Video

Cape Town's Future Kwaai Diva Umlilo Releases Darkly Luminous 'Chain Gang' Video

Cape Town's future kwaai diva Umlilo releases the music video for "Chain Gang," the second single off the 'Aluta' EP via Naas Music.


Cape Town's future kwaai diva Umlilo (formerly Siya the Anarchist) is gearing up to release his next EP, Aluta, on Naas Music. After delivering back in July on a darkly glittering video for the first single off the project, "Magic Man," Umlilo now shares the similarly posh visuals for "Chain Gang." Helmed by rising South African filmmaker Katey Lee Carson, who was previously behind the short graffiti documentary Painting Cape Town, the piece features Rita, a troubled 27-year-old who died under murky circumstances, visiting her own funeral where her friends dourly pay their respects and a gold-bespectacled preacher (played by Umlilo) searingly eulogizes the young woman. "No pain, no gain/No mama's left in vain/Another breadwinner dead/Lost forever to the game," Umlilo raps over stuttering drums and electronic squeals, Rita's tragic life and death enigmatically sliding into focus. Explains Umlilo:

"We live in a world where people keep getting gunned down everyday for all sorts of reasons they cannot control from skin colour, religion, poverty or sexuality. At the other end of the spectrum is this vacuous pursuit of money and bling. It all has a chain effect making us all part of a chain gang whether we like it or not. The song explores this perpetual cycle to survive, to live and die with dignity in this modern jungle."

As a portrait of a surrogate family with a pained soul at its center, "Chain Gang" (which you can download here) is a luminous, deeply moving work. Check it out below, and keep posted for more from Umlilo and news of the forthcoming Aluta EP.

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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