It’s a media launch for some band called Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness. So we’re here to judge. The well-worn stage of Pata Pata in Maboneng provides the location, a record label called 360 Street the refreshments. The naming conventions already have us skeptical, but we reign in our prejudice as best we can and suck on a meatball as BCUC take the stage.
There’s already something odd about the set-up. The instruments… Just a semi-acoustic guitar, percussion and six mics. Okay, so it’s not conventional. We’re cool with that. The time Ricky Kelly crushed a bottleneck with his own blood, we tried it out. The time that girl from Quay Four wanted to assault us during lovemaking, we were, like, okay cool. Who knew it would be anally?
Unconventional is cool. We’re down with unconventional.
But BCUC is unconventional in only a certain way. In another, they are part of a movement in Joburg music that is both futuristic and ancient. Anyone who’s listened to The Fridge with Sam’s forties-folk vocals over dub grooves, or The Soil’s beatbox barbershop or Fifi The Rai Blaster’s trip-hop vernac will know.
BCUC are doing that in a whole other way. This is twasa. It’s a powerful, almost shamanic trance music that carries the audience with it. Groove movements – four or five to a song – that strive to alter consciousness.
It’s not unlike afrobeat, with its endless song forms – BCUC play for 80 minutes and only do four songs. And the singer has a presence that references Femi or Fela, but also Bra Hugh, our own afrobeat pioneer.
Lyrics are conscious vernac with a fair bit of English for the ignorant. We liked “Mr Van der Merwe” with the female vocals going, “Sorrow, tears, pain and blood”, about land and migration.
The back story has them emerging from the township spoken-word scene, which explains the improvised backing – guitar, bass drum, congas, cowbell, maracas, whistle…
Then their video gets spotted on YouTube and they get spirited off to go star at music festivals across Europe before they’ve even made much impact in SA. It’s getting to be a common story.
So tonight’s thing is a homecoming and a debut of sorts and Thabiso Khati of 360 Street sets out to break these guys to their local market after they’ve already cracked overseas.
Tribal trance poetry is fetishised in places like Holland, where it represents the unspoilt primal. We all know that’s bullshit. So breaking in SA will mean building a live following. 20 minute songs will battle to make the MetroFM playlist.
BCUC are making umculo wabant’ abamnyama with an eye on the past, the present and the future in a unique style. It’s got energy and message. It’s a jam band, so they display the familiar jam band absence of clear song starts and finishes. It’s a poetry band, so they’ll always face sound issues. And it’s a trance band, so there’s energy and improv and passion and songs forming live on stage.
And that is the foundation of music. This is music as it ever was.