Sitting on the back of a truck rolling through foothills of the South African bush, Nthato Mokgata’s cell phone keeps cutting out. Yet the 24-year-old rapper/DJ/singer/graphic designer, better known as Spoek Mathambo, brims with cocksure swagger even while bouncing across the rural landscape to film a video with his dancers. When you’re as busy as this dude, sometimes you have to do the walk-and-talk. Spoek specializes in playful, often dirty rhymes that at moments recall the sing-song stylings of Isis from Thunderheist or the potty mouth of Spank Rock’s Naeem Juwan.
Sekta feat. Spoek Mathambo - "Peter Pan (Doc Daneeka Remix)"
On the recent "Punani," he incites female listeners to shake their bits atop French producer Douster’s aggressively minimal Egyptian-style beats, rendering Spoek a ravey pharaoh, while the amped-up "Jabajaws," helmed by Warsaw's Sekta, sees the MC bemoaning loose-lipped (and otherwise loose) women, intoning, "He said I said she said what/Shorty talk shit like she talk out her butt/Girl, go wipe your face/Get out my business/That ain’t your place."
Against the backdrop of a thriving South African dance music scene ("You go to any random club and hear bangers after bangers, and then you’ll ask the DJ what this is and he’ll say 'I made it,’" he explains), Spoek’s awareness of the need to keep it fresh drives his bedazzled hand to root around in numerous musical pots. He’s constantly spewing forth singles and EPs with his groups Sweat.X, Slush Puppy Kids, and Playdoe, singing as Mleke Mbebe, DJing South African kwaito tunes as H.I.V.I.P., and collaborating with international producers like Schlachthofbronx and Djedtronic.
Spoek Mathambo & Mshini Wam - "Gwababa (Don't Be Scared)"
Historically, Spoek has described his sound as "future primitivism’’—invoking a tribal, trance-inducing power by wielding traditional African basslines while pushing next-level beats and raps. But at the turn of a dime, he lambastes himself for describing his work this way, insisting there is nothing retrospective about his own tracks, or any others currently emerging from the region. "In my own kind of slave mind, I thought that Africa meant a certain sense of the past. But Africa is strong and long every day. The fiber is so beyond primitivism. That’s really condescending of me to have put it like that," he admits.
While this historical conception of 'Africa’ may not directly influence his creations, Spoek is quick to explain that his forthcoming solo album takes cues from the dark tone of local music created in the wake of apartheid and AIDS. "After apartheid and the heaviness of that kind of oppression, people just got into party mode. To a large degree, the AIDS pandemic was born out of that party mode," he explains. This cultural moment is reflected via his DJ moniker, H.I.V.I.P., meant to highlight the important convergence of oppression, promiscuity, and disease that marks a deceptively fun moment in the recent annals of African experience.
Though he has moved to Malmö, Sweden with his wife and sometime-collaborator Gnucci Banana, Spoek has spent the first few months of 2010 back home in South Africa, recording his album and trying to reconnect with the newest sounds emanating from the streets. "Whenever I land I’ll flick on the TV after 12 o’clock at night and it’ll just be the maddest music," he ruminates. "It reminds me of when I was a kid and I’d want to record videos—because the stuff is so amazing!"
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