Trying to describe The Brother Moves On (TBMO) to someone who hasn’t seen a live performance or at least heard their music is a challenging feat to say the least. As a music critic you’d think it would flow relatively easily, yet to try and distil the complex intricacies of the band into a couple of bland and innocuous generalisations seem not only impossible but also unfitting. To put it plainly, The Brother Moves On represent possibly one of the most important young South African perspectives we’ve yet to hear. Their work, part musical and part performance art, confronts and soothes at the same time, never fearing the political dimensions, with a message that encourages political consciousness and authenticity. The Brother Moves On is the most important band in this country.
A New Myth has also been blessed/cursed with an accident of (im)perfect timing. Released on the 5th of December, it coincides with the death of Nelson Mandela. A poignant but nonetheless crucial intersection, as part of the bands’ message centres around the foggy euphoric rose-tinted lenses that the rainbow nation represents, the myth that exists arguably for many South African’s who’ve yet to reap the rewards of our new democracy. While the myth has been diluted somewhat over the past few years, the need for a new distraction could not have been more apparent than in the last week’s political rollercoaster – Nkandlagate, E-tolls etc. – of which Mandela’s death has offered some respite for all parties concerned. However, with the passing of founding member Nkululeko Mthembu (lead singer Siyabonga Mthembu’s brother) one can’t ignore the equally personal significance of A New Myth.
In conversation with Africa is a Country Siya had this to say about the album:
“…it’s for a group of people who need to know this happened, and that group of people needs a new myth. The space we find ourselves in the world, in our country, in our very lives — it’s a very difficult one. We need a new myth, our old ones are lies to us now, and we know it, it’s obvious.”
The album opens on a sombre tone with both ‘Everything will be Okay’ and ‘The Mourning After’. The first is only 30 seconds long and has Siya singing that things are going to be all right, the elders have arrived. This short preface offers the perfect introduction to not only the album but also to ‘The Mourning After’. This mostly instrumental is one which is a “celebration of life and death”. Beginning with a solitary guitar, another joins in to form an ethereal harmony and is something quite transcendent.
After that however, the fourth track, ‘Sikelela’, starts with Siya whispering ‘vuka sizwe’ (wake up and listen) and offering an ominous blessing for what’s to come. ‘Zwagitation’ is an instrumental which is a departure from the gentle introduction. With a frenetic drum line, the bass and guitar jostle for space and then Siya’s chants begin only to be joined by the others in a cathartic chest-buster of a war cry.
Perhaps the album standout is ‘Party@ParktownMansions’. The lyrics are a fantastic parody of comfy suburban “soul agents on a mission to save the planet”. Still, it’s always difficult to call out what might seem like a prominent moment with anything TBMO do. While certain inferences can be assumed to be intentional on their part, they revel in duplicity, evident in an apparent critique of (white) middle class racial politics with lines like “Pink people happy brown things do happen” only to have it turned around a few lines later: “Brown people happy pink things do happen”. Such is but one example of the lyrical wizardry of the track. The overall theme appears to be a call to consciousness, for one to believe in revolution and evolution and not this party – which meaning you choose to assign to that last word I’ll leave for you to decide.
But what is more, the music is equally as complex and challenging. Guitar strokes are awash in a warm haze and a sample of the word “party” which at times could be mistaken for the word “money”. The acid jazz explosions continue on ‘Amagugu’ (The Troubles). The track is a visceral concoction of what sounds like the musical interpretation of agitation. TBMO refuse to let any of their tracks settle into traditional song structures. The recordings retain their live feel and are better for it. The interspersing of skits and sharp interjections of dogs barking, whispers and shouts remind you though that this is an experience that is as good as seeing them live.
Seven minute long interlude, ‘These Bones Will Rise’ is more flexing in the musical department, but in a fine restrained way. Noodling of guitars with a simple bassline offer a contemplative moment or two to absorb. This is an intelligent decision and part of what make this band and their message so effective. They completely understand that while you can get in people’s faces and call them out on their shit, whatever it may be, it never at any moment on this album feels as if they’re preaching. It considers the role of the listener, knowing that if one starts force-feeding, the effectiveness is lost.
The chorus of ‘Jocksauce’ continues where ‘Amagugu’ and ‘Party…’ leave off. The chorus is a moment where the tongue is placed firmly in cheek and goes “I’m talking about that jocksauce I got those downstairs/ And I’m feeling that intercourse/ And it’s got to be male of course”.
‘Hossanna’ is a display of Siya’s astonishing voice. Heartbreaking and tender, his emotion is palpable, especially singing lines such as “Instuku zovuyo / Aziseko emhlabeni” (The days of joy are no longer present on this earth) and “Sikuhlule Sikulule Nkosi eyoxolo” (release us god of peace).
A New Myth is perhaps one of the most complete albums you’ll ever have the privilege of listening to. They are a band who are grasping with the intricacies and delicacies of our new country. They do so though while remaining grounded. A few years ago, TBMO performed at Rocking the Daisies. Needless to say the show was fantastic and left much of the crowd dumfounded. During the show, there was a white dude prancing around with a TV antenna on his head. Asked what it was all about, whether it was a snide remark on the disillusioned white middle class, they said with smiles from ear to ear, no, it’s just all about the vibes.
TBMO are the ones asking the right questions, challenging apathy, encouraging thought, progress, transformation and conversation. What a tribute to a fallen band mate and brother. He has moved on but his legacy lives with us.
Positive Energy Activates Constant Elevation Peace.
Buy/listen to the album here: