Tag Archive: Music Journalism


When I heard that Rolling Stone magazine was coming to South Africa   I wondered, is this going to be like watching a made-for South Africa American TV show? Would I cringe at the language being used or feel disappointed when I did not see anyone who looked like me or someone talking about the things I like to talk about? Those were my expectations but fortunately for young,black,female me  and  for all of us, Rolling Stone is more South African than it is American-made -for -South Africa.

The magazine appeals to the mind and soul by engaging critically with music and the musician, and with the history that has ultimately shaped both. Much like its editor, Miles Key lock, Rolling Stone South Africa embodies what it means to be rock n roll-unapologetically ruckus, real and outspoken.

In a country where creatives are not just censored but censor themselves, policing their own political correctness, it is refreshing to see a publication that speaks so openly on current and past cultural, social and political affairs. Discussing the musicians he has interviewed and the music he appreciates, Miles Key lock describes how this art form (music) is “rooted in decade’s worth of history” and how “we engage with history every day”. The magazine and the writers, the likes of which include Rian Malan, have a real appreciation for the fact that in South Africa “the past is the present”. It is not all rainbow nations and musical butterflies at every turn of the page, and for any South African writer to make a difference it should not be. There are many words left unsaid, looming in every conversation, encounter and interaction and someone ought to say them before they turn into something far more perverse. It is after all, truth before reconciliation and not reconciliation before truth.

Keylocks‘s slogan seems to be: “write something real!”  It is a challenge all young South Africans should take up not only to better their work but to better themselves for their work. When we are writers we are in the particularly privileged position of sharing with thousands what we know or think reality to be, we are purveyors of truth and so we should be honest and show integrity in our work. Now being honest doesn’t mean we are always right and it can sometimes offend or even hurt others, but that is our responsibility. This is the sort of sincerity absent in our conversations as intellectuals and individuals. This is the honesty which as journalists we so often decry our leaders as not having. But even we are capable of talking rubbish and if we do not write something we know about or are passionate about then in Key lock’s own words “it’s going to sound like BS”.

Telling real stories is what can make a difference. That is all Keylock is asking for -“a good story”. These are the real stories that so often go unmentioned or become fictitious adaptations on the cover of tabloids. I would like to believe that Rolling Stone  South Africa and its readers are  counter this consumer-friendly claptrap, and want entertainment, yes, but lust for insight. South African and African magazine’s can still take up a genuine space in the culture of our country while many others are too far gone in the haze of American or “western” sensationalism.  “We don’t want to colonize (your) minds” says Keylock. If we are going to be more specific here we do not, and should not, let our minds be wantonly attacked by ideals and stories that are so irrelevant to us. Yes they may have worth to South Africans too, we may enjoy them, but they do not have any credibility in this context. A line between the two ideas needs to be drawn, or at least written.

Rolling Stone South Africa may be a “music” or “entertainment” magazine but it is also a publication that takes its privilege seriously. It is not about exposing the country to good music, good artists and good writers. It is about highlighting those maverick, controversial and enlightened human beings who happen to make good music and write good pieces.

Young writers and artists need not separate their thoughts or even emotions from their work; this probably pleases everyone else except the readers. This kind of writing is not Rolling Stone material, nor is it very rock n’ roll. Interviewing “edgy “ bands and “exciting” people is  a waste of time if we do not allow ourselves to be “edgy” and “exciting’’ not only in the way we write or who we are, but what we choose to write about and who we choose to be. This generation needs people to pioneer, to be critical and challenge the status quo in whatever they do. Being a writer, like being a rock star is not a job -it is a calling!

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please ,sir, i want some more

There is no fear expressed by the editor of rolling stones South Africa in a press conference held about the magazine being taken over by the digital wave. The water is encroaching but fails to touch the world renowned publication and it sparks interest as to how. There is a simple answer to a question that opens the door to many complexities: Integrity. Remaining true to the original intention of the brand and the heart of it has allowed Miles Keylock the privilege of establishing and continuing to successfully run the magazine.

The internet is for browsing and spending hours surfing the web; getting superficial knowledge about everything on offer. You walk away with strained eyes a sore hide and equipped with a range of facts to start or contribute to a conversation that you would otherwise avoid. Other online media provide much the same satisfaction. It allows for snippets of stories filling you in between the spaces of lived reality. It is only inevitable that the craving for a steaming steak with gravy and roasted potatoes kicks in. That is how Rolling Stone South Africa serves this hungry population.

Like a good restaurant Rolling stone is known for its brand. It has a reputation that exceeds name. There is a high caliber associated with the magazine that is acknowledged on an international foreground yet the idiosyncratic South African brand differs significantly. It chooses not to “colonize” its consumers with American content; Keylock elaborates stating that the brand needs a “South African voice in the pop culture landscape”. The South African brand has a responsibility to represent the respective demographics of the population. It has managed to stand its ground and not fall prey to the convention of other brands to splash international celebrities on the front cover and mass coverage of them in the content (the exception rises when a star does something of global resonance). The focus is rather at what we have on our doorstep. The magazine acknowledges and acts on the fact that there is a varied selection of artists in the indigenous context. In this a revelatory experience is realized that our country in its diversity of artists serves a diverse audience. The focus of the local magazine is to cover artists that simply have a real and in-depth story to tell. Taking a look at Zahara; she is perhaps considered a commercial and big artist that if it were anyone else may have lost herself in the music but she stands apart as her songs translate a greater message of hope.

Another way Rolling Stone South Africa transcends this digital takeover is through serving true musical coverage to different generations while not swaying from the brand. They use timeless legends like Hugh Masekela, deemed by Keylock as “embody[ing] the rock and roll spirit”. Suggesting that the use of musical god’s is to illustrate that one needs to exceed the artistic form and embrace music as an attitude, a lifestyle. The purpose of this serves the old generation as well as etches the pathway for the rising artists that are changing the face of music; special mention was made to Spoek Mathambo. The requirement, however, is not to be an acclaimed artist but rather an artist that has an interesting story to tell paired with a brilliant attitude in navigating where they, as an individual, and we, as a country,  are living.

 

 

Content is chosen being mindful of their audience. They address a range of “high end” material that perhaps has aspirational value for its readership as well as “low end” content which introduces the element of reality that may be easier to relate to. It is ultimately all in an attempt to answer the introspective question quoted by Keylock as “How do I live in this strange place?” Because of the paradoxes rooted in South African soil it creates grounds to answer this question through the juxtaposition of coverage. The answers will involve an exploration of history to map out the future; this is made manifest through conversation of which Rolling Stone has many. Set with conversation and a focused purpose, a meal of a magazine is bound to be chosen over snacking.

Besides being fundamentally different from other forms of online media, Rolling Stone South Africa is differs slightly within the category of traditional print media. Both serve make the public aware of the environment around them, but the distinction comes in the method. Whereas the latter creates a space for news based articles, Rolling Stone South Africa, maintaining its integrity since the 1960s, uses music to reflect its surrounding. This, according to the editor of the South African publication, is “about expression in the most sincere way” that enables a magazine to be formed from more than just words and pictures. The content, he adds, is fortunately limited to that which strikes a chord with him and his audience. Writing, where passion ecstasy and heart can be seen, is believed. Remaining true to these ideals one can be assured that an authentic message is transmitted differing significantly from the replication of simply mind written pieces available on online media platforms.

Online media has its place in the world. It serves its purpose to a generation that needs convenience and information on the go. With regard to music it also allows for snippets of creative flow but is not suited to deal with pieces that allow for the imagination to travel and find its way to your core. Rolling Stone South Africa, as an independent entity, is held accountable for every word expressed in representing the interests of an entire diverse population. Because of their success thus far it is evident that even in a generation so obsessed with the online world and consuming less, they will go for a second helping of the printed Rolling Stone South Africa.

 

And the Stone Keeps on Rolling

By: Tendani Mulaudzi

When I heard that Rolling Stone was launching a South African version, a few things immediately sprang to mind: So You Think You Can Dance South Africa, Survivor South Africa and Who Wants to be a Millionaire South Africa. These South African copies of international shows are of amateur quality compared to their originals. If I had to choose between a copy of the British Elle and South African Elle, I would grab the British version without hesitation (regardless of the fact that I wouldn’t be able to get hold of any of the clothes, much less afford them). “Obviously Rolling Stone SA is going to be a failure,” said the silly, naïve me. “I mean, there are like hardly any famous South African musicians. They’ll probably have to recycle cover stars like twice a year.”

Interacting with Miles Keylock in a press conference made me feel ashamed of the words that I had said about the magazine. Not only is Rolling Stone SA an enriching magazine that’s definitely worth the read, I think that the American Rolling Stone could learn a few things from our version.

I must admit, I was not the biggest fan of the international Rolling Stone to begin with. But in order to compare the two magazines to each other, I had to do some research. When I googled “Rolling Stone covers”, I found several pages of different covers. Sadly, I could recognize every face. The artists on the covers had all made it to the ‘big time’. They were as commercial as a musician can get, regardless of their genre. Making the cover of Rolling Stone is HUGE for artists; it could be considered the peak of their career. That’s all good and well, but what about those not-so-well-known artists that have a story that’s worth telling?

This is what sets Rolling Stone SA apart and what makes Miles Keylock such a great editor. Hugh Masekela, Zahara, Miriam Makeba, Paul McCartney, Spoek Mathambo and Die Antwoord have rightfully been on the cover artists of Rolling Stone SA. Not all of them are of commercial status and have made the big time. An artist doesn’t need to be super famous to be on the cover, just extraordinary: musically and personally.

Don’t agree? Well, think about it. Hugh Masekela is simply a living legend, or as Keylock explained, “This is the biggest rockstar we have.” Zahara, as Keylock puts it, has music with a message. “Her songs are rooted in decades full of history and she sings songs of hope,” he said. Spoek Mathambo; now that’s a name many average people haven’t heard of. And average they will remain, until they hear what this artist can do. I first came to hear about Spoek Mathambo collaborating on a song with one of my latest obsessions, PH Fat. Spoek got my attention immediately. Miles Keylock’s attention was also stolen by this up-and-coming artist, “Spoek has given his art so much time in terms of thinking… He has found his voice and is going global.”

All these artists have interesting stories to tell but the writer is the one who has to fully articulate the musician’s story. As readers, reading the same old thing with a change of names can a get a little boring. As an editor, Keylock doesn’t want to have bored readers. It works out perfectly. Rolling Stone SA is all about writers who write from their heart. Keylock says, rather factually, that if a writer does not write from their heart, “it will eventually tear away at their soul.” A writer needs to have passion to write for Rolling Stone SA and if they have none, this will prove to be a problem.

An example of a brilliant piece of writing that has featured in the magazine is the article in the form of a love letter to Miriam Makeba by Bongani Madondo. This piece defines writing from the heart. It is personal but not boastful; it is poetic; it is a tribute to an incredible artist. If there is one Rolling Stone SA article you should read, I highly recommend this beautifully written one.

Rolling Stone SA is a magazine that informs, entertains and intellectually stimulates. It has proven my initial assumptions wrong in many ways. There are so many talented South African artists that haven’t been given the recognition they deserve yet. Rolling Stone SA does this for them. It also tells the stories of musicians that are famous already but still have so many interesting aspects to them we are not yet aware of. It is a magazine by South Africans for South Africans; it doesn’t try to put as many internationally-related things as it can into the magazine to get more sales. It doesn’t care if a musician is white or black, coloured or indian; if the artist unique and talented, skin colour doesn’t make them any more worthy of being featured in the magazine. Rolling Stone SA wants to tell the stories that haven’t been told, and believe it or not, there are so many we have yet to hear.

The Mystery of the Jungle

The Mystery of the Jungle

Inez Patel

 

I first heard this song when I was about 5 years old. Sitting in front of the television, young and carefree, I gazed at bright images of friendly lions, laughing hyenas and wise baboons. What did not cross my mind, and has not crossed many people’s minds, was that this song had in fact been around longer than I had; it had travelled the world more than I had and had been impacted by many other people. The truth is The Lion Sleeps Tonight is neither an original Disney song nor creation of any of the other American groups that performed it.  The question is how did a song by a traditional Zulu man in South Africa titled Mbube come to be the commercialized tune that it is today?

The story starts with Solomon Linda, born in 1909 in Zululand, South Africa. Inspired by American Jazz syncopation, Linda mixed this into his traditional Zulu songs which he performed at weddings and special occasions. In the mid-thirties, Linda and friends headed into Johannesburg to find work. Singing on the weekends, they managed to obtain quite a reputation for themselves and so a few years later The Evening Birds emerged. They were “a very cool urban act” – Rian Malan. Always sharply dressed in matching pinstriped suits and bowler hats, The Evening Birds had the town talking. It wasn’t just their accentuated dress code that brought them the attention though; their music initiated the take-off of isicathamiya music. Isicathamiya music is characterised by a lead falsetto voice (has the texture of a female voice) sung over a group of bass voices. With this, The Evening Birds achieved a harmonious blend of voices that also had a sense of traditional African choral music. In addition to their dress code and style of singing, The Evening Birds had one more element that helped capture the attention of the crowds. This was the tightly choreographed foot stampings that accompanied the singing and when done perfectly in unison, made the floors shake.

The Evening Birds had always been a highly influential group. Their innovation of isicathamiya style was followed by the likes of Paul Simon in his collaboration with Ladysmith Black Mambazo.  Their song Homeless shows a clear influence of isicathamiya in terms of it’s a capella singing; Paul Simon’s lead falsetto voice over the rest of the bass voices. However, the original title of the song was Mbube. Linda’s Mbube influenced many in its journey across the globe, but in a way in which nearly all acknowledgment of Solomon Linda was overlooked. The Evening Birds first recorded Mbube in 1939. They recorded at Eric Gallow’s studio which was the first recording studio in sub-saharan Africa. The song is said to have been inspired by a childhood memory of The Evening Birds’ in which they were chasing a lion; the word ‘mbube’ means lion.

What is it about this song that made it so remarkable? When recording it, the first few attempts were rather weak but once they had finished, Griffiths Motsieloa, the first black producer of the country working with Gallo, knew that they had created something of significant value. The song’s underlying chant of the isicathamiya bass singers accompanied by Linda’s improvised falsetto yodelling created a distinct musical creation. By 1948, Mbube had sold about 100 000 copies. Yet somehow all that Linda received was 10 shillings from the studio. This is then where the copyright issues came into play. Once shipped overseas, the tune was heard in about 160 different recorded versions, played in about 13 movies, a few TV commercials and played endlessly on the radio.

Pete Seeger, was a banjo player in a folk group called The Weavers. When The Weavers listened to the song they heard the word ‘wimoweh’ instead of ‘mbube’ and so Mbube became Wimoweh. Seeger most certainly managed to stay true to the song’s style of singing as he wailed his heart out to capture what Solomon Linda had achieved. Rian Malan noted how Wimoweh was “by far the edgiest song in the Weavers’ set”. Of course the song was embellished and Westernised with blaring trombones and trumpets as well as singing strings to wave through the melody. Seeger did however acknowledge Linda, tracked him down and sent him a $1000 and further instructed for the same to be done with all future payments. Turns out that Linda’s family did not receive the payments until much later.

Following this, the song was further adopted by others such as jazz musician Jimmy Dorsey, Yma Sumac and The Kingston Trio who managed to keep it on the charts for as long as three years. The major revamp of the yodelled tune came about when The Tokens took interest in it. The Tokens were a boy group from Brooklyn. They knew the song but producers wanted it to have a more modern feel with lyrics. So Wimoweh was sent off to George Weiss, a prominent name in the music writing industry. The dismantling of the song resulted in the replacing of the ‘primitive’ howling with “In the jungle, the mighty jungle” as the words to carry the original melody. When recorded, the further addition of an orchestra, drums, guitars, percussion and an opera singer were recruited. With this, The Lion Sleeps Tonight by The Tokens reached Number One on the national charts. From this, it eventually came to be the song most people know from Disney’s The Lion King and thus being a song that Rian Malan deems as “a song the whole world knows”.

That is the story of the evolution of Mbube in terms of its musical developments, however, another significant aspect to look at is the copyright and royalty issues. In 1939, when Linda and The Evening Birds recorded the song they walked away with ten shillings because at that time, according to Rian Malan, “no one got royalties, and copyright was unknown”. Joe Mogotsi of The Manhattan Brothers also mentions in A Lion’s Trail, a documentary on the story of Solomon Linda’s Mbube directed by Francois Verster, that in that time “black people were really not allowed to have a royalty”.  The ten shillings that Linda got was for handing over the rights of the song to Gallo. Following this, Gallo sold the rights over to TRO even before The Weavers got a hold of it. For The Weavers, this was just a song from some man in South Africa that had never been copyrighted. Therefore the song was pretty much free from any responsibilities and was thus attributed to a Paul Campbell who in fact turned out to be merely an alias. It was common practice at that time for many songs in the public domain to be claimed by fake names so as not to be directly embarrassed if the song did not succeed.

Following this, Wimoweh was taken on by two RCA producers through The Tokens and they found out that Paul Campbell was an alias and that in fact the song did not really belong to anyone. So when The Lion Sleeps Tonight was released it was under George Weiss and the RCA producers’ names. Things did not go so well when one of Seeger’s publishers heard the unforgettable melody in The Tokens’ arrangement and then demanded that all publishing rights be returned to him. Yet in the end, to keep good business Seeger’s publisher allowed Weiss and allies to keep the writer royalties for the song. Therefore the new copyright agreed to give credit of the song Lion to Paul Campbell.

In all this, the name Solomon Linda was forgotten. In 1962, Linda passed away without having received anything close to the money and recognition that he deserved. His family were left in poverty, not even able to pay for a gravestone to be placed. Once journalist Rian Malan became interested in the story, he tracked down a number of individuals involved in the royalties that the family were supposed to be receiving. This included the family’s lawyer, Larry Richmond (president of TRO) and Harold Leventhal (dealt with The Weavers). In the end he discovered that the Linda family were only receiving 12.5% of the Wimoweh royalties and only 1% of The Lion Sleeps Tonight revenues. Eventually a large lawsuit emerged with the heads of TRO fighting Weiss and Co. over who gets the copyright of the song. In the end TRO tried to redeem themselves in urging for the Linda family to get their deserved recognition. The case ended with Weiss winning the copyrights to the song provided that 10% of the royalties went to the Linda family.

In all fairness, Linda did hand over the rights of the song to Eric Gallo all those years ago and so legally his family were not completely entitled to anything. However it does seem like a happy and just end to a very long story that his family get money from the royalties as some form of acknowledgment of what Linda created for the music world. Now, there is great hope that when my children are watching Disney’s The Lion King and singing that remarkable tune, I’ll be sure to tell them that that song was in fact a song by one of our very own South Africans.

Cape Town’s Local Talent put to the Test

Cape Town’s Local Talent put to the Test

Inez Patel

 

Zula Bar has become one of Cape Town’s best spots for music lovers to go watch their favourite local bands. Just the other night Zula hosted the talents of Bicycle Thief, Peachy Keen and Fire Through the Window.

Although the night started out a lot slower and emptier than expected, by 10pm Bicycle Thief finally took the stage. “If We Pretend” was their first song that kicked off the night with a strong rhythmic drumming beat. The serene and smooth texture of lead singer Tim Lester’s voice, while being a contrast to, complimented the stadium rock sound of the band. Along with their catchy melodies and really exciting guitar riffs, these talented musicians know how to give a good performance. They gave an honest impression that they were giving their all while really enjoying their music.

Following this act, Peachy Keen showed up with a performance that blew me away. Their integration of country style vocals, rock backing and a hint of the 50s kept the audience engulfed. Described by one audience member as being a “really interesting mix”, this band is most certainly something I will keep looking out for. The general atmosphere of the band is very different, apart from the incorporation of a gorgeous double bass, with their rather fair mix of male and female counterparts they are definitely creating a revolutionary musical atmosphere. Their song “Shot a Man Down”, which they’ve just released a video for, had the audience simultaneously doing some form of dosey doe dance and a 50s twist and shake. As these talented musicians shout out to the audience “I wanna see you rock ‘n roll like you’re in the 50s” you hear the groovy plucking of the walking bass line emanating from the double bass. It’s all just such a fun vibe being created. They embody their act completely, from the singing to the instrumentals to the women’s cute matching red Dorothy-type shoes. A performance I will never forget.

Although they were supposed to be the main act of the night, Fire Through the Window seemed to have lost their ‘fire’.  Their music in general was not awful and it might just be that they had a tough act to follow. Yet many of the audience members had in fact agreed with me that they did not put on a very striking performance. Fire Through the Window has been doing really well in the local scene and so a part of me thinks that their performance was lacking because of the unbalanced sound. It was very difficult to hear the vocals over the other instruments. Besides that however, there was something else missing, one audience member when referring to the lead singer said bluntly that “her persona is shit”. As much as I’m very much for successful female musicians, Sinéad Dennis did not have the vocals to stand out and seemed to focus more on twirling her hair than putting on a good show. The one song that did manage to get some excitement out of the crowd was, as the band said themselves, “easy to sing along to, it’s just do do do”. This doesn’t seem like much of a compliment as the music of this song does not show off any special musical talents, as can be noted by the simplistic lyrics.

So that was it, three bands performing on a Saturday night in Cape Town. Is it something I would do again? Sure. At the end of the night, I went home and listened to Bicycle Thief’s new album Ammunition that the band had handed out and I enjoyed it just as much as I did the live performance. The songs I downloaded from Peachy Keen took me right back to their fun performance. Unsurprisingly, listening to Fire Through the Window’s stuff recorded was a very different experience. It seems as if they might not be one of those bands who perform as well as they can record. In my opinion it is really important for bands to give performances that are as good as their recorded music; a good live performance is unforgettable and is ultimately what keeps you going back.

 

We’re in the Groove!

Groove Afrika has become one of the most popular names in today’s hip-hop youth culture. This deejaying duo has driven Cape Town’s party scene towards a whole new direction. Kgabo Senyatsi, creator and initial DJ of Groove Afrika, enlightens us on the culture and identity of Groove Afrika.

From a personal view, Groove Afrika has always been something that appealed to a specific youth culture. These parties not only appeal to the black youth, as they are the natural demographic that hip-hop and house music appeals to, but also to the ‘elite’. Those that can afford to stand their ground in the high-class clubs of Green Point and Camps Bay. There is usually a strict dress code and one can always expect to see numerous amounts of students ‘popping bottles’ and basically living the ‘lavish life’.

However it seems that from where the Groove Afrika deejays stand, behind the decks and enjoying their beats, they unfortunately are hidden from what goes on beyond their music and beyond the dance floor. Kgabo has an optimistic view of what his music and events brings to the youth culture: “The whole money thing, that’s exactly what Groove Afrika is completely against. We’re against fakeness…It’s not about flaunting, it’s about quality and good music.” As noble as his vision is, it comes across as a very naïve one. After all, the Groove Afrika parties are named after well-known hip-hop songs, The Motto, Hell Yeah Fuckin’ Right, We Like To Party and Rack City, by international artists such as Drake and Lil Wayne. They unmistakably glamourize money, alcohol, partying and luxury-based lifestyles, so it is hard to think that Groove Afrika’s vision is all that different.  Kgabo contradicts himself by saying simultaneously that as much as “the point of it is not to live up to these guys” they cannot help being influenced by them as these are the “things that appeal to us whether we like it or not”.

The Groove Afrika duo believe that through their music and the type of events they throw they are “truly about rebranding and re-interpreting what it is to be an African today for a young South African”. Through these statements Kgabo is adamant that they cater for a wide market of youth: “a lot of people in the industry racialize music and I don’t think we should do that because there are a lot of white people who come to Groove Afrika parties, and a lot of Indian people and coloured people”. This would be a nice thought, yet at the same time he challenges himself in admitting that “majority (are black) because hip-hop appeals more to black people but that’s more a by-product of hip-hop…That’s what we cater for: people who enjoy hip-hop; people who enjoy house music.” It seems to me that it wouldn’t be a bad thing for Groove Afrika to accept the type of culture that rises from the music and events they produce, as they are very successful in that market.

One thing to admire is that, although they may be slightly disillusioned towards the identity they have created for themselves, Groove Afrika are very passionate about their music and ultimately do want it to be something that appeals to everyone: “I want to make sure that it’s something that anyone can hear and that anyone can say “oh this is good music”. You don’t necessarily have to be a house lover, you don’t have to be South African; you can be from Sweden, you can be from the States…That’s basically what we strive for, honestly giving the best quality of music possible.”

Kgabo ends off the interview with a rather inspirational statement about how he hopes to change the culture of the youth today: “beyond the music and all the fun times, there’s a serious undertone. With all our parties, yes it’s fun, but there’s a lot more happening than just partying. That’s what we’re trying to achieve.” I suppose, the only thing we can do is wait and see where Groove Afrika get to from here. To see whether they really are serious about “re-branding” the South African youth identity by “trying to teach people to have fun in a more conscious manner – you can still have pure clean fun in a way that is very true and respectable”, or whether they will just have to accept that they are successful just the way it is, and this elite black culture is here to stay.

Akron/Family: Love is Simple

Indefinable genius expanding and contracting

By: Iman Adams

Well-known for their wide palette of eye-popping instrumentation and their indefinable sound, Akron/Family has come out with another album that is incredibly difficult to pin down. With each of the four members being multi-instrumentalists as well as vocalists, we are presented with a vast array of creative sound. Every song is a musical journey, and a unique experience, and not many bands out there can say the same thing. They bring new meaning to the word fusion, however remaining completely original. Listeners can expect a whirlwind of lyrical imagery, which doesn’t overpower the music, but instead assists the story the music tells.

The instrumental experimentation is brilliant. The different textures present in one song: from light and dreamy, to freaky, eye-rollback polyrhythm’s can be risky trying to gain a fan-base, as changing your sound so often can scare people away. Akron/Family however, knows exactly what they’re doing, what they’re expressing, and its authenticity that comes through in the music.

‘Ed is a Portal’ literally feels like you are travelling through different musical portals. At one point, there is a steady, continuous, monotonous drumbeat and guitar riff, and a couple seconds later, you’re in ‘strawberry fields forever’, and all seamlessly woven together.

‘Lake Song/New Ceremonial Music For Moms’ has an incredible organic sound which rolls into a trance-inducing climactic explosion of tribal drum beats, clapping and chanting in vocal harmony only to come down into lazy, rich bluesy slides as the clapping and chanting slow down into sanity. ‘Crickets’ which is largely folk sounding, a simple guitar melody, and a field of crickets chirping in the background and ‘Phenomena’ which starts out folksy and drops into a classic-rock-Beatle-sounding chorus. Akron/Family epically points out in ‘Phenomena’ that “some might think this isn’t the right sound.”

The album starts with ‘Love, Love, Love (Eveyone)’ and ends with a reprise of the track. The first track poses a question of “what can be done, what can we do” and concludes with “just like you did, just like you done, kid” making the listener feel a sense of accomplishment in completing this mind-bending masterpiece, and of course, for loving everyone.

There is a strong influence of 1970’s acid folk where I picked up a hint of Mark Fry as well as Tea and Symphony. Then of course, The Beatles; which seem to have an influence on lyrics as well, especially present in ‘Don’t Be Afraid, You’re Already Dead’ and ‘Love, Love, Love (Everyone)’ as well as some Bob Dylan lyrical genius in ‘Of All The Things’.

Ultimately, this album is for those who can appreciate true musicality, fusion and serious talent. Love is Simple is an intimate, earthy, relaxing and suspenseful album, not for the feint-hearted or the uneducated mainstream. It’s unpredictable, eclectic and idiosyncratic. It’s honest and pure, dynamic and enthralling. It rises above clever lyrics and catchy melodies and beckons the listener to taste something bittersweet. Psychedelic without the stigma, you’d be crazy not to open your mind to the Akron/Family.

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Justin Vernon’s story is something out of a movie. After the break-up of his band DeYarmond Edison in 2005 and the split with his girlfriend, Vernon escaped to a hut in the woods and spent  four wintery months alone with his memories and his guitar, coming to terms with all that had happened. The result of which is the mystical and deeply moving Bon Iver debut album; For Emma, Forever Ago, released in 2008. There is that buried pain in many of us, over a heartache, that surfaces when listening to a certain song or particular artist, Justin Vernon is your song, he is your artist.

If the turmoil created within me in attempting to write this review is anything to go by, you should be able comprehend the aching nostalgia expressed throughout the album. On day one I had the album on repeat, being pulled into its glorious depths. By day three I was weeping uncontrollably in the foetal position over having had to leave my first-love. Cringe at my soppiness all you like, but before you do, I urge you to accept my challenge and try not to have every lonely and heartbroken memory pulled up from the depths of your soul as you listen to Justin Vernon’s hauntingly beautiful album.

Although almost impossible to describe, I would place Bon Iver on a similar level of acoustic minimalism and natural beauty as Iron and Wine or Bright Eyes. The simple acoustic picking in the opening track; Flume, combined with recordings of nature and Vernon’s echoing falsetto voice form a piece that sets the enchanted scene.

Unlike other deeply profound albums about love and loss, which admittedly the schmaltzier of us cannot get enough of, Vernon digs deeper and uses his voice as an additional instrument to add to the ambience of solitude and melancholy. Most often I cannot decipher what his lyrics are, and truthfully I do not mind not knowing. I will happily allow myself to be swept away in his emotional exorcism created by rhythmic guitar, light drums and percussion. Sometimes you are able to extract the puzzle piece lyrics from the harmony to discover unending depth and musing.

“And the story’s all over you. In the morning I’ll call you. Can’t you find a clue when your eyes are all painted Sinatra blue.”

His musical expression in conjunction with his own private reasoning, as seen in the above lyrics from The Wolves (Act I And II), leave us with not just another sorrowful song but rather Vernon’s own bruised and beating heart resonating within our own. Skinny Love is another such song, tugging at my heartstrings as Vernon’s aching shouts echo through me as I remember fighting for a love and losing it.

You may be questioning why anyone would want to dig up those painful emotions. The truth of it is; we all love it. Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago will allow you to indulge, trans-like, in your own mournful memories whilst being cradled by the quiet beauty of Vernon’s creation. It hurts, but it is a hurt you cannot get enough of.     

By: Julia Joubert