Eccentric drummer and producer Tshepang Ramoba took to the Virtual National Arts Festival (NAF), which you can still enjoy until July 16, with a seven-piece band.
With Mosate, Ramoba – who now prefers Tshepang Kgoetiane Ramoba in honour of both his parents – fuses African instrumentation and the wonders of technology with programmable keyboards and digital inputs that contort and bend his sound.
On a stage with a black background, no distracting visuals or rhythmic dancers, we are given ferocious consonance and dissonance as this man explores his mother tongue, Sepedi, with the language of music.
Beyond being a founding member of the prolific BLK JKS who enjoyed international acclaim, he was also heavily involved in shaping the early foundation of what is now the monument to gqom music we call Moonchild Sanelly.
Through it all, his personal sound and approach have remained enigmatic and unpredictable. Something about this set seems old, the music has a safe feel to it, a consuming warmness. It’s also daring.
On the second song the visual cuts to Matchume Zango, a percussionist who joins the set virtually from Mozambique, pounding the bongos with a fluency that doesn’t clash with Ramoba’s drums.
The visuals cut back to Xola, Tebogo Seitei, Sibusile Xaba and Ramoba in Joburg and the druid-like synth player, Danial Jackob (or Dejot) from Switzerland, who is largely responsible for providing the spectral-like squeals and resonance.
Ramoba’s voice syncs with it perfectly. It’s always remarkable to watch a percussionist sing and keep time on the drums. There is something beautifully alarming about it.
These two songs are about exploring his everyday life in his castle (Mosate).
The artist has been struggling in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and has had to deal with shows in New York and Texas, in the US, being cancelled. BLK JKS were also scheduled to release an album ahead of a European tour and so this set couldn’t have come at a better time.
“The NAF has helped in the sense that there’s at least income [we are earning], not only for me but other musicians, sound engineers and film makers,” he tells #Trending. “Also I get to perform. As a performer it’s very stressful to stay a long time without performing.”
He takes us through the band he formed for this show.
“I met Dejot when he came to South Africa on a residency. In a space of a month we did lots of projects together and I was hired by the Swiss to be his coach. Matchume I was introduced to me by Jess White. Tebogo Seitei plays trumpet for the BLK JKS. And of course I love Sibusile Xaba music, I’m a fan.”
The two lengthy songs – Nonyana and Baesekela – are almost movements and are engulfed with his curiosity around how the ancestors lived life.
“What they ate, what they were singing and wearing,” he says. “Since I grew up in Soweto, we all know that we all speak the same Soweto language there. I had to teach myself how to speak my own language through writing songs for the BLK JKS. It only made sense because it’s the best way to express myself.”
This plays like his attempt at folk tales, campfire storytelling but through your digital device. He’s planning to release a single and video in September and doing a project at the Soweto Theatre about Dinaka (traditional Sepedi dance and music) and other Pedi music forms. We can also expect the new BLK JKS album next year.
As for what is in store for you in Mosate: “I am expecting them to remember that we are Africans in Africa. I’m hoping they know how important their language is, especially in South Africa. I don’t even think people have their thoughts in their own languages, we think in English.”
How does it work?
The festival programme is viewable till July 16. Watch Mosate for R35 at nationalartsfestival.co.za/show/mosate/
The programme takes place entirely on the National Arts Festival website.
A full day’s access to productions is R80, with a special price of R600 for an all-access pass for the entire 11 days. Virtual fringe events are individually ticketed and there’s a free-to-browse virtual gallery area as well as a virtual village green, where festivalgoers can browse crafts and handmade wares.
The Standard Bank Jazz Festival remains an integral part of the festival experience in the online iteration.