If Routes was an album that seemed destined to be released through Keysound, a label irreversibly linked with the capital, then Sebenza reflects the untethered aesthetic of modern day Hyperdub. As unpredictable as it is entertaining, LV’s follow up to one of 2011’s best provides a surreal insight into the musicians of South Africa, as well as giving us some of their finest tunes to date.
Like Joshua Idehan, the London poet who LV employed for their last album, the South African vocalists provide their own indispensable tint – a raw, unkempt vibrancy that mirrors the tumultuous landscape of their homeland. The aptly named Okmalumkoolkat takes most of the plaudits here, providing a bold foil to LV’s syrupy rhythms. It’s difficult to predict where the vocalist will go next, sometimes mimicking beats LV throw at him, such as in the stunted ‘DL’, sometimes going off on a lyrical tangent every bit as fast and furious as a London grime MC.
There are other parallels to be made with Routes. LV have never shied away from humour – the mischievous lines at the tail-end of ‘Animal Prints’, for example – and it gives the album an undeniably organic touch, showcasing an outfit whose feet, despite their undeniable prowess, remain firmly on the ground. The production wizardry of the trio comes to light on the towering ‘ZuluCompurar’, with Okmalumkoolkat waxing lyrical about a technologically obsessed modern society. Furthermore, the biting, bragging subject matter of ‘International Pantsula’ demonstrates that Sebenza is an album borne out of an acute awareness of current surroundings. The fact that it sounds totally unique in today’s climate speaks volumes about LV and their vocalists.
The album swings heavily from the high-tempo to the more pre-occupied and back again, exuberating a boundless, infectious energy. Dipping in and out of genres, the rappers help bind the tracks together, creating a coherent arc that never breaks. Spoek Mathambo lends his voice to the album’s quieter, more pensive moments, such as in the haunting ‘Work’, while the duo Ruffest provide a meatier accompaniment in highlights such as ‘Ultando Lwaka’. They’re performances are to be commended, no doubt, but neither can stand up to the real star of the show.
Sebenza is an LP that manages to tread the line between realism and the fantastical, a product of people who are completely at ease with what they’re doing and whose creativity knows little bounds. It exudes endless energy, and a playfulness that doesn’t appear very often. Like Routes before it, it will appear on many end of year lists.