Whilst the drum patterns found in Western House music have become repetitive over the years, those found in South African House seem to take us somewhere else. When house music from Chicago made it to SA, the African producers were able to shape something knew as they infused it with their own varying cultural rhythms. Where an American or European producer used a soul sample or an electronic sound to create a note, South Africans were able to reach for unique instruments from their own history. Sometimes when listening, you will hear English-speaking vocals sung with a South African accent. At other times you will be blessed with various indigenous languages.
But although South African House music is so innovative, it has not found great international appeal. Even within the global dance and electronic scene, it has almost been pushed into a ‘world’ category. But through the success of SA’s contemporary music hero, Black Coffee, the genre is now reaching wider audiences. He has been hard at work pushing house tracks by his fellow SA’s producers. Through him, listeners are starting to realise that South Africa might be the unofficial house capital of the world with hundreds of artists deserving of more recognition.
Two of these such artists are the duo that make up Black Motion. At their recent performance at XOYO, they moved their dedicated crowd with Djing, live drumming and dancing. Having been to a lot of house nights at the venue, I could see that their performance illustrated how different the genre could truly be. Generally a house DJ tries to put together songs that are similar in tempo and feel, gradually changing the mood of the set over time. Instead, Black Motion created a set that throbbed and changed in speed and feel. It was something organic. And rather than it feeling like we were many separate groups in the audience, it felt like one sea of eager dancers.
The drummer responded to the yells of the crowd and the DJ would allow him to take centre stage. Some songs drew the audience into a dance whilst some other songs were brewing and minimal. The latter kind are staple in the South African scene, more to create atmosphere than to tell a story. After such tracks, they’d bring it back to those with uplifting keys and strings. In most of the songs, the basslines were not clear or penetrating, they were cloudy and heavy, carrying the rest of the layers.
Certain songs would make the audience move in similar ways without their conscious thought. It made me wonder whether it had something to do with the drum patterns themselves, or whether it was because the dancers were doing some sort of psychological imitation of one another. Either way, what it illustrated was the communal power of the music. Furthermore, there was none of the hostile edge that is usually found in London clubs.
I wondered how much of the crowd were South-Africans since many were able to sing along to the lyrics, a reminder of their home. And how much of the crowd were merely mumbling what they thought the lyrics sounded like (as I do in private)? How many of us had followed the scene from its beginnings in the 90’s and how many had recently researched this phenomenon and decided to invest ourselves in it? But the most important thing was that we were all able to appreciate and participate in this extremely alternative scene in this already alternative genre.
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