Available on: Out Here CD
The western hipster habit of magpieing over a new street genre every year is not always edifying; in particular, the tendency to drop it with alacrity once it becomes passé lends credence to accusations of cultural tourism. The past decade alone has seen funk carioca, soca, reggaeton and kuduro come and go from Dalston basements, all the while remaining staples of their places of origin. Like RICH PPL summering in WHRvZ, it’s always easy to see the initial attraction – and the same is true for this year’s suddenly ubiquitous global street sound, African house.
Its emergence into view feels completely in sync with the sounds currently emerging from the British post-garage diaspora of talents. Specifically, the development of UK funky house over the past few years has been a kind of Trojan horse for the sound, providing an entry point into its rhythms and textures at the precise moment when the flux of British dance music was most open to them. Afefe Iku’s xylophone-based ‘Mirror Dance’, for example, was a clear inspiration for Crazy Cousinz’ funky classic ‘Inflation’; while London DJs have been able to smoothly slot African house tracks such as Black Coffee and Bucie’s sultry ‘You Turn Me On’ into their sets. And it’s not just London: the past few years have found Berlin-based techno producers such as Henrik Schwarz and Ilario Alicante ramping up the overt, if often ersatz, African signifiers in their work.
Unlike funk carioca or kuduro, then – which were picked up and discarded wholesale – African house has informed and influenced British clubs, even as both look towards New York and Detroit as primary sources. Could this kind of Moebius loop of appropriation and recontextualisation have happened at any point in the past? More than ever, it seems that any given aesthetic sensibility is simultaneously able to cultivate strong, street-level, localised roots while also being fundamentally untethered, able to spread around the world and back with ease.
Serendipitously, all eyes are on South Africa in 2010 anyway – I hear there’s some sort of sporting event has been going on there for a while now? Thus, we have the release of the absolutely terrific Ayobaness! compilation, an all-killer-no-filler set that fulfils every quality of a good primer. What its 13 tracks mostly share is that thrusting, propulsive beat familiar to any UK funky listeners, that soca-esque gallop that makes you feel as though you’re rushing forwards, not just dancing on the spot. Over it, broken rhythms and joyously inventive electronic workouts decorate tracks like party streamers.
The way in which the producers showcased on Ayobaness! balance riotous messiness with irresistible sheen is particularly wonderful: carnival-esque chants are matched perfectly with airily gliding synths, buzzing quasi-electro and textures as pristine as any Detroit techno composition. It’s not hard to see why UK funky DJs have been so attracted to it: the equal premium based on ruffness and sophistication is the lynchpin of both genres. There’s a tremendous dancefloor sensibility at play here too. On Aero Manyelo’s ‘Mexican Girl’, a mechanical bassline underpins delicately building ecstatic synth stabs, but it’s the bass worm that writhes unexpectedly into new shapes midway through that sneaks up on you to provide the track’s best moment. Meanwhile, DJ Cleo’s ‘Nishi Njalo’ finds guest vocalist Bleksem riding an irresistible melody with gusto; the way in which the track keeps opening up and resolving is thrilling.
One of the most viscerally satisfying tracks on Ayobaness! is DJ Clock’s ‘Xavatha (Woza Chynaman)’, a mêlée of ingredients that all threaten to spiral out of control: a loose tribal rhythm, synth rushes coming out of nowhere, a cacophony of cut-up vocal tics and burrs and whistles gabbling in the background. DJ Clock, though, plays them like a game of chess, never allowing any to derail the track’s forward momentum. Best of all is DJ Sumthyn Black’s ‘Wena’: sonically, it’s one of the more understated tracks here, but this only mirrors the calm self-possession of vocalist Ntsiki Mazwai’s kiss-off to a no good ex-boyfriend. “You could say I’m angry; it’s just that I have dignity,” she asserts elegantly, before delivering the coup de grace: “And it’s especially this epiphany that you were never worthy of me that gets me through this gracefully.”
Ayobaness!, needless to say, barely scratches the surface of African house; how could it? After all, a primer’s remit is to seduce but not satisfy – it’s a doorway, not the mansion. So step through it.