Spoek Mathambo at W Lounge | Music | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly
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Spoek Mathambo at W Lounge

Don’t Fear the Music: Spoek Mathambo embraces the extremes in life and music.


Spoek Mathambo is scary. That is, if you can’t handle his sexed-up polychromatic glam-o-rama brand of South African post-apartheid rap. Mixing township tribal with post-trip-hop, new wave electro and beyond, the 25-year-old Soweto native’s debut album, Mshini Wam, is genre-bending, if not unpredictable. But, fret not.

“I make many different kinds of music and always have. I do what I like when I like. That’s the fun of my artistry,” Mathambo writes via email from Johannesburg. Mathambo’s opener “Gwababa”—which translates as “Don’t Be Scared”—alludes to South Africa’s political climate, but it’s also an encouragement for the next 52 minutes of listening. The album oscillates between extremes, from the danceable, tight “Let Them Talk” to the ridiculous “Douchebag Club.”

Mathambo, along with bandmate Richard the Third, produced the bulk of the material, albeit with some unique hurdles. “It was tricky. I had to play executive producer, and [do things like] spend money on chickens and transport for backup singers from the Khayelitsha township.”

He’s found inspiration for the album’s tracks in the strangest of places. “Sometimes, it’s me getting high and writing by myself in my closet, or sometimes my wife and I are washing dishes and rapping,” Mathambo says. “But, for the most part it’s usually hung over in an airport filled with remorse—my head is usually super clear.”

Since the album’s release, Mathambo has received more help in songcraft from Mshini Wam—also the name of his four-piece touring band. Mathambo says that the process is more organic and group-based now, with everyone sitting around noodling on their respective instruments and him mumbling lyrics to himself. “When I stop being too shy, I’ll start howling into the mic.”

Mshini Wam essentially translates as “my machine,” although it’s often meant as “bring me my machine gun.” However, the former seems more appropriate, considering his progressive electronic music inclinations, called Afro-futurism by critics. Mathambo’s prediction of what’s to come with this futurism: “The future will maybe be when more people start to accept ‘fringe’ stuff ... I don’t actually know the future; my crystal balls are broken.”

However, the mirror to his eclectic past—which has heavily influenced his music—is not broken. Growing up during the turbulent—to say the least—State of Emergency had its perks. “It was a very vibrant time, musically and socially. With the ’80s came the disco explosion and hip-hop’s arrival,” Mathambo says. “I think this duality shows in my thinking and art.”

Along with rapping and producing, he’s a graphic designer and illustrator, manifested in the aesthetics for the latest video, “War on Words.” The spooky neo-pagan tribal ritual is set to catchy dance beats even flashier than his oh-so-hip fashion and art sensibilities.

Mathambo’s DJ shows—a South African-heavy mash-up of kwaito, techno, house and footwork—are turning heads worldwide. However, Friday’s show might surpass that with his full band, consisting of Mathambo singing alongside Richard the Third on machines dropping bass, Nic on guitar and Jake Snake on drums. “The sound is pretty huge, thundering—where our bass music meets rock abandon and wildness,” says Mathambo, furthering that they evoke a similar live energy as (oddly enough) Nirvana and The Pixies. Likening them to contemporary semi-counterparts Major Lazer, The Very Best or Die Antwoord might be more appropriate.

Mathambo and Mishni Wam end a whirlwind nine-day U.S. tour in SLC, but be forewarned: They’re coming “straight from the tip of Africa to crush your skull and rattle your ribcage ... It’s gonna be fun.” Be afraid, be very afraid. 

W Lounge
358 S. West Temple
Friday Nov. 19, 8 p.m.