The big secret about most scenes – at least in their initial stages – is that they don’t exist in any tangible way beyond what’s usually a core group of influential, connected parties. The influence is most easily shared in person, and whilst working on the craft.
For example, consider how many of the people who would go on to define what was “the sound of the south” in late 90’s rap were all part of the same Dungeon Family – OutKast, Goodie Mob, Killer Mike (sometimes Future) – all shared a single studio and work ethic, trading ideas that would later be replicated in the rest of the city. For a more recent example, would the fledgling grime subgenre “weightless” exist outside of the 3 or four DJs who coined the name and are championing it? That these groupings of people also happen to be geographically co-located becomes a necessity of a scene rather than a peculiarity.
In Durban, the gqom scene has burst forward and done well to ride the line between broad appeal and the type of insularity the Dungeon Family used to rapidly share ideas and evolve the sound through collaboration and co-association. In many ways it’s left the rest of the city in its wake with its growing ubiquity – but diversity of sound and approach does exist, and new centres of creative gravity are beginning to form. An early product of that is the huge collaboration track ‘Waves’ – which brings together the talents of crooner Red Robyn, left-field rapper Otarel, instrumentalist Jaedon Daniel (primarily of band Blvck Crystals), producer MISSU and singer/songwriter/producer/lawyer/academic Daniel Basckin aka SCKIN.
The results are as off the wall as one might expect. It opens with a guitar passage – bearing more than a passing resemblance to Interpol’s ‘Untitled’ – where complimentary guitar parts are chopped, resampled and laid over a 4/4 drum, plus funky live bass parts, buttery chorus vocals and finally Otarel stealing the show with a gut-busting performance.
Collaboration has been a growing trend in these parts, with many of the names involved in ‘Waves’ having already worked together in some manner, contributing to a growing shared catalogue. MISSU and Red Robyn previously hooked up with producer Tre Flips for the one-off single ‘Colours’. The band Blvck Crystals counts Jaedon as a member and Robyn as a featuring vocalist – and both frequently put music out as a duo. This is not even to mention all the other players involved from the city, with whom all these artists have either collaborated in the past or share social circles.
Wanting to make waves is a common theme. Most of the artists involved here would probably describe themselves as still establishing themselves, their sound, and their pieces of the city. Common musical and thematic threads are beginning to develop – as well as crucial spaces of performance and connection, such as Khaya Records. While not as defined as the house-related electronic music scene is, these other sides of Durban are developing quickly through collaborations like these, and can surely be counted as a brilliant departure point for exploring the nascent sounds of the next waves of independent music coming from the sleepy, humid city on the East Coast.
NEXT: Check out Red Robyn’s January collab with Jaedon Daniel: