Phelimuncasi literally means: you drink what you have in your hands with a straw and finish it! Like an addictive cocktail, Phelimuncasi’s music unites and enlivens the people who experience it. In the background, their gqom is inspired by toyi-toyi, a mixture of dance and military marching music that was used in anti-apartheid demonstrations and more recently to express anger at a passive government. Remaining peaceful, Phelimuncasi has always taken part in the struggle, carrying their message of celebration through the powerful and non-violent weapon of gqom. By braving the times and the evolution of genres, our three storytellers have become underground pillars of an ultra-creative South Africa. After a retrospective album released in 2020, Nana, Khera and Malation have gathered a handful of solid producers to make Ama Gogela, a new record that is already essential and makes you want to follow them wherever they go. Interview.
Back in 2012 when you started the project, what was your main purpose?
Khera: At the beginning, we were in the music industry, but we were not doing gqom. When gqom was discovered, it was easier to go into it because it was a new genre, and most of the artists were unknown at that time. We took this opportunity to start doing gqom and we put vocals on it. We definitely wanted to make the people dance but we also wanted to be recognized in the music industry.
As you can imagine, I don’t understand the lyrics in isiZulu, what are you talking about in this last album?
K : We are talking about parties, religion, the ups and downs in life, and we tell people that one day, if they work hard, they will make it through.
It’s been more than 10 years that you are doing this music. How do you see your evolution?
K : This gqom beat can be used in political events as well as in parties. There is definitely a political influence, but in the music itself, inspired by this particular kick and the feet stomping dance. We used to talk about politics in our tracks, but not anymore, now we mostly talk about partying. Our style changed through the years, we try to develop our music and our voice as life goes on.
What is the power of your music in the mind and body of the people?
Nana : Most of them sing our music along with us, even if they don’t understand what we say. As soon as we start dancing, they realize that the song is about moving our feet from one side to another. For example when we sing “I don’t feel my legs, I don’t feel my hands, Ihuuu Ishuuu Ishuuu Mama Ishuuu”, they know what we are talking about and we can see that they are also feeling the pain! Even if you don’t understand our lyrics, we make sure that you understand what we are talking about when we perform.
Malation : In South Africa, they get the message. When we are composing, we are trying to build a storyline in every song.
Ama Gogela is a big bee known for its strength and ferociousness. What is the metaphor here?
N : Wherever we go, we leave something, we leave our name, we make sure that people remember us !
M : Everywhere we go, we sting the people! (laughs) We put some injection with our music to make them dance.
Behind the production, we can hear again DJ MP3, DJ Scoturn or Menzi, but also the South-Korean Net Gala among others… Are you looking for something special in the production?
K : These producers can give us what we want. As vocalists, we create our beats and our stories in our mind. All those producers are big in the music industry, that’s why we thought they could satisfy our needs. Working with Net Gala was something else. He’s from South Korea and was able to give us something we didn’t expect.
M : Also, we are always there to guide them and make them understand what we want. We have a special style and we are making sure we don’t lose it, that’s why we stay around for guidance.
When I listen to some gqom albums or EPs nowadays, it sounds like the “mainstream” sounds took over. Producers are adding a lot of synths and EDM elements. On your side, you totally managed to stay underground, why don’t you follow the trends?
M : In South Africa, it’s very hard to become mainstream ! There are big fishes around there! (laughs)
N : And they don’t let the small fishes come around !
M :You always stay underground until they recognize you.
K : Our music was discovered around 2010-2012. At that time, there was more kwaito, so when we started, this gqom music was not allowed yet to be played on the tv or radio. We had to be patient and stay underground until we found the opportunity. We are still considered as underground, but we are making it through as gqom vocalists.
We say a lot of things about twins! It seems like they are connected in a certain way… Nana and Khera, that’s your case, and Malation is also family. Can you feel this bond as a band?
K : I strongly believe that our mother had some difficulties raising us! We used to fight, we used to wear each other’s clothes… But now, we know that whatever the nature of the fight, we must fix it.
N : I think it’s a good privilege for us as a family doing gqom music. When we are on stage, we don’t let each other down. We make sure that we understand each other because we come from the same family and our mother raised us up the same way. We try to love and support each other whatever happens. Even if we fight, we know we will never separate. At the end of the story, we know we have to go back to same house to sleep anyway (laughs).
Phelimuncasi will perform live at Flow, in Lille, for a PAM Night on November 19th, 2022. Get the invite here.
Ama Gogela is still available here.