AiW guest: Tom Simmert
In the end it’s all DJ Lunga’s fault. Without the feature about him and his label Baainar Records in the German magazine BEAT, I’d never (or at least much later) have thought about South African House music. Which would have been a loss.
The music released on his label was the first to show me the essential elements of house in South Africa: highly percussive beats, smooth pianos and horns borrowed from Soul and Jazz, warm chords and, above all, soulful vocals – always mixed on point, never too noisy, always understated. That’s why the features author Tobias Fischer describes South African House as the “soul of the twenty-first century”.
This style is unique to South Africa. There are a few great Afro House artists living elsewhere, like the brilliant Manoo from Lyon, France. While in South Africa there are a number of highly talented producers creating house, certainly too many to cover all of them in this piece. I’ll present a few examples, subjectively compiled to give an overview of the movement called South African House.
Vinny, Christos and House Afrika
With respect to representing the history, the first two characters I have to introduce are Vinny Da Vinci and DJ Christos. They started playing house music before the end of the Apartheid regime and were the first to actively spread the music across South Africa following the end of Apartheid. Active DJs for more than a quarter century, they are considered South Africa’s House music grandmasters. Da Vinci’s label House Afrika is one of the country’s most important House labels, releasing mixes from Da Vinci and Christos themselves, as well as albums and EPs from a lot of great artists.
Nasty Nev, often collaborating with the singer Donald Sheffey, released his great debut album 0808 Sweetsoul in 2013, and it’s still fresh today.
Rocco, who also released his last album The Bridge in 2013, is a Frenchman, but listening to his tracks and mixes, it’s not hard to see why they have been so popular in South Africa.
The same thing can be said about the label Atjazz from Great Britain, which releases collaborations with South African artists as well as producing remixes on the House Afrika label.
The other big player on the South African House music scene is Soul Candi Records. Initially started as a record store in Johannesburg, it’s now also an internationally operating distributor and, as such, the country’s biggest importer of electronic music from Europe and the US. As a label, it is home to some young, talented and really exciting artists, whose careers just got going during the last three years.
Mi Casa is a House band consisting of three members: the producer and DJ Dr.Duda, the songwriter, vocalist and guitar player J’Something and the trumpeter Mo-T. Together they’ve released two albums; Mi Casa Music was the debut and included the hymn “These Streets”, a song that was remixed and bootlegged by so many producers, it’s near impossible to count. The album contained a lot of songs that were really smooth but catchy enough to gain a wide audience while ensuring a maximum of credibility within the deep house community. For two years, new videos and remixes were produced for more and more songs taken from the album, including the Portuguese “La Vida”, and the house gospel “All the glory”. The second album Su Casa was a nice follow-up, especially the singles “Jika” and “Can’t Get Enough”.
Another two great producers are Shimza and Cuebur, who are single artists but often collaborate with one another.
What makes their tracks special within the South African context is the increased use of synthesizers and the heavy basslines. Still, those tracks are grounded by their reduced, percussive drum parts and soulful vocals, which is why they never lose it completely.
Other interesting artists who release on Soul Candi and should be mentioned here are Infinite Boys and Black Motion.
Black Coffee and Soulistic Music
Last but not least: Black Coffee. He’s definitely one of the most successful and interesting DJs in South Africa at the moment. Besides traveling a lot, he is a highly productive DJ and label manager, releasing music by himself, Tumelo and Culoe de Song on his platform Soulistic Music. During the summer of 2014, he produced a two hour “Africa Rising” concert in Durban, together with fourteen solo singers, organ, keyboard-players, and a full orchestra. He started with a short opera-like singing performance, before positioning himself behind the mixing console, improvising with different parts of his own productions in interaction with the other musicians on stage.
Real Scenes: Johannesburg
For more information check the great documentary Resident Advisor made about Johannesburg’s house scene. Some of the artists mentioned above are featured in it.
Tom Simmert wrote his Masters’ thesis on South African house music at Goethe University and is a electronic music producer.
This post originally appeared on Sign Records’ blog and is re-published with their permission.