south africa in the house as boiler room goes to johannesburg

5 things we learned about South African house music at last night’s Boiler Room with Ballantine’s Scotch Whiskey in Johannesburg…

by Hattie Collins
06 March 2015, 4:00pm

Ballantine's Scotch Whisky and Boiler Room's Stay True Journeys series seeks to uncover authentic underground music scenes around the globe, showcasing emerging artists and pioneers of relatively untapped movements and the stories behind them. Having already stopped off in Mexico City, Santiago, Warsaw and Hamburg, the latest stop on the tour in Johannesburg saw Black Coffee, Black Motion, Culoe De Song, DJ Shimza and Okmalumkoolkat put on a party to end all parties. Here are a few things i-D has learned about the South Africa's deep-rooted electronica scene whilst being in Jo'Burg…

1. The city is steeped in history…
From Nelson Mandela's house in Soweto to the location of last night's Stay True series, places of historical and political importance can be found all over the sprawling metropolis of Johannesburg. For Boiler Room and Ballantine's first foray into South Africa, they discovered the Old Fort on Constitution Hill. Situated on a mount overlooking the city in an area called Braamfontein (once considered derelict but now populated by students), the space, now used as an outdoor court, was perfect for a celebration of South Africa's consistently prominent rise in House. No longer relegated to the regressive 'World Music' category, Black Coffee, Culoe De Song, Black Motion, Okmalumkoolkat and DJ Shimza are among those who, over the last two decades, have helped develop a sound and infrastructure that is finally being taken as seriously as U.S. and European House. From Kwaito to Township Funk, Electronica to House, the sounds being made and played in South Africa are music to our ears…

2. House in Jo'burg isn't just about going to the rave and then catching a cab home...
It's part of the city's fabric, says Okmalumkoolkat, a charismatic rapper, DJ and producer from nearby Durban, whose music encompasses electronica, rap and maskandi guitar rhythms - in essence, Zulu Folk music. "In Europe, it seems that people go to the club and leave it at the club" he says. "In Durban, where I'm from, house is being played on someone's phone, your mum is singing House music, the radio is playing the latest House tunes. You can't escape it. People really live the music culture here and people love to dance. There's a crazy house lifestyle in South Africa, it's part of everyday life."

3. Culoe de Song likes to keep things a little bit Zulu…
Taking to the stage with four hooded dancers carrying Zulu shields, Culoe closed his set by putting on a mask that exemplifies everything he's trying to say and do as a musician. "The mask is an expression of my upbringing and the music of this country," Culoe explains. "It's an expression of underground Electronica but also of Africa. I'm from a rural area in the North-East called Eshowe. It's rich in Zulu history and being Zulu is my pride. I like that I can speak English to you and then go back and speak to my friends in my language. We have a very royal history and tonight I was about playing new energy while respecting the legacy. When it comes to South African House, I wanted to show the mix between European house grooves that people are familiar with, and the experimental, more cutting edge South African House that we are taking around the world."

4. Black Motion are our absolute new favorite thing in the world
Robert Mahosana and Thabo 'Smoi' Mabogwane met as dancers before venturing into production and DJing. The pair, like Culoe, like to retain a sense of heritage in their exuberant Tribal House sets, which include Mahosana on decks (quite literally, at points, on the decks) and Thabo on drums. "The drum and the pattern of the drum is very important to us," says Robert. "We want to connect the youth of South Africa to what they're now getting away from. Western society is getting a lot of the youth's minds, so what we're trying to do is bring it back. On stage you don't get to see a whole lot of drums, so we're including them in our music and our sets, so the youth can relate to the sounds that we're doing, in the times that we're doing it."

5. Black Coffee is like a really, really big deal here….
It's been quite a journey," he grins as the crowd goes wild after his set. "Locally the scene is growing, there's lot of new talent coming up, like Black Motion and internationally we're seeing such growth. I played in Osaka, Japan for the first time ever recently. I played Black Motion's Rainbow and the whole club started singing. This is people who can't speak my language and yet they knew every word of that song. It was the most beautiful thing ever. That's how far our scene has gone." Black Coffee also wants to work with Sam Smith, for reasons rather altruistic. "That is my ultimate goal. Yes, because I love his voice but also I think this is how we will take the scene further, to the next level. I think collaborations with producers and artists who have a similar outlook on music is how we continue to take South African House to the rest of the world and show them that what we're making is not 'world music'. This is South African House music and it's among the best being made in the world."

To check out all of the performances from the night, as well as all of the previous sets from Ballantine's and Boiler Room's 'Stay True Journeys' series, click here.


Text Hattie Collins

South Africa
boiler room
Black Coffee
Black Motion