The best electronic music happens between the genres. Sonic ships that pass in the night, rubbing up against each other, spawning whole new genres… Progress is made, new precedents are set.
Just ask Muzi. A young 20-something from the Empangeni township, north-east South Africa, Muzi is turbo charged by fusion and is on a mission to introduce the world to traditional African music through the medium of bass.
Growing up in the shadow of violence and robberies, his mum imposed a pretty harsh curfew to keep him out of trouble. It paid off… With the help of an old tower PC and cracked software, while under house arrest he developed a completely unique sound that rumbles with all the low-end bite and broken-beat edge of music we love at UKF but grounded with African drum rhythms, harmonies and scales.
With his debut album en route in September on his own label We The Bundu (via Sony in Africa and !K7 Records) we called him up to find out more…
The weather is pretty shitty! Sunny 10 minutes, cloudy 10 minutes. It’s crazy. I’ve managed to miss a whole summer… I moved from South Africa just before the summer started there and it was winter here. So I’ve waited almost a year for these clouds! But I love it here, I love the vibe, it’s very different to back home. There’s a creative culture here. People are trying to make things and do things all the time. It’s a great energy.
Been to any of the famous clubs?
Yeah… Prince Charles, Watergate, Monarch. The techno clubs are very different here. They’re so organized! It’s very different to back home; people come to socialize and party in such an organized environment.
How does that compare to clubs in townships?
Actually I’ve never played in a township. I started DJing when I moved to Johannesburg. People aren’t so reserved over there. They go wild and properly party. But here people nod their head for the whole set. You think they’re not enjoying themselves but then they come up and say it was the best thing ever afterwards. Very minimal and reserved. Very controlled fun.
Stiff upper lip…. The UK is the worst for that!
Yes, I heard that too. But when I played at Bestival all the people went pretty wild! Festivals are a bit more open though aren’t they? People were dancing around and getting involved. It was the Nandos stage so they were getting chicken too!
So let’s go back to your roots… You learnt music to keep out of trouble right?
That’s right. My brother was a rapper and I wanted to be like him. He was the hip-hop side of the family and my dad was the dance music side of the family, playing us things like Faithless. When I saw my brother rap I thought it would be great because it doesn’t cost anything to write rhymes and practice rapping. But my mum got us an old computer for us to work and learn on in the hope we’d stay off the streets. People were doing some fucked up shit in our township so she tried to do lots of things to preoccupy us and keep us indoors.
What type of fucked up shit?
Mugging, drugs, violence…. Like if someone took your phone but it wasn’t the phone they wanted they would stab or kill you. The crazy thing is townships are pretty peaceful but all it takes is a few bad people to really ruin that balance. They go to bigger towns and do robberies or whatever then when they’re back home and bored they start doing it here too. So my mum was like ‘okay, you’re not going out after 5pm’ and we had to stay indoors.
Big up your mum. What’s the first software you started using. Fruity Loops?
Of course! My brother’s friends gave me Acid and Fruity Loops. I found Fruity Loops more intuitive. I could hear the progress – you click and you hear it. So I stuck with that ever since. I wanted to make things to impressive my brother. I wanted to make beats for him and his friends to rap over.
But the electronic influence came from your dad…
Yeah he played so much electronic music and disco as I grew up. I had no idea about it at the time. You just hear it as a kid and take it for granted. Then when you get older you realise what you were being played and how that’s informed you. Through my dad’s influence I started digging and heard so much inspiring stuff like The Prodigy and Justice and Daft Punk. That’s why my music isn’t one genre, it’s just a vibe.
Your first releases were very western sounding but it seems like you’re gradually introducing more African elements…
Yes totally. Back home you see all this western stuff and you’re fooled into thinking that’s what you need to be to be successful. But really that guy is successful because he’s being himself. So, as the years go by, I’m becoming more confident in being me. And that me is a proud south African with a love for electronic music. My two worlds are merging. Now it’s African first and electronic music second.
Can we translate some titles? Ukusa…
You reap what you sow! Like when someone thinks they’re clever but end up fucking themselves over. Karma, basically!
The original of this got me a deal with Chrysalis BMG actually! It translates to ‘you’ll like this’. With the original I was just finding my feet with my African rhythms and working out ways to merge the two. The VIP I have on the album merged them even more.
This mean let go or relax. It’s saying that everything will be alright. I want a positive message. Electronic music is saturated with ass shaking and bullshit that doesn’t mean much. I want to talk about issues and feelings but in a smart way. So this means let go, you’ll be fine…
So on a wider perspective you have the We The Bundu label – I can see a movement and a collective happening here!
Yes, I want to help people now. I want to represent the new generation of African music that doesn’t get much attention from the western press or outlets. If I can help other artists who are doing similar things to me then that’s incredible. But also just to spread the word about African music. I mean I’m sitting here talking to UKF about it. That’s crazy! So to be able to talk to you about what is happening and to tell the world this is a privilege I can’t abuse. The album title Boom Shaka is a reference to my heritage too; Boom Shaka was a huge band over here who had a massive impression on most of us 90s kids. So dope. And that’s how it is… I’m inspired by music from home and inspired by western music, it’s a fusion I’ll continue developing and bringing to as many music fans’attention to as possible.
You have The Prodigy’s attention! How did that happen?
Yeah that’s fucking crazy, right? My manager John, is friends with them from back in the day. It was the first time I even saw a big band on that level live. Let alone meet them. But they’re normal guys – that was so nice about them. They gave me tips and made me believe in myself. They were real guys and made me think ‘okay I can make this happen’
Yes! They weren’t at all like big stars. Their egos were left on stage and they’re just like regular dudes. I’d love to sit down and just watch them in a studio session. Or maybe with Justice or Timbaland… Not collaborate, just sit and watch and soak it up the knowledge. Missy Elliot too. Do you know, I was crying when I saw Missy Elliot live at Bestival? It was spiritual for me, she’s been an influence forever so seeing her on stage was magical.
Any chance of seeing you on stage soon?
Well I’m doing a secret gig in Berlin on July 30 but I can’t really tell you much about that. But on the August 17 I’m playing at Soundcloud’s Global Summer of Music event in London. I’m here in Berlin for the foreseeable future because geographically, South Africa is at the bottom of the world. Below us is Antarctica. The UK is close, the rest of Europe is close. And we have lots of exciting plans. But first, the album…
Follow Muzi: Soundcloud / Facebook / Twitter
Muzi – Boom Shaka it out September 1: https://muzi1.lnk.to/BoomShaka