When I imagine the baffling web of people, cultures, languages and music that make up Africa, with its 57 countries and countless languages and dialects, it’s enough to evoke visions of the grids and rhizomes of our unfathomable digital network. That complex, mutating and at times frustratingly incongruous melting pot of mass communication is like watching the human brain at work, but from the hive mind, multi-perspective of several heads joined and unconnected, interacting with and eluding each other, all at once. And if it was ever possible for anything to actually sound like that description, then LV’s ‘Sebenza’ is it.
The album, named after the Zulu word for “work”, is a frenetic and at times overwhelmingly content-heavy thrill ride of mixed perspectives and interactions, enabled through the fractured fibre optic infrastructure of South Africa. MCs Okmalumkoolkat, Spoek Mathambo and Sello Mangwana and Andile Stemele of kwaihouse duo Ruffest contribute, while based throughout that tip of the African continent where they live. With the contributors working remotely with the English trio – Gerv Gordon, Simon Williams and Will Horrocks – for about four years, and having only laid eyes on Gerv a handful of times, this is an album that is very much of the virtual realm. It’s one where people can exist on equal collaborative plane, while experiencing vastly different environments, at exactly that same time. So when Ruffest say, “It’s a crazy world, man” over the stammering digi dub of Nothing Like Us, they know what they’re talking about.
LV – Nothing Like Us
That’s the beauty of a record like ‘Sebenza’. It epitomises that sense of radical change and state of transition that characterises the opening of South Africa’s (and the world at large’s) digital gateway through mobile technology. It’s a distorted, mangled representation of global culture, as Okmalumkoolkat quotes Shaggy and Ricky Martin respectively in Spitting Cobra (“Mista Lova Lova, livin’ la vida loca”) over a decade since those songs were released across the pond. Okmalumkoolkat, particularly, celebrates an expanding online network as he barks “Check, check. I’m a Zulu computer, last name Macintosh, everything’s super. Iphone. Accident. Robocop. Accent. Taxi driver. Dialects. Wifi. Direct,” in Zulu Compurar. In International Pantsula, over stuttering glitched-out beats and a playful auto-tune, Zwane places the slang of urban Africa within a world context from behind his laptop (“travelling but I’m never, never jet lagged”). It’s not only a fascinating articulation of modern life, but it’s also an eye-(and ear)-opening exploration of the unique context of its artists.
LV – Spitting Cobra
Ruffest’s bounce through a skittering groove, percussive Xhosa jargon and amusing corruptions of US hip hop vernacular in Thatha Lo and Spoek Mathambo’s slight hint at a North American accent over the blissed-out post-dubstep of Work all exist alongside each other on ‘Sebenza’ – and all this is in conversation with LV’s fantastically mixed and mangled approach to production. It’s a dialogue where the three members, already working within a creative framework that requires a level of compromise between each other, extend their conversation to their remotely based African collaborators, who correspondingly surrender their words to those beats, which in turn shift and change to match.
Presenting a brilliant feedback loop of mutually shifting interests, while losing none of each element’s individuality, ‘Sebenza‘’s is a spirit of collaboration that extends far beyond the music. Outsourced videos, album art and local South African fashion designers are all instrumental in the transmission and reception of this live organism that is as much about process as it is about product. An action or an event in itself, the record represents that critical point where creativity is made in conversation, and the outcome has never been so exciting.
Graphic design courtesy of Luke Corpe.