Keleketla! started as a musical meeting ground between Ninja Tune cofounders Coldcut and a cadre of South African musicians (introduced by the charity In Place Of War), including the raw, South African-accented jazz styles of Sibusile Xaba, and rapper Yugen Blakrok (Black Panther OST). From those initial sessions, the record grew to encompass a wider web of musical luminaries, including Afrobeat architects Tony Allen and Dele Sosimi, legendary L.A. spoken word pioneers The Watts Prophets, and West Papuan activist Benny Wenda.
The final product is a future-facing assemblage of influences, drawing connections between different points in a jazz-tipped, soulfully-minded spectrum; it builds outwards, from the solid musical foundations of those first sessions, featuring the likes of Thabang Tabane, esteemed percussionist and son of the legendary Phillip Tabane. On the one hand, there are gqom beats, interlaced with activist chants and live Afrobeat drums; on the other, there are warm, lyrical meditations, aided by horns and keys.
The main sessions took place at Soweto’s Trackside Studios, where they started a set of songs and settled down to rehearse and record them. Upon returning to the UK, Black and More sought out extra collaborators, setting up sessions with musicians who could expand and re-imagine the album’s horizons. In many cases, this meant building on the sessions in Soweto, such as in Crystallise, where Tamar Osborn’s sax parts were added to the lyrics that Yugen Blakrok laid down in Trackside. In other cases, they led to new tracks altogether, such as Freedom Groove, which came out of an off-the-cuff jam between Tony Allen and Matt Black; Allen’s drum part was taken to build a new track, overlaid with fat, battle-cry brass from Antibalas, and a powerful call to freedom from The Watts Prophets in L.A.
Music and politics is a recurring theme on the record, most notably on Future Toyi Toyi, recorded in Khayelitsha, which features a recording Black and More made of hip-hop activists Soundz of the South, singing a revolutionary chant, referenced in the title, combined with – amongst other elements – a gqom track by Durban producer DJ Mabheko for the single version. Their creation was partly inspired by their experiences with the Keleketla! Library, who held a party during their stay. At the party, they saw the library’s co-founder Hlasane mix a recording of a student chant into a fiery, uptempo moment in his set, sending the crowd into a frenzy. It was a moment where they were reminded of how closely entwined politics and music can be. “It was almost a religious experience,” recalls Black, “to see the effect music could have in galvanising the audience like this.”
Likewise, Papua Merdeka centres around a political invocation. Led by Benny Wenda, it’s a call for freedom for the nation of West Papua from Indonesia, which Wenda fled in 2004 after being persecuted by the Indonesian military. He now leads a campaign from his home in Oxford, where the vocals for the track were recorded. Tony Allen, the rhythm behind Fela Kuti’s Afrobeat revolution, recorded the drums, along with Miles James, a guitarist who’s played with Michael Kiwanuka and Yussef Dayes, and who – as the son of an old family friend – featured in a Coldcut video when he was just a year old.
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