South Africa gets a pretty bad rep these days, be it the aftermath of Apartheid, the diamond trade or the forced internment of extra terrestrial creatures. Any remotely “good” news coming out of the country tends to be overshadowed by larger troubles. Take Oprah Winfrey’s decision to open a an all female boarding school for impoverished girls outside of Johannesburg for example. Her generosity was met with harsh criticisms about how her charity didn’t address more of South Africa’s educational woes. Nonetheless, where there is turmoil there is a need for people to vent frustrations. So there is no finer medium for the people of South Africa to express themselves than through their music.
In 1986 Paul Simon released his award winning Graceland album. This record gave many American listeners their first taste of South African music through tracks featuring the male choral group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. The group is hailed today as one of South Africa’s most treasured cultural ambassadors and is often credited with sparking American interest in the World Music scene. The Ladysmith Black Mambazo Foundation formed in 1999 by group founder Joseph Shabalala works to promote fundraising efforts to to teach South African students about their indigenous culture. While Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s isicathamiya and mbube style of singing is popular in S.A. the country’s ethnic diversity and globalization of cities like Johannesburg and Cape Town make it host to a wide variety of musical genres. For a glimpse of what current South African music has to offer you need look no further than OurStage:
Johnny Cradle is an electrosoul artist implementing turntabilism and classic electric piano tones. His somber slow jam “Spirit Bank” is a heavy hearted tune mixed with scratch loops, soulful word play and blues influences. Describing his sound as fitting “right between Ladysmith Black Mambazo and the nerd scoring virtual bleeps on the computer screen,” Johnny is sure to be producing more quality music in the future.
Fans of mellow electronic music with minimalist and ambient influences should check out Clyde Becker’s track “Your Love Comes & Goes”. With an aura similar to downtempo tracks by Junior Boys and Cut Copy, this track is fit for a long drive home from the club. Clyde Becker is currently based in Johannesburg working as a producer/sound engineer. He’s planning to release two albums in 2010 on his Sore Thumb Productions record label.
Joshua Grierson is a singer-songwriter with an alt-country flair from Cape Town. His song “Missing You” comes off as an honest, intimate confession rather than the standard saccharine fare you get with most puppy-dog-eyed acoustic guitar wielding musicians. Beautiful finger picking and just the right touch of reverb make this song an instant classic.
Another Cape Town-based act to watch out for is the electro/alt. hip-hop duo The Dank Mr. Wilson. A collboration between Producer/DJ’s “The Dank” (Ross Fink) and “Mr.Wilson” (Simon Wilson) combines real instruments with various samples and skilled word play. A must hear for fans of The Streets.
The East London group Machine O.E.M. are currently storming up the OurStage Hard and Modern Rock Channels with their heavy hitting emotional brand of arena-ready rock. The foundation of the quintet’s signature sound consists of lead vocalist Lez Dart, who sounds eerily similar to Brandon Boyd of Incubus, and the blistering guitar duo of Travers Harty and Clint Green.
OurStage blogger Munson will be pleased to know that quality metal exists in South Africa. The progressive Metal group Infanteria cranks out the most epic of guitar licks with a speedy rhythm section. Not to be “too” in your face, the band punctuates their sound with shimmery synth accents and alternates singing with screamed vocals. Prepare for take off while listening to their track “Making a Killing.”