Thanks for not Colonising usby Daniel Friedman / 04.12.2009
I’m in pain as I sit down to type this – Andy Davis had to twist my arm for quite some time before I agreed to. Why? I hear you think. Writing event reviews for Mahala is a no brainer – the money, the groupies, the fame. But still, I was reluctant. Because event reviews are most often dull and pointless. I remember something my close personal friend Montle wrote about how boring music journalism can be. How it normally entails getting free entry to places in return for writing shit like, “340ml makes me want to smoke a doobie.” Much as I hate to admit it, the man is on point. His event reviews are interesting, but only because he ignores the task of writing about the music entirely and instead just rants and vents.
But I’m no Montle, and so instead I offer you the following. An honest, good ‘ol fashioned event review about how Swiss electro act Filewile make me want to smoke a doobie. And, you know, as much as I find the word doobie as irritating as the next person, they actually do.
I always thought that European institutes funded, “cultural events” (read: parties) as a kind of benevolent gesture to make up for colonisation. So while the contribution of the French, German, Dutch and Belgians makes sense I am a bit mystified by the involvement of the Swiss, who were too busy counting their money piles to ever colonise anyone. Whatever the reason for their decision to fund parties in South Africa, I’m not complaining, since their answer to IFAS and the Goethe Institut, Pro Helvetia, has resulted in some mind-bending music of late, including Joburg Melting, which saw experimental electro-acoustic types Zurich based Mario Marchisella and our own Joao Orecchia pull of some incredible improvised collaborations with a bunch of jazz, classical and electro artists. Pro Helvetia followed this up last Saturday by sending Swiss live electronic act Filewile to come and play for us. This took place at an event called Alice in Zululand at Arts on Main, organised by Pretty Drastic.
According to the press release, ‘Pretty Drastic is an interactive artistic experience that was conceptualised to change the Jozi night life scene with its fantastical funky dress up and performance element’. Unfortunately, they must have spent all of their creativity on writing said press release – there wasn’t much left for the party, which featured very few discernable traces of the Alice in Zululand theme. There were a couple of Zulu-looking wall hangings, some random Zulu dancers during MtKidu’s set and some truly foul umqomboti that was dished out at the door. Which, I suppose is more than one would expect from the average live music event, but describing your event as a, “multimedia feast” creates expectations that were not fulfilled. And, whether this was down to poor promotion or the average Joburgers’ aversion to good music, there weren’t a massive amount of people through the door. So it was up to the acts on the line-up to salvage the evening. Which they did.
Billed, as ‘Jozi’s best-kept secret’, solo performer Johnny Cradle opened, with a mix of reggae, soul and rock that reminded me a bit of Horace Andy and Finley Quaye. Arts on Main is very much a warehouse, and the acoustics let Mr Cradle down, but I could tell that there’s something there and I’m looking forward to seeing him again. Audio-visual electronic terrorists MtKidu managed to overcome various power-cuts interspersed throughout their set, and their stylised horror-cartoon show was as tight as always.
Next was Filewile comprising electronic duo Dustbowl and Dejot, and they performed live with a bassist, as well as Swiss-Ghanaian vocalist Joy Frempong, who has established herself as a bit of a club diva after performing with countless DJs and live electro acts. Filewile sound great, they make soupy and only ever-so-slightly experimental beats on a dub, hip-hop and quirky pop tip. But it was only when Frempong took the mic that the party really started. Her voice is smooth and powerful at the same time, much like Nina Simone’s, so it was apt that the night’s set included a cover of Simone’s ‘Sea Lion Woman’. Frempong is also incredibly versatile, sounding like a different performer from track to track, her delivery ranging from soulful singing to the kind of bizarre, experimental scatting you’d normally hear from the likes of Siya Makuzeni.
340ml’s Pedro da Silva joined Frempong on vocal duties half way through the set. There’s something comforting about his instantly recognisable voice, and hearing him backed by some fresh beats and in a new context was a welcome change from the two 340mls albums, which I have both unfortunately played to death. I have heard some berate Pedro for ‘not pushing the envelope enough’ with his music, as if just singing dub-influenced rock with soul and on key is not enough. I think it’s more than enough, and the interplay between da Silva and Frempong kept the crowd engaged throughout Filewile’s set. If it weren’t for Afro- European cultural exchanges I would never have discovered some of my favourite Dutch artists, including live electronic killers C-Mon & Kypsky, hip-hop crew Relax and brilliant folk singer-songwriter Lucky Fonz III. Now thanks to Pro Helvetia I get to discover the sounds of Switzerland without having to spend even one decade under the country’s colonial control. Thanks, Pro Helvetia.
The Cape Town version of the event featured Filewile collaborating with Pioneer Unit rapper Rattex in the place of Pedro, which would have been interesting to hear. If you were there, please comment below. I have a doobie to smoke…
Catch Filewile in Cape Town this weekend at one of the events below:
4 Dec – The Assembly (Mix ‘n Blend CD launch) * doors open 9pm
5 Dec – All Nations (monthly Fong Kong Bantu Sound System gig) *doors open 9pm
6 Dec – Nyanga Arts Centre (Ghetto Sound Productions) 4 – 6pm [FREE]
Images © and courtesy Filewile’s Africa Tour Blog. Check it here.