Words by Nigel Williamson
In a previous Songlines I reviewed Spoek Mathambo’s Father Creeper, an extraordinary album that thrillingly reinvented South African township music as an electro and dubstep-influenced fusion of breathtaking originality. In a paradoxical way, Junk Funk works as a companion volume – or at least its inverted, mirror image. Both albums are driven by a rare combination of invention, ingenuity, audacity, and innate funkiness. But whereas Spoek Mathambo used the cutting-edge of studio technology to shape his vision, Sotho Sounds use acoustic instruments crafted out of recycled materials. A collective of musical shepherds from Lesotho, they have a home-made aesthetic but their debut album is just as imaginative and resilient as Mathambo’s. Guitars fashioned from bicycle wire and tin cans, broken-down accordions, penny whistles, single-string fiddles, improvised percussion, barking dogs and naturally layered vocals create a sound that is both innovative and traditional, an extraordinary mix of field recording, bubblegum pop and the avant garde. The latter element may have been unintentional; but it is undeniable, as is often the case with outsiders who have worked out their own way of doing things unconcerned by custom and convention.
The songs brim with an upbeat and frequently uplifting quality, voices drifting in and out of the mix like organic samples. It’s a joyous cacophony but with an under-developed quality that hints that they could take this sound so much further. Right now I’m thinking my dream South African band would be a collaboration between Spoek Mathambo and Sotho Sounds aboard the Africa Express, produced by Damon Albarn. What about it?
Track to try: Ha Kele Monateng