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Audio: The Brother Moves On


“This is where he died” says Siyabonga Mthembu, lead vocalist of the South African funk-rock collective The Brother Moves On. The performance-art group made a quick stopover in Cape Town to promote their debut EP The Golden Wake.  And on this particular night, their first outing, it’s a decidedly sombre affair. “He didn’t mean to die,” Mthembu says, “nobody means to die. You just do”.

The departed is Mr Gold waseGoli; an Everyman from the hinterland of South Africa who travels to Johannesburg in search of ‘gold’.  The Brother’s six-track concept EP is an elegy for the deceased; speaking to both his ancestors and descendants.

Likewise, the genre-bending sound of the collective is as much about looking to the past – with nods to Busi Mhlongo, Phuzekhemisi, and Philip Tabane – as it is about making new discoveries. “We have a difficulty describing what our music is,” Siyabonga says before rattling of a list of experimental urban black bands emerging on the Jo’burg music scene: The Fridge, Meat the Veggies, Planet Lindela, Future History and others.  “It’s South African” guitarist Zelizwe Mthembu says, summing up the debate.

Whichever coat fits, underlying the artistic enterprise of The Brother Moves On is, as Siyabonga says, a search “for an alternate relationship to being South African, to being black, to being from this space and time”.

The evening ends with a performance of the EP’s last song "Wenu Wetla" Stretching well over ten minutes, the song is a prayer; “it’s saying I’m lost in a sea of languages and I don’t understand shit anymore. And how many of us really feel like that?”

You can download the Golden Wake EP for free here.

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6 Samples From 'Éthiopiques' in Hip-Hop

A brief history of Ethio-jazz cultural exchange featuring songs by Nas & Damian Marley, K'naan, Madlib and more.

This article was originally published on OkayAfrica in March, 2017. We're republishing it here for our Crossroads series.

It's 2000 something. I'm holed up in my bedroom searching for samples to chop up on Fruity Loops. While deep into the free-market jungle of Amazon's suggested music section, I stumble across a compilation of Ethiopian music with faded pictures of nine guys jamming in white suit jackets. I press play on the 30 second sample.

My mind races with the opportunities these breakbeats offered a budding beat maker. Catchy organs, swinging horns, funky guitar riffs, soulful melodies and grainy and pained vocalists swoon over love lost and gained. Sung in my mother tongue—Amharic—this was a far cry from the corny synthesizer music of the 1990s that my parents played on Saturday mornings. I could actually sample this shit.

The next day, I burn a CD and pop it into my dad's car. His eyes light up when the first notes ooze out of the speakers. “Where did you get this?" He asks puzzlingly. “The internet," I respond smiling.

In the 1970s my dad was one of thousands of high school students in Addis Ababa protesting the monarchy. The protests eventually created instability which lead to a coup d'état. The monarchy was overthrown and a Marxist styled military junta composed of low ranking officers called the Derg came to power. The new regime subsequently banned music they deemed to be counter revolutionary. When the Derg came into power, Amha Eshete, a pioneering record producer and founder of Ahma Records, fled to the US and the master recordings of his label's tracks somehow ended up in a warehouse in Greece.

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