Spoek Mathambo with Pegasus Warning: Toronto 07/16/12
Once in a while its possible to come across an artist new to you and, simply through connecting with just one track of theirs, be completely sure that the rest of their music is something you'd like to hear, and witness being performed live.
I felt this way earlier this year when I came across South Africa's Spoek Mathambo (real name: Nthato Mokgata) - a singer/songwriter and electronic music producer based in Jozie. It was in discovering his cover of Joy Division's 'Control' where I realized that Spoek's music is an accurate voice for modern South Africa. Before seeing him on stage, I had been listening to his Mshini Wam and Father Creeper albums (reviews to follow soon here on Globetronica) and trying to picture both how a live performance would go down as well as how a Canadian setting would affect the music.
The Drake Hotel in Toronto is a unique space for creating a platform for artists - both local and international, which is accessible and intimate. Its a boutique hotel with a few dining spaces and a performance space in the basement, which is where the show this past Monday took place. Taking advantage of hot summer weather on the rooftop terrace I was a little late to make it into the basement and intrigued by the moody crooning overlaying strong minimalist percussion wafting up the stairs as I descended them - it turns out that Pegasus Warning had taken to the stage just a few minutes before.
There were perhaps 30 people sitting and standing around the room completely entranced by Pegasus Warning's performance; his singing was a pleasant surprise to anyone unfamiliar with his own solo music it seems (he's Spoek's percussionist). With just a microphone, pre-recorded synthesized backing plus live percussion Pegasus Warning creating a rich atmosphere that was welcoming and emotive; which helped immediately develop a sense of community amongst the audience where at one point he turned off the music to a track and had us all clapping a beat and singing together with him.
After a short break Pegasus Warning took the stage again, this time to stay behind the percussion rig whilst Spoek Mathambo controlled electronic gear and sang - the both accompanied by his excellent guitarist Nicholas van Reenen. Its becoming increasingly normal these days for small groups to perform electronic music and when the majority of a performance relies on gadgetry, it can often be difficult to engage an audience - having heard Spoek's recordings before I was sure that the music alone would do the trick though and I turned out to be right.
Self-coined as 'Township Tech,' Spoek Mathambo's music is comprised of a myriad of genres, tempos, rhythms and so on - highly reliant on strong percussion layered from sequenced beats with live kit drumming - when performed live it seems there are elements which any audience member can connect with, and apparently dance to. Within seconds of the band commencing the crowd gathered in front of the stage and were dancing without formality - smiles were the facial expressions of the evening and it was clear that, though a small group of just about 100 people, everyone in the audience that night had a fantastic time.
From my experience its clear that Spoek Mathambo is a must-see act, and one which I think will always be evolving due to the dynamicism of his music - I'll especially recommend keeping an eye out for future shows that incorporate a larger stage presence (perhaps on the European festival circuit.)