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Culture, Music

Blk to the Future

by James Sey / Illustration by Alastair Laird / 22.02.2012

Kitchener’s in Braamfontein has been a building site for a very long time. Longer, I’m sure, than was promised to the nice new arty tenants. If you go there during the day when there’s no action happening, it’s full of characters who would be necking Lion Lager if SAB still made it, and who look like they know the difference between the Central Hotel and the Royal Hotel (clue: one of them is in Boksburg). But by night it becomes a groovy, if rather skanky, little hipster spot – if Jozi’s customary eclectic mix of fashionistas, students, cool kids, musos and scenesters can be termed ‘hipster’.

Tonight there’s a niche crowd, for a niche gig – the sideproject of two members of one of the country’s more interesting bands, Blk Jks. Titled Post #, it features guitarist Lindani Buthelezi and drummer Tshepang Ramoba mining their more intense, exploratory and less song-oriented musical directions.

Their day jobs in Blk Jks have brought many musical influence comparisons, as is the way with lazy journalism story generators. While the pigeonhole into which Blk Jks is supposed to fit is quite varied, it tends to be with rock bands that draw experimental influences into their music – such as the comparison with TV on the Radio. At the bottom of such comparisons is the often unwitting pointing to a far more interesting lineage that Post # definitely draws on – that of Afrofuturism. This technophilic reimagining of Africa is utopian, a non-place where black fabulism and African non-identity come together. Afrofuturism posits another way, taking on board the trappings of science fiction and technological culture, but with the tricksterism of African folk legend and the subversive urban guerilla tactics of black consciousness movements.

Afrofuturism builds its own new world as an implicit critique of the depredations of a racist and imperialist first world. In modernity, as Mark Dery argues, “[blacks] inhabit a sci-fi nightmare in which unseen but no less impassable force fields of intolerance frustrate their movements; official histories undo what has been done to them; and technology, be it branding, forced sterilization, the Tuskegee experiment, or tasers, is too often brought to bear on black bodies.”

Afrofuturism is the revision of this particular sci-fi nightmare, a retelling of the future as a Black techno-bricolage, comprised of scraps of legend, urban cosmology, new art forms from literature to jazz and dub to graffiti, turntablism and video. It is music that has provided Afrofuturists with the most malleable of media in order to create a new black future. Cosmologist and radical jazz composer Sun Ra reinvented not only himself, but the whole point of jazz music, by making it the conduit to an idiosyncratic cosmic consciousness, an explicit alignment between an always ‘out-there’ musical form and a set of utopian and science-fictional beliefs.

For Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, meaning is to be found in the art of noises – the deep and dark noises left to those assigned by global power structures to operate at the margins of social, political and aesthetic meaning. Instrumental in the creation of dub music through his alchemical Black Ark studios, the Jamaican genius twisted, mangled, compressed and ultimately liberated reggae music into a new art form, a form now adopted by new generations of digital musicians and artists..

Both Sun Ra and Perry loom large in the music of Post #. As their one long, continuous set unfolded, psychedelic freakouts briefly blossomed, powered by a stripped down rock drum kit which Ramoba was all over. These turned into more ethereal jazz rock passages led by Buthelezi’s fluid guitars, and at least in part improvisational. The whole lot was from time to time fed through some judicious dubby mixing on the desk, just enough so that we didn’t miss the bass too much, but not so that we thought that we may have been turning into a roots session. Brief vocal snatches drift in and out throughout, as do recognizable hooks and melodies. But this was definitely an Afrofuturist, post-rock drift of a session. The playing was never less than tight, the pace varied and focused enough to hold interest throughout and not seem indulgent in a jazz blowout kind of way, and it stopped when it needed to. Buthelezi says that it’s just their drums and guitar space to try things out, rather than a fully-fledged side project, and if it feeds into Blk Jks right, they could be coming up with some shit-hot stuff soon.

A low-key and pleasingly experimental (without being wanky) evening, was bookmarked by two local DJs, Waz Not Was upfront, whose leftfield sound selections set things up nicely, and DJ Plaat Japie, who rounded the evening out with a cool set of everything from cheese to filmtracks to proper bangers.

But the evening belonged to Post #. I’d be listening to some honest to God Soweto post-rock Afrofuturist sounds any day of the week. Bring it please.

*Illustration © Alastair Laird

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