Cape Town Producer Sylvan Aztok Launches 'S Z' LP [Premiere]

Cape Town producer Sylvan Aztok's premieres his 'S Z' Album and shares the music video for "Martian Jungle 7."

'KAT IMG 5352' by Swain Hoogervorst.

Who's Sylvan Aztok: he’s Cape Town producer Simon Kohler, one of the most promising additions to the discography of SA electronica since Card on Spokes. His music is a fauvist’s fantasia of smelted forms, decomposed elements of jazz, African and Eastern folk, trip-hop and sound design. It's feral and effervescent — the sound of a bionic primordial creature awakening from infinite hibernation.

His debut album S Z transports the listener to the stone age via space travel. It's an alchemistic cauldron of bristled bells, wind chimes and plucked instruments, hollow smoke signal pads which wisp through the skull in currents, gently interfering with each other. It’s basted with frail but lucid references to a haunted history. Something decaying as it grows; destroying itself as it nourishes the world: A well-enriched metaphor for Africa as well as the rest of humanity. The record is deceptively soothing. It slips you into flotation, the ebb and flow of anxiety and tranquillity, largely symbolic of modern African life. The more acoustic tracks like "Hakan," "Glue" and "Woodhead Tunnel" seem enchanted, mystic almost, like tales from an undiscovered ancient city. Then there are darker, more corroded songs like "Jupiter E.T.," ") l l (" and "Arodia" — the latter of which features sonically mutated field recordings of ululations commonplace at traditional Nguni (the largest South African tribe) ceremonies. The closing piece, entitled "Arca,"  is an ambient transcendental lullaby, like the ascension of a spirit from its body.

What makes this album so monumental is that it’s evolved without homogenizing to suit the genre. Most modern African electronic music is more recognizable as 'electronic music' than it is as 'African.' S Z is refreshingly disobedient that way. It cloaks its references in a blanket of seductive disorder. Brian Little’s surrealistic video for the triumphantly melancholic "Martian Jungle 7" creates a visual diagram of the song’s vividly forlorn essence. The entire project is an extra-sensual labyrinth of multi-dimensional planes, one which you relish getting lost in forever. It’s got all the best ingredients of the more acoustic left field electronica of the late nineties: Bonobo, Fourtet, Amon Tobin et al. Sylvan Aztok shares something they all do: the ability to create the newest sounds from the oldest ones, to reconstruct folk music to fit the parameters sound engineering technology has afforded him without compromising its soul. The full album and music video for "Martian Jungle 7" is as of now available for stream below. We wish you a safe journey.


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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