Borderless as a Multinational Corporation
Sup Pop's Spoek Mathambo and the Evolution of Blending Everything with Everything
Nothing gives me more pleasure than when one part of our cultural galaxy corresponds with another.
The pleasure is all the more intense when the correspondence is between two distant and seemingly unrelated practices. When this happens, it's like two vastly separated stars synchronously twinkling in the sky. That feeling is exactly the one I had upon spotting a correspondence between something I read in Christopher Wills's 1998 book Children of Prometheus: The Accelerating Pace of Human Evolution and the music on Spoek Mathambo's second album, Father Creeper.
Wills is a biologist who has written several books and runs a lab at UC San Diego that examines "a broad range of evolutionary questions, including the evolution of sex and recombination, the evolution of microsatellites in lower organisms, microevolutionary events that take place in the course of infection in the genomes of pathogens..." according to his website.
Mathambo is a young musical wizard from the city of gold, Johannesburg, South Africa, who is developing a type of music he calls "township tech." Mathambo's first album, Mshini Wam ("bring me my machine"), contains a cover of Joy Division's "She's Lost Control," the video of which introduced me to his surreal world and his new album, Father Creeper, which will be released on March 13 by Sub Pop, a label that's making a surprisingly big investment in the Afrofuturist branch of hiphop music (see also: Shabazz Palaces, THEESatisfaction).
And now the correspondence between Children of Prometheus and Father Creeper. While reading the third chapter of the book, I came across a statement about evolution that completely confused me. Wills argues that as intermixing among humans increases—as blacks mix with whites, whites with Asians, Asians with blacks—there will be more genetic diversity. Meaning, the blending of genes that were isolated in and shaped by different environments will not create a new and homogeneous race, but will accelerate human heterogeneity. I honestly did not know how this was possible. I'd previously believed that the more humans eat globalized foods (McDonald's), drink globalized beverages (Coca-Cola), and sleep in globalized spaces (Holiday Inn), the more they will be similar.
My confusion cleared when I listened to Father Creeper, an album that's a zoo of sounds and genres. As the world globalizes, as cities begin to look just like other cities, as Johannesburg's skyline looks more and more like Seattle's skyline (modernist towers that express borderless corporate power and investments), we would expect a musician like Mathambo (an African who has access to all the current communication technologies, recording software, and production programs/values) to sound like any other musician in any other global city. But this is not what has happened. Father Creeper instead overflows with innovations; no track closely resembles any of the others, each blends its forms (rock, punk, hiphop, blues, dancehall) with another form (techno, house, township jive, new wave, soul, kwaito) to create something that's specific to it. Mathambo is a global producer, but his music is not a homogeneous global sound, like those homogeneous corporate towers. Wills might be correct: The more we mix things, the more novelty there will be.
Father Creeper, however, does experiment with rock in a way that the first album, Mshini Wam, doesn't. In fact, Mshini Wam has a track that's unquestionably rap, "Out the Box," and Father Creeper has a track that's unquestionably rock, "Let Them Talk." The closest Mshini gets to rock is the house/dubstep cover of "She's Lost Control," and the closest Father Creeper gets to full-blown hiphop is "Skorokoro (Walking Away)," a track that blends South African hiphop (called kwaito) with '80s new wave, soul, and '90s techno—the guest rapper on "Skorokoro," Okmalumkoolkat, is amazing. My favorite track on the album, "Put Some Red on It," blends R&B styles with triphop beats and dub effects.
All this means is the center of gravity has shifted from house to rock. Father Creeper, like the album before it, knows no boundaries. It is as borderless as a multinational corporation.