At the end of last year, I spent a few weeks in South Africa, and the name Dirty Paraffin was on everyone’s lips whenever I asked them about who was hot. I then spent a bit of time hanging out with them in Joburg, and heard their unfinished track “Papap! Papap!” played at a house party where a bunch of rappers were filming some videos. It pricked up my ears, so we included them in a short film we were making about the city’s scene (still to come out), and I ran an interview in Dazed a couple of months ago. Anyway, the track finally dropped last weekend, and it’s great – you can read the piece and check out their video below.
A DIY electro-rap duo from Johannesburg, Dirty Paraffin’s ambitions are clear. “We don’t want to be a South African band,” states Smiso Zwane, aka OKmalumkoolkat. “We want to be a band that happen to be from South Africa. That’s success for us.”
Originally from Durban on the east coast, they’ve lived in Jo’burg for seven years, though only recently moved from the calm of the ’burbs into the city itself, a seething, multicultural hotpot.
“What’s inspiring in the city is all the tribes and nations meeting up to try and make it. All these cultures mashing up is crazy, we get a lot out of that. Gospel groups, people rapping on the street…”
“Our music is about telling South African stories,” adds Dokta SpiZee. “It’s about what we see around us.”
The key Dirty Paraffin ingredients are French electro, their own Zulu culture, west African and east African music, an infectious sense of humour and a keen eye for the absurd details of SA city life. Check their online video for “Drip Dry” [LINK], which features them dancing and goofing about in the city parks and streets, chickens and all – it’s an optimistic, good-time take on a place that typically makes headlines internationally for crime and violence, not its grassroots creativity.
OKmalumkoolkat has already collaborated with UK producer LV for Hyperdub club hit “Boomslang”, and there are plans for an EP – new track “Papap! Papap!” is a joyfully dirty bassline-driven partystarter, packed with online jargon and acronyms.
“It’s ‘primer stove music’,” explains Smiso. “There should be more different genres in South Africa, so that’s why we’re coming up with our own.” Say what? “It’s a stove we used to use back in the day before cats had money,” he laughs. “Without electricity, you’d have to go buy a litre of paraffin. Everywhere used to smell of it.”
“People should be excited about South Africa now,” he concludes. “We just woke up! Kids are now like: ‘Yo, I need to bust my slang in my raps. People need to ask ME what it all means.’ Whereas before, you know, we used to have to find out what Biggie was talking about.”
Photography Chris Saunders