PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


South Africa's Phelimuncasi Thrill with Their Gqom Beats on '2013-2019'

A new Phelimuncasi anthology from Nyege Nyege Tapes introduces listeners to gqom and the dancefloors of Durban, South Africa.

Phelimuncasi: 2013-2019

Nyege Nyege Tapes

18 September 2020

The first beats of "Ngavele Ngagaxela" are crisp and bare; the vocals atop them nimble and bold. Such straightforward musical bones are the foundation of Durban-based Phelimuncasi's signature brand of gqom, a plugged-in musical genre with minimalist aesthetics and high adrenaline. A new Nyege Nyege Tapes compilation, 2013-2019, brings nine of the group's most exciting tracks together, placing them at the intersection of non-stop dance rhythms and trenchant social commentary.

Whether or not you speak the same language as the three vocalists -- Malathon and twins Makan Nana and Khera -- this activist bent is clear. In addition to their continuing work performing at political events for the African National Congress and South African left-wing party EFF, the band's music consistently evokes not only house and kwaito, but toyi-toyi, both a form of chant and choreography and a method of protest and intimidation best known for its practice in anti-apartheid movements. Call-and-response verses fire back and forth over low synths, all in the hands of producers Menzi, DJ MP3, and DJ Scoturn, all pioneers of gqom as a style.

What comes forth from these creative minds and hands is hypnotic, even more entrancing for each cut's internal repetition. Such space between beats leaves room for darkness, for echoes, for excitement -- all of which Phelimuncasi builds magnificently. The barely dissonant vocal layers of "Umahlalela" amid eerie metallic melodies signal what is to come, while the rapid-fire chattering and ululating on "Private Party" usher it in once and for all: a tidal wave of eerie aural power.

Tracks and tracks of skeletal techno follow. "South Beach eWHEE" features 004 Da Artist's forthright vocals punctuated by cymbal clashes. "I Roof" is a piece in stereo, percussive echoes, and subtle klaxons moving back and forth to establish a distinct vastness. "Sesi Gora" rolls thin, marching beats tightly with vocal parts. The album's atmospheric peak is undoubtedly "GQOM Venus Cemetrary", a slow-building piece that opens with vaporous aplomb and slowly fills with static and low, breathy voices, all of which build to a stark, metallic climax of rhythm. Immediately following is "Umgido", a piece that unravels into overlapping vocal parts. The compilation ends on a high note: "Ungabom Themba Umunutu", an energetic finale with a strong lower end that adds extra warmth to dizzying vocals.

If one of gqom's defining features is a commitment to raw, unencumbered energy, then Phelimuncasi is surely an exemplar of the form. With this brief anthology, Nyege Nyege Tapes puts on display the group's unstoppable energy. To listen to it from start to finish is an immersive experience, one that takes you very specifically through Durban dance floors, the likes of which are found nowhere else in the world. It is, for newcomers to the scene, nothing less than revelatory: the tension in the beats, the release unleashed in the vocals, the spaces left for bodies to make their own sounds as they move among and against one another. Phelimuncasi are a band to know, and 2013-2019 a wondrous first step.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





20 Songs from the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.


Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.


Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.


Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.