Catching Up With Cape Town Producer Wildebeats Fresh From The UK

Okayafrica caught up with Cape Town's Wildebeats following his trip to the UK to perform at the Roundhouse in London.

Photo by Core Wreckah

In the aftermath of Live Magazine South Africa and The British Council's FutureMusic “mini-tour” series in JHB and Cape Town, which included performances from the likes of BLK JKS (ZA), DJ Fonque (ZA), DJ Mma Tseleng (ZA), Zaki Ibrahim (ZA/Canada), Okmalumkoolkat (ZA), Dirty Paraffin (ZA), Christian Tiger School (ZA) and more, hip-hop-house-inspired electronic beatmaker Mohato Lekena, aka Wildebeats, was selected (along with the Brother Moves On) to travel to the UK and perform at the Roundhouse in London. Fresh from spreading love for South Africa's beats scene in frosty London, Mo had a quick chat with us to talk #futuremusicrising, electronic music and the intricacies of both scenes, at home and abroad. Read our full interview below and watch Wildebeats' whole set recorded live from the Roundhouse over here.

Shiba for OKA: Welcome home! So tell us a bit about the competition and what it took to win the trip.

Mo (Wildebeats): It was essentially a three stage competition, that started with people first submitting information such as a bios, soundcloud pages and youtube links. 86 people entered at this stage, and from these 6 were chosen to perform either in Cape Town or Joburg, and from these 6, two were chosen for the UK. So basically dope music and a bit of luck is what it took for me to win

OKA: What were the first few days like? Did you manage to do a little crate digging while out there?

Mo: Overwhelming! It took like 5 hours after landing for me to actually talk to a Brit because there’s people from all over the place there, and so many to meet. Looking for vinyl records was also crazy because you have to go in looking for specific things, not just saying you’ll see what's good, because they have so much good stuff. I’m pretty proud of the bounty I came back with though. What was mad was listening to the radio that side, because it sounded just like some local stations, like 5fm, except that all the music was local for them in the UK. They even played more music from North and West Africa than I might hear here.

OKA: I can imagine how trippy that must have been. Tell us about the 22Tracks mix. All of the tracks are by electronic artists from South Africa, yeah? How did you go about selecting those?

Mo: It was actually pretty difficult, because there’s so much dope music but you always want to balance just putting personal favourites and representing a scene or whatever. So after much meditating on the peak of Lions Head I just decided to go with stuff I had been listening to over the past weeks. This was stuff that I had found through local blogs, word of mouth and live gigs.

OKA: Tell us what it was like live at The Roundhouse...

Mo: The Roundhouse is so much more than just a venue, and it is actually round. Playing there live, knowing who had played before, was crazy for me. After the performance though, after having seen and met the other headliners from the UK I really feel like I, and by extension all my musician homies back in SA, aren't that far off from that level, in terms of performance.

OKA: How do the scenes in the UK and SA differ? I mean, with the scene, comes a certain type of people, the ways in which they party and the places they express themselves in. If you could draw parallels between the two places, what would they be?

Mo: I really got the feeling that more people that side treat their music careers as work - not that they don't enjoy themselves, just that they're that serious and focussed about getting things done and know the steps towards doing them quickly. The whole time I was at The Roundhouse there were always some dudes around practicing Mixing on some CDJs or performing to themselves in tiny rooms just to make sure they’re tight.

Maybe the biggest difference in terms of the party scene there is probably infrastructure and numbers. There are enough people going out in the city that no matter how small a percentage of the population a particular sub scene relates too it's still a large number of people supporting it. So big clubs could pack out to underground and weird DJs, and because it's fans in there they’ll dance till 7am when the club closes. I guess when you’re facing potential frostbite everytime you go to the club it means you’re dedicated to the cause.

Being honest though, its difficult to sum up an entire scene.

OKA: What’s trendy out there right now? Is it the "scramble" for Africa[n music] like some might think?

Mo: I heard a lot of deep tech and deep house while I was out there, and we all know South Africa are the secret (not so secret) kinds of deep house. I also did hear a lot of Nigerian pop, which was seriously refreshing. While I’m not sure what constitutes a scramble, there is a healthy and growing respect for music coming out of the continent. I think I saw the John Wizards LP in almost every store I went to.

OKA: What was the reception like to the South African sound, and what stood out most for you on your trip?

Mo: The great energy that our music was received with that side. Having been there I can see that there are a lot of South African artists who I think could own that side, but also a lot of growth our scene still has to experience. I’m really glad to have been able to gain all this perspective.

Image: Courtesy TIFF

Jenna Cato Bass is Capturing the Horrors of an Unhealed Nation

The film marks the South African director's third debut and stride towards making a name for herself in the international film circuit.

Ever since premiering her debut film, Love the One You Love, which won the Best Feature Film at the Jozi Festival in 2015, Jenna Cato Bass has been a name to watch on the international film festival circuit. Her 2017 feature, High Fantasy, was the first of her films to land on the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) lineup, followed by Flatland in 2019. Her latest offering, Mlungu Wam (Good Madam), debuted at TIFF in September of 2021 — marking her third time at the esteemed Canadian film event.

Often provocative, always thought-provoking, Bass' films have come to establish her as a director who looks at South Africa's youth, the lives they're living and the future that awaits them, with a nuanced, open-minded lens. For the first time in her career, Bass uses the genre of horror to dig into an enduring mark of the country's past — that of the fraught, complex relationship between madam and domestic worker, in Mlungu Wam (Good Madam). Set in Cape Town, the film follows the unusual, disturbing things that start happening when a young woman moves back in with her estranged mother, who is the longtime caretaker for a rich, white household.

Bass also co-wrote the film Tug of War (Vuta N'Kuvute), which became Tanzania's first film to be selected for TIFF this year, and she co-wrote Rafiki, which was Kenya's first film at TIFF in 2018.

She spoke to OkayAfrica about playing in a new genre and her hopes for African cinema.

Still from Bass's film Mlungu Wam Image: Courtesy TIFF

This story revolves around the relationship between a domestic worker and her 'madam.' What made you want to make a film about this subject?

When I make films, I like the concept to revolve around something that we all have in common - because, despite the many fractures in our society, these shared places exist. And in South Africa, we felt that everyone - in some way or another - has been deeply affected by domestic work and domestic workers, who are a keystone in our society's structure. Additionally, the 'maid' and 'madam' relationship is the ultimate symbol of race relations in South Africa - as well as how they haven't changed significantly, despite almost thirty years of democracy. So a domestic worker was the perfect character around which to centre a South African horror.

The genre of horror works really well to explore this subject and tell this story — when did you know it would be the genre you'd want to use?

The early stages of developing a film aren't always linear for me. I'll be thinking about a genre I'm interested in, and then parallel to that I'll have an idea for a story or a character, and later on, will realize that these pieces all fit together. In this case, I'd been wanting to make a horror film for ages, but hadn't found the right story… until I had the idea for Mlungu Wam, and I realized I was finally ready to try this genre.

What challenges did you face in making a horror?

It was my first time working in this genre, and it was intimidating because there's no saving you if you fail. We were also working on a very, very limited budget, so it wasn't possible to show as much as we'd like to - but then again, this story was all about the subjective and the unseen, so I did as much research and planning as we could, and just had to trust it would work.

Where did you film, and did that have any impact on the process at all?

We filmed in a house in Cape Town, in a gated community in the Southern Suburbs. The house and the environment had a major impact on the film - especially because we were also quarantining there for the full 7 weeks of rehearsal and shooting. The house was our set and our accommodation, so it was very intense, very claustrophobic, and very triggering for many of our team members.

How did you and co-writer Babalwa Baartman work on the story? You've included cast members in the writing process in your previous work — did you do that here too?

Mlungu Wam was made along similar lines to my first two films, Love The One You Love and High Fantasy, where we started with an outline, cast actors, then workshopped the characters collaboratively before completing the story breakdown and using improv for the dialogue. Babalwa and I had worked together using this method on a short film we made in 2019 called Sizohlala. She really understands the process, and it was a really rewarding experience exploring the story with her and our cast.

How did Kristina Ceyton, who produced the excellent acclaimed horrors The Babadook and The Nightingale, through Causeway Films, come to be involved in this film?

I had met Sam Jennings, who is also a producer with Causeway Films, several years ago at a festival. We really connected and kept in touch over the years, sharing our work, and hoping there'd be a chance to collaborate. So when we were developing Mlungu Wam, I pitched her and Kristina the concept and they were immediately supportive. It has been a massive pleasure working with them both.

Your films are known to venture into themes of identity and healing from the past — how does this film speak to that?

Mlungu Wam is definitely about this too - it's a story about three generations of women (actually four, if you include Tsidi's grandmother, who is an unseen character in the film), how they are haunted by the past and eventually refuse to remain chained any longer. Their healing is collective, linked to each other, and wouldn't be possible for them alone as individuals.

Still from Bass's film Mlungu Wam Image: Courtesy TIFF

You've been at TIFF before - how has your experience of it been this year, with it being a hybrid of virtual and in-person?

Things have been quieter and a bit harder to navigate, but the TIFF staff have done incredible work getting the festival off the ground, despite endless challenges. It has felt very surreal to be here, and a privilege - and inspiring too, that we can still get together to celebrate films, even though our world is in such a mess. We had over 200 (socially distanced) people at our last screening, and that was an amazing feeling.

Yours is one of few African films on this year's line-up - is there anything you'd like to see happen to try improve that?

Regarding African cinema, TIFF has a real range of films this year, across several sections. Compared to many other festivals, they seem really invested in supporting cinema from the continent. Of course, this could be better, but it's also an example to other festivals who claim there aren't enough African films, that this is clearly not the case.

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