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Mumford & Sons Take Us Inside 'Johannesburg'

Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons on collaborating with Beatenberg, Baaba Maal and The Very Best on the group's new mini-album, 'Johannesburg'

Mumford & Sons had been wanting to play South Africa for a while. But they didn’t want to just go to South Africa, play a show or two and leave, as is the norm for big overseas acts. “We knew we had to go, but it’s just not on the way anywhere. It’s not like playing in Germany where you can just pop over to France” the band’s lead singer, Marcus Mumford, tells me over the phone. “We wanted to make it a bit more of a special kind of tour.”


That desire to make it a whole thing resulted in a six-show South African tour and the “mini-album,” Johannesburg, a five-song love letter of sorts to the group’s travels from Cape Town to Joburg. Or rather, the musicians they met along the way.

The project was recorded in February at Joburg’s South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) headquarters, where the group spent two days and nights in the studio with a who’s-who of artists on the continent assembled by Swedish producer Johan Hugo of The Very Best, whom the band first met in 2010 on their Laneway Festival tour in Australia.

“I don’t think it’s within a certain genre” Mumford tells me of the project. Johannesburg is a collaboration in the truest sense. The sum of its parts being Cape Town indie-pop band Beatenberg, Senegalese legend Baaba Maal and The Very Best’s Hugo and his other half, Malawian singer Esau Mwamwaya. And of course the four guys from Mumford.

“It really is a collaboration with different artists” says Mumford.

Though the group has no plans to return to South Africa as of now, they’re excited about when they do. “For us it’s become kind of an iconic trip that we did” concludes the Mumford frontman. “Next time we’ll have to compete with how fun this first one was.”

Mumford & Sons with Beatenberg and The Very Best. Photo: David East. Source: Facebook

Below, Marcus Mumford takes us inside the five tracks on Johannesburg:

There Will Be Time

"Well we wrote that almost two years ago now. With Baaba in the studio in London. We did one day together. Just for run, really. Johan from The Very Best had introduced us. And we did one day in the studio together. And we wrote that song. That was the song that really sent us to South Africa. We wrote that, and we were like 'we should do a whole project around, rather than release it as a one-off.'"

Wona

“'Wona' came about from us getting to Cape Town, picking up some instruments together. And then starting to write. And Matt [from Beatenberg] came over to my hotel, and we wrote some lyrics and some chords together, some ideas we both had. And then we took it to the lads in Joburg and we played it for them, and it became a thing."

Fool You've Landed

"We had a demo called 'Fool You’ve Landed,' which didn’t make it onto our last record. It’s definitely very different from now from what 'Fool You’ve Landed' sounds like on this record. There was like a verse idea and a chorus idea that feature on this song, but then Esau from The Very Best really embraced the verse, and wrote it basically in the studio. And it became a whole different thing to what it was before."

Ngamila

"Ngamila means camel. It was a song that Johan played me a demo of the idea in London, and I sang something on it that we did together in Winston’s apartment in London, when Winston wasn’t even there actually. We then took it with us to Joburg and played it for the guys, and that became something we wanted to work on more. And then Baaba did some vocals on it. That was Esau’s baby, really. And I love that song actually."

Si Tu Veux

"'Si Tu Veux' is completely original from Joburg. We wrote that from start to finish in those two days. It was a very fun song to see being recorded, because it was a lot of candle light kind of vibes, and then Baaba sang this thing in the studio which just blew our minds with how special it was. And then we kind of crafted this cinematic kind of backing track thing. I think it might have been my favorite one, that one."

Johannesburg is out 17 June worldwide. Okayafrica is hosting the Gentleman of the Road: Johannesburg - a South African Experience pop-up exhibition now through 19 June at the Okay Space in Brooklyn, New York. 

News Brief
Photo: Getty

Here's What You Need To Know About The Political Unrest In Sudan

Thousands have been protesting the Sudanese government over the weekend, supporting the military's plans for a coup.

Sudan's transitional government is in turmoil as thousands of citizens conducted a sit-in protest against them, over the weekend. A group of Sudanese citizens have called on the military to disestablish the nation's current government, as the country struggles with the greatest crisis they've seen since the end of former dictator Omar al-Bashir's controversial ruling, two years ago. The weekend's pro-military protests come as anti-military protestors took to the streets earlier this month to fight for civilian-ruled laws.

Military-aligned demonstrators assembled outside of the famously off-limits entrance of the Presidential Palace located in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum on Monday. Gatherers set up tents, blocking off access to two main intersections, cutting off access to the capital for those inside. Police attempted to wave off crowds with teargas, with Khartoum state officials saying they had, "repelled an attempted assault on the seat of government," in a statement issued Monday.

The assembly was called for by a coalition of rebel groups and political parties that support Sudan's military, accusing the civilian political parties of mismanagement and monopolizing power under their ruling. Demonstrations began on Saturday, but Sunday's gathering saw a lower attendance. According to Reuters, by Monday afternoon, thousands, between 2,000 - 3,000, had returned to voice their concerns. 52-year-old tribal elder Tahar Fadl al-Mawla spoke at the helm of the sit-in outside of the Presidential palace saying, "The civilian government has failed. We want a government of soldiers to protect the transition." Alongside a 65-year-old Ahman Jumaa who claimed to have traveled more than 900 kilometers (570 miles) from Southern region Nyala to show his support.

Protesters are demanding the appointment of a new cabinet that is "more representative of the people who participated in the December 2019 revolution that eventually led to the ousting of former president Omar al-Bashir", Al Jazeera reported from Sudan. Protesters headed towards the Presidential Palace, where an emergency cabinet meeting was being held when they were met by police forces.

Pro-civilian political parties have plans for their own demonstration on Thursday, the anniversary of the 1964 revolution that overthrew Sudan's first military regime under Ibrahim Abboud and brought in a period of democracy that the country still struggles to uphold.


Sudanese Twitter users shared their thoughts online, with many drawing similarities between the current unrest and other political crises the nation has faced.


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