Photo: Press (Nan Kolè)
Gqom’s rise to fame in the global North sounds almost too good to be true. Hailing from the townships of South Africa’s Durban, the ecstatically dystopian sounds of the regional genres were – according to Gqom producer Andile-T of the Rudeboyz crew – never meant to leave the city where they blare out of virtually every taxi. That they did is mostly – although not exclusively – thanks to an Italian residing in London: Francesco Cucchi alias Nan Kolè has always been fascinated with West African music and took things to another level by issuing the Gqom Oh! The Sound Of Durban compilation through the Gqom Oh! label in 2015. Ever since, he has worked to give rising Gqom producers a platform on the label where recently Dominowe saw the debut of his first ever solo release. With his Groove mix however, Nan Kolè introduces a new style of Gqom called Taxi Kick. Crank up your subwoofer for this one!
Even before starting the Gqom Oh! label together with Lerato Phiri, you have showed an interest in African music. In 2010, you started the Soupu Music netlabel with Anna Maria Gehnyei and have regularly DJ’d at the Afrodisia :: L’Afrique series in Rome. How were you introduced to African music?
I can say it was a proper journey and I think that the bridge which connected me to African music was Dubstep and UK Funky. A few artists with African roots such as Benga, Donaeo and Buraka Som Sistema brought me close to the African continent. They were bringing their roots into the electronic “urban” sounds and from there I started to do my research. After that, I got really deep into West African music, traditional and contemporary, because of my relationship with the Italo-Liberian singer and performer Anna Maria Gehnyei with our project PepeSoup. We listened to dozens of tapes from her father during that time and I also started to collaborate with Moustapha Mbengue and other musicians from Senegal, Nigeria and Zimbabwe when I was living in Rome and used to play for Afrodisia.
How did you find out about the Gqom sound from Durban and how did you put together the first compilations that have been released through Gqom Oh!?
I came across the Gqom sound around January 2015 when I was still living in Rome and one night saw on a South African friend’s Facebook post a #gqom hashtag. I entered the wormhole of Kasimp3. After a few days of finding out about this whole world of amazing music from Durban, I started to select my favourite tracks and contacting the artists. Some of them were a bit skeptical but the ones who believed in the project and me were released. It wasn’t easy selecting the tracks at the start because I was limited to a double LP, so I started off with roughly 40 of my favourites, then had to cut down to 20 then finally 12 of which were on the first compilation.
Before releasing Gqom Oh! The Sound Of Durban, you hadn’t been to the townships of Durban. Have you since visited the place and if so, how did you experience the local scene?
Yes, since I’ve released Gqom Oh! The Sound Of Durban I’ve been to Durban twice and they’ve both been amazing trips which opened my eyes on how talented these producers really are and especially what really is the Gqom-Zulu youth culture from the elokshini. The first time I was with Lerato Phiri and the Crudo Volta team who we shot the documentary with and sign the artists. It was a overwhelming feeling as after a year of chatting on WhatsApp I actually managed to meet them, look in their eyes and meet their families. The second time I went on my own and stayed for more than a month with Citizen Boy at his house in Avoca Hills and it was a more relaxed trip as I actually got to hang out with the guys and make music together and then we played at Club 101 in Durban with DJ Lag team and the Gqom Oh! family.
You’ve recently released your debut solo EP Malumz on Black Acre that draws heavily on South African music and features remixes by Gqom artists. How did the collaboration go about?
One night whilst I was at home I was trying to make a Gqom beat to send through to the guys. Obviously, it wasn’t Gqom but I wanted to see what the guys thought, so I sent it in our Gqom Oh! WhatsApp group. Formation Boyz & Citizen Boy really liked the track and they were asking me to send the stems to then show me how to make a proper Gqom track.
You’ve mentioned the Senegalese singer and percussionist Moustapha Mbengue as a key influence of the EP. What exactly is your relationship with him like?
Moustapha Mbengue is a Senegalese master percussionist-singer and is a bayefal. He was so important in my musical journey that I wanted to dedicate my lead track “Bayefal” to him. I played with him for quite a few years in Rome in the PepeSoup project I ran. He’s a really important person for me as a human being but also musically as he taught me Senegalese rhythms like asiko o mbalax.
Your contribution to our Groove podcast focuses on a specific new subgenre from Durban called Taxi Kick. What defines this style?
It’s a style of Gqom so I wouldn’t say it’s a real subgenre but it’s got its own strong characteristics. I honestly didn’t really understand until I properly got to Durban as I was only listening to these tracks on my phone. On my last trip however I was in TLC Fam’s taxi and they were playing these Taxi Kick tracks and specifically the first track i played in this mix. It felt like the pressure from the bass was going to destroy the windows. The main concept is a multi-layered kick – usually 3 of them. One super pitched down, the other one distorted and the third one playing notes on the keyboard. Other Taxi Kick characteristics are the usage of “crazy” triplets, crashes, repetitive vocals and a lot of short drops to create a stop-and-go feeling. It’s also 130 BPM, which makes it faster than original Gqom. For the first time in Durban I’ve finally managed to find two or three crews formed by only girls who produce Taxi Kick Gqom and it really is the sound of the teenagers from elokshini, as it’s also called Hard Gqom.
The mix you’ve recorded for us is possibly the first one showcasing this specific style. How did you approach it?
I approached the mix by choosing 60 tracks at the start, which I cut down to 28 then I tried to showcase the different styles of Taxi Kick Gqom within the mix. There are tracks from multiple crews from Durban and from our label, TLC Fam – who are one of the originators of Taxi Kick -, Formation Boyz and Julz Da Deejay. Big shoutout to DJ Magic from TLC Fam for sending me a few WhatsApp vocal notes in which he explains Taxi Kick and how they make it. Just a note that for this mix that if you have a good subwoofer you should turn it on as it’s really not made for laptop speakers or headphones as you need to be able to hear the distortion with subfrequencies how it was properly intended for.
Last but not least: Where can we see you behind the decks in the near future and what are your plans as a label owner and producer?
You can catch me this weekend playing in Lyon with Young Marco. Then we’re doing the next Gqom Oh! tour with Mafia Boyz from the end of May starting at Festwochen in Vienna then to Spring Attitude then Deviation at Fabric. We’ll be playing at Säule in Berlin on the first June as well which will be great. After that I’ll be playing at Hope Works festival in Sheffield then at the Guggenheim in Venice. As a producer I would say I’m sort of finding myself back in my original roots which lied within the Techno scene and have had fun going through a small part of my collection. As a label owner, I really want to step up the amount of releases for Gqom Oh! so by 2018 we can be putting out the fresh sounds from Durban.
Stream: Nan Kolè – Groove Podcast 105
01. TLC Fam (Magic & Nkuluh) – Igqom lo Gqonqa (Gqom_oh! Mix)
02. Formation Boyz – Class Leynkwezeli[Gqom]
03. Steady Boyz (Da Vega Family Cruz) – Tribute to Maboyz (Original Mix)
04. StutuBear x Ace (AddicTed Soundz) x RusTy (ExpecTed Soulz) – Nazoke KaStutu
05. TLC Fam – Umshubo weyNgane Term 3 (Main Mix)
06. Unti TLC & Lego Fam – Imvubu YeMpondo (Da 3rd Term Mix)
07. Swag Fam – Mbenuzo Wama
08. TLC Fam – Isthakazelo saResto (Original Mix) (forthcoming Gqom Oh!)
09. Addicted Queenz – Quantum Lo Queen
10. UntiChicks – Mgido KaMzukulu
11. Formation Boyz – UMGIDO
12. Resto da TLC- Gida mjitha (African Resto)
13. DJ Mabheko – Bath ang’yeke umgwinyo
14. DJ Mabheko – Congo Gqom (Gqom)
15. WhatsApp Audio 2017-04-23 at 08.55.35
16. TLC Fam – Songena NgoReverse (Main Mix)
17. Unknown Crew (Lunatic Kid) – Convoluted Souls (Chatsworth Style)
18. Dote Boyz x Ghetto Squad (Dom) – Gqom Masimba
19. Quinn Fellaz X Newtown SOULs X Lunatic Soulz – Umgido WeyLima
20. TLC Fam – Tribute to Nomfundo (Ladlal’iDark) (forthcoming Gqom Oh!)
21. Julz Da Deejay – iLLUSiONS (Gqom Oh!)
Voices by Dj Magic, Mabenu (TLC) and Mawebstana (Forgotten Souls)