Spoek Mathambo


Some time last year I went to a local music franchise shop to buy Umshini Wam, musician Spoek Mathambo's debut album. I asked a bemused shop assistant if he had the album. "Spoek?� It turned out he had never heard of the man, nor did the shop stock his music. Yet a few months previously the 25-year-old had been featured in Fader magazine and was big news on the internet and the European dance scene. It's appropriate that Mathambo is a sensation on the internet; back in the early 1990s, when the internet wasn't known outside of geeky circles, Mathambo was messing around on his cousin's computer. Later he enrolled for medical studies before dropping out. Mathambo's music is a melding of funk, house and kwaito and acid commentary on the here and now. The reaction to his music has either been the unqualified admiration of devoted aficionados or the confused headshake of the naysayers who wonder, "what the hell is going on?� Explaining his sound, Mathambo says: "I am putting a spin on what was going on in the Pretoria house music scene, the Durban scene.� What he's doing, he says, is an interpretation of the manifold waves of house and kwaito music, of hip-hop, of the hours of listening to his father's soul and jazz records; it's also what symbols such as Abdullah Ibrahim, Dumile Feni and other South African icons mean to him. "I am making something that feels like South Africa in 2011.� Mathambo, who was born Nthato Mokgata, adopted the name Spoek Mathambo from the television show Emzini Wezinsizwa. Now he's been signed by rock label Subpop and is set to perform at the Glastonbury Festival and at New York's Lincoln Centre in August. � Percy Zvomuya