Released in 2019 on Mushroom Hour Half Hour Records
Recorded May 17, 2015
“There is a heightened and sustained sense of intuition running through this recording whose sonic palette is so wide it captures – through soundscaping, invocation, lament, impressionistic vocal weaving – not only the transient and hybridised nature of life in Johannesburg, but also the heaviness of the air at the time of its recording. More ambient, controlled swirl of rhythm and experimental mixing than incessant groove, the album is an outpouring of a range of expressions that exist between the supposed binaries of indigenous forms of music and the electronic experimentation Johannesburg is known globally for. Between percussionist Gontse Makhene on the bottom end of the scale, and sound sculptor Joao Orrechia on the nebulous end of it, vocalists Nosisi Ngakane and Siya Makuzeni (who also plays trombone) marshal a vocal experiment that is as tense as it is playful. From their respective posts, bass player Ariel Zarmonsky and string wizard Waldo Alexander stitch, stretch and add body to the various strands of sound being created.
There is an intelligence to the vocal sculpting that gives structure and coherence to the music, creating a sonic monolith that honours various aspects of South African life, including divination, burial rites, as well as the precariousness of a simple trip to the cornerstone. The interlude Tigerbalm noBuhlebakho, for instance, relays the sometimes charged atmosphere of a trip to the spaza, one laced with catcalling indicative of the war over womens’ bodies. While this can end in violence and, in some cases, death, ultimately this album seems to point to the liberating feeling of levitating above it all.
At times opaque, and at others direct, SPAZA is always unyielding and propulsive. This could be the sound of the city turned inside out, ruminating on its troubled history and ever morphing present. There are pensive and celebratory streaks crisscrossing the album, not to
mention a vulnerability that is in keeping with the spontaneous ethos of Mushroom Hour Half Hour. The results, shaped in the Pan African milieu that is Johannesburg, is a freewheeling representation of continental astral travel.”