Mzansi Sound

From the deep beats of Gqom to the frantic pace of Shangaan Electro, Spoek Mathambo’s Future Sounds of Mzansi takes an affectionate tour through the budding electronic music scene in South Africa.
As part of The British Museum’s special exhibition, South Africa – The Art of a Nation, I was lucky enough to catch a screening of this elegant film. 

An almost mind boggling mix of traditional and modern along with more styles and pace variants than dance moves inspired by these musical pioneers. Born out a quest for something new and fresh as well as an honest creative expression of the DJ’s and producers own cultures, the film is an exciting exploration into what makes South Africa unique.

There are parallels with the way Hip Hop exploded out of New York in the 1970s with producers playing their beats to a live crowd and then recording them in a studio at a later date. The underground nature of this sub-culture also means that tunes go viral on the Internet instead of being released ‘officially’ meaning the composer/producer of local hit tracks are sometimes unknown.

The immense diversity of culture and languages can only mean that the styles vary almost wildly between cities and townships.  Even to an untrained ear the music emanating from the clubs in Cape Town is quite distinct from the music energising the crowds at ‘Spin Parties‘ in Atteridgeville.

While this means performers and musicians can become territorial about their sound and the market can be quite niche locally, it is also a celebration of all the different flavours of Mzansi. The film projected a very hopeful future where this diversity is in fact celebrated and will organically bring people together, healing the old wounds that still scar the mental landscape of the nation.

With me was visiting Cape Town Producer and Writer Antonio Cencherle.  “I enjoyed the film. Sitting in London watching scenes that I am very familiar with was very heart warming. At moments I was laughing at the South Africanisms. I was wondering if anyone else in the audience would understand these things.”

He felt that while the film was an accurate portrayal of the House Music scene back home, he mentioned that there were so many more unique sounds on offer including one of the biggest and “truly African” sounds – Jamaican inspired Southern Africa Dancehall.

When asked about his personal experiences, especially when it comes to getting one’s own sound out to the public he said: “It is a patience game, radio will play your music if it is suited. You will also need to play out live in underground clubs, both are imperative to getting your sound out there as an electronic music producer. These days all you need is a laptop and you have a virtual studio in a box. I love that fact! It is no more a game of the biggest and most expensive studio but more one of skill and creativity.”

The film highlighted some very exciting developments occurring back in Mzansi, and with technology improving at lightning speed, the future sounds can only be more thrilling.