Future Sound of Mzansi is a powerful new documentary about electronic music in SA
Words: Dylan Muhlenberg | Illustration: Nichole Enslin
Lebogang Rasethaba is the dude. After an undergrad at UCT and a short, yet Loerie’d, stint in advertising, he then spent five years in Beijing completing his Master's in film. Wanting to be part of the creative black-led revolution, the prodigal son returned home. Here, he set up Arcade Content, a division of Egg Films, and made a dent in the scene here mainly specialising in brand films – Nike, adidas, Red Bull – and music videos like 'Nice Shandees' and 'Mswenkofontein'.
Lebo’s also got two highly acclaimed feature-length documentaries on his showreel, Future Sound of Msanzi, and Prisoner 46764: The Untold Legacy of Andrew Mlangeni.
Because we haven’t had the opportunity to watch the Andrew Mlangeni doccie yet, we’ve only chatted about the one Lebo directed with longtime friend Nthato Mokgata, aka Spoek Mathambo. It's a film that unpacks South Africa’s rich electronic music landscape and celebrates what’s good in South Africa. Future Sound of Msanzi is a necessary counter-narrative to the representations we’re usually subjected to, and is a not-before-seen portrayal of the local electronic music scene that’s as informative as it is entertaining, exploring the past, present and future, and myriad sub-genres. That big base booming out of a taxi could be anything from Gqom to glitch hop, shangaan electro to township tech. Never heard of Gqom? You’re in good company, but having watched the doccie we now know our doef-doef from our untz-untz and finally know the name of that bwaaap… bwa-bwa… bwa-bwa… bwaaaaaaap sound.
The film is presented through the eyes of Spoek, a man who, if you ever listened to his HIVIP mixes, has made the visual equivalent of those rich sonic soundscapes. Resonating beyond just music, it tells the story of the people who have helped shape electronic music, artists nationwide including: Aero Manyelo, Big Fkn Gun, Black Coffee, Christian Tiger School, Culoe De Song, Duncan Ringrose, DJ Mastercash, DJ Rocksilver, Jakob Snake, Jumping Back Slash, Mash.0, Richard The Third, Ruffest, Felix Laband, John Wizards, Krushed & Sorted, Machepies, Markus Wormstorm, Mix & Blend, DJ Mujava, Naked Boys, Nozinja, Okmalumkoolkat, Panyaza, Rude Boyz, Sibot, DJ Spoko, Yolanda Xashi and Zaki Ibrhaim. Phew!
What was the catalyst that made you think, ‘I want to do that one day!’
My parents are both highly and very traditionally educated and a bit old-school. They never got me because they weren’t really exposed much to art and filmmaking when they were growing up. I made a film about xenophobia 10 years ago; my parents loved it and finally began to understand what I was trying to do. That was kinda a big deal for me.
Why did you choose to do your masters in Beijing and what did being a stranger in a strange land do for your creativity?
China offered me a different system of understanding and organising information, so that humbled me a lot. I became one of millions, just a number, anonymous. So it became less about me and more about my surroundings. The voice in my work changed and became less self-centered.
Why is it so important for storytellers to tell the stories of voiceless, marginalised people?
There are two kinds of people in this world: people who give a shit and people who don’t. I really give a shit. And that’s because at many instances throughout life I am one of the voiceless and marginalised. How many young black filmmakers are being heard today? I can count them on my fingers. So it’s not about storytellers being heroes and telling the stories of voiceless and marginalised, it’s more about the voiceless and marginalised telling their own stories; that’s the point here.
Yourself and Spoek have been friends for a while. Is it easier or more difficult when working with a friend?
It’s very easy, there is no ego. We are always talking about the work – there are no subtexts when we communicate, everything is frank and objectively serving the betterment of the work. We are able to push each other a lot because all the communication is coming from a solid place, sans drama, sans bullshit.
What did each of you bring to the project and why is it stronger because of the collaboration?
He is a multi-faceted artist who has a very deep understanding of the global music scene. I am a filmmaker who knows a lot about film from a very unique Afro-Sino perspective. We have a lot of context on how amazing things are here at home from travelling a lot and having lived all over. But I guess what’s more important is that we cease to be those things when we are combined – like Power Rangers we become something else. He isn’t just a musician and I’m not just a filmmaker.
You spent two years making this, were there any incidents where you almost packed it all in?
We finished the interviews relatively soon after starting shooting, it was the editing that was a bitch. That took for-f***en-ever. We learnt a big lesson: don’t work with people who don’t see your creative vision. But giving up was never an option.
Ultimately it’s a pretty feel-good and uplifting story. My takeaway was that there’s so much more happening in South African music than we know about and despite everything we are a pretty happy nation that just wants to dance. Nail on the head, or just, like, my opinion, man?
That’s, just, like, your, opinion, man… I think we are more than just a happy nation that wants to dance. The film is more about a young, resourceful, enterprising, multi-cultural South African mindset.
It’s also cool to watch something about South Africa that isn’t all AIDS, Apartheid or some sort of Carte Blanche/Special Assignment/3rd Degree downer... Is that something you’d like to focus on - telling positive stories?
I don’t get people who are out to tell f***ed-up stories about where they are from. That’s the dumbest thing ever, why would you do that? Why would you go out of your way to make the place you come from look like hell? We are surrounded by idiots, man.
Is it true that there’s a second Future Sounds of Mzansi film in the pipeline?
What would you want to cover that the first one didn’t?
A big story. Less coverage of a scene and deal more directly with real life.
The film seemed to be everywhere, on Vice’s new platform, Thump, on the Mzansi Magic channel, at film festivals… How important is it to get this out via as many platforms as possible?
The film has launched a lot of the featured musicians careers into the next phase of their music journey; it's important to get the musicians stories out there.
Spending so much time with so many DJs, producers and musicians means that you're probably on The List for the rest of your life. What other benefits are there to making this movie?
Mujava is releasing music again. And I am going to make a music video for that song. Those two sentences independently are a big deal.
For me there were two standout scenes: getting someone as shy as Felix Laband to open up about his drug use and Mujava talking about being admitted to Weskoppies. Do you believe in the theory of the tortured artist?
Not as a general rule, no. There are lots of other musicians who we feature in the film that aren’t tortured but are as equally artistic. Markus lives with his wife and cat in the leafy suburbs and throws album launches in abandoned mansions. Mujava is a very unique story and in a lot of ways so is Felix.
Also, I’d really like to see these guys in their own feature-length documentaries. Do you think you’ll do anything like this, go deeper into one particular aspect from the film?
That’s what part II is about, less fluff and more depth.
What would you like your doccie to do for the artists featured in it, the SA music scene and the viewer?
Like I said, it’s already propelled some of the musicians' journeys into the next orbit path. It’s important for the global music community to know who exactly is behind the proliferation of the Mzansi music scene. But for South Africans we should generally be embarrassed that we need/wait for our music and our musicians to receive global praise first before we can celebrate it. What is that?
Ruffest talk about white clubs, black clubs and coloured clubs. Do you think that electronic music has the power to cross over where other genres can’t?
Is that what Ruffest said? Let's go with their answer. I honestly don’t know. I think that perception is there, but in reality I cant say.
How would you describe your dance style?
Like what you just read? Watch The Future Sound of Mzansi here.
Part one introduces the new sounds coming out of the townships and urban areas, highlighting the different sounds from these regions:
Part two is about race and authenticity in South African electronic music and apartheid’s long shadow:
Part three is about the parties coming out of the country’s townships, and fills us in on what happened to DJ Mujava, the producer behind 'Township Funk':