“Uprize!”, Mixed echoes of Soweto

It would seem that there is a creative axis that links Chicago and Johannesburg, two strongholds at the forefront of what is referred to as Great Black Music. This is confirmed with each publication by the Mushroom Half Hour label, whose production requirement and economic model are not without echoing its North American “cousin” International Anthem, based in the South Side. The comparison makes all the more sense with the Spaza collective, an informal formation which succeeded with a first album released last year in bringing together in one object the many aesthetics that converge on the South African economic capital. Soul temptations and evocation of the jive, choral traditions and electronic experiments, their both erudite and primal improvisations singularly synchronized multiple styles, developing in situ a maelstrom without real equivalent and in every way convincing. Screams and groans, elastic double bass and eclectic trombone, there was a lot of material to much thought in this session dated 2015.


A year later, this second disc captured sees even further. And it is still the DIY state of mind that inhabits this recording, validating the name chosen by this group in alternative mode: the spazas are spaces reinvested in the townships where an economy of resourcefulness flourishes, but they During the time of segregation, they were also places of contestation where the communities met. Apartheid is also at the center ofUprize !, three days of sessions in total freedom which in January 2017 served as the soundtrack to the documentary of the same name, recounting the student uprising in Soweto in June 1976, which for having been severely repressed nevertheless made it possible to unite once and for all the progressive forces of the country.

In a tighter formula – the group is made up of four members instead of six previously – the music does not lose intensity. Quite the contrary even. Composed live, facing the projected images of the documentary, the themes with the most explicit titles such as the introductory Help Education and the no less overpowered Black Consciousness Movement are naturally mixed with extracts of testimonies that punctuate the film.

However, far from being just a simple collage capable of conveying a discourse, this combination makes it possible to lead to ambiguous atmospheres, between poetic and political, perfectly connected to the message. All the tension is in suspension, like this double bass which can dive into the bass as well as squeal with the bow. In tune, Malcolm Jiyane’s piano excels in ellipsis, both constantly present and strangely distant, variations of feelings which, although they are poignant, are spared the emphasis.


Emblematic of this mix, the pair of female-male voices to which a subtle electronic reprocessing gives the air of ghostly incantations, an echo of the leaden years when blacks were doomed to be only shadows. Here again, totally in tune with the purpose of the film they are supposed to serve, without ever simply being an illustration of it.

This is all the relevance of this music, that of memory and its troubles, that also of a revolt that we hope will be jubilant. And at this moment, one cannot fail to remember the recent Where Future Unfolds, of the Black Monument ensemble led by Chicagoan Damon Locks, another apnea in the depths of a dystopian past that questions our current affairs.

Jacques Denis

Spaza Uprize ! Mushroom Half Hour.


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