Higher Consciousnessby Tseliso Monaheng / 25.03.2014
Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness (BCUC) are exhausted but happy. They’ve just finished a two-hour set that didn’t feel at all like two hours. In fact, it occurs to me that this might well be the first show of this nature I’ve encountered by a local band. And now, with most of the audience having left the hall, only the task of packing up remains. The gear – various forms of percussive instruments, a guitar, two bass drums – is gathered together neatly and packed away.
B-Cook (as BCUC is pronounced, sometimes) are a Soweto-based, six-piece group which vocalist / manager Kgomotso Mokone is quick to point out are not a group at all but a band.
What’s the difference, you may ask?
“We’re a band, that’s the difference,” she’ll respond, as if that’s all there is to the matter.
I’m hanging with Kgomotso, Lehlohonolo Maphunye (aka Hloni, raps/percussion) and Luja Ngoepe (raps/bass drum), the other two members of B-Cook who’ve taken a break from rehearsing at Hloni’s home in Mapetla to shoot the breeze with me about the band’s guiding philosophy, and their recent live album recording at the SABC studios.
“Music for the people, by the people, with the people?” suggests Kgomotso playfully trying to describe their sound.
The idea of feeding off of an audience’s energy and returning it through rousing live performances is crucial to B-Cook. Their Afro-psych sound is not easy to explain. Capturing it – photographically or on video – also never quite does it justice. It’s existing in the same space, on the same wavelength, and at the right frequency that makes the B-Cook experience work.
There has to be balance between them as a band, and between them and the audience.
“It’s music done by us. But for this music to survive, we need to do it for the people,” offers Hloni by way of clarification.
Sharing a taxi ride back to town from the rehearsal, he tells me they’ve been playing as a collective since 2003. That they used to host jams at Thokoza Park, way before Rea Vaya buses made it a convenience to hop from one side of town to another. The time spent together is evident, not only in their refined live show, but in how they interact with one another. A gentle camaraderie; a hint of utmost respect; a dollop of obsessiveness with detail; and tonnes of adoration for Soweto, the neighbourhood from which each member originates. These are but some of the ingredients which make up the band.
The SABC Studios are a mindfuck
Walking through the corridors in search of Room V1a, where the recording will be taking place, it’s hard not to notice the stench of this nation’s collective past still lingering. The walls, the carpets, the very soul of the place makes it feel like naught has changed since van toeka.
V1a is a moderately-sized auditorium with seats for about 200 people. Entering through a back-room. I’m offered food set out on a table – white bread, chicken, ruffled packs of potato chips, processed cheese, and an assortment of fizzy drinks.
“You’re vegeterian, aren’t you?” asks Kgomotso.
“Not quite,” I respond.
Jovi Nkosi is also here. A while later, Luja will also walk into the room, as will Hloni. Kgomotso will alternate between the back-room and the front of the stage making final preparations while Lerato Lichaba (guitar) arrives much later. Thabo Mangle (aka Chix, congas), has been hanging around, calm and collected, in his zone. No one is quite sure where Skhumbuzo Mahlangu (bass drum) is.
Jovi is the front-man and de facto spokesman for the group. He’s also a walking dictionary of quotes. He regularly drops nuggets of wisdom, but in that non-serious “it’s not a joke but you can laugh,” manner. He utters far-out statements like: “You know you’re doing a good job when you look ugly while you do it,” (said with a perfectly straight face.) In a s’camto about mass production and the economics of surviving as a working artist, he proclaims “Steve Jobs was a capitalist, but he was also an idealist.”
When the show eventually does begin, B-Cook pace themselves, inviting friends over (poet Magafula Vilakazi and rapper Joint Pusher) to celebrate with them on stage, and keeping the audience – what Kgomotso calls their super-fans – “the people who know exactly what the band is” – involved in the process. It is, after all, a celebration.
A career spanning the life of a tweenie and four EPs later, B-Cook feel that they’re ready to put out a full length. But why a live album?
“That’s the essence of who we are. We’re a live band,” Hloni says.
It’s a really weird time in the world right now. Protests everywhere; human rights violations, the rise of Neo-Nazism across Europe, cyclist road rage, airplanes disappearing off the grid, Pistorius, and fucking Museveni, man! Jazz music, quiet, rain; that’s all I need in order to curl up and unplug from the Matrix; to connect to a side of humanity which isn’t worried about how increasingly hard it’s going to be to make ends meet in the coming months. Everyone feels it, Phillip!
In a parallel universe, the comparatively low cost of music recording technology has resulted in some of the most cutting edge music being created and dispensed all over the interweb, daily. Over ten years ago, as Bush was busy dropping bombs over Baghdad, Johannesburg was experiencing a bubble which would lead to the birth of Blk Sonshine, Simphiwe Dana, Tumi and the Volume, 340ml, Kwani Experience, and other live outfits, most of which have either disbanded or now play as downsized units.
Though they’ve been around collectively forever in band years (three month long tours across Europe are a regular occurrence for them), B-Cook only feel like now, this moment, this time – is their defining moment, like they’re on the verge of something beyond them. Being part of the festivities for two hours as Jovi, Kgomotso, Lerato, Hloni, Chix, Skhumbuzo, and Luja straddle borders of sound make the pan-African bump-jive a worthwhile, fulfilling experience.
All images © Tseliso Monaheng