SA Music Scene, up close and personal with Spoek Mathambo
by Katherine Brookes
Last week, we had the opportunity to have a chat with Spoek Mathambo, hands down one of the nicest people in the industry. Spoek’s first compilation album, Future Sound of Mzansi, will be released on the 26th November 2012. You’d think that after winning the prestigious “Young Director Award at the Cannes Lions Festival in 2011, being nominated for a MOBO (Music of Black Origin) and touring with Damon Albarn and Nick Zinner, to name a few, Spoek would have his head somewhere in the clouds, but this guy’s got both feet planted firmly on South African soil. Between chatting and some banter, I got to ask him a few questions.
With so many impressive collaborations on your album, was it a challenge to work around everyone’s schedules?
Not at all – I’d been working on most of the songs for about four years so it was just a matter of putting everything together. The whole process took about four or five months.
Your first compilation, Future Sound of Mzansi, will be released through Sony Music SA on the 26th November 2012. Will you be visiting our beautiful Mother City to do some promo work?
Ooh Mother City, I love her. I will be there next week (week of the 26th). I was actually there last week for the Cape Town World Music Festival. I’m in Cape Town quite often. We’re actually having the album launch at Assembly on the 22nd December.
I love the term “Afro-futurism/Township tech”. How do your sounds come together and in terms of putting together a track, what is the process?
We get to do what we want. It varies from song to song, but I usually start with the drums and then I lay down the bass line. Sometimes I’ll have a dream, wake up and write it down, other times, I think of a melody and then sing it. It depends. Sometimes we’ll go into studio with a deadline three hours away and put together something great.
So when it comes to meeting tight deadlines, would you say you work well under pressure, seeing as some artists do their best work when under pressure?
Ja I do, but sometimes it turns out really good, sometimes it doesn’t, so it just depends on the situation.
You’re already such a heavyweight in the industry with so many accolades to your name. How important do you think is it to stay humble & grounded in such a cut-throat industry?
I don’t think I’m a heavyweight. I think I’m only a beginner. I did a UK tour about 2 months ago with real heavyweights like Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz) and Nick Zinner (Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and when you see these people who have been in the industry for so many years and are so grounded and down to earth, it humbles you. They were so cool and down to earth. I think it’s very important to stay humble, especially in the industry and I’m fortunate to be surrounded by friends who I’ve known for years, who also help to bring me back down to earth. I’ve known Theo Tuge (who worked with Spoek on this album) since I was 12 years old.
Have you always had a passion for music or did you originally want to pursue something else?
I’ve always had a passion for music, but I studied medicine for 2 years and also graphic design. Eventually, I decided to give music a shot.
If you could collaborate with any artist, local or international, who would it be?
Oooh that’s a tough one. I don’t know, who would you pick?
I actually think it could be quite interesting if you collaborated with a band like the Wild Eastern Arches or The Very Wicked, because of their 70’s psychedelic/Rock ‘n’ Roll sound. That could make for quite an interesting collaboration. But back to you – who would you pick?
Oh I don’t know their music, but I’ll check them out. Ooh I don’t know hey. I recorded with 2 guys from a Johannesburg-based band called ‘The Brother Moves On’. A friend of mine told me to go check them out and I absolutely lost my mind. They were so good. So I’d maybe like to work with them. Also, internationally, I’d have to say Prince and Stevie Wonder – the big guys.
So what would you say is your favourite era in music?
Oh definitely the 60’s and 70’s, but maybe we’ll look back in the next 20 years or so and say “Dude, 2005 was the year!”
Your music video for Control won the Young Director Award at the Cannes Lions Festival in 2011. How did the concept for the video come about?
Well Pieter Hugo and Michael Cleary directed the video and came up with the concept. There’s basically a lot of hidden meaning and we make use of controversial images and symbolism. We had such a solid team. The crew wasn’t very big, but the people who worked on the video were industry heavyweights. For instance, the art director for this video also worked on District 9. The whole video took about 3 days to shoot and was filmed in Langa, Cape Town.