Around the end of 2013, Spoek Mathambo gathered four South African musicians to form something of a local supergroup, dubbed ‘Fantasma.’ From the social and cultural nooks of Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town came prolific Bacardi House producer DJ Spoko, drummer Michael Buchanan, multi-instrumentalist Bhekisenzo Cele and former Machineri guitarist, André Geldenhuys. At the time, Mathambo had already established a presence as inimitable as his music. Having fused punk’s potency with the sass of South African hiphop and electronica to form something that became known as ‘Township Tech’, he exported his product to the UK and Europe under auspices of the Sub-pop label.
But the musical alchemist was clearly looking for some collective output, and Eye of the Sun is the first creation born from Fantasma’s combined magic. On its surface, the five-track EP is a cross-sectional soundscape comprised of shangaan electro, Western Cape rock n’ roll and Zulu maskandi music. Not only is this amalgamation of influences intriguing in itself, but Fantasma sports a cultural significance that can’t be ignored. Their efforts are one of the first authentic (and unequivocally non-exploitative) syntheses of South Africa’s myriad musical palate — and that’s just at surface level. Experiencing Eye of the Sun from beginning to end is like speeding around South Africa’s National Roads like a ring circuit — from Cape Town, through Bloemfontein, to Johannesburg, and then from Ladysmith to Durban, through East London and back again — in all of 25 minutes, with your ear of the window listening to the psychedelic swish of rasping guitar lines, rambling house beats and multilingual wailings as you pass through.
“We always see Eye of the Sun as our mission statement, a place where all our different backgrounds explode into each other”, explained Mathambo in an interview. And the group’s aesthetic is exactly that: a sundry explosion. Sure, with diversity comes its ugly underbelly in conflict, inharmony and pastiche. And at times Eye of the Sun boarders dangerously on being a forceful mismatch of ill-suited sounds, with the instrumental ‘Fafi’ being case in point. But Fantasma’s five members are gurus of their own trade, and whereas more novice attempts would be an unlistenable mess, the weakest moments in Eye of the Sun are at worst zealously convoluted. Far more noteworthy are the album’s seamless moments of unison — the chorus in ‘Shangrila’ when Moonchild’s saccharine vocals play alongside the frenzied duet between Cele’s maskandi string melodies and Geldenhuys’ overdrive pedals, and where Mathambo’s spirited lyrics flow effortlessly into the heavy beat supplied by Jumping Black Sash half a minute into ‘Eye of the Sun.’ This nonpareil musical chemistry reaches its highpoint on ‘Safety Belt’, as DJ Spoko’s cheeky Bacardi house synths and Machineri-esque harmonic tapping are brought together by the resonating croons of vocal collaborator, JOSIAHWISE IS THE SERPANTWITHFEET.
Fantasma have a full-length album brewing, and this depicts Eye of the Sun not only as progressive musical experiment carried out with the frenetic energy of five musical savants, but also blueprint for a more enlightened state of being, a cohesive blend of South African sounds that gives as much as it takes and is forward-looking as opposed to retrospective. And this is exactly what Fantasma know themselves to be: the future sound of Mzansi.