Daily Dose is your daily source for the song you absolutely, positively need to hear every day. Curated by the Paste Music Team.
Coming in under the wire of 2017 is a compilation that will surely send some music editors (read: me) scrambling to find a way to fit it in to their year end lists. Out next week via Rush Hour Music is Pantsula! The Rise of Electronic Dance Music in South Africa, 1988-90, a groove-heavy document put together by DJ Okapi and Antal to highlight a transitional period of pop music in the African nation, when the influence of American music and bubblegum started to become more rooted in electronic instruments and the intoxicating rhythms central to the sound of the region.
To give you some sense of what we’re talking about, DJ Okapi was kind enough to share with us one of the highlights of the compilation: the song “What Next” by Jivaro. Taken from that group’s 1989 album Saturday Fever, it is, as you’ll hear below, a glitterbomb of a track that would fit very well next to the teased up pop compositions of Scritti Politti and Jam/Lewis. Check it out right here and then scroll down a little further to read our quick Q&A with DJ Okapi (pictured above) about the song and this delightful compilation.
How long did it take for you to put the compilation together?
It was a relatively quick process as it all comes from the same catalogue, an independent label from the time called Music Team. I’ve been working with the owner of Music Team over the past few years – licensing his music for other compilations (such as Boogie Breakdown on Cultures of Soul) and selling some of the remaining stock of the original records. I’ve also been working with Rush Hour for a while, trading these records with them, so Antal was already familiar with the music, that’s why he wanted to do the compilation. I gave him a stack of about different 20 albums from the Music Team catalogue and he basically chose his favorite tracks from 12 of them. He came to South Africa (for the second time) to meet the old guy who ran the label, they hit it off immediately so it was all relatively quick and easy.
Did you meet a lot of the musicians and the team behind the label that released these tracks originally?
The artists themselves have mostly passed on or disappeared from music, so my only contact has been with the label owner/publisher and some of the producers of the music, who I’ve been working with quite closely over the past few years. This particular era of SA music featured on the comp was quite short and by the early ‘90s had largely disappeared already, with the rise of kwaito and the dawn of democracy and a new social order in South Africa. In my opinion the producers are key to this music, more so than the artists themselves. According to them, typically the artists featured on this comp came from smaller towns in South Africa to Johannesburg to record and try to make a career of music. Some enjoyed a few years of success, others never really made it at all. The label owner Maurice Horwitz and two of the producers Enoch Ndlela and Danny Mokoka are still close friends but they’re not really making music any more.
Could you tell us about Jivaro and their track “What Next”?
According to Danny Mokoka, the main guy in Jivaro was named Nelson Mohale. The band’s line-up was typical of most bubblegum bands at the time: a vocalist and two or three keyboards. They were certainly not a big act in SA though, and today if you ask the average guy on the street about Jivaro he won’t have any idea. In 1989 they released Saturday Fever. It didn’t sell a lot at all, that’s why plenty of deadstock remained. The lyrics of “What Next” I take to be autobiographical about the band’s career (“We’ve been working hard for the past few years, but things go so slowly”). I suppose the chorus might be ambiguous and could also hint at the impending political and social changes in South Africa, or simply a relationship. Either way their is a sense of optimism and looking towards the future: “What next is coming? We want to celebrate!”
It’s worth noting that English is not the mother tongue of most South Africans. Back then for black musicians to sing in English enabled them to reach a wider audience and to fight apartheid prescriptions that sought to keep everyone divided according to language and ethnicity. Singing in English at the time might therefore be seen a political act in itself, regardless of the lyrics themselves.