Shows how SA producers have responded to international attention.
Louis Pattison 2010
South African house captured the world’s attention a couple of years back when Township Funk by DJ Mujava, a producer from the Pretoria township of Atteridgeville, became a breakout hit. A cut of lithe bleep house with a video that pictured the kids of Pretoria – Mujava included – busting breakdance moves on street corners, it picked up a global release on Warp Records and was hailed as “one of the biggest global dance hits of the last year” in the New York Times.
Ayobaness!, the first major collection of South African house, reveals that while the scene is not all cast from Township Funk’s starkly minimal, Afro-futuristic mould, it is certainly a regional offshoot with its own distinct character. House first emerged from the streets of Johannesburg in the form of Kwaito, four-to-the-floor rhythms slowed and crossbred with rap and African hip hop. Ayobaness!, however, suggests that South African producers have responded to international attention by cleaning up their sound slightly, building a percussive, distinctly African house hybrid that’s nonetheless flexible enough to slot into any internationally-minded DJ’s set.
It is, much like its distant cousin UK funky, a party music, packed with rattling percussion and group sing-alongs. The album’s title-track, by one Pastor Mbhobho – a performer who wears a wig and priest’s dress – is thumping house with thick 80s synths, jazzy keyboard runs and a rabble of kids singing the chorus, while Mujava’s Mugwanti/Sgwejegweje matches booming sub-bass with enough percussion to equip a mid-sized carnival.
Fun, but when not full-on, the music explores some more interesting, original areas. DJ Sumthyn’s Wena is a fairly robust cut of minimal house bathed in cold synths, poetess Ntsiki Mazwai offering a stern spoken-word narration lashing out at a cheating man. Aero Manyelo’s Mexican Girl, meanwhile, mixes tense deep house with a swinging bassline apparently influenced by Mbaqanga, a traditional Zulu guitar style. That won’t, of course, be evident to most of the clubbers that get sweaty to it – but it does make for a local variation that stands out on its own in the bustling global village that is 21st century dance music.