Blanka Mazimela

Africa Is Not A Jungle

How did you get your start in music?
I wouldn’t say that I have a musical background, I’ve always had a knack for music. My dad collected music and it was just part of our journey to school or wherever. We drove a lot. Originally I’m from the Eastern Cape so during the holidays I’d travel from here [Cape Town] to the Eastern Cape and it’s a 12 hour drive so the only thing you can listen to is music. That just makes the whole trip bearable. I think that’s where it started, but I wouldn’t say that I wanted to do music, it was just an interest. In the back of your head when you listen to music, I think for me personally it’s always been like how do they make that sound? How is everything tracked together? Because you hear like 10 different sounds, but as they play together it sounds like one thing continuously playing. It was just in the back of my head and then my brother started buying house music. I think that’s when I was like cool this is a sound, [but] the biggest thing I was listening to was when the dj mixes into another song, that’s the biggest thing that fascinated me, because it’s still track one but into track two. And it was like, how do they do that? Because there has to be something happening there without me knowing that there’s a particular technique. That’s where it started. I didn’t know anything about turntables, nothing about how music is mixed, the only thing that was fascinating was that somehow there was a way of making music blend. Then it happened that this girl who ran events said “I heard you are a dj or collect records, come dj at this thing.” Nothing. I knew nothing about a cd player, I knew nothing about turntables. I knew the theory behind it. Not the actual practical side. I’d been collecting music but I didn’t know how to be on the spot and do it live. So at the gig the music was good, the mixing was non-existent but funnily enough no one noticed that because the music was there. This chick was quite connected in the whole club scene and I asked her if she could ask one of her friends if can just jam at one of the clubs when the club is closed. I took me a week to know every single thing. Purely because I think the content was already there it was just a matter of getting around and doing it practically. The following week I did the second gig and then it was smooth. Then is when it kicked in.

I was studying in 2009 and I remember Ryan [Murgatroyd] had a couple of tracks but there was this track he made with Lira. It was quite life changing. I didn’t know who he was. So I went to Google because Murgatroyd sounds like an surname from overseas… and as I googled and checked him out I realised he’s actually from here. Then a whole bank of music of his started to appear and that’s when I started following him. I invited him on Facebook. He posted a status saying “I’m looking for someone that’s going to make me tea and run around and do whatever I want. In return I’ll teach you every single trick I know, every single thing. Teaching is not going to be sitting down in a class, you’re going to sit with me and watch me do every single thing.” I still remember two weeks before that I started my first position in corporate and I left. It wasn’t paying that much because I was running around making tea but in return it was something. It was there. The need to make music was always there. I could go to college, I could go to SAE but the funds weren’t there so I could only study what the parents would allow me to study. My parents never understood what sound engineering was, what music production was. So I knew it was something that I had to do myself. As I was doing that, waking up and going to studio on Harrington Street. So I replied to his status, he said come round for an interview 10:15

Can you tell me a bit about your involvement in the Bantwanas Sessions?
Bantwanas is an extension of taking the raw sounds. There’s a lot of guys that play music that’s unheard of and against the wind. They don’t conform to what’s out there -with DJs and producers - when there’s a sound and everyone’s attached to that sound and everyone’s making that sound because that’s what radio is playing today. Even with musical styles, you get to a point where electro was cool, it was cool amongst the black community and everyone was playing electro. You had the pioneers. The one’s that started that movement and started playing against the wind.

So Bantwanas is that platform where guys just play what they wanna play. I’m the guy in the backend, putting everything together in terms of production. There’s a whole team that help facilitate every single thing. But the biggest person, Jarred is the brains behind the concept. And yeah, it just goes around the country looking. If you’re from Bronkhorstspruit, you’re not known but you’ve got this thing. You’re playing your own music and you’re not conforming. Normally if you’re a DJ people book you because everyone is raving about you. Bantwanas is the opposite where they’re looking for the guy that has the skill, has the passion, the music but no one knows it.

You incorporated live samples of African instruments and vocalists into the tracks you record here at the studios. How did you use them?
There’s an indigenous instrument called the Kora and another that’s a mouth bow called umrhubhe in Xhosa. It’s a traditional Xhosa instrument. Just recording that - for me it’s always been one of the instruments that made that interesting. It’s musical value, I don’t know. It’s not something that’s generic. Not something that you can find easily out there. And that’s the beauty of it. Even the vocals that I’ve used. There’s a girl by the name of Zanele that I worked with and she’s got this indigenous, raw Xhosa - similar to Busi Mhlongo. When she sings live there’s a lot things that she effortlessly sings. And she’s traditional and she’s rural. Without being all rural she’s got all of those values where you play any note, she just goes. You play any instrument, she’s just ready. On the other one I’ve got a guy from the DRC whose singing in traditional Lingala. It wasn’t a matter of knowing what he’s singing about. It was more - the notes that you play he would translate that in his own language and put it into a musical form. So the biggest thing was gathering these 3 and putting them into something that is playable, something that people can also feel the music behind all of that. The kora and the mouth bow, it’s taking the values and recording each.

When you record you get this section that just goes. It just keeps the whole flow of things. It just grooves. In those instruments it was just trying to find that particular spot. As an instrumentalist they can go anywhere, just play and go on and on but there’s that consistent section that just keeps the groove. Trying to adapt that and taking it to a point where you can take it to a dance floor because when you’re making modern dance music you always have to think about that aspect where someone can relate and pick it up quickly but at the same time adapt all the other musical components but keeping the groove consistent and just trying to get that on the floor. Taking the experience of playing music out to crowds is also something that helps because you get to understand how to arrange the music, how to put it together and know what theme is around it. You’re basing it around this one instrument. To align every single thing around this instrument where if it’s a vocal, the vocal becomes the biggest component of the song highlighting but all the instruments around the vocal are in synergy and moving around the vocal. The biggest thing that you get from the song is that the vocal is what speaks to you emotionally. You get the emotion out of the vocal. You get the emotion out of the instrument. That’s the biggest reason for me having to record all of that. It’s not just going to be an instrument in the background and I’m gonna say I’ve recorded an indigenous instrument. The instrument is the one thing that keeps the momentum, that keeps the theme of the song and just moves along with the song.

Are you trying to inject some of the spirituality of traditional music into modern dance music on this project?
You are. I travelled a lot to the Eastern Cape. Traditional ceremonies are something that happen in June, December, wherever there’s holidays they happen. There’s different types of traditional types of traditional ceremonies but the biggest component of those ceremonies is music. Whether it’s someone just playing the drums and chants going, going into the night. The music has been something that’s consistent with all the ceremonies. Whether it’s a funeral, whether it’s when you come from the bush, whether it’s a wedding or the birth of a child. All of those ceremonies are where music becomes the biggest component of that. When it’s a ceremony and no one’s singing then you can tell that something is wrong. That spiritual aspect is something that every single person ought to get.

​When you’re listening to music you remember that there is that spiritual component of music and I think adapting to what is now is something that will become very generic. Where you’re sitting in a club and you’re playing techno and it’s just doef-doef-doef and there’s no emotional aspect within that song that just takes you to another point. Otherwise it’s just drums and you’re just going to listen to doef-doef-doef the whole night. Nothing that attracts you emotionally and nothing that gets you into a different space. Another thing that I’ve always seen is that people use music as an escape from their normal lives and I think that’s the biggest attraction where you have some type of spirituality, some type of emotion within the song. You have take person and you put them into a different space for that moment. So I’d say if there wasn’t that spiritual aspect of music, if it was missing, I wouldn’t be making music. Because that’s the biggest part that makes me want to make music.

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