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Baker's Dozen

Beat Codes: Spoek Mathambo's Favourite Albums
Lior Phillips , August 30th, 2017 12:23

Spoek Mathambo gives Lior Phillips a tour of his record collection, crossing continents between the music of his South African homeland, American rap, and British new wave


Max Roach - Freedom Now
When I was maybe 13 or 14, my dad moved to Australia and then to the UK. His whole record collection stayed here in Joburg [Johannesburg] and I got to explore it, and I learned a whole lot from that record collection. There's no substitute for pulling stuff out of sleeves, turning records over, dropping the needle, and listening. I listened to a whole lot of music, a whole lot of jazz, and Freedom Now was great because I'm into concept albums. The first ones that I really heard were Genesis' The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and Deltron 3030. Max Roach's album was released during the civil rights struggle in America, and he and vocalist Abbey Lincoln made super-powerful, confrontational songs. On 'Protest' from Prayer/Protest/Peace, she's just going on and screaming. On 'All Africa' she lists a lot of tribes on the continent. It's a big continent, and within each country there are so many different tribes and nationalities, and people are disconnected from each other. This was a big moment for me as a 15-year-old kid to have this American woman in the 60s running me through the continent and all the different tribes and giving me a basis of stuff to research.

'Freedom Day' is about the day that a ton of people found out that they're free, they're not slaves anymore, and their disbelief. Some people only found out like twenty years later that they weren't slaves anymore. The song is about that excitement, that energy, that freedom, and she really describes it really clearly. There's 'Tears for Johannesburg' which is instrumental, but just resonated with me as a kid in Johannesburg. That was a really wicked, influential, well-written album that definitely influenced me a lot.

'Tears for Johannesburg' responds to the Sharpeville Massacre, but that was in 1960. How did that affect you, hearing someone from America singing about something that happened in a place that you were growing up and learning how to become a man?

The whole thing was like the relationship between the African diaspora from on-continent to people who were sent to different places in slavery. There's this common empathy; we find strength in each other's stories. The struggle in South Africa motivated people over there, and the struggle over there motivated people over here. The whole 60s black consciousness wave was really influenced by Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael. That gave a lot of fire to people here, a global perspective, and to hear it in musical form was exciting and influential.