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Culture Featured Interviews Music Reviews

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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Featured Music Reviews

South African electronic music maestro, Muzi, shares his vision for Africa with the world

Durban-based producer, Muzi, is a true treasure for South African music. Experimental electronic music that prioritizes traditional African sounds, from West Africa to South Africa, is rare and the producers that are brave enough to test the waters of experimentation are even more rare. Muzi on the other hand is a brave, creative and free. In a time where imitation is rife, and individuality is scarce, he unapologetically expresses himself the way he wants to, with no boundaries or external pressure. Weirdly enough, by listening to his music, you can almost tell that he is not in this music thing for anything else but the music – the passion is clear and undeniably infectious.

Successfully combining traditional Zulu folk music like Maskandi and Mbaqanga, with modern soundscapes that are prevalent in today’s popular music genres such as hip hop, electronica and then mashing that up with some South African kwaito and some afrobeat flavor from West Africa, you get Afrovision – Muzi’s vision for Africa shared through music. On the thirteen-track album, he channels African icons and respected pioneers of African music; Fela Kuti, Bhekumuzi Luthuli, Hugh Masikela and Mandla Spikiri, to create a modern-sounding album that can be used to forecast what African music is likely to sound in the next five to ten years. In composition, Afrovision is inherently futuristic and progressive. An easy and fun listening that subtly forces you to envision a better and more prosperous Africa, and all of that is done through music. You really have to give Muzi props! Afrovision is crafted in a way that will prove to you that Africa is where it’s at.

album artwork for muzi's afrovision album
Image credit: Muzi

It is no surprise that for a boundary pushing album like Afrovision, Muzi enlists some of South Africa’s best up and coming talent like Langa Mavuso, Una Rams and Tiro alongside seasoned Mzansi innovator, Okmalumkoolkat. To support the West African influence, he calls on Nigerian star, Seaba on Chocolate Dreams, a song with a catchy hook that a lot of South Africans have fallen in love with. Songs like Zulu Skywalker, Boss Mode, Best Friend, Kini and Bantu Space Odyssey are absolute vibes and bangers of note. Props to Muzi for not succumbing to the pressure of creating what his peers are creating and crumbling under the pressure to follow what artists are doing. Afrovision is an amazing album and one that will be remembered for taking African music forward. Strongly recommend that you buy this one.

Stream on Spotify below.

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Music

Proudly African: Listen to the #FreshPicks Playlist on Spotify

An all African playlist curated by the Nusoulhub Radio team. We have some the best and progressive African artists. From West Africa to South Africa, we got the vibes for you. On this playlist, we have Bylwantsa, Moonchild Sanelly, Zarion Uti, Mannywellz and many more artists. Stream the playlist below:

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Culture Featured Music Reviews

The ascension of Venda pop: Una Rams’ bold entrance into the South African entertainment industry

In country as diverse and culturally rich as South Africa, representation and visibility matters. Una Rams, a young, creative and proudly Venda musician from South Africa understands this very well. Armed with that understanding coupled with determination and passion, Una Rams navigates the South African entertainment industry confidently as an outlier. Some, mostly industry insider and critics, can even go as far viewing him as an anomaly, but not just an anomaly – one that we never knew we needed in the entertainment space in South Africa.

When Una Rams first broke out in late 2015, the music landscape and state of creativity in the country was mundane and uninspiring. A teenager nearing his 20s at the time, Una Rams was full of promise and potential, with world underneath his feat he vowed to release music that would make people uncomfortable. The South African listener had to be stretched, the listener had to be challenged as the style and content of the music he was making was different and something unheard of at the time. Una Rams was daring and this was seen in how he married how he looked with how he chose to communicate his emotions through the music. At the time, his look could easily ruffle the feathers of cis men with fragile masculinity and that, in all honesty, was glorious and so necessary. It is clear that Una Rams was ready for a brave, new and changing world and not only that, he was hell-bent on showing us what was possible in this new world: in expression, style and creativity.

READ: Culture Cartel drops two new tracks to prove to us that South African bands are alive and well.

2016 came and Una Rams attracted industry recognition and praise like bees to pollen. Youth-focused media platforms that have a sizeable audience in South Africa like OkayAfrica and Zkhiphani, wrote think pieces about South Africa’s new promising talent. Mind you when all of this was happening, Una Rams was also a student. The education he received was not only limited to the lecture halls at the University of Pretoria where he read for his Bachelor of Science degree in computer science. Una Rams was being educated about the inner workings of the music industry, life and most importantly he was figuring himself out as an artist, more importantly as a young man.

Call it destiny or luck, this kid was cut out for greatness. What else could you expect from someone who has an older brother who is a force to be reckoned with in the South African pop realm. The sounds of Tondi Rams were not unfamiliar to the airwaves of big radio stations like Highveld FM, Jakaranda FM and 5 FM. The pride of Venda, breaking down boundaries in the urban entertainment space. Through the carefree nature and the creative efforts of Una Rams, Venda pop was taken to new heights. The Black Coffee co-sign and tutelage starts to make sense.

Una Rams deserves to be included in any South African cultural innovator list alongside the likes of artists like Sho Madjozi, OKMALUMKOOLKAT and Petite Noir – artists that have completely shaken up the local music industry. As much as he does not sing or rap in his mother tongue, the work he does forces us to pay attention to Venda creatives, which is good. Listening to Una Rams forces one to reflect back to a time where Percy Mukwevho stole the hearts of South Africans with his angelic, pre-teen boyish voice. Una Rams is defining a culture and teaching young creatives about the importance of representation, and he does this so effortlessly because he is living out his truth by being himself in a world that hates individuality.