While we’ve long been fans of South African dance and rap, the more underground edges of the SA scene have sometimes been hard to grasp from a distance. This summer, that might begin to change. That’s because the internationally acclaimed artist Spoek Mathambo is releasing a groundbreaking documentary charting the depth and variety of the electronic music that has become a staple of South African culture. Produced by Black Major and directed by Nthato Mokgata and Lebo Rasethaba, Future Sound of Mzansi covers musical styles played everywhere from rough townships to ultra-elite clubs, investigating the invigorated popular music of South Africa 20 years after it gained its independence. The film features a range of emerging electronic artists from all over South Africa including Aero Manyelo, Black Coffee, Christian Tiger School, Felix Laband, John Wizards, Krushed & Sorted, Machepies, Markus Wormstorm, Mix & Blend, DJ Mujava, Naked Boys, Nozinja, Panyaza, Rude Boyz, Okmalumkoolkat, Sibot, Zaki Ibrahim and many more.
As part of the lead-up to the film, Spoek has been releasing mixtapes highlighting the work of some of the key artists. While past editions have featured rappers like the innovative Okmalumkoolkat, the current edition focuses on Pretoria-based DJ Spoko, as well as an exciting intro to a new style called qgom. Both mixes are filled with with rare, exclusive unreleased tracks along with some classic tunes from both the qgom genre and DJ Spoko, giving fans a chance to really explore these groundbreaking sounds.
Spoek Mathambo’s mix of DJ Spoko includes a wide range of styles including pitori house, shangaan electro, and Bacardi house, a genre DJ Spoko invented, and which can be heard in clubs and cars all across Atteridgeville.
Bacardi house has been DJ Spoko’s main project for about a decade. In the early 2000s, Spoko traveled 40 miles south to Soweto, where he studied sound engineering in the studio of Nozinja, an artist known for the creation of the hyper-speed, hip-shaking shangaan electro style. Building from that training, DJ Spoko developed his own, harder-edged style. Named “Bacardi house” for the rum-drinking gangsters who made up some of its earliest fans, the style is known for intricate, almost human-voiced synths, and a seriously heavy use of snare.
This mix is all about layers. The tracks may change from house to kwaito to a slower wine-inducing tempo, but the one constant is the dense layering of sounds: percussion, keyboards, vocals, synthesizers. Each track has an almost polyphonic complexity, with so many amazing beats and rhythms and bars flowing through each other that you are pretty much guaranteed to miss something the first time, and the second, and the third!
Unlike Spoek Mathambo’s mix on DJ Spoko, Qgom Revolution is a mix dedicated to the Kwazulu Natal region of South African, and more specifically, to the new dance style called qgom.
The 42-minute mix fuses multigenerational, multinational hits with purely South African sounds, creating a worldly and exciting fusion that reflects just how globally minded the new generation of SA producers are. The mix features early millennial American hits such as Sunshine Anderson’s “Heard It All Before” and Mary J Blige’s 2001 “Family Affairs,” along with more recent chart-topping artists like Kendrick Lamar, whose “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” thrillingly spins off into a mix of funky drum cadences. That kind of move, convincingly bridging the local and the international, is what makes qgom, and Spoek’s project as a whole, so fascinating.
Check out the mix below and the mix above. Then get excited (or, if you’re like us, stay excited) about Spoek’s documentary.