Spoek Mathambo is all over the place. Not in conversation – over the hour or so we speak, he is articulate and patient in speech, his precise drawl switching between "upset dominant discourses" to "dope as fuck". A South African 27-year-old rapper, producer and designer, his new album, released on Seattle grunge label Sub Pop, is an enthusiastic fusion from rock and soul to bold electronics and superb hip hop with an South African rhythmic base.
Because of its very recent past, South Africa has very set ideas of what people should and shouldn't do. It's still a super conservative society, and my work using traditional African music is also a comment on that
Moving on from the neon-bright Afrofuturism of his first album, 'Father Creeper' is a record about the marvellous musical heritage of his South African homeland and the global pop culture. It's exciting, smart and fun, and makes you bummed that not all musicians in 2012 sound as all-embracing as Spoek Mathambo. And with the release of his first world-wide-distribution album, side projects like Nombolo One, his re-recording of South African pop from the 70s, 80s and 90s, and his production of west African soul, the world will soon be hearing a great deal more of his music. Dazed speaks with Mathambo at his home in Sweden before he flies to New York.
Dazed Digital: I heard that you started rapping the year Apartheid fell. How important is 1994 to your music?
Spoek Mathambo: There were practical implications. My wife is Croatian, so I would be arrested for being married to the person I love. But there was a huge biracial, bohemian art culture which was bubbling in Johannesburg that exploded. A lot of great art came from there.
DD: Do you feel like an inheritor of that tradition?
Spoek Mathambo: Yeah! History is such a funny thing – it was exciting for me and my sense of worth to see all the amazing things from people who are like me. There's this insane pressure to make dreggy, hyper-commercial art when you're in South Africa, as a filmmaker, and as a graphic designer. As a musician, the original spirit of hip hop, of innovation, of bending people's brains has become a new staid, stale establishment.
DD: In what ways does your music challenge that?
Spoek Mathambo: Because of its very recent past, South Africa has very set ideas of what people should and shouldn't do. It's still a super conservative society, and my work using traditional African music is also a comment on that. The song 'Put Some Red On It' comes from when there's a set way of thinking and a dialogue happening – it's an R&B song about what you would do for love, and it references Johannesburg, the old diamond capital of the world, so desperately connected to every aspect of South African society.
As far as the liberation of South Africa – our freedoms are so vast, and so un-united. Yet I'm excited as fuck to be a South African, and you cannot understand how exciting that is to say! Of course, there is the struggle, there is poverty, but when I go back to Johannesburg, I'm like "Wow. Wow!" On a superficial level, the country is full of young, beautiful stylish people, working, studying, doing their thing.
DD: Which contemporary South African musicians do you feel an affinity with?
Spoek Mathambo: There's people I'm actively trying to align myself with – Dirty Parafin, The Brother Moves On, BFG, Sibot and Markus Wormstorm – innovative people of my generation, all doing very different stuff but with the same references. Then there's music that influenced me, music like Kwaito and South African house, music I'm proud of and as a producer, look to for inspiration. A guy called DJ STUNKERO DJ Cleo, TiRa – Afrotainment, Zakes Bantwini, this soul singer, his vibe live is so great. DJ Dikota, DJ Pacco, Skhokho. All great.
Text by Charlie Jones