afropunk premiere: dumama + kechou
March 19, 2020
Wanna hear new music unconsciously made for this moment? dumama + kechou’s debut album, buffering juju, is one of those odd 21st century musical documents that feels both, of our time and out of time. An electronic folk masterwork, its textures and fusions betray global modernity, but its spirit and core feel old, Pangeaic, like the ideas it has been put on the Earth to convey have always been around and simply needed a contemporary conduit. Though dumama + kechou recorded buffering juju long before the pandemic hit, at its core is a trial-and-error lesson for our present circumstance: when the world is recognizably fucked-up, what does it mean to build a new one? How do we go about doing it? What are the tools we use and the pieces that we keep? And then … how do we heal?
These notions and combinations are, to great degrees, arrived at wholly and organically. dumama (purposefully uncapitalized) is the South African singer and cultural nomad Gugulethu Duma, who grew up in a family of artists and healers, between Pretoria and the Eastern and Western Cape. Her self-described “magical realism prayer music” pulls inspiration from Xhosa folk, jazz, hip-hop, and moments of protest in Africa and beyond. The multi-instrumentalist kechou (same) was born Kerim Melik Becker to German and Algerian parentage in a household governed by sonic progressivism (father) and feminist teachings (mother), and has spent the last half-decade producing Afro-fusion musical experiments in Germany, Uganda, Zimbabwe and South Africa. If anyone is well-equipped and -matched to tackle the global malaise of history and disease through storytelling in sound, it’s this pair
Which is exactly what buffering juju does. It is a softly performed song cycle, a modern folk tale if you will — loosely following a woman (a mother and a shapeshifter) who becomes a dreaming bird and searches for transcendence and freedom with mhlekazi (your excellency) whose own transformation their journey inspires. Sung almost entirely in Xhosa, it veers from gorgeous supple gospel a capella and interwoven string instruments, to synthesizers that underpin that ritual rhythms, computer loops and handmade instruments in a narrative waltz. (Choose to dance along if you want, but here its more a storytelling vibe.) Musical support is lent by the likes of Angel Bat Dawid on clarinet and Siya Makuzeni on trombone, but the other players are not features, so much as textural associates.
In the press literature that accompanies the album, dumama + kechou proclaim the story songs to be “meditations on decoloniality.” Undoubtedly. But looking around — out the window, at the feeds and the fecklessness of the world that colonialism built — it’s all connected. buffering juju does not say so, but here and now, we can feel that it’s true.
Here are some words from dumama + kechou about the album:
“We hope that buffering juju‘s effect is that of contemplation and healing during these times. There is clearly an imbalance that needs our attention, and we hope that these meditations on this womxn leaving prison can support us as we transcend the limitations of what we’ve been taught. May we leave the prison of our minds and seek a clearer connection with source. We hope that buffering juju can hold space as a dance partner to move with, moving through internal blocks as we lean into a resistance against all that no longer serves a collective humanity. We hope that in this temporary time of self-isolation, we cultivate and connect with the juju we need to transform the toxicity, together. We hope it can bring peace to people as they are spending more time with their own thoughts. We hope it can put pains and fears into perspective considering the narratives of the album. We hope that justice is prioritized, and self-compassion is fulfilled.”
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