Pantsula! Groove an exclusive new/old jam from South Africa’s late-80s electronic dance scene on forthcoming Rush Hour compilation

Pantsula! Groove an exclusive new/old jam from South Africa's late-80s electronic dance scene on forthcoming Rush Hour compilation
Pantsula! (Pants: optional)

While Soundway, Strut, Mississippi, and other Africa-minded labels have rightly focused on highlighting the continent’s stacked cache of undiscovered funk, rock, soul, and folk jams, they have given Africa’s early electronic dance scenes the relative shaft. It’s a void that Amsterdam’s Rush Hour Records happily and successfully fills with the new compilation Pantsula! The Rise Of Electronic Dance Music In South Africa, 1988​-​90, out December 4.

This is exuberant music, with aesthetic choices that sometimes seem straight out of a Kane West record, 16-bit and sunny and full of plasticky character, but with a sincerity obviously out-of-step with the current revival of these old programmed sounds.

Though we’re approaching the height of winter, this is clearly the right moment to re-introduce these songs to the listening public. If the world is at some kind of turning point — toward a new beginning or toward utter implosion — this is the right kind of music to get us through. A peek at the Bandcamp page where you can pre-order the record reveals Dan Snaith (Caribou, Daphni) as an early purchaser; so if you don’t dig into this now, you’ll forever regret not being able to play the “I was cool before it was cool!” card next time you’re vibing to one of his live sets and one of these tracks comes on.

Tiny Mix Tapes is happy to premiere “Sorry Bra” by Ayobayo Band below. It’s largely indicative of the record’s aesthetic, and without a proper lead vocal, presents ample opportunity to focus on the production, this record’s true takeaway.

Stream it below and check out the full album tracklisting, followed by a short interview with DJ Okapi, who put this thing together with Rush Hour’s Antal.

Pantsula! tracklisting:

01. The Equals - New Lover
02. Jazino - Ushelakanjani
03. Jivaro - What Next (dub mix)
04. S.Y.B - Jika Magogo
05. Scotch Band - Watsotasama
06. Kakappa - Sisonke
07. Spirro - Ma Hero (Dub Mix)
08. The Hard Workers - Ayoba-yo
09. Ayobayo Band - Sorry Bra
10. Rush feat. Linda Ziqubu - Sobohla Manyosi
11. Chaka - Via Tembisa
12. La Viva - Go Siami

What’s the story behind these musicians? Were they veterans of longstanding scenes that branched into new genres, or were they new musicians coming to music through new avenues?

DJ Okapi: The musicians featured on this compilation were part of a new scene that emerged in the late 80s. Most were young and had very short careers. Many would’ve come from smaller towns in South Africa to Johannesburg to record. The producers themselves would’ve been around for longer (guys like Danny Mokoka, Tom Mkhize and Enoch Ndlela) and played a central role in this type of music, as it was largely electronic. In my opinion the producers are key to this music, more than the artists themselves. Pantsula was a new scene that burned bright for a few years, then largely disappeared in the early 90s with the rise of kwaito and the dawn of democracy and a new social order in South Africa. Since then Pantsula lives on largely in dance and fashion, rather than a specific sound.

What was the process of compiling these tracks like? Was it easy to find everyone and procure rights? Have these songs ever seen the light of day in the USA? Do you have any particularly interesting stories you could share about the process of interacting with these folks? Anyone gone full Onyeabor and disavowed the music entirely?

DJ Okapi: These tracks all come from a single independent label that was particularly innovative and influential within the so-called ‘pantsula’ scene. That label was called Music Team. For this reason the tracks were relatively easy to license as they all came from the same guy. These songs have certainly never been released in the USA, although I have sold a few albums to the people in the USA and Canada, as have other sellers like La Casa Tropical and Invisible City. The artists themselves have mostly passed on or disappeared, so in this case my only contact has been with the label/publisher and producers of the music — I’ve worked very closely with them over the past few years on this and other releases. It’s been an interesting process to convince them that this music still has an audience overseas. Most of it hardly sold at all in South African when it was originally released, so you can imagine their surprise that 30 years later people in other parts of the world are finally giving it the recognition it deserves.

Anything you can say about the sociopolitical context in which these tracks were made?

South Africans during the 80s were obviously living under a brutal regime in which many many people lost their lives, were imprisoned, tortured, forced into exile etc. The state controlled the radio, and music with an overtly political message would’ve been banned or censored, making it difficult for musicians to make a living - although during the late 80s censorship fell away as apartheid began to collapse. Not all South African music is optimistic, but certainly dance music has long been an important part of SA music, particularly in the 80s when new technology was embraced in the form of synthesizers and drum machines. For ordinary South Africans at the time, music was one of the few sources of entertainment and escape from the daily horrors of living under apartheid. Nightclubs in urban centres like Johannesburg were one of the few places where people of all races could interact freely. The music industry at the time was also one of the few areas where black and white were able to collaborate as equals. As most political leaders were banned or imprisoned at the time, musicians took on the role not only of entertainers but also of political messengers and educators, so often lyrical messages would address social issues such as poverty, as well as promote a message of tolerance and understanding between different people, which as the time was antithetical to government policy and propaganda. Other songs are simply about partying and trying to find some small pleasure out of an otherwise quite dire existence at the time. As in other parts of the world, it was during a time of intense political and social repression that some of the best music and art was made.

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