“On this album, I think I was overly optimistic about where culture stands today,” Spoek Mathambo says about his Sub Pop debut, Father Creeper. It's pretty much impossible to categorize, as he’s taken his footing in hip-hop and moved well past it to conjure a new sound that soaks up discordant electronic and punk rock tones for something foreign yet infectious.
“I thought that my idea of this multi-faceted, all-encompassing polytrance culture was an absolute and obvious factor for everyone, but it seems like, in these uncertain times, people want certainty,” the Johannesburg-based artist explains. “The hip-hop heads want that real hip-hop again. And the house people want that and the rock people want that. They want it to be absolute the whole way because it gives people comfort and I guess that’s a lesson I learned about how other people think.”
It’s not as though Mathambo is suffering through some kind of communication breakdown with his audience though. He’s due to play Montreal’s Festival International Nuits d' Afrique on Sunday, July 15, and then the Wrongbar in Toronto on Monday, July 16. He and his band last played Toronto during Canadian Music Week in March and their set at the Great Hall was memorable. People lost themselves in celebratory dancing and the room seemed to shake from the energy.
“I really enjoyed that show,” Mathambo recalls fondly. “It was an awesome audience and I was honoured to play with Saul Williams. I’ve been a fan of his since I was a little kid. That one had something special about it.”
There’s something similarly distinctive about Father Creeper, Mathambo’s second album. Unlike his 2010 debut, Mshini Wam, his sophomore effort is self-produced and features live instrumentation. It was made somewhat unconventionally, in studios around the world with contributions from various childhood friends and family members, including his wife and a distant uncle.
“I didn’t know him before making this album,” Mathambo says of his uncle. “He left a message on my phone saying, ‘I heard you are producing music. I myself am an electronic music composer.’ That’s like a direct quote and I was fascinated that I have this 60-year-old uncle who’s an electronic music composer. I tracked him down when someone was doing a little documentary about me and my family. I thought it was an interesting dynamic to a documentary, to have me discovering parts of my family along with the viewer. The relationship informed the work because he adds a lot of history, dignity and respect, and that informs the music.”
Though he acknowledges that rap music and hip-hop culture coloured his interests when he was a boy, and that he had to hide Ice Cube’s The Predator from his disapproving mother, Mathambo says he’s very far away from all of that now, and his songs exhibit as much. It’s almost as though he might listen to every possible kind of music.
“I remember how much I used to hate people who’d say that and I didn’t see how it was possible to have no tribe loyalty,” he says. “But I think that time has passed and now I take it all as information. The same way I read, I listen, with great enthusiasm, to learn and soak stuff up.”
Indeed, Father Creeper is the best kind of outpouring – a pointed musical statement from a young man trying to tap into our shaky zeitgeist and capture its bare essence from his own perspective.
“I consciously tried to make a more personal album than my first one was, which I thought was kind of vague,” he says. “If I were to die after that album, you wouldn’t really know so much about me, other than that I am South African. So I tried to tell stories about personal relationships, family members that have been dear to me, the political context I come from and how it’s shaped me, and trying to make a song like the Who’s ‘My Generation,’ y’know? Trying to make songs that are very much of and important to my generation. From the production side, sounds have histories too, and a lot of that is representative of the crossroads we’re at right now—the people who come from where I come from culturally, more than geographically.”
See Spoek Mathambo and his amazing band in Montreal on July 15 and Toronto on July 16.
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on Jul 13, 2012