on vibe alone. Esau is like that.” In the meantime, Mwamwaya will continue to traverse his curious circuit between gigs on London’s pulsing underground and drum practice for his local church—a testament to both the unlikeliness of his path and the universality of his sound. As Mwamwaya himself says, “I can be found everywhere.” &
“EVERY TIME I HEAR HIM SING, I GET THIS IMAGE OF HIM STANDING ON A MOUNTAIN, ARMS OUTSTRETCHED. WE’VE TRIED TO MAKE LESS POMPOUS TRACKS BUT THEY ALWAYS COME OUT LIKE THIS.” —JOHAN KARLBERG
t h e fader 1 21
Hiplife struggles to break free from itself and conquer the globe
STO RY P E TE R MAC IA P HOTOGRAPHY CAROLYN DRAKE
ating shrimp at 2AM in a chop shop off Kwame Nkrumah Circle is apparently the best place to bump into one of the biggest music producers in Ghana. But when I take my stool, I don’t know that the husky, goateed guy sitting next to me is Hammer, the country’s megadon hip-hop specialist. I only know he’s beefing in Twi to the weary cook about the dancehall-tinged beats and Akon-ically sung hiplife blasting from the soundsystem across the street, and his protest is keeping my shrimps from getting grilled. That is Accra though, a gritty, smoke-scented capital where you might have to stay up all night to get what you want, where hiplife plays from sunrise to nearly the next sunrise, and ragga bats battle streetwalking madmen for every last pesewa. The next afternoon, when I step into the dank and cramped Hush Hush Studios, I ﬁnd the grump from the shrimp spot sitting at the control boards arguing his point once again, this time offering his own spare slab of G(hana)-funk, for which he has become famous. Hammer has been an engineer-in-residence at Hush Hush for much of hiplife’s ascendancy and represents the faction who wants hiplife to favor its hip-hop roots. The studios are housed in a royal blue shoebox tucked behind an accountant’s ofﬁce in Awudome Estates, a planned residential community from the 1960s—Ghana’s halcyon days—when Kwame Nkrumah was leading the nation after its newly claimed independence from Britain. Awudome is serene during the day, when most streets in this dilapidated but developing city are choked with Opel taxis, stuffed buses and people hustling somewhere to make something happen. If you’re lucky enough to ﬁnd the studio (there are few reliable street markers in Accra), but unlucky enough to show up before 2PM, you’d probably think it had been closed for months. A peek through its gated windows gives no indication that it is the epicenter of the genre that has dominated popular music in Ghana for the better part of a decade and that now is spreading to cities throughout Africa like Lagos, Monrovia and Abidjan. Hiplife came seemingly out of nowhere, brought by a Ghanaian raised abroad named Reggie Rockstone who rapped in Twi, a prevalent Akan dialect, over Western-style hip-hop beats. In the decades before, it was highlife—a Ghanaian invention blending Caribbean and Cuban inﬂuences with American jazz and traditional West African instruments and rhythms–that was the country’s dominant pop music. A few guys had half-rapped over it in the The crowd at a Kwaw Kese show at Labadi Beach.
T H E FADER 1 25
H IPL IFE
Glimpses of an Accra neighborhood where hiplife lives and breathes.
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’80s, but none made the leap Rockstone did. He was young and openly courted a global audience that had long ago forgotten about highlife and Ghanaian music. And suddenly every kid in Ghana wanted to make hiplife. Over the next decade, Rockstone’s idea splintered into strains that incorporated dancehall, soca and R&B, and reclaimed some of highlife’s instruments and rhythms. Hush Hush became the scene’s preeminent recording studio. When I show up there with rapper Kwaw Kese, Hammer is already surrounded by a dozen boys and one girl who stare at him like Santa Claus. They know that a song engineered by the hitmaker will give them an honest chance at making it big. Hammer’s priority though is ﬁnishing up a song for a pair of Ghanaian-born, Parisianbased venom-spitting twins called Atte’s, who flew in to record and have secured a guest verse from Kwaw, the maddest rapper in Ghana and hiplife’s current provocateur. Kwaw’s voice registers somewhere between tuba and Tuvan throat singer. Like the immensely popular but less intense Castro da Destroyer, aka the 50 Cent of Ghana, Kwaw raps exclusively in Fante, a slangy Akan dialect found in his native Agona Swedru in the Central Region. It’s a choice that endears him to Ghanaians, but could hinder his chances elsewhere. “Hip-hop is not about English, it’s about rhythm, and I have the right rhythm,” he says. “I want people to understand my language as they want me to understand theirs. When you come to Ghana, it’s either Twi or Fante. It’s time we take our language there, so people hear it and want to know what it means.” I don’t know what it means yet, but Kwaw has one of the craziest ﬂows in the world, and when he steps into the booth, everyone goes silent.
“HIP-HOP IS NOT ABOUT ENGLISH, IT’S ABOUT RHYTHM, AND I HAVE THE RIGHT RHYTHM. I WANT PEOPLE TO UNDERSTAND MY LANGUAGE AS THEY WANT ME TO UNDERSTAND THEIRS.”—KWAW KESE In terms of hiplife’s multivalent deﬁnitions, Kwaw Kese represents the straight street rap faction. He’s somewhere between Nas and Lil Wayne—part poet, part lunatic. Driving to Hush Hush from the other side of town, we slowed at an intersection and passed a teen crossing on foot. When the boy saw who was at the wheel, he called out Kwaw’s catchphrase “Abodam!” through the open window. When asked what the word means, Kwaw pounds a ﬁst to his right temple and says, “It’s a word that deﬁnes the extreme madness for what you are doing. Being mad for who you are. Not madness in the streets, but being mad for what you want to do. Everybody says it now.” Hammer, meanwhile, best represents this madness among the engineers, the Ghanian term for those who, in the US, would be called producers. He is heavily influenced by Dr Dre and Scott Storch, and makes no apologies for his decidedly American sound. “I don’t want to be part of this highlife bullshit,” he says in Hush Hush’s hallway. “People who rap are using highlife beats now and it’s wrong. I am hip-hop. Highlife should be where it is.” But on other days and nights in Hush Hush, and other studios all over Accra, there are artists who disagree, producing hiplife that accepts Ghana’s highlife past and incorporates it. Engineers like Jay Q, Appietus, Agyingo, Morris, Borax, Quick Action and Roro are making bass heavy club bangers accented with traditional Kwaw Kese in his hometown of Agona Swedru.
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Poncho in Homebase Studio.
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rhythms. They are held together with farty instrument samples and live percussion for singers and rappers who mix Twi or Fante with a healthy portion of patois English, and are just as likely to have grown up on Sizzla and Buju Banton as Snoop Dogg. The most visible of these singers is Batman Samini, also known as the Rain God. His own songs are everywhere, his face is on ads and products, and he’s already won a Music of Black Origin award in Europe. But more indicative of his stardom is his ubiquity on other artist’s songs. His signature “Boi!” is heard as frequently in Accra as Akon’s “Konvict” is in the States (and Accra). He’s blessed with good looks and a rumbling ragga voice, and these days any boy who wants to be a hiplife star tries to sound like him. His last album Batman was released in 2006, but its songs are still in heavy rotation on both radio stations like VibeFM and Hitz Video, one of the growing number of 106 & Park-style shows on Ghanaian TV. And “African Lady,” the aforementioned MOBO winner, might be in rotation until the end of time. It is the quintessential party jam of the new hiplife, where tempos jack, djamas pepper the gaps between thumps, guitars cluck like chickens and euphoric choruses are always in major. When the sun goes down in Accra, the speaker stacks in front of shops are wheeled in just as others are wheeled out in front of bars and clubs. If the kids go home to change, they do it fast. The sidewalks never empty and the only noticeable difference is an uptick in speaker volume from deafening to more deafening. At
“I DON’T WANT TO BE PART OF THIS HIGHLIFE BULLSHIT. PEOPLE WHO RAP ARE USING HIGHLIFE BEATS NOW AND IT’S WRONG. HIGHLIFE SHOULD BE WHERE IT IS.” —HAMMER Strawberry’s in Adabraka, the Sunday night scene reaches its apex around two in the morning, just at the point when non-Ghanaians might fall face ﬁrst on to the street after too much sha-sha smoke and large Star beers. It’s also one of the places in town where a writer might ﬁnd himself in a conversation with a struggling singer, a rastaman sage and a prostitute all at the same plastic table. At some point, the entire crowd will move to another “last hour” club down the street for another soundsystem and more dancing, but only after wearing out Strawberry’s supplies. The songs heard over and over include Mzbel’s “I’m in Love” and Sidney’s “African Money,” but also imported hiplife from Nigerian practioners like 2Face Idiba. 2Face has become a major star in Africa based on a grip of hit songs recorded with Ghana’s hiplife establishment. The biggest, “My Love,” engineered by hiplife man of the moment Appietus, could have easily been recorded by a Ghanaian, but then, no one but Ghanaians would’ve heard it. This is the paradox of hiplife: it’s the biggest music in Africa, but its native artists can’t make it out of Ghana. Every hiplifer voices frustrations over the country’s incompetent music industry and the open payola with radio’s top DJs, but very few have any ideas of how to circumvent the existing system. They don’t attempt to operate independently because, ultimately, independence requires money, which not many of them have. The cycle of getting some where there is none, to record a song to play for a producer who might fund further recordings, puts most of the power in the hands of “businessmen” with a tenuous Kwaw Kese and friends.
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grasp on business and/or music. (One of these businessmen, Alex Frimpong, owner of Lexyfri Productions and the money behind Batman’s rise, threatened to kill a regional police chief last summer after his four-acre marijuana farm was raided, despite his claim to have bribed the local Wenchi police with 25 million cedis.). When I ask engineer Agyingo at Hush Hush how an underground talent gets his music heard if he doesn’t have cash, his answer is, “They don’t.” Given this—and taking a cue from the industry at large—hiplife is slowly crossing the digital divide. KKC, a group based in the Northern Region town of Tamale, ﬁnanced the production of their third album with a bank loan and hustled, working in and out of music, to repay it. They haven’t been able to release another one in the four years since, but they don’t seem too bothered. “It’s in our blood,” says Lil Malik, one half of KKC. “It is always a part of our life, and always will be. We are working hard to get attention and record more songs, but if we do not, it does not mean we will stop making music.” Back in Accra, living in a neighborhood not planned by Kwame Nkrumah, are the underground boys that aren’t supposed to exist. Through a large swinging gate and into a courtyard shared by two small houses, there are a couple teens washing clothes in plastic tubs. No one says anything but “hello” and nothing suggests a reason for why I might be there. Walks and taxi rides begin ambiguously in this city, wind through much human trafﬁc, and end up anywhere from a Portuguese castle to a fufu joint
“IT IS ALWAYS A PART OF OUR LIFE, AND ALWAYS WILL BE. WE ARE WORKING HARD TO GET ATTENTION AND RECORD MORE OF OUR SONGS, BUT IF WE DO NOT, IT DOES NOT MEAN WE WILL STOP MAKING MUSIC.”—LIL MALIK OF KKC near Jamestown to the Botanical Gardens in the Aburi hills. The overriding attitude is to take things as they come. Inside the tiny house and down the short hall wallpapered with a giant Tupac poster is Homebase Studio, home base to engineer Kali Process and ragga singer Poncho. Kali pops in and out of the closet studio to ﬁx glitches on the computer (they have one, which is rare), bring beers and restart the Richie Spice documentary they’d been hypnotized by for an hour. Poncho, one of the launderers from the courtyard, sings over anything that comes over the computer speakers—hiplife videos, the aforementioned Richie Spice joints and, ultimately, the new songs he and Kali have recorded. One of these, “Obaa Weya,” is as good as any song I’d heard on the radio or at clubs while in Accra. The always smiling Poncho toasts over the instrumental from inside the booth, in the hallway and in the yard, gesticulating more wildly and getting more hoarse with each rendition. Kali and Poncho are one of the few crews going for their own in a city hindered by its own bureaucracy. They talk to me about Paypal, MySpace and YouTube, by far the most tech-savvy artists I’ve met all week. But that night, Poncho was just the biggest star in his courtyard, performing for an audience of mothers, sisters, neighbors and kids, the littlest of which gathered around him and danced as he sang at the top of his lungs. After a week of studio sessions and exhausting nightlife, this was my ﬁrst real live hiplife show. & Poncho in his Accra neighborhood.
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PHOTOGRAPHY ANDREW DOSUNMU STYLING MOBOLAJI DAWODU
SWEATER BY JC DE CASTELBAJAC, JEANS BY LIPS AND NECKLACE BY NOIR.
SEQUIN TANK BY JC DE CASTELBAJAC. 1 4 0 T H E FA D E R
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LEFT: SHIRT AND PANTS BY AGNÈS B, SHOES BY GIORGIO ARMANI AND HAT BY EMPORIO ARMANI (PRODUCT) RED. ABOVE: SWEATER BY CATHERINE MALANDRINO, ROMPER BY RACHEL COMEY AND EARRINGS BY NOIR.
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LEFT: DRESS BY ISSA, SHOES BY MICHEL PERRY AND JEWELRY BY NOIR. SUIT BY ISSEY MIYAKE, SHIRT BY JUST CAVALLI, SHOES BY PAUL SMITH AND HAT BY MAKINS. DRESS BY MARA HOFFMAN AND SHOES BY MICHEL PERRY.
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DRESS BY MARA HOFFMAN. 1 4 8 T H E FA D E R
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VINYL ARCHEOLOGY SECOND LIFE THE SYNTHESIZER SOUNDS OF WEST AFRICA
Omanhene Pozoh Aye De, Vol 2 (Super Kaas Music Productions 2001) Omanhene Pozoh made people pay attention to his relatively forgettable hiplife album by dressing up “Kyenkyen Bi Adi Mawu,” its first track, with the best and funkiest highlife groove ever. Then he invited the sample’s originator to re-sing it. Does it matter that Reggie Rockstone, the undisputed king of hiplife, already took his own version of “Kyenkyen” to the bank a few years prior? Nah. Pozoh slapped a fresh drum program and synth horns on that not-so-dusty riddim and called it a day. Elderly highlife artists hoped this would become a consistent trend, thereby ensuring their luminous role in the rising tide of digital youth culture. It didn’t.
Odorkor Carnival hosted by Precious Soundz, 2005.
When I arrived in Ghana in 2002 for a five month stay I was told highlife—the local music driven by guitars and sweet vocals that had drawn me to West Africa in the first place—was dead. It had been replaced by hiplife, a clunky, still-developing fusion of rap and highlife created by urban youth. So I began to accumulate tapes to find out why. Musicians in Africa first started using drum machines during the late ’70s, but it wasn’t until recently that secondhand personal computers and pirated sequencing programs became more widely available there. Now in Africa, like around the rest of the planet, teenagers huddle around old Pentium 3s making beats with Fruity Loops or stacking vocal tracks in ProTools. Though at times it seems like the continent’s youth are in the midst of a digital revolution, this sonic upheaval actually began gradually. The following is a selected history of the synthesizer’s travels through parts of West Africa.
Umaru Sanda Dariya Da Makiya (Amenu Alhaji Issaku & Francis Obey date unknown) This isn’t just another tape of eerily saccharine Hausa praise music set to a bouncy beat. (Take my word for it, there are tons.) Keyboard sounds you never thought possible compete with a barrage of talking drums and 808 shakers, whistles and bells. Analog synths sound out sparse—and often epic—lines over slow-developing rhythmic freakouts. And Sanda’s echoey vocal calls, mirrored by a chorus of munchkin responses, is some Japan-meets-Iran-at-a-shoppingmall-in-the-future shit. I’m all over this tape for its haunted sense of happiness and alluring promise of a trip to Hot Topic.
Buk Bak Nkomshe (Abib Records 2001) Before he became the Babyface of hiplife, the man once known as Jeff Quaye played behindthe-scenes mastermind to this underrated electro hiplife opus. The sheer breadth of sounds and styles Jay Q employs here helped define the mainstream hiplife sound through the last half-decade or so. He once told me he used the dzama rhythm of his people—the Ga—to fashion a new hiplife-friendly groove. Dzama was a huge success and biters followed, making this a landmark hiplife recording. It also helped that Buk Bak are fucking geniuses who’ve been running shit forever. Samaya Djeli dite Mah Kouyate no 1 Samaya Djeli dite Mah Kouyate no 1, Vol 1 (Camara Production 2004) Mah Kouyate no 1—dubbed as such because there is another, younger singer named Mah Kouyate no 2—has long been known in Mali (and beyond) for her husky, plaintive voice, but Kouyate’s band Samaya Djeli is the reason to die for this tape. Even the acidic blasts of Kouyate’s vocals can’t match the swirling synth kora and vibrato keyboard vamps. The Arthur Russell-meets-Cybotron congas and synths make “Fila Djole” the deepest cut, but Samaya Djeli kill it on pretty much every song here with seven-minuteplus essays on minimalism as maximalism.
Prince Okla Tei Togsi (I.K’s Production date unknown) This is feel good music from another planet. Prince Okla sounds like a Ghanaian Daniel Johnston; out of tune vocals recorded at awkward levels rubbing against clipped timbale cracks and “smooth trumpet” Casio stabs. When I met Okla in 2002, this tape had already made its mark. Following its release in the late ’90s, Tei Togsi helped form a blueprint for the current wave of corny Northern Ghana jams—a synthesizercentric clash of reggae, electro pop, Bollywood and local flavors.
Sirina Issah Cheer the Stars (Self-released 1994) Blessed Gregory, the man who produced Sirina Issah’s 1994 landmark Cheer the Stars, must be a nut for Jellybean or Little Louie Vega. To foreign ears this is seriously bizarro music, but it’s by no means simply juvenile pop experimentation at the dawn of electronic adventures. These are some of the most sublime and honest teen dance jams I’ve heard. With cameos by an audibly prepubescent Big Adams (Northern Ghana’s first rap icon), this tape is both a historical milestone as the first recording to feature a Northern rapper, and an adorable reminder of how it’s teenagers themselves who can best make life-changing bubblegum pop. Even in dusty yam-farming lands.
Various Artists 13 Recordz présente Vrai 2 Vrai 12ground Prophecy (13 Recordz 2004) While traveling for the first time to Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, I met an Indian bicycle parts salesman who showed me a cheap hotel close to the center of town. Next to that hotel was a wooden shack of a music shop. I asked the dudes behind the desk about Burkinabé rap and they said this compilation was “serious.” They were right. That sick ’93 shit we used to love is alive and well and living in Burkina Faso.
Daasebre Gymenah U Can’t Touch Me (CSP 2001) Once sequencers and digital processing became firmly entrenched in Ghana, highlife music no longer sounded like sleepy dudes singing beautifully over thuddy drums and plunky guitars (unfortunately). With so many new options, producers would use, like, two to three billion different keyboard tones on one song. Thankfully some artists practiced restraint and still turned out monster hits. Daasebre Gymenah carefully evokes the spirit of pre-crack Bobby Brown to make this a classic. When this first came out I once counted how many times in one day I could hear Daasebre’s smooth croon bless the radio waves while walking around the city. The answer was 15. Bonus: there’s enough voicebox on this tape to sink T-Pain’s battleship.
Brian Shimkovitz’s website Awesome Tapes From Africa features cassettes he collected while living and traveling in West Africa on a Fulbright grant. He currently resides in Brooklyn, NY. 1 5 0 T HE FA D E R
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MIXTAPE MUSICS COMPILED BY: ERIC DUCKER, SAM DUKE, SAM HOCKLEY-SMITH, EDWIN “STATS” HOUGHTON, T COLE RACHEL, MATTHEW SCHNIPPER
Cymande Promised Heights (Newhouse Records) I played the saxophone in middle school because I wanted to sound like this; Lisa Simpson, Bill Clinton and Cymande. I didn’t know Cymande, of course, but if I had to invent music in my mind to be 7th grade cool, this was it. “Brother’s on the Slide” from this Promised Heights reissue is forever in the pocket, but if I wanted to jam anything that cool-cat I should have been forever in my bedroom practicing. I wasn’t, so now I write about music instead of playing it. MS
Bon Iver For Emma, Forever Ago (Jagjaguwar) Bon Iver is actually bearded songsmith Justin Vernon and while you’re apparently supposed to pronounce it “bohneevair” (French for “good winter”), this isn’t some high-brow Euro folk made for cobblestone meandering. Instead, Vernon’s songs are Wisconsin backwoods laments at their most frigidly worn, his light wisp sounding pretty distraught over (assumingly) Emma, but maybe even more over the fact that it’s just so damn cold out and there’s no one else around to share some body heat. In search of relief, dude actually chopped his own wood to heat his cabin while recording, but the tunes still sound like sonic hibernation. SD
Nick Lowe Jesus of Cool: 30th Anniversary Edition (Yep Roc Records) Not to be confused with weepy Nick Drake or handsome Rob Lowe, English songsmith Nick Lowe is often best remembered because of the people who covered his tunes—most notably Elvis Costello’s famous take on “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, 1 52 T HE FA D E R
and Understanding.” This souped-up reissue of Lowe’s seminal Jesus of Cool proves that the best way to keep people talking about your record in 30 years (aside from awesomely calling it Jesus of Cool) is to write a dozen songs that basically predict the next three decades of British pop music. Originally released in the states under the title Pure Pop for Now People, this is one of those records that lots of music nerds reference but few actually own. TCR
DJ Magic Mike Bass Head (Cheetah) A gigantic bass blast for your face and your external hard drive, the two disc Bass Head collects five albums and three singles from Miami legend DJ Magic Mike in mp3 format. Domino’s Pizza’s The Noid, a “Droooooop!” screaming Ad-Rock and a bunch of other assholes show up in the mix as track after track rocks and freaks. You won’t find a better soundtrack for leaving anonymous comments on Brooklyn Vegan, that is if your laptop doesn’t explode. ED
Various Artists Droppin’ Science (Blue Note Records) Is US3 to Herbie Hancock as Richard Prince is to the Marlboro Man? Or maybe Madlib is to Blue Note Records as Richard Rauschenberg is to flags, goats and newspapers. At least Blue Note hopes so. This compilation of the label’s popularly sampled songs is arbitrary but enlightening, evoking stodgy men pushing up their noses at snotty kids while really wanting to get in on the action. But, really, if you think about it, sampling is kind of weird. They made it and other people took it and then we liked it because they made it but only remember the other people. Everything is everything, or something. MS
Gary Higgins Red Hash (Drag City) I know it’s kinda lame to pull this card, but I’ve been trying to listen to as much vinyl as I can lately, mostly because it stops me from skipping around albums too much and actually gets me to really listen to things. Thankfully, Drag City is reissuing this weirdo psychfolk album in LP form so I can sit in a big drug rug draped chair
feigned indifference. Still, when the band left the stage so Beck could trot out some folk numbers, my friend Cheri got teary eyed. I made fun of her. TCR
with a glass of wine and a “jazz cigarette” while stroking my beard as this plays out over and over. Actually, some of these songs are really heavy but they still play out in my head as cartoon dragons drinking mead, and at this point in my life there could be worse imagery floating around in there. SHS
Various Artists Umalali: The Garifuna Women’s Project (Cumbancha) What does it say about me that I am I drawn to music with women yelling? Probably nothing good. Well, happy/sad news for me is Umalali: Garifuna Women’s Project, an album of oldish ladies in Belize belting it. “Umalali” means “voice” in the Garifuna language, and that is the focus here, pangs and shrieks like baby birds. I cannot imagine opening my mouth and having something beautiful come out, and maybe this interest stems from jealousy and confusion, because these grandmother squeals have me piqued. MS
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Various Artists Nigeria Special: Modern Highlife, AfroSounds & Nigerian Blues 1970-6 (Soundway) Like rap lyrics, FADER CD reviews are exercises in restating a basic theme, ie this CD is awesome. So let me just cut to the chase and say that on a scale of medium-awesome to super major, this two CD set is real, real good. It is 26 tracks of revelatory funk recorded by dudes named Celestine Ukwu and Semi Colon (not made up). It is also a beautiful object— the kind that will make even vinyl heads mourn the imminent death of the compact disc—with extensive liner notes, photos and some 40 color reproductions of the original albums and labels. You can tell how deep it is just by the overwrought specificity of the title, like they’re too purist to fucks with highlife after ’76…Or more likely, the Afro-Sounds in ’77 were so bone-crushingly superlative they still need a box set of their own. ESH
Canyons The Lovemore EP (Hole In The Sky) My relationship with disco in the past has been fairly tenuous, I think there was a point when I hated it because in Detroit Rock City, Edward Furlong and that guy that looks like Jason Mewes really hated it. But I didn’t like KISS, either, so why was I trying to empathize with them? I came around eventually and discovered that hippie disco was right up my alley. That’s why Canyons work for me—they use the repetitive and propelling disco backbeat to go off in all sorts of weird directions, accenting their songs with train whistles and wind chimes and making everything sound totally organic. SHS
Beck Odelay: Deluxe Edition (Universal) I saw Beck on the Odelay tour at the Will Rogers Theater in Oklahoma City. I was in college and I remember that I drove about nine pot-smokin people to the show in my ’77 Mercury Cougar and that Beck’s band had matching outfits and a few choreographed dance moves. Beck had suddenly become almost too popular for us to admit that we loved him, so I
Various Artists Living Bridge (Rare Book Room Records) Despite what the spooky, hippie-flavored cover art might lead you to believe, the inaugural release from Brooklyn’s Rare Book Room Records is not a collection of wicca chants. It’s better. This awesome two-disc set collects a bevy of neverbefore-heard tracks by folks who have recorded at the Rare Book Room Recording studios (the label’s namesake) and the tracklist basically reads like the seating chart of the “cool” table at some great indie-rock cafeteria. Avey Tare, Black Dice, Deerhunter, and The Naysayer are saving you a seat, as long as you don’t mind sitting next to Fischerspooner too. TCR
MIXTAPE BOOKS COMPILED BY ERIC DUCKER, SAM HOCKLEY-SMITH, CHIOMA NNADI, MATTHEW SCHNIPPER
Cover Story: Album Cover Art (Wax Poetics) Old album covers look way cooler to me than new ones. Not to say that there aren’t some modern visual jams that I am feeling hard, but I kinda wish covers still existed that were basically just photos of dudes smiling because their lives are pretty nice, or just weird, unfinished line drawings of dolphin heads. This book collects the aforementioned covers, selected by Wax Poetics writers for their personal value or underlying theme. On their own, the covers look great, but together reveal a secret history of people who have made listening to music their life. There are probably sentimental stories behind most of these selections, but we’ll never know them, because we wouldn’t understand. SHS Tiffany Godoy Style Deficit Disorder: Harajuku Street Fashion Tokyo (Chronicle Books) Harajuku is a style of being as much as it is a square-mile shopping chunk of Tokyo City, and Tiffany Godoy’s Style Deficit Disorder is an awesome encyclopedic breakdown of the place. The book is divided into chapters on all the brands, zines, bands, stylists and miscellaneous wonderful weirdos that have drifted in and out of Harajuku history, from cult figures like
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HOT CHIP MADE INHOT THECHIP DARK MADEININTHE THEDARK DARK MADE
Goth-Lolita drag queen Mana to international players like Nigo and Hiroshi Fujiwara. Godoy invites other Japanese fashion luminaries to weigh in on the culture in between, but it’s the archival imagery— cheeky late ’90s Hysteric Glamour campaigns, street shots of fro’d out skateboard crews from the ’70s, and shots of Bowie getting fitted in a mini-Kimono—that give you a sense of the phenomenon from all angles. CN Livia Corona Enanitos Toreros (PowerHouse) Six years ago, back when we’d order hangover breakfast from Lemon Lime and run Gen Fs on Tricky’s new dancehall protégé, Livia Corona came by the office from California to show us her photographs of a bullfighting troupe of little people that she traveled around Mexico with. Oh, hello awesome. Corona shot some features for us (including issue #12’s piece on Cody Chesnutt and the west coast black rock movement, curious FADER archivists), and now, after eight years of following the bullfighers’ story, Enanitos Toreros beautifully collects Corona’s images and interviews, telling a tale of cabaret and community, bravery and bravado. ED Frank O’Hara Selected Poems (Knopf) In his poem “Ode To Joy,” Frank O’Hara says, “We shall have everything we want and they’ll be no more dying on the pretty plains or in the supper clubs.” He did not die in a supper club, nor on a pretty plain, but on a beach, when he was hit by a dune buggy on Fire Island at the age of 40. Until then he lived with real force and brute class. The first line of his poem “Now That I Am In Madrid And Can Think” is “I think of you” and there is nothing more plainly perfect than that. MS
Hot Chip’s third full length release Hot Chip’s third full release Hotand Chip’s third full length release the follow up tolength their critically and the follow to their critically and theacclaimed follow upup to their critically album The Warning. acclaimed album The Warning. acclaimed Thisalbum is HotThe ChipWarning. at its best; This is Hot Chip at best; Thiswonderfully is Hot Chip quirky, at its its best; clever, wonderfully quirky, clever, wonderfullysoulful quirky,and clever, poppy. soulful poppy. soulful andand poppy. Featuring:Shake ShakeAAFist, Fist, Featuring: Featuring: Shake A Fist, ReadyFor ForThe TheFloor, Floor, Ready Ready For The Floor, OnePure PureThought Thought++more more One One Pure Thought + more
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MIXTAPE DVDS AFRICAN DVDS ALL THE WAY FROM FLATBUSH, BROOKLYN COMPILED BY SAM HOCKLEY-SMITH, PETER MACIA
Power of Love 2 (Elonel International) Power Of Love 2 is built around revenge and deceit. In the first five minutes a woman gets purposefully hit by a car driven by another woman. Cheating is involved. Midway through this, Mobolaji walked in and asked me if the main dude was Ramsey. I had no idea what he was talking about, but when I looked it up it turns out that, yeah, it is an actor named Ramsey. So I learned two things from this film: one, love is powerful but often tested by equally powerful outside forces, and two, Mobolaji knows a lot about low budget African cinema. SHS
Love Comes Back (Straight Hustler Entertainment) Okay so basically: A businessman named Henry inherits his boss’s company. He also enters into an arranged marriage with Mona, his boss’s daughter. After Mona’s parents die in a car accident (not shown), Henry marries Mona, moves into her estate and runs her father’s company, driving around in a convertible blasting 2pac and cheating on Mona, who finds out and cheats on him back, but actually falls in love. This results in a murder and Mona going to jail while Henry gets remarried. There are some incredibly relaxing scenes throughout though, like the full minute of Henry putting his convertible roof up after he parks his car. In fact, key story points are often glossed over in favor of extended scenes involving Henry’s car and the different parking lots it goes to—hypnotically driving from place to place, “Changes” playing in the background, always going the speed limit. SHS
State of Emergency (Ossy Affason Ind.) If more movies started with a dude kneeling to propose marriage in a Santa Claus suit, I think we’d find Hollywood in better sorts. State of Emergency doesn’t start that way, but the trailer preceding it does, which doesn’t say much about Teco Benson’s action thriller but did get me hyped to watch it. State of Emergency is action packed as long as you have fast forward. (No shit, this movie is two hours long and I swear an hour of that is dudes forgetting their lines.) First five minutes: two women dead from gut shots, mysterious symbols dripped on the floor with their blood, symbols match a symbol from one of the detective’s old army photos, victims related to prominent government officials. Rest of the movie: terrorists responsible for killings hold official dads hostage in a cool conference center, detective battles demons. And terrorists. SPOILER: Demons and terrorists lose. PM
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Magic Cap 2 (Divine Touch Productions) This review from Africanmovieplace.com really captures what this movie is all about better than I ever could: “Nya, played by Osita Iheme, and Aba, played by Chinedu Ikedieze, are from two extremely different financial backgrounds. Nya asked his father why they are so poor and his father attributes it to generational poverty. Aba on the other hand asked his father how he became very rich and his father answer was hard work. Watch as they both hook up and decides to make money by any means possible as long as it does not involve hard work. This hilarous comedy is a must see.” PM
REHEATERS SWINGIN’ ADDIS THE CONTINUED INFLUENCE OF ETHIOPIQUES
ddis Ababa, Ethiopia in the 1970s was probably one of the coolest places on Earth. Electrified xylophones, seedy saxophone trios, bejeweled tie clips and Amharic blues were all part of a seemingly endless supply of brilliance that the 23-part Ethiopiques series has chronicled since 1998. Thanks to these compilations and reissues, Ethiopia’s musical influence has been soaked in by everyone from Kanye West to Jim Jarmusch, the Ex to Adrian Orange. Even ATLiens the Black Lips have opened up to the sound, covering Teshome Meteku’s “Hasabé” from Ethiopiques Vol 1: The Golden Years of Modern Music on a 7inch to be released by Chunklet magazine. As Cole Alexander, the band’s guitarist/vocalist explains, “My stepfather does AIDS research in Africa. One day he brought home a bootleg of Ethiopian music called Swingin’ Addis. I really dug the production, but didn’t realize it was [part of ] this great comp series until much later when I started hearing that familiar sound in clubs and in movies. One of my favorite guys on Swingin’ Addis is Samuel Belay and I’m always hoping to find more from him. I asked my step-dad to find it but he’s not an ethnomusicologist so I’ll probably never know what else from him lies out there. PS Ethiopian girls are really hot.” MATTHEW SCHNIPPER
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JEDI MIND PIX RECOMMENDED LISTENING FAVORED TUNES FROM FAVORITE DJS
QUEEN MAJESTY As part of Deady Dragon Soundsystem, Queen Majesty has been delving into her incredibly deep crates every Monday night on East Village Radio from 6-8pm, and at various gigs around New York. Most recently Queen Majesty released Trilla, a mixtape collecting her favorite Jamaican covers of American songs. For more info see myspace.com/queenmajesty
Beenie Man “Follow Me” (Striker Lee/ Deadly Dragon) Coming off of Beenie Man’s debut album, The Invincible Beenie Man: The 10 Year Old DJ Wonder, Deadly Dragon and Striker Lee have just put out this tune on 45 for the very first time. He was 10 years old when he recorded this tune and it’s wicked! Classic ’80s dancehall on what sounds very similar to the General riddim.
Alborosie “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” (Forward Recordings) By now, everyone should know Black Uhuru’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” but the Sicilian expat/Jamaican transplant Alborosie drops his own lyrics over this selfproduced take on the song. The heavy bassline and bouncy delivery are infectious enough to make you forget comparisons to Collie Buddz for a few minutes. 1 6 2 T H E FA D E R
King Kong “My Darling” (Jammy’s) I am now officially calling the Hot Lava riddim underrated. I have never heard any other songs on it except for this one, but apparently there’s quite a few. It’s digital, it’s upbeat, it’s fun. There’s synthesized hand claps and most of all, it has King Kong on it. If you love Tenor Saw or Nitty Gritty then you will love King Kong. And I’m sure you can play it after a Teddybears track or something.
Bastard Jazz 3, “Ginga Snaps” (Bastard Jazz) This 12-inch has been one of my favorites to play since DJ DRM gave it to me last summer. Most of the hip-hop-over-reggae remixes I’ve found on 45 are poorly produced and sound forced. However, Bastard Jazz has taken Lil Kim’s “Lighters Up” and skillfully put it with a subtly dubbed out reggae instrumental.
JOKERS OF THE SCENE These Ottawa DJs/Producers/Promoters/Fool’s Gold signees are pretty much everywhere these days, throwing their monthly “Disorganised” parties and remixing everyone from Blaqstarr to Apostle of Hustle. Jokers Chameleonic and DJ Booth will probably be DJing a party near you. See if we’re telling the truth at myspace.com/sceneofthejoker
JEFFREY SFIRE Detroit by way of Chicago and NYC, DJ Jeffrey Sfire has been playing out italo disco, house and generally any record that will compel you to dance all over the globe since he was a teenager. Currently he is a part of the impressive roster of Ghostly International DJs and releases his Menergy mixes regularly for download at sfire.org.
his quest to produce the genre’s first proper full length release and “911” is an early indication that the entire album is gonna make some serious noise. “911” centers itself around a dirty electro bass line, Brooklyn MC Stimulus’ stutter raps, and chopped up breakbeats galore. A rapid succession of Mentasm samples push the tune into overdrive and makes it the perfect tool to transition between club bangers and a full on dancefloor audio assault.
closer you are, the more you see them, their life and their troubles in the work. After hearing lyrics over the phone and talking for hours about love, sex, family and music, this album is beyond genuine. It is a delicately crafted house music narrative. Influenced by the Detroit and Chicago sounds, you can’t help but pay close attention to everything.
Crookers, “Knobbers” (Southern Fried) These bass-happy Italian jackmasters finally flipped the fidget script and found their own sound with this epic banger! Blurring the boundaries between italo disco, euro-trance, and a medieval feast results in some serious dancefloor devastation. Trust us when we say that their debut record is not what you’re going to expect—Crookers have matured from BUM BUM house masters into something entirely unique, exciting, and above all BANGIN!
Tittsworth ft Stimulus “911” (Plant Music) Jesse Tittsworth is about to deliver his debut LP and heads ain’t ready! If you’re expecting a continuous stream of bootleg Baltimore club remixes of Time Life’s Greatest Hits of the ’70’s series then you’re going to be rather disappointed. Titts has laboriously collected a wide variety of guests in
Jokers of the Scene “Y’all Know the Name (Nacho Lovers 100% Remix)” (Fool’s Gold) We gotta throw this one in there simply because the Toronto upstart production duo of Fist Fight and Scott Seewhale knocked their debut remix straight outta the park. Taking it back to the early ’90’s, the Nachos’ love of Armando and Kenny Dope is evident as they splice those sounds up with a stuttering Pharoahe Monch sample. Watch for the drop at the 2:16 mark as the most adventurous dancefloors take it back to the future. Keep your eyes on these guys!
Patrick Cowley Mind Warp (Megatone) If you have any interest in disco at all you should know and love Patrick Cowley. One of America’s most important disco producers, he was a genius at synth programming and way ahead of his time. This was his last release before he died from AIDS in 1982. I can’t even imagine what it must have felt like to be in San Francisco when this was released. An evil future was taking lives relentlessly, ending an era of complete freedom. It’s a warning of what’s to come, and he couldn’t have been more right. The ominous and very sad “Going Home” was supposedly the last song he recorded.
Prosumer and Murat Tepeli Serenity (Ostgut Tonträger) Interpreting someone’s art is a completely different thing when you’re friends with the art-maker. The
. John Rocca “I Want it to be Real” (Streetwise) Every time I play this song, someone totally awesome tells me how psyched he or she is that I played it. Last week, it was Morgan Geist, kinda the coolest one so far, no big deal. Even the bitchy lady at Secondhand Rose in NYC let down her guard to mention how much she loves it. If this song does not make you dance, something is seriously wrong. It’s one of those “Hey everyone stop what you’re doing and come dance with the gang!” kinda songs. The title is also my new motto. REAL REAL REAL!
COMPILED BY EDWIN “STATS” HOUGHTON, PETER MACIA
PHOTOGRAPHY BEAU GREALY
Commando South African Brandy I just bought this because the word commando and the holster-ready flask size and the ye-olde-ruff-riders graphic on the label jumped out at me from behind the plexi-glass in the shebeen section of Cheeks nightclub in Alexandra. Not to drink—cause I just assumed it was pure poison—but more to rock conspicuously around the block party like a pocket square and then keep the bottle on my bookshelf at home with a daisy or something in it. And yet. I will be verdammt if it isn’t as mellow as the liner notes suggest, the kind of spirit you can swig from a flask and not get crazy heartburn or those headache-y vapors, better, in fact, than most of the “top-shelf” brandy I’ve ever had. ESH
anywhere outside of your hotel, a giant Star only costs the equivalent of 75 cents, which is cheaper than a bag of water. PM “Bitters” In quotes because although there is an actual branded bitters, Alomo, you will most likely get the local version poured or ladled from a big bucket with stuff floating in it. Similar to a snake wine I once drank with a dude named Five in Vietnam, bitters is harsh yet rewarding and will win you friends among the locals. It’s made of barks and roots and things like that, and I honestly wouldn’t recommend it unless all other booze disappears from Earth. However, according to the guys I drank with, it has made me a man. Finally! PM
Klipdrift South African Brandy South Africa is famous for quality brandy and this is the stuff people were stocking up on in the duty free shop at Tambo airport so I went with it. It has an almost grapevine taste, like you can taste the fact that brandy is actually distilled wine, possibly because I poured too much and was hitting it out of a white wine glass instead of a snifter. I actually found
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this less to my taste than, say, Commando but it is nonetheless quality liqs, and truth be told I can’t really drink actual wine at all, so connoisseurs get in where you fit. ESH Star Lager Guinness Ghana brews this sucker at 7% alcohol and most bars prefer to give it to you in 22 ounce bottles. Combine that with dry season and odds are good you will be drunk after one
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but so thirsty that you will buy three. Don’t worry though, it’s light in aroma and calories, so when you fall asleep on the sidewalk it will be pleasant and painless for the police to carry you off to jail. Currently, there are several competitors for favorite beer status in Accra (Ghana’s capital), most notably Stone and Club lagers, but they’re only half as strong and taste shitty with fufu and tilapia. Plus, if you drink it
START AND END THINGS RIGHT. DRINK RESPONSIBLY. Liqueur, 21-50% Alc. By Volume, Southern Comfort Company, Louisville, KY ©2008
EVENTS 50TH ISSUE RELEASE PARTY PARTY TIME, EXCELLENT
PRESENTED BY THE NEW 2008 FORD FOCUS
â€˘ Forever ago, back in last December, we were 50 issues old, 50 issues awesome. To celebrate, we parked a new 2008 Ford Focus out front of the Bowery Ballroom and invited White Williams, Justice and Mos Def in to perform, along with DJ Enuff of the Pepsi DJ Division, spinning classics. Southern Comfort and Bud Select provided libations and we were a little fizzled by nights end (and mornings beginning), but still solid footed enough to revel like champions.
PHOTOGRAPHY DOROTHY HONG
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EVENTS FADER 51 IS#UE RELEASE PARTY SANTOGOLDEN
A BASS ALE EVENT
ALWAYS ENJOY RESPONSIBLY.
• We usually reserve Wednesday nights for Project Runway, but we had to curb our Nina Garcia fixation for an evening to throw our FADER 51 release party aka Project Funway. Zing! Bass Ale helped us loosen up for Izza Kizza’s set (where he rapped over the theme to Cheers) and Santogold’s barnstorming throwdown (complete with Public Enemy S1W backup dancers!). Diplo and Switch limbered loose some electronic brittle for all the doe eyed sirens making it a late night at Brooklyn’s Studio B.
PHOTOGRAPHY DOROTHY HONG
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STOCKISTS WHERE TO BUY THE LOOKS YOU LOVE
The dancehall diaspora of Collie Buddz.
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The nomad noise of MIAâ€™s Kala
Bonde do Role is taking the world by storm with their filthy Paulista funk. In the process, they might just re-draw the map of Brazil.
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#47 ISSUE JULY/AUGUST 2007 SUMMER MUSIC: FEATURING LIL WAYNE, BONDE DO ROLE, COLLIE BUDDZ,KANYE WEST, DAFT PUNK, MIA.
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UNSTOPPABLE COPPABLES FROM ABOVE AND BEYOND THIS ISSUE’S PAGES. COMPILED BY EDWIN “STATS” HOUGHTON, ETIENNE TRON
KWAITO “KWAITO WILL NEVER DIE” pg 90
BLK JKS “AFRICAN HEADCHARGE” pg 106
ESAU MWAMWAYA “MODERN HYMNS” pg 132
Brickz Est’ekfeleni (Will of Steel 2007) Est’ekfeleni, especially the dance anthem “Left, Right,” is a window into the current sound of mainstream kwaito. The album also shows Brickz’s versatility. The DJ Cleo-produced “Siyan’duduza” features a zulu jive-ish Miriam Makeba throwback on the sample, while “Carwash” captures the mood of where the kwaito scene now lives—carwashes, backyard BBQs and home stereos, rather than the club scene it used to dominate. ESH
Santana Caravanserai (Columbia 1972) This is the first album Carlos and crew made after the original Santana band split up—most likely because he wanted to move into the Miles fusion territory explored here. Although generally less metallic than some more famous Santana joints, it’s definitely a blueprint for the way BLK JKS mesh improvisation and riddimdriven elements within their rock. ESH
Since working with Esau Mwamwaya, Etienne Tron and Johan Karlberg of Radioclit have been dropping these Afrodance tracks at their Secousse party every third Friday at the Notting Hill Arts Club in London.
Various Artists Stokvel Hits, Vol 1 (Ghetto Ruff 2006) Stokvel is a South African term for a group of people who pool money for investment purposes, but judging from the bottles all over this CD’s album art you’d think it was a brand of liquor. As a label, Ghetto Ruff is a big player in the kwaito scene, most notably as the home to Zola, a heavyweight in the past who now is mostly too occupied with his status as a UNICEF youth ambassador to come around much. This ’06 comp mixes joints from key dudes Zola, Brickz and Drencko with sleepers from lesser knowns like Zulu Naja and Bleksom. ESH Mapaputsi, Mzekezeke & Brown Dash Kwaito Grooves (Ghetto Ruff 2005) This is actually three artist albums in one box set, though the Mapaputsi disc is conspicuously missing from the copy I brought back from South Africa. Mzekezeke was more or less running kwaito when this dropped. A masked rapper who could talk as much smack as he liked (and did) ’cause nobody knew who he was, he was soon revealed to be radio DJ Sibusiso Leope and kinda faded away, but his eight tracks are as solid as anything that’s dropped since. ESH
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Busi Mhlongo Urbanzulu (MELT 2000 2000) Mhlongo is a legendary South African vocalist who can wail or whisper and accompany herself with percussive tongue clicks. Grounded in the Zulu maskanda genre, this LP also incorporates rock, South African jazz, Congolese pop and West African kora—a summation of the pitbull’s breakfast of influences that the Jacks came up with in Jozi. Unsurprisingly they talk about collaborating with her all the time. ESH Various Artists Afrika Underground (Counterpoint 2002) An invaluable overview of soul and funk recorded in the Apartheid era, this comp is also the only place short of a Soweto stoop sale to pick up the work of the seminal band Harari. Kind of like the Azymuth of South Africa, they made a killing in the ’70s putting a Zulu and Sotho spin on American soul. Originally known as the Beaters, they were the first black group featured on South African TV and had a big effect on the Jacks on any number of levels. ESH
Salif Keita vs Martin Solveig “Madan” 12-inch (Mixture Stereophonic 2002) The fast beat, disco guitars and Keita’s voice trading places with the chanted female vocals make this track the ultimate Radioclit club tune. ET Various Artists The Indestructible Beat of Soweto, Vol 1 (Shanachie 1986) The lilting, almost-reggae groove of Nelcy Sedibe’s “Holotelani” could have taught Paul Simon everything he needed to know before he did Graceland. ET Various Artists True Romance (Soundtrack) (Morgan Creek 1993) “You’re So Cool” by Hans Zimmer comes from the same soundtrack composer don who also did the Lion King soundtrack with Ladysmith Black Mambazo. This could sound like African music just like it could sound like a weird 19th century waltz. ET DJ Znobia O Outro Lado (label unknown 2006) “Socoto 2038,” “Mono Mono,” the “Comboio II” remix or any track by Znobia. He is the absolute master of kuduro music, the Daft Punk of Angola. ET
Bablee “Bableesamuz” 12-inch (Uppercuts 2008) This 12-inch should be coming out on our label Uppercuts just about the same time this issue hits the newsstand. Bablee is raucous and amazing. This tune from the Ivory Coast should change electronic music forever. ET
PHOTOGRAPHY BY KRISANNE JOHNSON (KWAITO), MIKHAEL SUBOTSKY (BLK JKS), LIZ JOHNSON ARTUR (ESAU MWAMWAYA).
APPENDIX REAL LIVE MUSIC!
STILL DOING IT BETTER ISSUE #53 ON SALE APRIL 1 2008
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PHOTOGRAPHY KRISANNE JOHNSON