Msaki and the Golden Circle: A symphony of protest

Msaki. (Photo: Supplied)
Msaki. (Photo: Supplied)

Johannesburg - Massively exportable and unique, Msaki and The Golden Circle are unlike any other collective of musicians we have in the country right now. I had the pleasure of taking in their work earlier this year as they presented a symphonic production called Platinumb Heart.

To say this was emotionally stirring is an understatement. All I could do after the performance was go home and sleep it off.

Spearheaded by Msaki, a powerhouse of soul, folk and jazz from the Eastern Cape, her far-above-average penmanship is accompanied by her guitar, a harp, a spoken word artist, drums, upright and bass guitars, and horns … All of which come together beautifully in what can only be described as a seance of substance and raw sincerity.

Their sound can be described as protest music with content that transports the audience to moments of societal trauma and memories that we would rather not have, but shouldn’t be forgotten.

The core of the group had played together in various forms prior to forming the band, and a lot of the members were good friends before collaborating. The band came into being when more musicians got involved last year to record Msaki’s debut album, Zaneliza: How the Water Moves.

She explains: "We stayed together after this and kept performing the album, keeping its original big sound."

Msaki could have performed most of the songs on Zaneliza alone. The magic of doing work with The Golden Circle “was having skilled musicians play the sounds I might hear, but perhaps can’t play ... A lot of what they bring, I would never have thought of, but now can’t imagine the songs without.”

I ask her if she worries that The Golden Circle may be too inaccessible for a mainstream audience.

“It may be a struggle to find a ready-made home for the music. There aren’t many spaces that play music that isn’t tightly defined; music that falls between the cracks. You will get exceptions; it’s lovely and helpful to be played on radio, for example.”

She isn’t worried about not being everywhere: “I’m really okay with not being so overplayed that people don’t know if they like the music because they choose to, or because they’ve heard it so much that it’s lingering in their mind’s corridor like an uninvited guest.”

Her inspirations range from Neo Muyanga, Nina Simone, Fela Kuti and Radiohead to Madala Kunene and Miriam Makeba. She’s shared stages with Thandiswa Mazwai and even Salif Keita.

“The artists I look up to were or are having an honest conversation with themselves and their surroundings. I need consciousness in my art for my own sanity because art is my real-life coping tool.”

Msaki and the band are working on Platinumb Heart the album, which is scheduled for release next year.

*See Msaki live in An Afropolitan Evening with Msaki and Dumza Maswana on 28 October at The Lyric Theatre. Tickets are available at Computicket.