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Monkeys, Tigers and Steaming Jungles

by Roger Young, Images by Kevin Goss-Ross / 28.02.2011

Monkeys, Tigers and Steaming Jungles’ untitled debut album was handed to me some time late 2009. They were talking about releasing it later that year. It still hasn’t happened. On first listen I found it so distractingly eclectic that it was hard to listen to. Now it is easily one of my favorite albums. MTS Jungles still have no immediate plans to release the album or to perform live. In fact MTS Jungles is not even a band anymore. It was a collaboration between Portia Malunga-Rowling, a KZN singer, Nico Willems, a London-based Belgian producer and Gareth Llewellyn, an experimental rock guitarist with BFL. The album was left incomplete when Malunga-Rowling fell in love and moved back to South Africa to raise her child. But it is not an album that sounds incomplete by any stretch of the imagination.

MTS Jungles is constructed out of disjointed trip hop beats, vocal layering, moog-like synth work, strange percussion, whirling guitar and left field samples. More than anything it’s a showcase for Malunga-Rowling’s considerable vocal talents; she takes in scatting, clicking, singing and whispering all in her distinctively post ’94 sounding voice.

Portia Malunga-Rowling

The album begins with “Portiastra”, all birdsong, silver windchimes and revving cars building into a break beaty snake charmer whirl. Malunga-Rowling scats percussion while, on another layer, her voice works up to a sort of imploring wail. “Yearnsong” combines clapping and slapping with nonsensical rolling R sounds and clicking under her sweetly singing: “Unto the love of my family I pray, times are hard and they’re so far away, pray that they’re okay”. “Tigers” is a squelchy and harmonic riverboat ride through the lyrics: “We have come to the end of the earth and we know that there is no redemption.” The standout track on the album, however, is “Aligned With The Savages”. Llewellyn’s guitar work swirls and loops as if it was on shrooms, while Malunga-Rowling leads a soaring chorus; somewhere between Zola Jesus and Motown. The dirty stepping Massive Attack effect is completed with space bleeping production and a simple jazzy brush-like beat.

Monkeys, Tigers and Steaming Jungles sound like nothing else on the South African musical landscape right now. A post Bristol sound melding with a downtown Durban taxi rank and a unique voice that’s unafraid to experiment. It’s at times dense and chaotic, at others funky and squishy while thematically it goes from the politics of personal freedom to nonsensical rhymes about grizzly bears. It’s the freshest thing I’ve heard and it’s two years old and might never be heard by the general public. But they do have some tracks up on Myspace. Thank god for the internet.

*Join the MTS Jungles Facebook page here.

**Images © Kevin Goss-Ross.

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