Monday, October 4, 2010



Before I get into this essay of sorts, I want to introduce the topic. This is probably the most interesting interview I’ve done so far. Aside from the supreme amazingness of this group of artists, musically, the interview was on-point for me, intellectually. In fact, I think my mind was broadened by it.

The thing is that these guys are futurists; they are creating music that is before it’s time in many ways.

As Spoek said at the very beginning of the interview: “We are not into genre-specific music, we want to make New Music – a space in the future, which is a void because all we have is the information we already have.”

And the sad thing is that Africans, South Africans and (especially) Capetonians take a long time to move forward, beyond what is recognised as “in” - what is familiar to them.

So a big part of this dissertation is to say: “Wake up! The future is ours to define!” & let’s celebrate the artists who are pushing us forward; because art is the highest expression of culture, at the end of the day.


It’s weird how ‘the universe’ works.

I’ve been planning to interview Spoek for a while now. Firstly, he is one of SA’s most original and influential contemporary artists, in my opinion. One need only check out The Fader cover feature to see what I mean.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly for me, he inspired my hi-top fade, back-in-the-day.

Anyway, on the night of Wednesday 22/09/2010 I went through to the Redbull Studios, not knowing what to expect. I found Spoek chilling with the latest project, Spoek Mathambo & Mshini Wam.

So instead of a solo interview, I struck it lucky and got the whole band!

It was a tough situation as they were rehearsing for their debut live show at the NSWZA event at Neighbourhood the next day, so they had little time for a silly little blog interview. But as time went on, I think they got into it, which was cool for me.

I saw the show the next day & lost my damn mind so I can speak from an intellectual and experiential point-of-view. My point-of-view, that is.


Meet Spoek Mathambo & Mshini Wam.

Let me begin by briefly introducing each member of the band. They are each quasi-geniuses in their own right so before we get into the collective, let’s pay homage to the individuals. I've tried as much as I can to use the artists’ own words to describe themselves.

SPOEK MATHAMBO. Put simply, Spoek describes himself as coming from “a background as a rapper with small obsessions in Metal and Grime at the same time.” Eclectic. Spoek has been in the electro-rap mash-up scene for a while, as Sweat X with the infamous Markus Wormstorm and as Playdoe with the revered DJ Sibot.

RICHARD THE THIRD. I’ve been fan of Richard’s dark dubstep stylies ever since he dropped a sublime set at Co.Lab last summer. Richard is one half of Biscope alongside his brother, Twelv. Under this guise, they have released some dope dubstep bootlegs that caught on like wildfire overseas. Otherwise, he’s an electro/dubstep DJ/producer of the highest calibre and also holds it down at the Redbull Studios.

JAKOBSNAKE. Jakey is simply a maestro; with such an open mind and passionate attitude, his energy is infectious. He goes into the alter-ego territory explaining that:

“JakobSnake is kind of like my alter-ego. JakobSnake is a DJ who plays alongside Plaigarhythm in a group called The bteam. Jakobsnake is a rapper, a beatboxer and a singer, and all around weirdo, in Voicetag. And finally, JakobSnake is drummer for Spoek Mathambo & Mshini Wam.”

Nuf said.

NICOLAAS VAN REENEN. I don’t know much about this guy, except that his guitar strumming skills took me on a supernatural journey. He is part of the well-known six-piece band, Bateleur – apparently the name is “like the eagle, we spread our wings and fly over canyons,” says Nic. And over canyons I was flying the way this brother strummed those strings.


In Spoek’s words, the original goal was to “make an album that sounds like South Africa in 2010 – not an old hard rock album or a fuckin’ old revisionist, nostalgic Hip Hop album.” On this tip, Spoek continues by saying: “I fucking hate Hip Hop for that and even a lot of Rock, I think we must move forward.”

AMEN to that.

What separates Mshini Wam from Spoek’s previous projects is that it’s LIVE. Properly LIVE. Both Sweat X and Playdoe were both electronic DJ-rapper duos, who did live performance but the music wasn't created LIVE.

The major difference for Spoek is that “the electronic medium is static – you can bend the sounds and manipulate them but it’s all pre-recorded, whereas the Live medium is organic," says Spoek, “We've found an organic way of creating new music all-the-time.”

Richard The Third and Spoek have been working together for some time now. And it seems that they share a similar energy of exploration – a passion for African nu-disco-house-kwaito tunes, amongst many other things. They’ve followed a journey spanning across many manners of creative process - from being a couple of heads in a studio to now writing music.

Spoek admits that he’s a “baby” at this and is constantly learning more about melody, structure and other theoretical aspects as they go along. I reckon this could be largely guided by Richard's knowledge...but maybe not.

For Richard, Mshini Wam is about starting a real band, writing music, and flipping his personal musical thought-creation-process on its head. Traditionally, he says that as a producer “you produce a track, record it and then play it live. But with this, you only really know how to produce the track once you’ve played it live.”

On this point, I thought it was hectic when Jakey mentioned that what was really inspiring for him was when he played drums behind Richard in the studio he could “see him playing machines, but playing them like an instrument.” I witnessed this at the show, and the live manipulation and creation of basslines brought a whole new element to the game.

For me, this has to be the future of electronic music. The development of software like Serato, Traktor and Ableton allows anyone to be a DJ but not everyone can be a musician & it’s real music, real artistry we’re after in this life, innit?


I’m sure you are asking yourself the same question I asked: whatsup with the name?

The phrase ‘Umshini Wam’ is...errrm...slightly controversial?

On the contrary, Spoek says he simply chose it because "it’s South African, it’s relevant, it’s multi-dimensional, it means ‘My Machine’, it’s an interesting name.”

Fair enough, but what about the Zuma connection? The response was on point:

“People can have a good time thinking that, but that’s people of South Africa. Even people who think Zuma, some of them will know about the song before Zuma, and will know there’s other a lot of other stuff to it.”

Jakey likes the fact that the name “stabs you in a place that’s forcing you to take a double-take on things.”

But then Spoek cracks me up in saying that the name is just “bubblegum on people’s mouths.” Say it to yourself: “MMM-SHEE-NEE-WUM”, it really sounds/feels like bubblegum. And remember to the international audience “it’s just a long foreign name.”

Wow, the relativism of life: what’s so dear to us is just bubblegum on other people’s lips...


Spoek is a visionary nykka, he says: “We’re about taking over the world in a very big and real way, by getting out there and playing music, it’s not complex Napoleonic strategy, it’s simple: we just go out there and play New Music.”

Jakey is a deep cat, he says: “Honestly, none of us know Future Music. Shit’s changed since last week, shit’s changed since yesterday...”

The future is a void that we fill.


The last question I asked was: What do you want people to walk away with after the show?

Jake: “To say it without any bullshit: as much confusion as that question causes us. I want people walk away and think ‘I don’t know what that was’.”

Spoek: “We’re a nobody-band and I don’t even expect there to be any people there. I just want us to be good and for us to play a really tight show. So I don’t really give a fuck what people think, I just want us to be the best that we can be.”

Richard: “I want it to be a mind-blowing experience. I don’t want people to want to go to the bar. I want it to be a stadium, with 10’000 people, with that sound...”

Nic: “Happiness and puppies.”


I’ll end with a classic Spoek quote.

He says: “If we play really good, we can play anywhere. We can play on the Moon. We can play at the President’s wedding. Every president. We can play for the UN. We’ll just make everyone happy.”

After interviewing them the day before the gig, seeing them play live the next day, and having a more than a week to let it simmer, I believe that nothing can hold this supergroup back, except maybe themselves.

South Africans might not know it yet, but soon they will.

Tour Dates:
Argentina - 29 October 2010
USA - 12 November 2010


Photography courtesy of Max Mogale Photography