South Africa’s Jazz Scene Comes Together on Card On Spokes’ New EP

Cape Town-based producer Card On Spokes returns with a new EP, 'As We Surface,' featuring an ace team of his jazz world contemporaries.

A new generation of jazz is getting mad love from platforms that have historically shied away from the genre. Check Pitchfork’s homescreen today and there’s a good chance you’ll find Kamasi Washington and BadBadNotGood mentioned right alongside Grimes and Frank Ocean.

Cape Town-based musician Shane Cooper has a challenge for those same press outlets turning their eyes towards the jazz world: take a deeper, closer look at South Africa. If they do, he’s certain they’ll be blown away.

Bokani Dyer, Kyle Shepherd, Siya Makuzeni and Nduduzo Makhathini are a few of the names Cooper mentions in an email to me. “These artists are fucking incredible and go as deep as you can go. It bums me that press usually only listen up if there's an association with a celebrity.”

They should really be looking at Cooper too.

As Shane Cooper, he’s one of South Africa’s brightest talents in jazz, an award-winning bassist who in 2013 was named Standard Bank’s prestigious Young Artist of the Year for Jazz and won a South African Music Award (SAMA) the following year for Best Jazz Album.

As Card On Spokes, he’s one of the most innovative acts on South Africa’s underground electronic scene. The producer's 2015 Sunwalker EP featured some of the year’s sickest beats, and not to mention an absolute head-nodder in the Nonku Phiri and Okmalumkoolkat-featuring “On The Low.”

On his latest project as CoS, we begin to see the two halves of Shane Cooper merge. The six-track As We Surface EP is the producer’s most ambitious release yet. Swirling with multi-layered instrumentals, it’s an easy listen that’s also exceptionally complex.

“I like songs to grab you on a dancefloor, but also have details you can tune into on headphones,” Cooper says of his interest in multiple layers of percussion. “Like a picture of people in a room, I want you to be able to zoom in and read the title of the books on the shelves, and see the thread on the carpet, and notice the reflection on the window, or see the burnt out matches in the ashtray.”

In assembling As We Surface, he enlisted an ace team of his jazz world contemporaries, like UK phenom Shabaka Hutchings, 2015 Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year for Jazz Siya Makuzeni and trumpeter Marcus Wyatt. He also teamed up once again with Cape Town-based vocalist Bonj Mpanza and, rather masterfully, an entire children’s choir on “Stone Clouds,” which you can listen to in full here.

As We Surface is out now and available for purchase on iTunes as of Friday. It’s also streaming on Spotify. In the email conversation below, Cooper takes us further inside the making of his new EP and shares his take on the SA music landscape.

Can you shed some light on the making of As We Surface?

Each song is fairly unique stylistically, but is part of the same overall feeling I wanted to create. I think the first song I started writing was "Impala Parlour / Journey To Life" in May last year, and it grew from a bunch of recordings I made with some brilliant percussionists. The track is layered with talking drum, congas, various African shakers and more. Once I wrote the bass guitar chord sequence on top of that, the song started to flow.

The last track I wrote was “Faded Pictures,” which started right at the end of the EP process in fact. I was mixing down the other tracks in my studio, and got a little distracted with my bass standing next to me. I picked it up and killed some time with some chordal ideas. It led to me recording my brother’s tom drum with popcorn on it, and creating a layered percussion part that I recorded the bass chords on top off. I started to hear a trumpet melody in my head for it, and played around with some lyric ideas as well. A few days later I was in Joburg for another project and I called up Marcus Wyatt for the trumpet parts, and Siya Makuzeni whose voice was perfect for what I was hearing for the vocals. The timing just worked out, and I finished writing the last lyric “Pale chambers, unwoken” about 30 minutes before the taxi picked me up to drive to the studio to record.

Marcus played a stunning solo, and Siya's voice is so beautiful on there. It's my favourite track on the EP right now, and totally came out of a procrastination bass jam that lead to an important creative process for me.

The EP, you say, is inspired by states of transition. How has your sound transitioned?

I spent more time on these songs than I'd spent on any of my previous releases. I've become very interested in many layers of percussion, and have been recording all sorts of percussion and found-sound elements in my studio. I like songs to grab you on a dancefloor, but also have details you can tune into on headphones. Like a picture of people in a room. I want you to be able to zoom in and read the title of the books on the shelves, and see the thread on the carpet, and notice the reflection on the window, or see the burnt out matches in the ashtray.

I'm also incorporating a lot more live instruments and musicians from the jazz world now than before. The EP features Marcus Wyatt on trumpet and flugelhorn, Shabaka Hutchings on tenor sax, Jonno Sweetman on drums, Reza Khota on guitar, Siya Makuzeni on voice, Bonj Mpanza on voice, and a childrens choir as well. I have ideas to record much more of this for the next body of work, and want to start working with strings more as well.

Card On Spokes by Julia Ramsay.

How do you think the SA music industry has transitioned since you first started making music?

For starters there are way more artists making high quality music, taking risks, and putting in hard work than before, and we had a lot to begin with. Secondly, I think international press is starting to widen their scope on what's coming out of SA, and the variety of genres, but there's room for more of that.

It looks like the majority of unique creators in SA making strong, high quality music are independent, or part of more independent labels, agencies or collectives. It's an industry where the best work is made and curated by independent entrepreneurs who are hustling hard and putting in serious work, no bullshit.

There is a tough period that has begun in Cape Town where I am based, with a lot of venues shutting down. It's the natural life-cycle of venues, sort 5/6/7 years in SA. The bummer is that a bunch of great venues all closed within six months of each other, and I now hardly ever perform in Cape Town.

Where would you like to see it transition to next? What are some hopes you have for the SA music industry?

It would be great if there were more venues around SA for the kind of stuff I'm making, as there are many other artists working in similar fields, and there is an audience for it. The money guys who run the 'music industry' mostly play it so safe, and I think they are falling behind because of that. I'd like to see radio be braver, there is so much good stuff from SA artists they just don't touch because they are afraid to try. There are only a few radio DJs out there who I think are opening their eyes to what’s actually happening in SA beyond the commercial artists. I know it's often the stations who decide, more than the DJs themselves, so thanks are due to all the DJs putting time into listening to new local music and trying - they know what's up. I would also like to see more smaller scale festivals starting up. The big ones are great, but there's a gap for more small to medium size festivals. That's often where music really gets heard, the big ones are usually more about a larger experience from the whole weekend.

I'd like to see someone get a vinyl press going here, or more viable ways for artists to press vinyl. It's too expensive to ship them from abroad. I don't make physical copies of my CoS EPs, but I would if vinyl was a viable option. From that I'd like to see independent record labels selling their products at markets. People are willing to drop money on a craft beer at a Saturday market but won't pay for a digital album. Artists can't make money from streaming, so selling physical copies is the best way to actually sell records. Let's take it to the markets.

I'd also like to see the international press start looking even deeper into SA music. For example, Kamasi Washington got huge press last year on platforms that usually shy away from jazz. His association with Flying Lotus, and Kendrick Lamar helped, and the record is a great album. However, if that same press listened to albums by SA jazz artists like Bokani Dyer, Kyle Shepherd, Siya Makuzeni, Nduduzo Makhathini, and so on, they'd be just as blown away - these artists are fucking incredible and go as deep as you can go. It bums me that press usually only listen up if there's an association with a celebrity.

What are you most excited about in music right now?

Genre lines getting blurred. I hate musical purism, and I love that more people are getting weird. and bigger audiences are getting into that.

Top 3-5 favorite albums of the year thus far?

In no particular order:

1. Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool

2. Massive Attack - Ritual Spirit EP

3. Kendrick Lamar - untitled unmastered

Card On Spokes' As We Surface EP is up for purchase and streaming via iTunes, Spotify and Apple Music.

Image courtesy of 'The Spread'

'The Spread' Is the Sex-Positive Kenyan Podcast Offering a Safe Space for Women and LGBTQIA+ Issues

'The Spread' is the podcast dedicated to "decolonizing" the way Africans talk about sex and sexuality, say it's creator Karen Kaz Lucas.

Karen Kaz Lucas is the revolutionary brainchild behind Africa's best-known sex positive podcast, The Spread. Three years in, the 52 podcast episodes, covering a range of diverse topics including: The Male-Female Pleasure Gap, Sex positive parenting, LGBTQIA+ issues, Kink, Reproductive Rights, and Porn vs. Reality, has listeners ranging from 6,000 to 21,000 and episode on SoundCloud.

Recently, The Spread had its first major event TheSpreadFest, a day-long event attracting over 600 people with diverse panels, workshops and more. It's been hailed as a truly safe and inclusive space for people of all sexual identities. Okayafrica contributor, Ciku Kimeria speaks to The Spread creator Kaz on her journey to decolonize sexuality, her motivation, and her hopes for the continent relating to matters of sex and sexuality.

Read the conversation below.

Karen Kaz LucasImage courtesy of 'The Spread'

What made you start The Spread podcast?

It was to address the key gaps in discussions around sex and sexuality and to create a safe space to discuss them. Younger people were either learning about sex from porn or on the flip side from a religious standpoint or the education system, where the focus is on the risks of engaging in sex (teen pregnancy, STIs etc). As such they were either getting information from a fear-based system, shame-based system or porn that has very little to do with real life sexual situations and intimacy. I wanted to create a safe space where people could talk about all issues related to sexuality but in an open, accepting and enlightening way. For me, this is an informal form of sex education that allows people to explore their sexuality from an unbiased perspective—no judgement, no shaming.

What's the reception been like so far?

The reception has been overwhelmingly positive. I had no idea that the podcast would grow and be as successful as it is now. People are hungry to meet similar people and have discussions without judgement. Of course, there are also people who react negatively to my work and say that this is a result of "Western influence." To those people, I say that they should know that the majority of my work is focused on decolonizing sexuality.

Great transition. I first saw the term "decolonizing sexuality" in your Instagram bio. What exactly does that mean?

Prior to Western intrusion, we already had our own sexual culture. I'm trying to remind people that certain things we embrace as "African" and defend when it comes to sex and sexuality, are elements that came to us through religion, Westernized education etc. The shame associated with sex and sexuality on the continent are remnants of Western teachings.

Prior to colonization many ethnic groups had religious healers who were neither considered male nor female but were gender fluid or intersex. There were ethnic groups that didn't base gender on anatomy but on energy. Gender fluidity on the continent was observed even more than you would find in the most liberal country right now. For some, you could physically have male features but possess female energy and live as a woman. Some people worshipped androgynous or intersex deities and believed that the perfect human being is both male and female. Certain tribes did not ascribe a gender to anyone until the age of puberty. In other communities, their priests were transgender, and they were the only ones who could conduct certain spiritual ceremonies. There is evidence that for several ethnic groups gay and lesbian relationships were not taboo. Unfortunately, a lot of this history has not been publicized or it is being revised as it does not fit in well with the idea that the continent is trying to now uphold as a patriarchal, heteronormative society. That is why the work of decolonizing sexuality is extremely important as we now have a generation that is open to questioning themselves. The generation of our parents lived in a time of oppressed and suppressed sexuality (among other things) as they themselves or their parents had suffered the colonial rape and pillage [both literally and metaphorically] of their lives. All they could carry was anger and fear. To survive they had to conform to what the oppressor enforced on them through religion, western education etc.

[Recently deceased] Kenyan writer and gay activist, Binyavanga Wainaina clearly outlines how it is only former British colonies that have anti-sodomy laws, which came during colonial times from the fear that British soldiers and colonial administrators would be corrupted by the natives while they were away from their wives. The law, the fears by the British government at the time, really are proof that some of the natives were already practicing sodomy.

Image courtesy of 'The Spread'

What for you is the link between sex positive work and women's empowerment?

The average person might think that the type of work I'm doing is frivolous, but the reality is that when a society believes they have any right over women's bodies, we see all the terrible things that happen to women: rape, rampant femicide, violence against women and more. Reclaiming your sexuality as a woman is about asserting your own authority over your body—declaring the right to fulfilling, consensual sex of your own liking, the right to having children, or not having children if you don't want to, postponing or terminating a pregnancy. Once we accept the policing of women's bodies, it's a slippery slope.

Feminism is about women having equal rights and opportunities as men, and that also extends to their sex lives. My body, my choice. For those who are always ready to bash feminism, seeing it as women somehow trying to take over, dominate men, oppress men etc. They should realize that the only reason feminism exists, is because we live in a patriarchal world. Women are at the bottom of the rung, oppressed in thousands of ways. All we are trying to do, is get the same rights that men take for granted. Of course, to the ones who hold power, it will feel like a loss of power.

This is the reason why the topics we cover span everything from women's sexual pleasure to gender-based violence to LGBTQIA+ rights to women's reproductive health. All these discussions must happen in tandem.

Let's talk about the state of affairs in Kenya around various key issues, starting with female reproductive rights.

I'm working very closely with two organizations working on women's reproductive rights and abortion rights. The problem in Kenya is that there is so much misinformation. I plan to release a video very soon on the topic. I only recently found out all public hospitals in Kenya provide post-abortal care. Even though, abortions are illegal except in certain circumstances, post-abortal care is available throughout the country. Lack of information makes women especially vulnerable to the influence of quacks, back-alley doctors, or police who threaten them with imprisonment if they don't pay exorbitant bribes. The Kenyan law is that you are not allowed to administer an abortion unless the health of the mother or child is in danger. Health also includes mental health. As such, people with severe depression or suicidal thoughts do legally qualify for abortions, but most people don't know this.

Image courtesy of 'The Spread'

What about on the issue of sexual violence against women and children?

Sexual violence against women and children isn't taken as seriously as it should be. Sensitivity training across police stations is still lacking. Rape is extremely underreported in the country as most people don't expect to be treated with discretion, sensitivity or any consideration once they do get into the system. I did a whole video series years back interviewing female rape survivors and their experiences highlight the challenges with our police system including the trivialization of the crime by police officers who consider rape almost routine, given how often this happens. The statistics are masking the issue, rape survivors don't know who to turn to and feel completely isolated. The issues of male sexual violence against men isn't even spoken about as the survivors fear further shunning and stigmatization from society. Kenya doesn't yet have the right structures—including mental health structures—to deal with the normalization of rape and sexual violence against women.

In 2015 three men gangraped a teenage girl as she was on her way home from her grandfather's funeral. After the attack, they dumped her in an open sewer, leaving her with a spinal injury that has confined her to a wheelchair. When the men were taken to the police station, their punishment was to cut the grass around the police station. The incident made it to the news, sparking international outrage, resulting in a signed petition and leading to protests in the country demanding #justiceforliz. As a result, the men were eventually sentenced to 15 years in prison. While we can celebrate this particular win, it also makes us reflect on all the other hundreds of thousands of cases, where the survivors remain silent or seek justice, but never get it.

What about LGBTQIA+ rights?

The definition I adhere to for this group is actually a longer, more confusing acronym, but also one I hope makes more people feel included. LGBTQQIAPPK, which is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual & transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, polyamourous, pansexual and kink.

We have some cause for celebration, but also a very long way to go. We were hopeful recently when the High Court reviewed the key law banning gay sex, but unfortunately, they chose to uphold it. Last year, we did have a small win when the courts deemed unlawful the use of forced anal exams to test whether two men had sex.

The National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights commission of Kenya are doing a really great job in trying to get colonial era penal codes repealed. They are the legal team behind the court cases for the repeal of these laws. From a legal standpoint it's great, but from a social standpoint, it's still so sad that our binary understanding of gender is tied to what the colonizers forced on us. The worst argument is when people say that any deviation from the heteronormative narrative is "un-African." My question then is "Do you really know your history? Are you willing to educate yourself and to take off the yoke of colonialism and even consider the idea that what you consider normal is based on systems that came to you through oppression and repression?

For a country that is so progressive in many ways, this particular issue still remains an uphill battle.

Image courtesy of 'The Spread'

What about women's sexuality, sexual pleasure?

All the events we have are 95% women. Men are scared to admit they might not know it all. Society paints them to be macho and [makes them think] that they should somehow know it all, but they are scared to learn about their sexuality as they feel that it will take away from their masculinity. For women, it's empowering. Men are frightened about women learning and embracing their sexuality.

I want to be a part of this revolution, spearheading it on the continent.

Finally, tell us about The Spread Fest and your plans for it?

Our objective for the festival is to foster learning, inspiration and wonder—and to spark conversations that matter. The aim is to be more empathetic about our diversity, but also to leave people knowing more about sex and sexuality. This year we had 600 people in attendance, 5 panels, one workshop and it was a full day event. Next year, we plan to double everything.

Photos by Getty Images for BET.

Africa at the BET Awards 2019: Dispatches from the Blue Carpet

We talked to Burna Boy, AKA, DJ Cuppy and more about representing their people and remembering Nipsey Hussle.

We were at the 19th annual BET Awards this past Sunday to check out the ceremonies and chat up the international artists walking the blue carpet.

BET is the world's biggest platform for Black music and it has officially gone global. If you've never been, there's a feeling of organized chaos in the air that makes you feel like you're a part of something big. Artists from Africa and the diaspora have come a long way at the award show—once relegated to a non-televised role, the "Best International Act" award is now part of the 3-hour televised main ceremony for the second year.

This year the nominees contained many of OkayAfrica's favorites, including this year's winner, Burna Boywhose award was accepted by his mom, with a message of connectedness to the continent: "Remember you were Africans before you became anything else."

READ: The Internet Doesn't Know Mama Burna At All

Held at the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles, the BET Awards hosted over 30 artists from the African continent. We caught up with many of them on the blue carpet including AKA, DJ Cuppy, Mr Eazi, Nomzamo Mbatha and Monalonga Shozi just to name a few. Under the June heat, African performers, presenters and nominees came to show out.

One of the big themes of the night was honoring slain Eritrean-American hip hop star Nipsey Hussle's life and legacy.

Burna Boy and Stefflon Don at the 2019 BET Awards. Photo by Getty Images for BET.

When we asked him about it on the blue carpet, Burna Boy—dressed in an elegant Dolce and Gabbana two piece ensemble in emerald green and golden overtones—says:

"You never stop wanting to hear the work of black artists do you? After Nipsey's death, it was both an inspiration and a wake up call. This is the time to spread positivity and love because you never know man, you could be gone tomorrow. He left behind a great legacy and we're just going to carry it forward."

"Nipsey's death was really felt all over Africa," South African personality Mbatha tells us. Dressed in an original full floor length A-line dress made by South African designer Loin Cloth & Ashes, she remembers, "It wasn't just that he was an African, which he was, but he showed us that we still have flames in our community that we hope will never burn out. Thank God that flames like Nelson Mandela lived for as long as it has, because each generation picked up that flame and was able to believe we can make it out and when we do make it out, we can fight to make other people's lives better."

Nomzamo Mbatha at the 2019 BET Awards 2019. Photo by Getty Images for BET.

AKA at the 2019 BET Awards. Photo by Getty Images for BET.

South African rap superstar AKA tells us just before the opening to the ceremony, "With me coming from South Africa, BET is all about black excellence and of course Black excellence is all about Africa. Everybody is on a wave right now recognizing the importance of African culture and the importance of where it comes from. Africa is the source of Black excellence."

The Nigerian Afro-fusion star Mr Eazi, another Best International Act nominee also met up with us outside. "As long as music is being made by Black people, African people will never stop being brilliant," he told us. "Most of the people from Africa that come to the BET Awards, about a good 60 percent come from Nigeria. I feel like this needs to be a Nigerian awards show. Maybe next year we'll just buy it up and make it a Nigerian show."

Mr Eazi at the 2019 BET Awards. Photo by Getty Images for BET.

DJ Cuppy at the 2019 BET Awards. Photo by Getty Images for BET.

Nomalanga Shozi at the 2019 BET Awards. Photo by Getty Images for BET

Another big Nigerian name, DJ Cuppy, acted as a blue carpet host. "When I travel around the world," she says, "I feel like people are more invested in their roots. People are more engaged with where they come from and where they families come from and they're interested in learning about other cultures like never before."

"I'm all about taking Africa to the world but it think its just as important to bring the world back to Africa," Cuppy continues. "It's important that we're stressing connecting and do what we can to keep a strong community and making sure people know that we're all in this together."

TV personality and actress, Nomalanga Shozi tells us, "You have to recognize yourself as who you are. Honor yourself first then you can project that to the world. I think it's very important for us to honor ourselves and the BET Awards does that is such a grand fashion every year."

In the BET International section of the blue carpet, Nigeria-native Alex Okosi, the head of BET International shared a final thought on the important of awards shows. "It's a platform to elevate our people," he says. "Being able to showcase to the world our true power which is the power of Black culture is as important now then ever before."


Seba Kaapstad Is the Genre-Bending South African Jazz Band Spreading a Message of Optimism

We speak to two of the quartet's members about their latest album 'Thina.'

This profile is part of OkayAfrica's ongoing series on South Africa's new wave of young artists shaping the future of the country's music scene. You can read more profiles and interviews here.

Thina, Seba Kaapstad's sophomore album, is an anomalous body of work that smudges the lines between genres effortlessly. It's a huge departure from the South African four-member jazz group's debut album, 2016's Tagore's. "We are people that are genuinely interested in music and the impact that music has, and we are people that love to experiment and explore," says group member Zoë Modiga. "With Pheel (the group's newest member) hopping onto the band for production, it created so much more color than there was before."

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