Okayafrica’s Mona Hakimi caught up with The Brother Moves On at Swaziland’s Bushfire Festival to talk about their distinctive musical style and the personal politics that infuse their performances. To get a feel for their flavour, you can stream their latest songs on their website.
Okayafrica: Bushfire’s call to action in 2012 is “Bring Your Fire.” What fire did The Brother Moves On bring to Bushfire?
The Brother Moves On: I think the way we even got onto this festival shows the way we actually relate to this space and what we bring to the space. We weren’t booked for Bushfire to begin with – it happened via people speaking to people and then going, “Well, will they mind not staying at a hotel?” We don’t mind; we’ll camp, we’re that kind of band. We’ll come and knock it with the people. You won’t normally find us in the VIP section; it’s more about the engagement. As kids we would look at these festivals and go, “I’d really like to be on that stage playing at that festival.”
Bushfire is not a festival that is simply music without a real outcome…it’s not pure creativity for pure creativity’s sake, which is a beautiful thing. It’s creativity with a social background, bringing out personal politics. That’s exactly what we’re about, so what we bring is something that engages with what’s going on right now. We didn’t choose to come to this festival because it’s an international festival and it will do well for our merit. We came to this festival because it’s a good use of what we do.
OKA: The Brother Moves On blurs boundaries of musical genres. What place do you feel you have in South African music culture?
TBMO: Our style changes with the individual characters that we play with, with the influx and movement of people coming in and coming out; and we love that.
It’s a weird thing because that’s what the country’s about. We’ve always played the diversity card, however we haven’t in our culture fully accepted diversity. And that’s the big thing we do, we kind of open that up a lot. The character of this collective is based on individuals who all have their influences. The theatrical side is me standing for the fact that I won’t simply play in a band. I want to do something that engages; I want to do something different. So there is that space to bring what you are, wherever you’re from and we all agree to what each other wants to do.
OKA: The Brother Moves On is an interesting name – could you tell us what it’s about?
TBMO: So we were sitting watching The Wire and Orangutan Bitch [their former band] had just ended and I was considering what to do with my life, and my brother – he’s the founder of the band, we always have to clarify that – he was like, “Why don’t you start a new band?” And I was like, “Okay cool, what would we call this new band if we start it?” and that episode of The Wire was titled The Brother Moves On because it’s when the brother is introduced. There was a moral essence to it because of the brother judicious, that’s really what it’s about. The other side of it is that the brothers [who join the band] can come and move. The brothers could move on. So even if I end up going, the essence is to be able to get another brother to jump in there and do his thing.
*photo taken by Thulani Rachia at the Bushfire Festival.
OKA: There is a striking theatrical side to your performances. You started talking about it earlier, could you elaborate?
TBMO: Our first engagement with theatre was when we started working with a dance collective and they wanted us to do a show with them in Grahamstown for the arts festival. And normally I’d still hold onto the band side with the performance side of it coming out of the audience, playing out of the audience without us actually being performative. And then we were part of this dance piece where there were all these solos and we were backing them up. We started playing along with Kyle’s solo, he played the Black Diamond Butterfly. And we were like, this is exactly what we want, we want more of this. Kyle does this really amazing speech about Black Diamond Butterfly, which is just a rip on the BEE (Black Economic Empowerment) culture that we’ve all gotten into, but it’s not just a rip on the BEE culture because it’s a white man doing this whole speech as a Black Diamond Butterfly, based on the idea that we’re all stuck under the colonial skin.
When we use theatre, it’s to go, let’s minus this wall where it’s a band and you’re coming to watch music. Let’s open discourse, let’s talk about these things and engage with these problems. At the end of the day, what it does for us is this cathartic experience – I can talk about anything I want to talk about without anyone attacking my viewpoint.
*photo taken by Thulani Rachia at the Bushfire Festival.
OKA: This leads to the question about the role of a musician or performer in society and whether music can be a tool for social justice. You’ve alluded to the fact that it can open up debate…
TBMO: Ja, it’s a tool. It’s like advancements in the IT space where you can now start communicating with each other from a mobile phone. It’s a tool for conversation between humans. It is only when we converse with each other that answers that are higher than a single being in a collective space can actually be achieved.
So take for example Bushfire – if the musicians weren’t there to make the creative work in the first place then it wouldn’t happen. But it’s the audience that makes it possible. It’s an understanding that you’re making that creative work so that opportunities like this are possible – so that your music can be used to engage with a social problem. It’s not about endorsing something like giving facts about condom use because when music does that, when I blatantly say that, people will walk to the door. We don’t engage in that way. You can’t make it about the condoms, you have to make it about people. People do not like being told what to do, they’re smart enough to think for themselves, they’d like you to have a conversation with them about what’s going on. So that’s the way to engage in these spaces. Don’t downplay the audience, they’re smart. The artist is not sitting on a pedestal anymore – that’s an old way of viewing things.
On June 30th, The Brother Moves On will be playing alongside other performance artists and bands for The Second Line on Seventh Avenue at the Lucky Bean. More info here.