Ignore the tomfoolery that surrounds the name of Mohato Lekena’s electronic project, Wildebeats. There is, in fact, nothing at all jocular about this rising star in the increasingly cultivated Cape Town electronic scene. Following a feature in the Mail & Guardian as one of 200 Top Young South Africans to look out for in 2014, and jetting off to London earlier this year as part of winning a trip to play at the Roundhouse, he is cruising upwards at a furious pace with no signs of slowing down. On his latest Race Constructions EP, Lekena has weaved together a particularly vibrant array of personalities into a mere 21 minutes, presenting an EP that’s more of a digitally constructed art studio than anything else. Brushes at sonic exploration and the occasional mistaken venture all provide the energy and inspiration for the moments of brilliance that prosper throughout.
In saying this, Race Constructions ultimately showcases Lekena as a fearless and notable electronic producer and hip hop connoisseur. On the whole, elasticity, intrigue, and distinction permeate the tracks, which one can only assume is as a result of his work as a computer scientist who is particularly interested and involved in making music software. Everything about these songs feels rendered from a deeper source and from a greater vision, elevated and honed to fruition with style and confidence. And even the few underwhelming moments are brimming in promise and are capable of being somewhat overlooked as endearing and excitable forays veering slightly off course.
Referencing Ryoji Ikeda in a track-by-track breakdown of the EP featured on okayafrica, Lekena spoke about the futility of him guiding the listener’s experience, as this would essentially prohibit them from exploring the multiplicity of meanings and sounds present on the EP. For Lekena, the thought of being tied down to a single genre or meaning means any possibility of progression is severely undermined, which is why Race Constructions sounds more like an array of captured moods than a collection of songs falling under a certain style.
The first track of the EP, ‘Sexy Gel (Fever)’ introduces us to the pulsating frenzy of modulating synths and beats that gradually spirals down into a hypnotic tribal-inspired house track. The allure is enhanced by the repeated whispers of “You come from the continent, the dark, dark continent”, which he has said is a reference to the ethical debate of whether it’s “okay to use people from certain ethnical backgrounds as props in your art or your videos….but not really to engage with their culture or issues.” Considering it as a song about fetishisation, the delirious rhythmic constructions could not be more apt. However, it struggles to maintain intrigue through repetition.
Despite a change of tone on ‘E.T. Cartman’ featuring rhymes by Gnarly Parker, it is, as Lekena has said, the “most straightforward track on the EP.” Stylistically, yes. But straightforward is a subjective term, and when Lekena explains it as “just arrogant brag raps going over what sounds like alien space lasers shooting during a cosmic conflict in a club on mars”, it puts into perspective just how off-the-wall Lekena is capable of going. Take, for instance, the mesmerizing and standout track on the EP, ‘Dikeledi Drums’, which stands solo as a rapturous, complex, and astral improvised adventure in the right direction – the one which is so beyond the norm that with each passing second, you’re interacting with a new feeling and sound. This is the track that feels pure, deft and powerful in its scope. The spindly synths feel organic in their motions, leaving the rest of the EP to flounder slightly in its wake.
However, ‘Cape Ether’ doesn’t fall short on this blissful experimentation, bringing to mind such collaborations as Clams Casino x A$AP Rocky. Sweeping synths swell with the beats and clicks punctuating this blanket of sound, while pitched down rhymes dart throughout the song. In the okayafrica feature he mentions how this track was a “study in restraint, in delaying the satisfaction of a ‘drop'”, and also how he used it as a palette to work on his intuitive arrangements. It’s undeniably an incredibly strong track and one of his brightest moments as a producer, showcasing, again, his immense and natural talent for combining sounds and creating feelings. The final and title track of the EP, ‘Race Constructions’, ends with Lekena appropriating a local style as a way of engaging with these feelings and sounds he knows on a more intimate level. It’s percussive-heavy in the production and the additional vocals of Robin Brink (drummer for Beatenberg and the man behind Ox++ and Zenzanon) talking about trying to fit into the local house scene adds an interesting dimension, but it still falls far from the dreamy experimentalism of ‘Dikeledi Drums’ and ‘Cape Ether’.
In a final note in the okayafrica feature, Lekena mentions how “In the end I just went with intuition, relying on what I know to be true sounds.” Race Constructions does present itself as a collective where various sounds feel grounded in the eclectic store of Lekena’s mind and in the greater South African electronic scene. However, it is the moments on Race Constructions where the sounds don’t feel real, personable or earthly that take your breath away.