on a “deaf safari” with felix laband

Watch Felix Laband’s brilliant set at the 2015 Cape Town Electronic Music Festival on 8 February (click the hyperlink – the darn embed function doesn’t seem to work properly on WordPress).

Felix opens this particular “Deaf Safari” with a dodgy old recording (that I think I actually gave him!), of Marais and Miranda entertaining a frightfully colonial white 1950s audience with their “knowledge” of “Hottentot” and “Zooloo” linguistics. With a subversive stammer, it segues into an hour-long journey of cut-up sounds and visuals.

Laband displays fluent familiarity with and yet alienation from spectacular capitalist consumer tropes. The oversaturated bricolage of radio preachers, politicians, porn, pulp cinema, big game and exoticised cultural representations is absurd and defaced: eyeless, toothless, festering with skulls. Sound and visuals work in counterpoint: horny assemblages dripping blood and infection; a snatch of Cat Power’s languid “Satisfaction”. His work foregrounds our mindless addiction to and manipulation by these fragments bouncing off the walls onto one another, their banality dismembered, dislocated, demented, discordant, decaying.

A voice in Queen’s English: “I was wondering what it is that you don’t want to remember so badly… To put it another way, what are you trying to forget?”

The response, implied in the guitar run sampled from Nico’s “These Days”: “Please don’t confront me with my failures… I had not forgotten them.”

Felix forces us to examine ourselves honestly. This I love most deeply about what he does: he will not allow us to forget, nor feign ignorance. There are naive melodies, but there is no innocence, no deafness nor blindness. We are taken through his cabinet of jabbering apparitions, racist, patriarchal horror haunting every suburban corner, lullabies, toyi-toyi chants… The valley of the shadow of death… We are not tourists. This is our own back yard. We stare the nightmares down, bopping in slo-mo. The voices persist, demand acknowledgement until they dissolve. It’s a kind of exorcism.

And beyond that, always, despite all the schizophrenic folly and sadness, hope and jubilation live on in the unfinished refrains of blues ghosts captured long ago on wax… Vera Hall, Stack O’Lee, prisoners and murderers alike now free… and there is space to breathe, place to be here now, without judgement… we are bathed in grace and exquisite melody.  This is strong muti for South Africans’ sickness.

deaf safari

Collage: Felix Laband

I can’t wait for his new album, and I highly recommend that you see him live if you get the chance: he’s on form like never before and it’s a profound trip.

P.S. Read Sean O’Toole’s great interview piece for Mahala on Felix’s return (his new album, Deaf Safari, is set for release next month, after an almost decade-long gestation).

sugarman’s been found


I’ve never seen the entire audience at a movie theatre sit through all the titles at the end, until I saw Searching for Sugarman a couple of nights ago. The film had been showing at Rosebank’s Cinema Nouveau for months – the first time I went to see documentary it was chock-full – but, incredibly, there was still a sizeable collection of people gathered to pay homage to Sixto “Jesus” Rodriguez..
The story of how Rodriguez, who lived in complete obscurity in his Detroit home in the US, and was “found” by two South African fans more than 25 years after his albums were released, has a fairy-tale quality to it. This is – apart from the fact that it’s a great documentary – no doubt why it has received numerous awards and critical acclaim across the globe.
The singer is not only a huge talent, but also a genuinely humble, nice guy, so he was able to quietly step into the role of long-lost hero with style and aplomb in the one country that reveres his music. This was in total contrast to his fans, who, when he finally appeared onstage in 1998, screamed without stopping for around frenzied 10 minutes, before he was finally able to sing his first song.
To give an outsider an idea of what Rodriguez meant to so-called white South Africans, he apparently sold half a million albums here (for which he received, I believe, no royalties). There are only four or five million so-called whites in this country, which means around one in 10 of them must have bought his music since 1971, when his albums came out.
And that’s not counting the countless others who taped the albums back in the days of cassettes. And if you also factor in how many whities heard his music from people who bought or taped it, it means practically an entire generation heard and grew up on his songs. He is part of our collective psyche, and is probably the most influential artist on white South African consciousness of the last quarter of the last century.
For those who weren’t here back in the bad old days, Malik Bendjelloul’s documentary explains pretty clearly, through interviews with South Africans, just why Rodriguez’s lyrics had such a massive, profound impact on those living under the oppression of apartheid. Many of his songs were banned, and never made it onto the radio, all of which merely encouraged people to acquire them.
I don’t want to give away too much, because this is a movie I think everyone should see, whether one hails from South Africa or not. It’s a universal theme, and it happens that every now and then that late in an artist’s life someone discovers their art in some other country, a la Buena Vista Social Club, or he or she discovers they are ‘big in Japan’ just when they were thinking of giving up on their art. Many South African artists only ‘made it’ in their own country when they returned from successful tours overseas.
And in the case of Rodriguez there’s the added irony that he isn’t ‘white’ at all – he’s the product of American Indian and Mexican parentage. Most white army conscripts’ musical collections in the 80s, I recall, were well stocked with Rodriguez and Bob Marley, both of whom conveyed messages entirely antithetical war and racism. Did the conscripts, rocking to these grooves in the heat of the Angolan or Namibian sun, know this at a conscious, or at some deeper level?
I guess no one will ever know. What I know for sure is that I am going to see Rodriguez’s fifth South African concert next year. Sugarman is still sweet music to my ears.

review by sound fix records (brooklyn)

From time to time a local artist sans record label will come in with a self-released album that blows us away. This is one of those times! Ella Joyce Buckley is a native of South Africa now based in Brooklyn, and the music on her lovely hand-made CD, Blood Finds No Sea, is an enthralling example of how much more a songwriter can be than just a person with songs and an instrument. Existing equally in the acoustic (as in, played instruments — a range of them) and electronic, Blood Finds No Sea is dramatic, intense and, in the most luminous way, Goth as hell. You can imagine her right at home on 4AD in the mid-’80s, when Cocteau Twins and Dead Can Dance were mixing shimmeringly bright colors into darkness (and elsewhere, Danielle Dax was at her best). With vast creativity, Buckley manipulates her  gorgeous vocals into choirs, housefuls of spirits even, while strings both plucked and bowed ebb and swell, and keys poke holes in the darkness. The title track spires upward, like Tolkien’s elvish national anthem (oh, just indulge me), with Buckley’s double-tracked vox fixed in place while the music ascends around her. “Sister” features Buckley’s most extravagant vocal, with a plucked violin (I think?) leading into a howling mix of percussion and electronics. Buckley’s arranging skills are advanced — you could easily picture her scoring theater works (besides films), and perhaps she already does. For now, there is this CD, and it comes highly recommended.

Review from Sound Fix Records – 44 Berry St., Brooklyn New York 11211 – (718) 388-8090 | Williamsburg’s Independent Record store