Spoek Mathambo’s fifth solo album, ‘Mzansi Beat Code’, is both a culmination of years spent trying to find his own voice and sound, as well as a celebration of collaboration. Of the thirteen tracks on the album only two feature Spoek on his own. “Music right now is a bit more individualistic in an egotistical sense. I think some of the best music that I’ve enjoyed from the last hundred years is always based on a group. Be it how amazing hip hop releases are, they’re always collaborations. To the great rock, jazz, punk, funk it’s all based on really great groups. So for me it’s natural.” By collaborating with others he is able to tap into human skills that he or a machine does not posses, “I can reach them the best not through MIDI but through a human being who’s got their own rich concept based on a lifetime of playing that instrument”.
Rather than curating the sounds of South Africa, Spoek takes elements from the diverse sound spectrum and reinterprets them through his own lens, hence the name ‘Mzansi Beat Code’. “They’re ideas, concepts, codes, ways of doing things, but for the most part I’m deconstructing it and reconstructing it in a different way.”
While the album is Spoek’s solo production he does not view his role as that of a conductor leading an orchestra. “It’s lowkey just friendships and chill sessions for the most part. Demos that we share and just playing around and experimenting with some friends and some strangers that have become friends.” Still the album has Spoek’s energy. “I guess because I’m there from the beginning up until the end it leans towards what I want out of it.”
When asked if he sees himself as a rapper or producer first his answer is unequivocal. “I really hate rapping right now. I see myself as a beatmaker at the beginning of their career. I see myself as a producer.” From his Future Sound of Mzansi Mixes to the documentary of the same title and Fantasma’s ‘Free Love’ there is a clear path that leads to the release of ‘Mzansi Beat Code’. “It has taken me a long time to get to this point. It has taken me a really long time to get this ability of putting things together. I’ve been doing things since 2006, even before that with different stuff, trying to articulate certain ideas and just not having the required skill set . So this is the first project, well I’d say Fantasma ‘Free Love’ is the first project where things came together”.
By deconstructing and rebuilding the ‘Beat Codes’ of South Africa, Spoek is creating a sound and aesthetic that is familiarly South African but excitingly innovative.