Spoek Mathambo @ W Lounge

Posted November 24, 2010 in
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Photo: Nico Krijno

Spoek Mathambo & Mshini Wam

W Lounge

South African “post-punk township-tech” musician/artist Nthato James Monde Mokgata (a.k.a Spoek Mathambo)’s latest U.S tour with his band Mshini Wam made nine stops. The tour included a couple of venues in NYC, L.A, San Francisco, Denver and Salt Lake City. Needless to say it took a lot to get Mr. Mathambo’s hype-heavy mash up of retro-futurist electronic music filtered through the cultural battlefield of post-apartheid Johannesburg to Salt Lake City. In fact, it took a superfecta of nightlife/fashion promoters to persuade Mathambo and Mshini Wam to make a pit-stop along I-80 to our dusty little spot on the map. Scenester Siege has been responsible for booking and promoting more than their fair share of great acts at W Lounge, but for this event they partnered with Night Freq, Fresh and Fice to pull it all together.

Despite the impressive groundwork and the overall bar/venue etiquette I should have picked up on during my five-and-a-half years of attending shows in SLC, I am still an idiot when it comes to timing these things. Walking in during the middle of Mathambo’s sound check I realized I was about three hours too early. I mention this because, while embarrassingly early, I was able to sit through most of Spoek’s sound check without the din of an overcrowded bar. This prepped me for the radically recontextualized sound Mathambo would display which expanded significantly on Mathambo’s August debut album Mshini Wam.

Spoek Mathambo’s touring band, Mshini Wam (not to be confused with the album of the same name), was composed of a guitarist, drummer, and a midi controller with Mathambo on vocals. Having this live band set up allowed Mathambo to radically expand his dirty, low-end destroying dance floor exercises into exploratory hybridizations of contemporary electronic music and traditional African township music. Mshini Wam wrapped a strange mixture of Trans AM inspired post-rock around Spoek’s rapid fire vocal delivery, the guitarist often playing in the slack-key, staccato chord changes of Kenya’s traditional “Highlife”. Where Mshini Wam the albumwas at times a little stuffy, too overblown or tight, Mshini Wam the band was loose, feeling out the pockets between Mathambo’s skeletal framework and filling them with improvised jamming. While this was only their sixth show playing together, the quartet played with an intrinsic telekinesis that most bands never achieve.

Choice dance floor cuts like “Mshini Wam,” “War on Words” and “Tonite” that once shook with a sense nervous energy were recontextualized into floor-shaking anthems for geographically displaced dissidents and culture-fucked post-national griots who recorded a new history in rhythmic provocateurism. New songs seemed written for the new band context. Spoek channeled a jaw-dropping Prince-like croon while dancing like a zombified James Brown during a new, and especially amazing, soul track.

The W Lounge is especially good at catering to a DJ/electronic group/artist but seemed a little out of its element dealing with a live band. DJs Typefunk and Mastershredder’s beats rang out crystal clear from W’s impressive sound system but had difficulty transitioning over to Mathambo’s live set up (what part of “more vocals” doesn’t make sense?). Regardless of the technical difficulties the sheer energy of Mathambo’s jerking and shaking during the entire set put the small dance floor surrounding the stage into a frenzy of flailing limbs and too-drunk-not-to-dance gesticulations.

Mshini Wam is unabashedly one of my favorite releases of the year. While 2010 has seen an outpouring of chillwave, witch house, lowest-common-denominator lazer electro and neo-primitivist mysticism, there has been an even more intense response by internet savvy musicians interpreting America’s pan-global musical obsession and throwing it back in our faces as a weird, mutated, sometimes violently politically-charged communalist party anthems. For those following this off-the-radar, music blogger’s wet dream of wildly forward thinking international artists, Spoek Mathambo has been accumulating a steady stream of buzz with appearances on some choice compilations (Supercontinental for Apparat’s Shitkatapult label) and mixtapes. The live show on the 19th proved that Spoek Mathambo exceeds the much blogged about hype and is a true talented force to be reckoned with.

Photo: Nico Krijno