What happens when you combine Coldcut, the founders of the Ninja Tune record label (famous for Bonobo, Maribou State, Mr Scruff, Kamasi Washington, Floating Points and The Cinematic Orchestra among others) with a veritable cavalcade of South African musicians? Keleketla!
This remarkable collaboration involving countless artists (among whom I’ve only heard of Tony Allen and Coldcut themselves – no bad thing) and combining multiple, seemingly disparate, genres including afrobeat and garage will capture the ear of anyone with a passing interest for World music and familiarity with downtempo electronic and funk music. In fact if any of the artists mentioned above are in your regular rotation I would highly recommend checking out this record.
Opening track Future Toyi Toyi is a dark and deep sounding track with a deep synth drone and almost tribal chanting or barking before the female vocalist and higher toned repetitive woodwind alarm melody comes in. Electric guitars whip up the textures which build and layer with each go around. It is an intoxicating opening to the record that draws you in deep, very quickly.
International Love Affair (which has featured on our Friday Five weekly feature) is a lighter track and an afrobeat and funk epic coming in at over 7 minutes long. The length is not gratuitous though and it uses that time to capture the raw energy from live performance in the genre that generates and builds from its layered funky percussion that is repeated again and again to keep the vibe going and to take over any sensibilities or resistance you may have left. It is made for dancing. There is a shorter 4 minute edit if you absolutely must but I’m not sure why you would.
“It is time for joy. It is time for joy” welcomes you into Shepherd Song which draws on classic elements of 90’s UK garage music production which rub up against and blend into a more classic African music vibe which in terms shifts to incorporate elements of western jazz. These styles blend again for the pulsing and driving Freedom Groove. an excellent name as it hits its groove early and doesn’t let up along its 7 minute run time. Combining Western electronic elements with African percussion it creates an urgent pulse above which brass, piano and vocal performances ebb and flow, rise and retreat.
Crystallise goes full garage with very little shame or deviation. It deftly uses the range of musicians available to create what sounds like a track aiming for a classic sound. Just add a few modern inflections and accents of interest so as not to sound too ’90s.
Broken Light takes on a vocal styling similar to that of Laura Mvula over a prominent drumming beat and floating synth accompaniment for the first third before electric organs and other instruments join the piece. It is a very laid back affair. One for sipping cocktails rather than jump up dancing like most of the record so far.
Meanwhile 5&1 sounds rather muzak and hotel lobby or Sims soundtrack with the jazz flute, with only the vocal elements dragging it away from that box entirely. It goes to show not much can be done to modernise or shine a different light on that genre. It changes pace in the last quarter though with jazz drumming and piano taking it to another place entirely which would have been exhilarating for the full length. Maybe that is the 1 to the rest of its’ 5?
Funk returns full blast for Papua Merdeka for a late album highlight. With vocals taking on melodies usually associated with chill Ibiza tracks like the output form Zero 7 or 808 State, while the jazz and funk elements swoop about them to fill it with colourful vibrance.
The album finale is an instrumental comprising only stings and piano which sounds just like the title, Swift Gathering, if you imagine the birds, however, it sounds rather out of place on the record compared with everything that has come before. That said it is another welcome shift in musical style and a beautiful and a calming close to a frenetic hour of rhythms and beats
I think Swift Gathering’s existence on the record brings a sharp focus to a feature of the project as a whole. None of the tracks necessarily naturally fit together but there is just enough of a link to hold it together. It is built out of diversity, variety and collaboration. It is not meant to fit together by any other means than the fact that they are working together. Each new element is another viewpoint and talent adding to the mix. It is these numerous elements that make the record as a whole a wonderful diverse and colourful expression of musical artistry. For a step out of any of your ‘Western’ comfort zones this is a perfect diversion as it draws so much from the genres we know and love in the West but adds Johannesburg flair to it.
I look forward to finding out more about the artists featuring on the record over time and also discovering a deeper appreciation of the genres that I am less familiar with.
A note on the review. I’m not a massive fan of the term ‘world music’. It is far too pejorative and was created by record stores in the West to separate stuff that wasn’t in the Western tradition (rock, folk, pop etc.) as certain types became more popular in that market. While fine as an initial solution to a small issue, as more music becomes more global it has not been universally replaced and instead grown to cover anything African, or Asian sounding. It strikes me as insensitive (at best!) to be reducing entire continents rich with culture and musical tradition to one banner while we argue the toss over the differences between House and Deep House or Alt Rock versus Rock. However, as a white, middle class, western man who hasn’t had a massive exposure to such music I am shooting in the dark a little bit on the genres and terms here. If you know better, please let me know! I’d love to have a conversation about it. I am very interested in world music but don’t spend a huge amount of time with it nor do I know where to start, and beyond the terms used here I am clueless so there may be elements of other genres in these tracks or they may be almost entirely a genre I’m not aware of.
This does lead us to a discussion of the meaning of genres and their usefulness or hindrance when talking about music but that is for another time. When writing or arranging a record store, they help. When appreciating the artistry, the boxes only serve to constrain your perspective rather than appreciate the piece for what it is. As we progress through the 21st century genre-lines are being more and more blurred and this is an excellent thing but makes conveying it in words more tricky as the terms most would recognise become overly reductionist and not a fair reflection.
Go and listen to this record. You may only do it once, and that is fine. However, what you will experience is a great collision of Africa and The West in musical form. It is a glimpse of the future.