Spoek Mathambo: 'The future is now'

From mid-90s kwaito to the Qgom scene, South Africa has thrown up some of the world's most distinctive dance beats, with Mathambo's new documentary showcasing some of the best

Two decades on from the end of minority rule, gritty, homemade electro is one of the most important vehicles for self-expression in modern democratic South Africa. It all started in mid-90s Johannesburg with kwaito. Originally inspired by Frankie Knuckles and Marshall Jefferson 12-inches imported from the US, this was a shuffling revamp of house music with found sounds, leisurely 90bpm drums and syrupy rapping flows in Tsotsitaal, Zulu, Afrikaans and English.

A colourful expression of freedom, kwaito quickly evolved from unknown ghetto subculture into national way of life. Since then, the beats have been skewed into innumerable shapes: from DJ Spoko’s barmy “Bacardi house” to Nozinja’s Soweto dance craze Shangaan electro.

South African star Spoek Mathambo is the co-director of Future Sound Of Mzansi, a new documentary that casts light on these scenes and their common musical heritage. Mathambo was immersed in diverse Joburg sounds from an early age, and the creation of a free, democratic republic had a profound effect on South African youth culture. He explains simply, “Growing up here meant the freedom to be able to get out.” Step by step, township by township, these daring, mutating styles soon became a real source of empowerment for young people, who began to explore beats from neighbouring townships, different provinces, and different countries. “And that allowed the scene to really explode,” Mathambo adds.

Film-making became a learning experience for Mathambo and fellow director Lebogang Rasethaba, who collected testimonies from legions of obscure, backstreet producers, dancers, MCs and partygoers. “It’s about capturing the reality of something happening right now,” says Mathambo. “I think a lot of the stories are really vibrant, but no one has cared to contextualise it or see how things relate across the country.” The latest fledgling music scene, he suggests, is the unpronounceable Qgom, in the eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal. In contrast to the four-to-the-floor gloss of Durban kwaito, the “Qgom revolution” mixes traditional Maskandi sounds with modern hip-hop.

It’s only one undiscovered scene of thousands, reckons Mathambo. There’s no single, definitive sound of post-apartheid youth. “The point is that the future’s now,” he says. “There’s so much exciting stuff that people don’t even know about in South Africa, let alone outside of it. Most exciting are the things that are happening that I will learn about in five years, that are cooking in some kid’s bedroom in some remote area. I don’t think anyone can give you any conclusive idea of what’s actually happening in South Africa.”

Huw Oliver

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

New music: Spoek Mathambo – Control

A 'darkwave township house' cover of Joy Division's classic paean to dancing to a bleaker beat. Grim – but very good

Michael Cragg

25, Feb, 2011 @2:52 PM

Article image
Radar Radio: ‘You can swear on our breakfast show’
The online station is sharing the new sound of London, while giving the next generation of broadcasters a chance to shine. It represents what being young, British and involved in music is all about

Ryan Bassil

21, Nov, 2016 @9:00 AM

Article image
Strokes director Warren Fu trained at Star Wars to go back to the future

Eye-catching new videos for Mark Ronson and the Ting Tings are the latest on You Only Live Once man's CV

Lauren Cochrane

25, Sep, 2010 @8:57 AM

Spoek Mathambo: Father Creeper – review

Spoek Mathambo's fusion of African sounds and indie guitars is a cold, uncomfortable mix – but all the more intriguing for that, writes Caspar Llewellyn Smith

Caspar Llewellyn Smith

08, Mar, 2012 @9:45 PM

Article image
MIA: ‘This is a white country, you don’t have to spell it out to me’
Maya Arulpragasam is bringing dancehall, hip-hop and grime to this year’s Meltdown. Is the outspoken British Sri Lankan the best argument for positive cultural appropriation?

Nosheen Iqbal

20, May, 2017 @6:00 AM

Article image
Techno legend Tiga: ‘Real DJing is like stand-up comedy’
What does it take to be a superstar DJ? Just ask the Canadian dance don, who explains why principle, passion and a pheromone mist spray may help


04, Mar, 2016 @1:00 PM

Article image
Massive snails, a disco panther, the letter P, a man's face: we review anything
Every Friday we apply critical attention to things that don’t normally get it. This is an important function that might just hold civilisation together. Or, more likely, not. Drop your suggestions for reviews in the comments or tweet them to @guideguardian

Gwilym Mumford, Kate Hutchinson, Luke Holland & Rachel Aroesti

04, Mar, 2016 @12:24 PM

Article image
Tony Humphries’ favourite tracks
The living house legend empties the contents of his psychic record box

Kate Hutchinson

20, May, 2016 @12:00 PM

Article image
‘It became me, that was all I was’: can the man who made the Harlem Shake escape its shadow?
It was the viral hit that broke YouTube records. But for its creator Baauer the Harlem Shake soon became a burden. We meet a reluctant EDM superstar

Ian McQuaid

16, Mar, 2016 @9:00 AM

Article image
Polemic at the disco: Planningtorock makes feminism funky

Patriarchy, misogyny and gender stereotypes all come into the sights of Bolton's Jam Rostron. But it's so simple, 'it could be karaoke', she reckons

Sam Richards

22, Feb, 2014 @12:01 AM