In Johannesburg in 1985, a baby was born. In the midst of violent oppression and early hip hop, purple reigns and Artists United Against Apartheid, 2D video games and desperate hopes, Spoek Mathambo came into the world. Today, he is a rapper, singer, designer and producer with two solid-gold albums behind him and a clutch of co-signs. His newest project, Escape from '85 is a letter to the year and its culture, from day-glo to despair, and comes as a computer click-em-up and a mixtape – which is co-premiering below. It's ahead of his third album and his debut feature film: a documentary about South African electronic music, titled ‘Future Sound of Mzansi’. Head over to spoekmathambo.com to download the record and play the game, or read his answers below.
Dazed Digital: The music of the year is present and correct from Model500 to Queen. What grabs you about this music and what does it say abut you?
Spoek Mathambo: The mixtape has really been an extended exercise in fun. What does it say about me? It was the year I was born and I wanted to use that "beginning" to show the more colourful side to my production and song writing...sometimes get carried away with thinking I’m the grim reaper… and by extension people think of South Africa in quite gloomy terms sometimes, I wanted to share the vibrancy of how we get down!
I picked some of my favourite pop and dance songs from '85...mostly western ones with some gems from South Africa...to see how far we could go whilst retaining the glitter and cowbell fun of the 80s.
In general it was a great time for the beginnings of house and techno, innovations in hip-hop, pop...Prince was just OWNING...he's always been my "spirit animal" a constant well of inspiration, just to know that such an amazing creature exists to make the earth's collective booty shake!
DD: What's happening with other music of yours?
Spoek Mathambo: This whole period is quite fun, quite loose...playing great live shows...getting to work with great producers and musicians in studio to realise some ideas. It feels like preparation for the world to hear my music. I'm sitting on quite a lot of new and unheard big tunes now. Can't wait to drop it!
I've been producing a side project called Casa Cosmica, an egalitarian band project with some friends...all in all it's a time of journeying and having fun with music. Very little pressure except from myself.
My ten year old rap-nerd self has also been nagging me to get my rapping back up so I'm going to spend time in July working on bars to blow your brain back.
DD: I've always thought you were a bit of a futurist. Why the look back?
Spoek Mathambo: Afrofuturism isn't about "futurism" in a linear past-present-future sense. For me my work is about my people's power to write their own versions of the future (AND THE PAST)...power to the people...to write and rewrite history...as well as the present and the future.
Because if we don't/won't/can't, it'll be the same clammy old white dudes in their ivory towers. I write what I like...in funk.
Really the mixtape concept came from a recurring nightmare I used to have as a teenager...what would start out as a great dream where I go back to the 80s to brainfuck them with my dextrous 90s rap gymnastics...would always degenerate into a South Africa in 80s socio political nightmare.
DD: How did you find it making a video game and what was your favourite game as a child?
Spoek Mathambo: The game has really brought the mixtape idea to life!! Listen to the album as you play through the game.
Big ups to the RamJam guys in Brighton who made the game idea a reality! I love that there was really nothing out of the realm of possibility with them. My dada's a programmer and he's always spoken about problem solving...I dug working with game developers because they are the consumate problem solvers...musicians can be such babies some times...but the gaming mandem just make shit happen!! In a big way.
I came up with ideas for the levels...bounced ideas with Tom at RamJam...and poof they just kept going further and further with the wacky levels...so much fun!!
I definitely spent a loooooot of time as a kid playing games from Commodore68, to Golden China, Nintendo, Sega...we put in a lot of shifts. That was probably my first link to all night partying...staying up all night with my cousin a bunch of sweets trying to finish a game. Game rave.
I liked Summer Olympics, Contra, Prince of Persia, Wolfenstein, Sonic, Doom, Paper Boy.
DD: Was 1985 a good year for South Africa?
Spoek Mathambo: 1985 was a horrible year for SA..besides me being born, politically and socially it was a hugely fucked up time. But that didn't stop Sam and Mandi from going half on a baby!!!
DD: It would be crazy not to ask you about your feelings on reading about Mandela in hospital. Would you like to expand on these here?
Spoek Mathambo: Legendary old guy who put in a good shift...and inspired great change.
DD: Last time we spoke you mentioned helping up some of the youngers. Who excites you most from South Africa's latest generation? Which blogger / designer / musician should our readers totally check out?
Spoek Mathambo: I don't know about "helping youngers"...but I enjoy working with people in the spirit of mutually beneficial creative collaboration.
Artists in SA I love are Athi Patra Ruga, The Brother Moves On, Nicolaas Van Reenen/Knotts, Michael MacGarry, Dirty Paraffin / Okmalumkoolkat, Aero Manyelo, Sibot, Mash O, DJ Spoko, John Wizards...so many people...so many I'm forgetting, but that's a good start.
This mixtape's been really fun for working with great young artists from London like BB James, Cherry B, Yadi, Seye, DJ Chris P Cuts...and my US homies Cerebral Vortex and MaddJazz!
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