Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Spoek Mathambo

  • Nombolo One [Motel11 download, 2011] **
  • Father Creeper [Sub Pop, 2012] A
  • Escape From '85 [free download, 2013] B+

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Nombolo One [Motel11 download, 2011]
As much tributes as covers, "township tech" remakes of 40 years of South African hits ("Jacknife," "Melodi") **

Father Creeper [Sub Pop, 2012]
Although I slotted this Soweto-raised 27-year-old's 2010 Mshini Wam as promising kwaito electro, I never imagined it promised a hip-hop record so dark it reveals his labelmate Shabazz Palaces for the arty pothead we can assume he is. Contra the nervous crits who claim to hear a "palpable feeling of hope" or "summery highlife melodies" (highlife, eh? I've heard of that--African, right?), even the sweet opener about the sexual maturation of a guy who was feeling it before his pubes came in ends ominously. After that come evocations of oppression only more brutal because they're sometimes dissociated--blood diamonds, why we hate our crap jobs, the deadening surrender of the tricking American hip-hop makes light of. The music suits because it's also dissociated--beaty enough to keep your foot tapping and your subconscious involved, but devoid of the escapist joy that is the miracle of so much Afropop produced from equally horrendous daily struggles. A

Escape From '85 [free download, 2013]
Insofar as I even know what these remixed hits from the year of Mathambo's Soweto birth are--"Like a Virgin," got it; "Centipede," don't tell me you forgot Rebbie Jackson; "Shikisha," must be Cape Town's Razz Brothers; "We Can Dance," search me; "Future," ditto--the resemblance is minimal, often based on some beat element DJs notice so we don't have to. All are transformed into rap-disco lite that bears Mathambo's Afropop-futurist stamp no matter who his collaborators. So airy it's perfect when you need a lift. Also so airy it threatens to float away altogether. B+