Five years after the release of his last album, the Sub Pop-released Father Creeper, South African songwriter, producer and singer Spoek Mathambo is back with a brand new solo album: Mzansi Beat Code. As one of South Africa's biggest exports, Spoek has involved himself with—and in a few cases created—a whole range of sounds and sub-genres that have sprung up across South Africa. Said influences can be heard coursing through the veins of Mzansi Beat Code. "Black Rose," which you can hear below, is a prime example of this. Combining South African house music subsets like bacardi, gqom, and sghubu with a more familiar classic house bent to it, Mzansi Beat Code is a melting pot of styles with an expansive and truly global palette.
The 12-track album drops April 14 via Teka Records and ahead of the release we spoke to the South African auteur about bringing together the myriad sounds on this album and what makes South African dance music culture so unique.
Tell us a bit about about the dance scene in South Africa. How does it differ from the rest of the world?
You should see our president dance... We're a serious dancing country. Dance music has always been extremely popular in South Africa from before it was electronic—we're a nation that loves to dance. I wouldn't know how it differs from the rest of the world but I must say it's a hugely important part of our culture. Through good times, and bad, we dance and express ourselves with it.
For the uninitiated, people who haven't seen your film Future Sound of Mzansi or heard of Mzansi, give us a quick explanation.
The film came out a couple of years ago and basically explores a couple of electronic music scenes in SA at the time and introduces some of the key people.. and the worlds they live in. You can watch the documentary, Future Sound of Mzansi, online. It's a documentary which aims to explore, express, and interrogating South Africa's cultural landscape. A chief vehicle of this exploration is electronic music—a staple of South African popular culture.
Why did you decide to focus purely on production with this album?
I didn't focus "purely" on production; there are tons of vocals that I performed and wrote on the album, but I love making beats. It's really fun and fulfilling to me. I enjoying the family that I work with, too. The album's like a party with all of my friends.
What was the process for sampling and your approach to producing this album?
I use speech samples to help tell the story of the album. It gives it momentum. I don't sample other people's songs in the album, but I really had a lot of fun sampling some of my favourite films, poems, speeches, conversations, news clips, sounds, people—just chopping up different things in order to tell a story.
Our readers may know a couple of the featured artists, like Mujava and Spoko, but talk us through the other guest features on Mzansi Beat Code.
I have the whole family on this album. Spoko and Mujava are legends and great artists, and it was a pleasure to collaborate on "The Mountain" and many other songs. The Kajama Soulful Sisters—they're real sisters, and amazing vocalists based in Johannesburg. I've worked with them in my band Fantasma as well. Jumping Bash Slash is UK-born producer based in SA for a decade now; he's been a great influence and partner in sound engineering the project. A great musician and artist! Loui Lvndn is one of the brightest up-and-coming artists in Johannesburg—he's working on his debut album now. Ceci Bastida; I'm so excited to be working with Ceci from Mexico. I used to listen to her song, "No Me Conocerás," all the time and I got in contact with her at some point. Turns out she's heard something of mine and the rest is history. We work together a lot.
What are your plans for the future?
I'm always working on new music, so there'll be new Batuk, new Fantasma, new Spoek Mathambo... and so much more. I'll be performing Mzansi Beat Code from this Friday. Other than the music, I'm working on a couple of film projects. One is a documentary and one is a dramatic feature film.