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Nthato Mokgata, known to you as Spoek Mathambo, is sitting on a low couch, eyeing the chocolates and sweets on a table in front of him.
While he figures out which one will satisfy his sweet tooth, a representative from the Sony record company and I struggle to open the blinds and let some sun into the office. The representative makes herself comfortable on a seat nearby. Awwwwkward.
After some intense to-ing and fro-ing, Mathambo bashfully asks her to give us some unsupervised time to talk about Mathambo’s newest release, Future Sound of Mzansi, as it’s making me uncomfortable.
I ask him if he often had to deal with artists whose “babysitters” (his word, not mine) insisted on sitting in on the interview when he ran the shortlived Levitate Magazine.
“No,” he shakes his head and jokes, “the artists I used to interview weren’t the type to have babysitters.” There’s no need for babysitting because Mathambo has grown a lot since his initial musical endeavours. Mathambo, who coined the term “township tech”, has more slashes behind his name than a suicidal person going at his wrist with a blunt knife.
He is a rapper/songwriter/ singer/producer and is working on scoring a film called Black South Easter. “It’s been taking up a lot of time,” he tells me while munching on a chocolate, “I’ve been working on the score for the past six months and it’s the hardest work I have ever done. Especially because you are subject to someone else’s creativity.”
The other feathers in his cap are evident in Future Sound of Mzansi which “is a compilation of my biggest songs. I listened to my entire catalogue and found songs that would resonate with the South African listeners. Some of these songs have never been released in South Africa before”.
Born in South Africa but flying between here and his home in Malmö, Sweden, with his wife and fellow musician, Gnucci Banana, this international export says he wanted to introduce himself to the SA public.
“I have like 60 EPs but I’ve never had a cover with my face on it,” he says, “as a producer, singer, songwriter, I wanted this project to serve as an introduction to South African listeners. So putting my face on the cover this time was just to say dumelang.”
In addition to Diplo asking him to hop on to Robyn’s Dancehall Queen remix, Mathambo has ensured that his introduction is not only a nod to the past with his unique rendition of Weekend Special (featuring Big Fkn Gun’s Bra Sol and Dirty Paraffin’s Okmalumkoolkat), but also a glimpse into future sounds.
Namely, dance-driven, electronic music laden under raps and catchy choruses. Some of the production is handled by long-time friend, Sibot, who started a group called Playdoe with Mathambo many years ago. “We hadn’t seen each other for a year,” Mathambo says of Sibot, “but we got back into it and it was fun.”
We both push each other and are energetic and he has a great sense of humour. I regard his mastery of making the beat highly and his methodology has influenced me a lot. I can’t wait to be confident enough to sit with him and make a beat.”
This 27-year-old who was chosen to perform at the Africa Express Train that allowed people to enjoy performances by Africa’s finest in Europe has also been commissioned to work on music by Lana del Rey and kicks himself for passing up on an opportunity to work with Azealia Banks before she blew up.
The Sony rep comes in and politely asks me how much time I still need with Mathambo so he wraps it up with “there is an exciting new voice in South Africa and it’s a sign for people to venture out with new sounds.
“The music has developed to the point where The Black Eyed Peas and Kanye West have moved into the electro direction. It’s cool to see big artists coming over to my side sonically.”
• Spoek Mathambo’s Future Sound of Mzansi is in stores.