Hhe music and the glorious tension between its on-beat and its syncopated elements has long been a sound associated with South Africa. From the leisurely tempos of the sample-heavy Kwaito, a subgenre that has established itself in the post-apartheid townships in Johannesburg, to the Pretorian call-and-response from diBacardi to the adrenaline-charged polyrhythms of gqom – a raw, bass-heavy one Reprise of the Kwaito founded in Durban in the early 2010s – this dance music was often an important means of self-expression for the socially segregated youth of the country.
The youngest mutation in the South African house is Amapiano. Another dance floor staple that became popular mainly through playing in local clubs in Gauteng Province rather than major label interference, amapiano sits mid-paced between Kwaito and Gqom. His tonal palette consists of minimal percussion and rattling shakers, infectious piano melodies and a tendency towards a dubby, deep house momentum of energy – one that never quite reaches its climax.
Production duo Zakhele Mhlanga and Kgothatso Tshabalala are the latest to channel the Amapiano sound with their debut as Native Soul. With only 18 and 19 years respectively, the two produce a surprisingly mature and coherent work in their 14 tracks. Seamlessly sequenced, the opener The Beginning lays the percussive foundation of the duo – electronic toms, shakers and biting snares – and holds back with melodies up to the euphoric synth pads of the following number Way to Cairo. The kinetics continue to carry the ominous minor synths on The Journey and the glimpses of the rumbling synth bass on Ambassador.
Native Soul’s work has a decidedly somber touch, as if recognizing the claustrophobic sprawl in which it emerges, while at the same time trying to encourage the listener to imagine more through their instinctive need to dance to their groove. It’s a fine balance, but Native Souls do it well, producing a deep album that feels equally at home on headphones or on a sound system, one that seems to lure you back to the common space of the dance floor.
Out this month too
Sitar teacher Purbayan Chatterjee channels a free flowing jazz fusion on his latest release, Unbounded: Abaad (Sufiscore), with musicians like tabla player Zakir Hussain and banjo player Béla Fleck on tracks that reference classical traditions through an improvisational lens. Producers Chief Boima and Will LV present their second collaboration with the Sierra Leonean thumb piano player Sorie Kondi as Kondi tape on We Famous (Strut). Post-production is easy and allows Kondi’s distinctive voice and ear for melodies to shine. Producers from Cairo Msylma and Ishmael The Tenets of Forgetting (Éditions Appærent) publish a beautifully sculptural mixture of classical Arabic singing with abstract electronic background music.