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Interview: Mshayi & Mr Thela Are Reviving Cape Town’s Gqom Scene With Their Unique Take on the Genre

Cape Town duo Mshayi & Mr Thela on their sound and latest EP 'Make Cape Town Great Again': 'People have named us the pioneers of "gqom gospel" and we love that.'

Gqom is synonymous with the city of Durban and its vibrant club culture. As the genre rose to mainstream prominence around 2016/17, deejays and producers from other South African cities began to play it in their sets and subsequently, produce their interpretations of the genre.

Cape Town producers have flirted with the genre many times, but were sometimes criticised for imitating their Durban counterparts. For instance, Distruction Boyz's 2017 mega-hit "Omunye", one of the biggest gqom songs ever, was composed by DJ Mphyd from Khayelitsha, Cape Town. However, there was a copyright investigation claiming the song had striking similarities to DJ Lag's "Trip to New York".

Since then, they have found and refined their own gqom sound. "Emotional gqom" or "gospel gqom", as it is casually known, is distinguishable by its use of dynamic basslines, lush strings and saws, leads, pads, and other synths, all syncopated with drums to create melodies that are akin to South African charismatic church hymns. It is widely popular in Cape Town and the Eastern Cape.

Mr Thela, one half of the duo Mshayi & Mr Thela, was one of the early adopters of the sound. His peculiar production has landed him a placement on Babes Wodumo's latest album, Idando Kazi, and is what assembled him and Mshayi, after working together on the songs "Shaya" and "iParty".

The duo's recently released EP, Make Cape Town Great Again, showcases what the pair and Cape Town have to offer to the gqom palette. OkayAfrica caught up with the duo to discuss the gqom scene in Cape Town, their sound and new EP.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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