Audio

Subterranean Wavelength: The Key Players In Joburg’s Beat Scene + Mixtape Premiere

A look at the key players in Joburg's beat scene (Escapism Refuge, Hlasko, Hawkword, Micr.pluto, The Watermark High) + Subterranean Wavelength premiere.


Suburbia! The hive-like humming of SUV’s and lawnmowers; the overdressed dogs attached to underdressed joggers. There seems to be more houses than people here. The silence is almost sinister, the tranquilized mood evocative of its community’s balanced blends of apathy and politeness, privacy and loneliness, detachment and fixation. It is more than a coincidence that the coolest art tends to emerge from the most morally repressed environments. The most pious and pretentious societies symptomatically breed the most leftfield and subversive subcultures as belligerent bi-products of their hypocrisy. In this way, the Catholic Church was partially responsible for the Renaissance and Reaganomics was a major catalyst for the spawn of hip-hop and punk rock cultures in the eighties. The Johannesburg suburbs are the epitome of this phenomenon. Pristine artificial oases strategically positioned as far as possible from the depths of the socio-economic desert. It is here where we find the new wave of future beats producers reshaping the landscape of South African electronica. They stand as the harbingers of the not-so-sudden death of boom-bap in this city; a death which brings along with it the birth of a new breed of beatmaker: one concerned with making bobbing heads think. Their beats are rich tapestries of warped samples, shimmery synths and explosive drum patterns. If robots could dream, this music would be the soundtrack to those dreams. As we begin to witness African music take exhilarating new forms we have a fortuitous vantage point to be able to meet the masters of its evolution before their peak, experiencing our music’s future history in the present. This is one such opportunity: the next five names should be asterisked as the key players to be on the lookout for in this captivating new scene.

But first, Okayafrica presents the exclusive worldwide premiere of Subterranean Wavelength: Johannesburg Experimental Beat Collection, a groundbreaking compilation arranged and mixed by Micr.pluto featuring mint condition unreleased material from the aforementioned five producers. Stream/download the full tape below and click through for our look at the key players of the Joburg beat explosion featuring Escapism Refuge, Hlasko, Hawkword, Micr.pluto, and The Watermark High.

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Music

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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