Stay Coolby Dave Durbach, images by Emily Coppel / 08.02.2011
At a time when most bands and producers want to get harder, faster, louder and more electronic, others are happy to swim upstream. And while many may try to drown out their mediocrity by adding an extra guitar or keyboard, one mark of a band’s musicianship remains how few instruments they need to tell their story – music being the silence between notes, as Debussy said.
I first encountered the Fridge as the backing band for singer/guitarist Bongiziwe, they were the house band at the now sadly defunct House of Nsako in Brixton. Bongi has since gone solo on his singer-songwriter shtick. Leaving the Fridge to do their own thing. They’ve dropped the German chick who played guitar, and the equally pasty dude who took her place. During another lengthy residency at the Loft in Melville they found a vocalist and they’ve finally come out with their own EP.
Now a three-piece, The Fridge consists of singer Sam, Mothusi on guitars and bass, and Nigerian drummer Ade. Each has a distinctive stage presence and style – Sam the smooth operator from Soweto, Thusi the Northern suburbs hipster, Ade the cerebral tough guy from the land of Fela and his namesake King Sunny. Looking good is one thing though. Together they put out a smooth yet masculine take on Afro-soul, a genre more readily associated with female singers like Sade, Jill Scott or Simphiwe Dana. In Sam the Fridge have found a singer of a calibre seldom seen in this country – someone who can readily improvise both lyrics and melodies, a voice of rare beauty that makes the lyrics seem profound in their simplicity. Thusi’s gangling presence belies the skill and intricacy of his fretboard atmospherics, while Ade’s equally complex yet unshowy beatmaking tie it all together.
The self-titled, independently distributed disc has five tracks honed over months of live performances and jamming behind closed doors. Tracks “Now and Then”, “Peace and Lovely Things” and “My Mrs” go down mellow and will appeal to neo-soul fans of Maxwell and Erykah Badu. “Blue” and “uCash” are more upbeat, singalong numbers where Sam rap-sings to Ade’s groove. “Will I ever switch focus, focus on the things that will make me dopest?”, he asks on the latter, the most polished track on the disc, and one that could prove a breakthrough hit for the band, with its catchy truism of a chorus: “Abantwana bayothand’ucash”.
Weighing in at a tidy 20 minutes, the album comes as a breath of fresh air amidst all those who seem so determined to conform. If any criticism can be leveled at the group it’s that the five songs on the album all stick to a similar formula, with little digression or experimentation with others sounds. A full-length album would no doubt offer more scope for this. Those who prescribe adjectives like soft or depressing are simply missing the point.
A few weeks back The Fridge were the first band to perform at a new live music venue in the Maboneng Precinct, Pata Pata, opened recently by the same people responsible for inner-city hangouts Kospotong and Sophiatown. Despite being without a guitar and only able to do Thusi’s bass songs, the band had numerous people in the relatively small crowd singing along. Further evidence of their class was provided in the fact that songs from the album were not replicated but adapted and expanded upon, often obviously ad lib. And they came back later to perform a second set for those who showed up late, something I haven’t seen since the days of Urban Creep.
2011 threatens to be the year of the Fridge – flagbearers for a new generation of skilled, intelligent songwriters, the natural successors of old skool acts like the Malopoets, Sankomota and Sakhile. Get in, or get out.
*All images © Emily Coppel.