LV – Sebenza (Hyperdub / August 27 2012)
By Maya Kalev
LV’s acclaimed 2011 debut Routes featured the incomparable spoken-word poet Joshua Idehen. His meditations on inner-city life were wrapped in hazy, smogged-out production that oozed London from every pore. Their follow-up Sebenza is another vocal collaboration, this time one that takes a journey to the heart of South Africa with MCs Okmalumkoolkat, Ruffest and Spoek Mathambo. It’s also one of the electronic albums of the year.
In ‘Sebenza’, LV unite the chunky synths and blips typical of Hyperdub’s futuristic aesthetic, with urgent kuduro rhythms and Okmalumkoolat’s distinctive rapping style, where cheekiness and grimness coincide: he spits, “I’m Peter Parker, stay fly, never land”, but the reality is “They’ve been trying to silence us… rubber bullets”. His skill lies in finding a lyrical refrain, then latticing spontaneous wordplay around it, not least in ‘Animal Prints’, where he irreverently spits over an infectious house groove, “This track is called any more hints. Actually it’s animal prints. I don’t know… You decide actually”.
‘ZuluCompurar’ takes a sideways look at our fixation with cybertechnology: “I feel like I’m not working. Refresh… refresh” Okmalumkoolkat laughs over the analog synth line and spare percussion. It’s a theme that the record returns to again and again, whether on ‘International Pantsula’ (“You gotta check out my blog. I got so much shit. To share wit’ you”, delivered in an ironically autotuned whine) or more successfully on ‘Animal Prints’ (“We need many more hits”). It’s both a celebration and a warning against oversaturation, wryly dissecting the narcissism of Internet culture.
Ruffest’s effortless oscillation between Xhosa and English in tracks like ‘Nothing Like’ sums up Sebenza’s intercontinental ambitions. Their bragadiccio – “There’s nothing like us” – is feisty and arrogant, but nevertheless on point. Spoek Mathambo raps sparely over the tracks ‘Work’ and ‘Limb’, which provide a more abstract counterpoint to the rest of the album’s funkiness. While Ruffest and Mathambo are integral to Sebenza’s texture and variety. Okmalumkoolat – who features on 8 out of 14 tracks – is largely responsible for its vibrancy and playfulness, and his labyrinthine lyrical delivery mirrors a production style that operates at the juncture between analog and digital.
Sebenza is successful because of the richness of a cultural fusion, in which the sounds of London and South Africa complement one another seamlessly . LV play off the intersections between styles like kwaito and UK funky, or South African rap and grime. Despite Sebenza’s self-conscious lyrical hyper-modernity and cultural specificity, LV’s production is of such ineffable quality that this release nevertheless transcends both time and place.