Premiere & Interview: Manthe Ribane & Okzharp speak on their new album, inspirations & future plans

South African performance artist and model, Manthe Ribane, is ahead of her time. A pioneer and creative trailblazer of note, Manthe Ribane effortlessly shifts culture by fusing different mediums of art. From dance to design to music, she fearlessly introduces new ideas to the masses. Through her art, she gives you hints of afro-futurism, places cultural appreciation at the forefront of contemporary art and presents creative design thinking. She is complex. She is present. She is fearless. She represents women of all types (cis or queer).

However, she is no island. In her journey of artistic excellence, she works with some of the best in the game. Like UK producer, Okzharp, who through consistent collaboration with Manthe, has managed to pioneer a new sound and wave. A sound and wave that is earning the duo global acclaim and praise. After release two EPs through UK based label, Hyperdub Records, the duo set its sights on working on an album. Defying borders, logistics and busyness of life, they recorded an outstanding collaborative effort which showcases how much they’ve grown as artists. Fusing sounds  that are more prevalent in the UK with those that are authentically South African, they created Closer Apart – an album which embraces growth, change and artistic progression.

The thirteen track album is electronic and futuristic in nature. With this album, Manthe placed her femininity as a focus while Okzharp designed a sonic experience which prompts the listener to think of the future and its possibilities. The production on this album ranges from soft to hard, and fast to slow, and this is purposefully done to communicate the big idea of the project. The African release of Closer Apart was handled by Black Major Release in conjunction with the global release by Hyperdub Records.

We spoke to Manthe and Okzharp about Closer Apart to find out what inspired the project, how the project came about and their future plans. Read our interview with the duo below.

image of manthe ribane dancing in closer/apart short film
Photography by Chris Saunders.


Please share a little background on who you are, how you came up and something people

Manthe Ribane: I am art, I am Manthe Ribane, I am the from the world and Soweto. I was firstly introduced to music by my ears and my late parents instilled good music in me. I was really blessed with amazingly brilliant parents who always believed in me. 

Okzharp: I got my artist name from Okmalumkoolkat. It was a phrase that he and we used all the time on a tour we did back then. He and Spizee gave me loads of music and I did a mix called the ‘OKZharp mix’. Then someone asked me to DJ and I needed, so I needed a name. 

How did you two come together to create music in the first place?

Manthe Ribane: After years of honing my gift of dance, my conceptual and fashion design skills, I started touring with Die Antwoord. Right after the tour, I came back to South Africa, I got a call from Chris Saunders for a meeting and also an introduction to meet up with Gervase Gordon aka Okzharp.

Chris was talking about a film that they had written called Ghost Diamond and I was selected as to be one of the actresses to have a main role in the film. Six months later when we started shooting the film, Okzharp came up with an idea to record a soundtrack for Ghost Diamond. I was over the moon, filled with joy. We started recording. That was the birth of my musical journey – first EP, second EP and now an album. 

Okzharp: We had finished shooting for the day and everyone went into town to celebrate, but Manthe and I stayed in Chris’ studio, an airy, old marshmallow factory in Maboneng. I had a nice mic but no mic stand, so we taped it to the upright of the bunk bed. Dear Ribane was the start.

Watch the amazing, animated video for Kubona.

What is your working relationship like? 

Manthe Ribane: I love the power of collaboration, you consistently grow and learn. Our working relationship is very professional and we both believe in each other’s opinions. Respect is the main tool to keep the progress alive. Okzharp is a musical genuis and he’s constantly creating new, future sounds and he also has the power of working with people who are always thinking ahead.

Okzharp: We’ve figured out a way to work very fast and we also learned that we need to trust our instincts.

How has your creative relationship and cultural exchange developed since the work you did together in 2016?

Manthe Ribane: Touring a lot internationally and now we’re preparing to Afropunk New York.

Okzharp: We have learned to move faster to make time move slower.

Can you share a little about how working on Closer Apart was like?  

Manthe Ribane: Hard work!

What was your favourite part of making the album and which song is your favourite in the album?

Manthe Ribane: I love Kubona. The song talks about self reflection of the diamonds in all us and to be honest, I love every song.

What did you set out to achieve with Closer Apart? Is there a bigger, more deeper message that you were trying to communicate?

Manthe Ribane: Trusting your process of your own journey, and inspirational music for the future generation.

How difficult was it to collaborate to make this piece of work between two countries?

Manthe Ribane: Hard. But we kept on seeing what’s ahead us and the people who believed in us helped.

Okzharp: N​one of the songs were recorded remotely. They were all made together in the same room. There were times when this was a challenge but ultimately we were quite lucky because we had a couple of shows last year, so we were able to keep making new music around those tours.

[Manthe Ribane]: How do your other creative skills feed into your music and how can we see or hear it on this new project?

Manthe Ribane: Art is a home with different rooms, music, fashion, dance, colour, film, photography, and more. All these elements come alive through our visual communication.

[Manthe Ribane & Okzharp]: Is it frustrating to have assumptions made about your creative work? Things like the man being the designated producer,  the woman as the vocalist and performer? [Manthe Ribane]: You had a lot of input in the production right?

Manthe Ribane: Yes, I had a lot of input with the production side, it was powerful.

Okzharp: M​anthe was a co-producer on this album. She selected sketches and helped change them, arrange them, develop and finish them with the vocals.

image of manthe ribane dancing in closer/apart short film
Photography by Chris Saunders

[Manthe Ribane]: What’s your relationship with Hyperdub? How does it feel to have the relationship that you do with a label with so much history and to work with Okzharp?

Manthe Ribane: It’s such a powerful dream to be with one of the most highly respected record label in the world.

Why do you think South African sounds have been embraced worldwide, but in London especially, in recent years?

Manthe Ribane: Africa has always been the ghost writer of the world and I believe in time the world will start crediting us. But regardless of that, it’s beautiful to witness the appreciation.

Okzharp: S​ome great music and some great artists have come out of South Africa over the last few years. Some of that music slots into some of the London vibes at different points, but London is its own thing, I’m not sure what’s happening here.

How much input did you guys have for the visuals of this release? How did you come up with the aesthetics and creative direction for Closer Apart?

Manthe Ribane: Team work makes the dream work (sounds cheesy). We worked with Chris Saunders, Deon Van Zyl, Nirox Sculpture Park and Hazard Gallery. We really wanted to invest more on the visual aesthetic, so the work may remain more timeless.

Okzharp: And dream work makes the team work. The cover image was taken by Chris Saunders in between takes on set at the Closer/Apart film shoot for our Nirox artist residency. Chris took a lot of photos that day but I remember having a feeling about that one.

image of manthe ribane & okzharp closer apart album cover art
Closer Apart Album Cover Apart. Photography by Chris Saunders


Africa has always been the ghost writer of the world and I believe in time the world will start crediting us.

 

[Manthe Ribane]: In the Chris Saunders directed short film, you perform urban dance styles unique to Mzansi. How important is showcasingSouth African culture in your art?

Manthe Ribane: It’s important to embrace what has been rooted for us, celebrate and share the gift with the world.

What do you both have coming up that we should know about?

Manthe Ribane: AFROPUNK New York, Album, Album, Album, Album, tour and new campaign.

 

Watch the Chris Saunders directed short film, Closer / Apart. The short film is a visual exploration of the album.

Stream Closer Apart on Spotify here.

Buy Closer Apart on iTunes here.

For more streaming and download links, click here.

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About Author

Nkululeko Nkosi Creative entrepreneur, self-starter and writer are some of the words you can use to describe me. Inspired by the grit, rawness and passion you often find in underground and alternative culture. Based in the greatest city in Africa, Johannesburg.


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