“There seems to be a lot of Black people on Mars…”– Interblaktic
Muzi continues to build a thrilling universe with his latest album Interblaktic, a mash of Muzi’s own breed of electronic with kwaito, maskandi, and bubblegum pop. In other words, the project is undefinable; the Zulu Skywalker has taken the road less travelled. The result is a project bursting with positivity and an interstellar spectrum of feel-good. The best advice for listening to Interblaktic may come from Muzi himself on the refrain of the titular track stating boldly, “Love it or move over…” Raised in the township of Empangeni under the encouraging gaze of his mother, Muzi burst onto the music world with his wildly successful second album, Afrovision. Since, he has become a kind of symbol among South African artists for his ability to reach global audiences while using a menagerie of local sounds. Coldpay’s Chris Martin, Blur’s Damon Albarn, and grime superstar Stormzy are a few of the co-signs Muzi has accumulated along the way. He’s also been seen headlining some major events including his legendary Afropunk Paris performance.
On Interblaktic, Muzi has reached the stage of world building. Deeply inspired by film and a childhood passion for space, Muzi has started to round the edges of his world, bringing in cinematic sonics to immerse the listener into the Interblaktic universe. Whether it’s the spaceship landing on “Zupiter”, the stormtrooper blaster rifles on “Interblaktic”, or, as Muzi mentions, the many sonic Easter eggs hidden throughout the album, Muzi has done all he can to bring you into his orbit.
All-in-all Interblaktic is sentimental and future looking. At times it’s an ode to Muzi’s close relationship with his late mother, other moments we’re galaxy surfing into a vortex of black empowerment. The music feels familiar and faraway. There’s a poetic blend of Zulu and English addressing the tropey themes of love with a brand new angle. It’s a wonderful opus full of surprises.
I hopped on a call with Muzi to discuss the album and his inspirations with the hopes of getting a closer look at the Interblaktic universe.
Why did you choose Interblaktic as the title?
I think the more I grow into the artist I want to be, the more I just wanna end up sounding like Earth Wind and Fire and Sun Ra and Harari, you know? I love that type of music so much so when I was thinking of these names and stuff, the whole play on intergalactic and putting black in there, it felt like where I was creatively. I was in that space, and it’s a space that I want to explore even more as time goes on. As we’re doing all these things in the 70s where everyone was so obsessed with the future and since we’re coming out. So it just felt right. The sort of playing with the space theme but putting my identity as a black person in there.
So does the space theme come from the likes of Sun Ra, or maybe George Clinton? Or does it also come from somewhere else?
Initially the space theme is because I was obsessed with actual space. When I was a kid I wanted to be an astronaut. Mom would get me all these books about stars and galaxies. I remember being so excited when they were talking about Andromeda as another separate galaxy that’s closest to us. I’m like “ohhh!” And my belief that there’s aliens. So it started off as that when I was just a kid obsessed with anything that had to do with space and stars. And then when I started getting into music, I gravitated towards music that had that sort of theme, hence the whole electronic thing. Electronic to me sounds like the sci-fi genre of music. You know? So initially it was actual stars and after that the music sort of joined that.
Yeah, I also think I noticed the space sounds in the album like the Stormtrooper blaster rifle in “Interblaktic”. Are you pulling space sounds as well?
Yeah so even with the whole Zulu Skywalker that’s Luke Skywalker. So it’s taken from that. Then I literally Googled space sounds and I was just finding all these stormtrooper sounds, engine revs, like a space engine rev, all these things. Then throughout the entire album I just put them in tracks just randomly to continue the space theme. Some songs the sound are more subtle than in Interblaktic for instance, but they’re all there. There’s another song called Zupiter where it starts off with this spaceship landing. So throughout the album I just tried to play with those space sounds that I found on the internet.
Diving into a couple tracks. Can you tell me what’s the reference on “1956 Lovin’”?
So 1956 is the year that my mom was born. That song is like a love letter to my mother. The lyrics are like, “Ngiyak’dinga, I need your lovin’” and “Ngiyak’dinga” is Zulu for, “I need you”. So I’m literally saying the same thing just in Zulu then in English. Then I just thought it would be cool to call it 1956 Lovin’ and have people think I’m referring to music in that year, but I’m not. I’m referring to my Mom’s birth year.
Okay, because I also felt like “Ngawe” was an ode to your mom?
It is also. That one is more just like because of how she was such a strong woman. That song is very much about, I’ma do my own thing, I don’t need permission from you to be myself. That’s what she always taught me growing up as a kid. Which is why even the way I move, being independent and trying to come up with original sounds and original visuals that was how I was brought up. So it’s like, “Oh yeah this is the lesson that my mom taught me.” So I made it into a little song that speaks from a very feminine point of view.
One of the more interesting tracks that stood out to me was “Tjuu Wena”. Anything you wanna say about that?
When I make projects, I just like having these tracks that throw you left a bit. I’ll have some songs that sort of sound similar to other songs, then I’ll have some songs that are just like, let’s go left for a second. Tjuu Wena is like that.
Theme wise, I was thinking, you know in 300 when Xerxes becomes a God? Have you watched 300? There’s a scene in 300 where Xerxes is trying to be a king and he has to live up to his father’s reputation. Then these hermits find him and they make him a God. So when you walk out, it’s this fucking epic Persian Arabian music that’s so epic. I wanted to do that with a song, especially the end part of a song. So like, we make it sort of this vibey thing at the start, but at the end the person sort of ascends. I just wanted to make something that sounded like 300 meets Aladdin meets deep house.
You can tell there’s a cinematic element to your music. Can you tell us how you bridge the visual and sonic world?
Obviously with artists, when you start off making music and having to do music videos, because of budgets and all those things you sort of feel like you have to do what everyone else is doing. So, for me, it just got to a point where I love movies. I’m such a movie geek that it got to a point where it started becoming more than just loving a movie, it started to become studying the shots. So, this shot makes me feel like this, this shot makes me feel that way. Now, when I create the music, it’s almost like I can see the visuals in my head. I can see how I can extend the sonics visually. For instance what I did with “Come Duze”. I knew people wanted to see Sho Madjozi on the video and that would be like the expected thing to do. But for me, the way the song makes me feel, it feels like archival footage of African women. And that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to treat it that way. Where it feels like I’m scoring my own music videos. That’s a relationship I’m trying to build, especially now with us having entered the new decade. I think this decade for me is trying to build my visual language as to what I see, taking references from my favorite movies, but also trying to show African art in this epic sort of way. Into the suits and all of that. Me looking like a superhero / Goku / all of that. It’s all just like trying to have a more epic visual language with regards to my music.
I’ve also heard that when you perform no two sets are the same and you’ve been described as a “musical mad scientist”. Is that something you try and cultivate, always experimenting?
I’ve always felt like I never wanna rob people with regards to my art. Some artists will work really hard at getting one set and making that set so perfect and then they play that set every time. Whereas for me, I always wanna have this conversation with people, even though it’s gonna be mostly my tracks and tracks that people know, but the way that I mix them in or maybe I play something new or maybe I play a version that never made it on the album… I just like treating it as if every set that I’ve played has been special for that person that took their time to come and see me. I can’t rob them. I can’t just come there and play the same thing that I’ve practised for years. Because it’s fun for me too. I like being on my toes. I like having that adrenaline of like, “Oh wow, what am I gonna play next? Oh wow, this would go well here!” I like that feeling that all of us are enjoying the set as it happens instead of just me playing something that is almost like programmed. So I always think of it like that man. I never wanna rob people of my energy or of my truth as an artist. I wanna always live on that edge on that line of fun.
You definitely hear the kwaito influence in your sound, but it feels like the happier pop side of it rather than the amaPiano house, bass side of it. Do you have influences from local genres and local artists that shape what you do today?
Yeah so, obviously you’re right, I took the more happy, 80’s, kids sounding version of it. And maybe that has a lot to do with the fact that I’m a parent and I’ve become a kid again. It’s that thing, I’ve always loved it, I’ve always loved the freedom of that.
But besides that one, you obviously have the more traditional music genres like Maskandi where it’s like folk music and these guys are talking about heartbreaks and stuff and they use a lot of guitars. So for instance in “Ngawe” I tried to do a lot of that. But also the whole Ladysmith Black Mambazo thing where it’s very vocal heavy, a lot of harmonies and all that stuff. I try to take from my surroundings and all these things that I grew up with.
My music is drum heavy because when I was a kid all of the traditional ceremonies women would be playing the drums and it just sounded like the bassiest thing I ever heard in my life. When I was a kid it would just change the entire room. When you have like 20 women playing the same drum pattern at the same time, it just creates this epic thing about it that I always try to have in my music when I mix it and stuff like that.
So yeah, it would be those genres. Obviously tribal house, obviously deep house, you can hear those as well. Those are the genres I take from. Obviously afrobeats in Nigeria. The old school, I used to love that. I really love Fela Kuti. It’s just trying to take all those things, but trying to add something onto it. Not just doing it exactly the way it was done, but adding my own 2 cents to it. My sound.
I feel like one of the primary themes in your music is love & romance. Does this come from your appreciation of Maskandi?
I think the love part of it is, with me and my friends, that’s what dudes are always complaining about. It always feels like we have everything else figured out besides relationships. So it’s always interesting to hear these things and then when I write the songs I will put a bit of my story in there and put a bit of my friend’s story in there and just mix it up in such a way that it has this general outlook. That’s why I write about love primarily, it’s just dudes are always talking about it, it’s like our favorite subject. You know, guys get drunk, ladies start hearing about exes. So that theme is something I like writing about.
But Interblaktic I think the difference was, some of the music that I wrote was a self reflective sort of point. For instance in “Fool’s Love” like it’s when you realize that you love that girl, but you realize it too late and she has a boyfriend. You know, and that has happened to everyone. So certain themes, before, it’s very easy to just go, “Oh yeah, you don’t like me, well whatever”. But it’s not as easy to go, “I saw it late.” So I wanted to write about music where my ego had died.
There’s also a strong theme of self empowerment.
Yeah, those are always the themes. The self empowerment comes from my favorite band growing up which was Linkin Park. It was always so positive and uplifting. So I wanted to be that artist. Some artists help you forget. I wanted to be an artist that helped you remember. That it’s okay. And Linkin Park did that for me when I was a kid. So when I write my music I always wanna have the positive empowering aspect to it. Then obviously talk about certain things like love and whatnot, and then just have this free space theme of us being on Mars or wherever.
Interblaktic by Muzi, out on all platforms.