Something is stirring in the South African music scene. It is as if a critical cultural mass has been exceeded and a runaway creative reaction is underway. New forms are emerging from the tumult – breaking time-symmetry like some freak of modern physics. Simultaneously of the past and the future – yet ever-rooted in the unfolding present. This is the birthplace of Bombshelter Beast.
The astute listener will discern a veritable menagerie of influences. Old school kwaito and Ghoema rub buttocks with deep house and drum ‘n bass. Dancehall, dub and ska make unlikely advances on Balkan music and hip hop. There are visceral moments of rock and the odd sneaky bit of jazz. The result is interspersed with some badass rapping and kept vibrant by live improvisations. There may even be an operatic interlude.
Presenting such diversity in a package that will delight and entertain listeners whether they are sophisticated enough to discern the sound-origins or not – is no mean feat. That’s where Marcus Wyatt comes in. Wearing the garb of a ring-master and the wry smile of a seasoned jazz musician, Wyatt holds the center of the madness with a well-earned gravitas. He is one of South Africa’s most loved players and composers – a luminary of the music who has contributed to recordings by the likes of Winston Mankunku Ngozi, Carlo Mombelli and Jimmy Dludlu and given us profoundly beautiful recordings as band leader and producer, including ‘Africans in Space’ and the iconoclastic ‘Language 12’ albums. His re-arrangements of his own compositions for big band resulted in an exquisite live album – ‘One Night In The Sun’ – that earned him a South African Music Award in 2016. Wyatt’s co-creators in Bombshelter Beast are no pretenders either. Janus van der Merwe, Romy Brauteseth, Sisonke Xonti, Alex Hitzeroth, Aldirt Du Toit and Bez Roberts were all members of the SAMA-winning ZAR orchestra and have colourful and varied musical careers of their own.
Zoe Modiga is a vocalist with power, poise and passion who is creating a space of her own as a unique jazz and pop voice. Pule – the world’s most cunning linguist – navigates South Africa’s 11 official languages with humour and intelligence. There’s also a Polish refugee, an opera diva and a songbird with all the moves. It’s quite a family.
The beast only began its slouch towards Bethlehem in late 2015. Already they have held the most successful residency ever seen at Johannesburg’s hippest music venue – The Orbit Home of Jazz, played some of the region’s biggest festivals including Bushfire (Swaziland) and Oppikoppi (RSA) and recently recorded and performed in an exuberant collaboration with the country’s National Youth Orchestra. They are booked for the 2017 National Arts Festival and have an album in the oven. But the truest testament to the power of the beast is the sweat of the endorphin-drenched audience after one of their trademark performances. From the emergence of the first strains of sousaphone as they stalk the stage until Friedrich Wilsenach – sound designer extraordinaire – fades out the final strains of piano accordion and overdriven guitar the audience is captivated – willing participants in a culture-science experiment that leaves them bewildered and rejuvenated. And wanting more.
– Martin Wolfaardt