Spoek Mathambo: ‘Mshini Wam’ goes SubPop

Fresh off the plane from dates in Sweden and Brazil, and signing an American release deal for his second album, Mzansi’s Spoek Mathambo starts 2012 by playing live at the 151st L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate this past weekend.

First appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2012/ 01/07

Spoek Mathambo: 'Mshini Wam' goes SubPop

In 1861, the winner of the inaugural Queen’s Plate earned a purse of 500 sovereigns and a silver plate donated by Queen Victoria and the race has been run 150 times since then. 2012 sees the venerable race carry prize money of R1 million and draw a stylish contingent of blue- and white-clad attendees strutting their stuff alongside the thoroughbred fillies. Somehow, this mix of ancient sport with TV-age celebrity seems the perfect backdrop for Spoek Mathambo to bring his Afro-futurist blend of Afro-groove, global electronica and rock-pop to Cape Townian ears.
Spoek Mathambo has just stepped off a plane from Sweden, something of a home-away-from home for the South African rapper, lyricist, producer and conceptualist, ever since he met and married Ana Rab (better known to electro and jungle afficiandos as Gnucci Banana ever since her vocal and visual work on remixes of Swedish indie-pop band Miike Snow, and dance tunes by Tim Turbo and Mash Up). 2011 was a busy year, with four tours to America, two each in Brazil and across Europe, sets at Design Indaba, a stint doing production work in Kenya and finishing an album that’s been signed for release by the iconic SubPop label in early 2012. It also seems that his press coverage has grown exponentially, both in South Africa and abroad,  expanding from being a darling of the hipster underground and the electronica fraternity to wider mainstream coverage.
Apparently, though, that’s not entirely the case. “I wouldn’t say there’s more coverage really,” says Spoek, with a tempered and considered mien that belies his hyper-kinetic stage shows and high-energy lyrical output. “Over the last years, for a couple of different projects that I’ve been doing, there’s been coverage here and there. What’s different now is that I have signed to an American label that is pretty much an institution in the worlds of new music and independent music, and they are putting some press behind what I do.  Also, I got the opportunity to play some really prestigious places in America, like the Lincoln Centre in New York, and at the South By South-West expo, and got some very favourable reviews for the shows, like in the New York Times. That’s got me a lot of new interest, and it looks like America is a market that is opening up.”
Spoek Mathambo has featured in these pages before, not least when he returned from European shows with Toxic Avenger to play Cape Town’s weekly “Discotheque” as part of Playdoe and SweatX – projects formed with Cape Townian music producers Sibot and Markus Wormstorm. He still delivers music that was described then as “multi-hyphenated Afrikan-electro-booty-shaking voodoo-dance”, but now includes live rock-birthed musicians alongside the electronic beats.
“Although I am lucky enough to be working constantly with people all over the world, many of them working in completely different spaces and networks, I’ve got certain songs that I play, and a gang of friends that I play those songs with,” he explains. “For the Queen’s Plate live show, I’ll be with Richard the IIIrd (Cape Town based electronica producer and Red Bull Studio resident), Nicolaas van Reenen on guitar and Jake (Lipman, aka JakobSnake) on drums. It’s a band setup that we used to play Brazil and America, and a lot of Europe, as well as Design Indaba last year. We’ll be playing songs from the new album that’s coming out on SubPop (‘Father Creeper’), as well as songs from the last album (the superbly titled ‘Mshini Wam’). The sound will be a big surprise for Cape Town if they don’t know the music, but they can expect something really energetic that tries to push the boundaries but keeps it groovy and funky.”
Hopefully, Mathambo’s set will also include a few highlights from “Nombolo One”, a self-released album of cover tunes that he completed last year and placed onto the internet for digital download (see http://www.Motel11.tv for more). “I got a link to an old friend, Theo Tuge. I was in the choir with him when I was 12 years old, and all through high-school,” says Mathambo. “He’s always been a great pianist and composer, and having that strong musical grounding, mixed with my more sonic ideas and my knowledge of sound engineering… We formed Nombolo as a production team. This year I’m doing remixes for Sal Masekela, Hugh Masekela’s son, and his band called Asekelam in America; for Fela Kuti’s son, Sean Kuti, for an American singer called Lana Del Ray, and an album of covers of Fela Kuti songs. ‘Nombolo One’ was the start of that, and we went for gold, re-making South African hits like Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse’s ‘Burnout’, Brenda Fassie’s ‘Weekend Special’ as well as songs by Brothers of Peace, Caiphus Semenya, Letta Mbulu and the Mahotella Queens.”
The L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate is run on Saturday 7January and, after the races, features performances by Spoek Mathambo, Tumi and the Volume and visiting US-based, SA-born creators of “I’m Only Joking”, The Kongos. Also on offer are Antonij Rupert Wines, a vintage and classic car collection courtesy of the Franschhoek Motor Museum and the “L’Ormarins Moments” photographic gallery. Dress code is strictly blue and white. Tickets are R250 (all acess pass, race card and music) or R800 (“Stud Club” VIP entrance) from Webtickets.co.za (Kenilworth Racecourse, Gate 7, Rosmead Avenue, Kenilworth; gates open 11am). More on SpoekMathambo.com and LQP.co.za. Also see YouTube for “Control”, Mathambo’s seminal reworking of the Joy Division song with a video by award-winning photographer Pieter Hugo.First appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2012/ 01/07