Ten Minutes With Spoek Mathambo

Some time ago, on one of Saturn’s lesser-known moons, it is said that Sun Ra’s Intergalactic Arkestra were in full swing when the alto saxophonist inadvertently hit a super-sonic note unbeknownst to the ear, causing the fire-eater to spew a dusty globule that shot down earthwards on collision course with a barber shop where [by sheer coincidence] George Clinton was getting a rainbow dreadlock braided, whose strands were seared upon the meteoroid’s impact, fizzling into an ashy heap which in turn was licked by an inquisitive chameleon whose left eye became a bead that was sown into the fertile land of Johannesburg where the baobab tree birthed Nthato Mokgata.

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The Afro-Futurist otherwise known as Spoek has commemorated that fortuitous occasion with a mixtape entitled Escape From ’85, which he humbly refers to as an “extended exercise in fun.” He’s even launched an old-school arcade game where one must vanquish an eight-legged Madonna to the sound of ‘Centipede’ [featuring B.B. James], face a dance-off with mustachio Prince in a field of unicorns, avoid a clobbering from the raging Mr. T, battle a three-headed Grace Jones bot, and dodge the explosives-blasting megatron Gaddafi [in Rambo guise].

Spoek’s sophomore album, Father Creeper, was released on Sub Pop Records earlier this year, whilst more recently he has been working on a documentary entitled ‘Future Sound of Mzansi’, an exploration of South Africa’s electronic music scene. That aside, Spoek contributed to an upcoming tribute album entitled RED HOT + FELA with covers of ‘Yellow Fever’ and ‘Zombie’. The compilation also features ?uestlove, Tony Allen and TV On The Radio amongst others, with proceeds going towards the fight against AIDS.

Gracing the stage at WOMAD with a dazzling rhythmic entourage and a fierce dancing troupe, Spoek alternates between a fluorescent visor and reflective welding mask, clad in coyote-shaped high-tops and furry monochrome-patterned board-shorts with a hypnotic cape and puffy paper suit reminiscent of VÄTE, a pendant lampshade fromthe IKEA catalogue.  Sufficed to say, I was looking forward to the long-awaited eagerly-anticipated interview. Judging by the resounding reception such feelings were mutual.



FAULT: Presuming you’re Wu-Tang Clan fans?

Remi: We’re Wu-Tang Flan fans. Big up some Chinese pastry!

FAULT: To what extent are you conscious of maintaining an aesthetic and how involved are you in that whole process?

Spoek: My background is in graphic design, so for me it’s important that form and content coalesce within one other. But for the most part I just love collaborating with creative stylists, photographers, fashion types, illustrators, that kind of thing.

FAULT: What are the origins of the stage moniker Spoek Mathambo, meaning “Ghost of Bones”?

Spoek: That’s the direct translation, but to me it just means “ghost”. It was a funny instance. I heard it on my favourite sitcom, Emzini Wezinsizwa. It’s a wicked situational comedy centered around a bunch of migrant workers [of Sotho, Xhosa and Sulu heritage] who are unable to understand each other owing to their underlying cultural differences.

FAULT: Would you explain the term Township Tech?

Spoek: It’s been stretched a lot further than id initially meant it to. It’s a reference to new electronic music, the weird and dark sounds of house music coming from the townships of South Africa. I was DJing a lot back in 2007 and released a series of mixtapes entitled HIVIP. They sought to capture the post-apartheid burst of energy, those early years of democracy and what that meant for party culture, for electronic music. It marked the first time I’d locked into contemporary South African music. Township Tech was material that the world didn’t know enough about. Father Creeper, the record I’ve just put out on Sub Pop, is something else altogether. I’ve been playing with Mshini Wam [meaning “My Machine Gun”] and together we’ve been composing songs in a more organic sense.


FAULT: Who would you cite as some of the important current artists in South Africa?

Spoek: My first tip would be to check out this phenomenal Afro-jazz performance ensemble called The Brother Moves On. I saw them a couple of months ago and just bawled into tears of excitement. The interesting thing with South African musicians is the fusion of contemporary issues with forward thinking techniques and song-writing structures.

FAULT: How politically driven are the themes?

Spoek: There are lots of different kinds of music and I wouldn’t like to generalize. But much of it revolves around party culture, because we have a lot to celebrate. We’re an energetic peoples, some people are high and others crazy. Twenty years ago we would have had no future but right now my generation have prospects, we have the whole world.

Remi: It’s the mindset of the post-Mandela era.

Spoek: But outside of that remains crime, transport strikes, bad hospitals, dog cut up by your neighbor cause they’re trying to make medicine from it, just everyday stuff, someone falls asleep and wakes up on the roof.

Spoek Mathambo 13 (2012)

FAULT: You’ve accumulated quite a substantial following over the internet. Is there a fear that the global outreach online compromises the emergence of the local scene?

Spoek: I don’t think it’s necessarily either or. People worry too much whether it’s gonna kill the neighborhood vibes but everything about it has strengthened the vitality of music and communication. With these little sparks all over the globe I’m linked with so many different sectors of society.

FAULT: How long have you been based in Sweden?

Spoek: It’s been two or three years now.

FAULT: Has the Stockholm scene impacted your work?

Spoek: Oh for sure. Everywhere I go creeps into the sound, even if it’s just a two-hour stopover at Kiev airport.

Remi: Do you know Sqweee? It’s like Swedish Wonk

Spoek: Old synthesizers layered with RnB grooves

Remi: Like Nordic synth funk. It sounds like Flying Lotus produced by Vikings. I shit you not. It’s called Sqweee because you try to squeeze as much outta that synth sound as possible. Swedes dance to Sqweee, and it’s sweet as…

Spoek: Sweet ass Sqweee

Live Photography by Ilana Garry

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