Photography by Anthony Bila

Buli’s Music is the Ticket to Space

About a year ago, Buli (born Shibule Ndhambi) stopped releasing music publicly. After moving from Giyani, Limpopo to Pretoria to study, he’d put out a couple of projects that were interesting but that he didn’t feel inspired by. He seemed to be searching for something deeper, and the sounds he was making reflected what he was listening to at the time. To hear him tell it, his early tunes sounded like a lot of the commercial music that populates the South African radio space. Then something changed.

In 2019, at 23 years old, Buli released his E.P ‘Dark Matter’: a smooth, psychedelic project that feels primed for long drives and weekend festivals. Building upon inspirations like Toro y Moi and Flying Lotus, the project adds a new layer to the musical landscape. With 7 songs, the project rounds out at a cool 21 minutes. Its length matches its creation time in the best way. The process saw Buli create the tracks within a matter of weeks. “I was making a lot of tracks that sounded similar” Buli explains. “Then I built tracks around the ones I had so that I could have a project that sounded cohesive”. ‘Dark Matter’ is cohesive in that the project sounds more like an experience than a track-by-track E.P. From “Uber to the Space Station” all the way through to the end of the project, you feel like you’re in one of those spaceship cars from the Jetsons, cruising between planets, or maybe between Gauteng’s skyscrapers. This isn’t by accident. Space is a theme consistently employed by Buli on all his projects. His current understandings of the ‘other world’ come both from watching outer space documentaries on the Discovery channel and his love of Anime like Michiko & Hatchin and Samurai Champloo. “We don’t really know the depth of space” Buli explains. “I wanna achieve that in my sound. I always wanna put people in a place where they feel like they’re floating.”

‘Dark Matter’ feels like a sonic summary of where Buli is in his musical journey. “Self-doubt was a big thing that was holding me back” he says. “It always felt like there was no market for me… You’re always wondering, ‘is this gonna amount to anything’?”. If Buli is still doubting himself, there’s no need. Compared to other artists, he plays relatively few gigs: but that’s by choice rather than by force. Still, he’s found himself on the bill at the Redbull Music Festival and Oppi-Koppi, playing alongside heavyweights and personal inspirations like Daedelus): a huge feat for an artist who is still relatively new.

Right now, Buli seems to be on the cusp of a new evolution. He’s in the midst of creating new music, constantly, with a beat tape and a project under his alter ego emptythoughts in the works. The journey forward for Buli from here on might be about self-doubt in the best way: the kind that breeds growth.

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