DJ INVIZABLE

We sat down with DJ InviZAble’s Earth Liaisons, Nick Matthews and Jonathan Inggs, to talk about identity, positivism, cultural appropriation, the sound of XiFi and the newly released album.

So how does this ‘Earth liaison’ gig work?

JON: We speak on behalf of InviZAble and he speaks through us…

Who is DJ inviZAble?

NICK: A mythical being who’s travelled from distant planets in the Sonarverse. He’s a refugee of Xi, who has created a new sound – XiFi.

What is the inviZAble Project?

JON: It was initially about the music and over the years, it’s morphed into a bigger creative project. So, it’s not just about the music – we have the music, the exhibition and there’s a graphic novel coming. We also built The Skorofietsie which we incorporated into the exhibition, but it’s a standalone street performance in its own right. It’s basically a sound system on a bicycle, so it looks cool.

PHOTOGRAPHER: ROOIWOLF

‘We’re taking tropes of South African music and then remodelling them with a contemporary electronic style, so it’s got a unique sound to it.’

What does the project mean to DJ InviZAble?

NICK: One of the most important things that it means to me as an artist is that I get to discuss the question around identity. A masked character doesn’t exude a descriptive identity, racially, and in terms of gender and philosophical orientation, so that leaves the room wide open for interpretation, which is really important, particularly when trying to reimagine a futuristic perspective of what South African identity is.
At the moment, I see from a creative level that South Africa is dealing with an identity crisis and that’s because of its fractured past and I guess because of its diversity.

It leaves the door open for interpretation, which is really important. In a situation where a culture is trying to define itself, which is where South Africa is right now, it’s important to have that freedom of expression and to allow these new ideas to emerge. I guess that’s where I get the motivation from.

One of the biggest challenges we face in SA is still racial segregation. It also has an economic aspect to it which is one of the hardest things to overcome in order to create a more inclusive society. I guess that’s why, for example, the gig we did recently was free. I don’t want there to be any kind of price barrier for someone to experience this. I’d rather they walk away with something that they can remember, instead of trying to create an exclusive niche out of it.

JON: Just to add to DJ InviZAble’s interpretation of identity… something we all feel very strongly about is that South Africa in the last two to three years has taken massive strides. You see the rise of qgom and that kwaito and trap kind of identity. But it’s still inherently European or American in origin. It has been a case of people emulating.

Among us Africans there’s a feeling that if we create our own identity and do something ourselves, we are inherently inferior to these Western standards and styles. But South Africa is moving towards creating its own identity. You can also see that Europeans are co-opting African culture in the form of afro-house. DJs from Berlin and London are playing afro-house – and they’ve never even been to Africa! We come from Cape Town where the segregation is still very real… Joburg is a completely different story. Cape Town – which is very white, very old money and very conservative, and where the best spaces in the city are reserved for wealthy people – has now transitioned from a racial thing to an economic form of classism.

We’ve got a government at the moment that doesn’t give a damn about poor people. By engaging in this style of music and bringing the sounds of the township into the music, we are trying to make sure that we bridge that gap in some way.

The frontwoman of InviZAble, Yolanda Fyrus, comes from Khayelitsha. She’s like one of the mayors of Khayelitsha (laughs) and she’s a sangoma. When we were recording the album, we would chat about her dreams the night before and then the music came out reflecting that. So hopefully, we’ve got the backing of the ancestors.

This project and the understanding of this project and the inclusion of different elements of African culture, from beyond South Africa, has been very important. Just after the XiFi album comes out, we’ve got some of SA’s top producers remixing the album. We’re going to launch a remix album in the next two months which will include the likes of RMBO from BLK JKS, Thandi Draai, Kusasa, Jackie Queens, Kevin Ribbans, Matthew Loots and Cornelius, who’s been killing it in Berlin with the Red Bull guys. Then we’ve got some guys overseas who are going to be jumping on the project. We’re hoping to launch this album in Johannesburg. We had quite a successful exhibition at the Everard Read Gallery in Cape Town, and they’re open to us exhibiting at their Joburg gallery now.

‘XiFi is a hero’s journey. It’s about being able to overcome adversity through very normal African ingenuity.’

Can you explain what XiFi music is?

NICK: It’s based on this concept of reimagination. The impetus behind XiFi as a genre of music was to try and incorporate, let’s call it traditional music, and I mean that in the sense of folkloric narratives and stories that were put into the music. For example, iThongo Lam, which is a culturally significant traditional Xhosa song that speaks about the ancestors.

We don’t think of this as cultural appropriation and I’d really like to try and define that. We are not taking something and slapping it on something else. What we’ve done is we’ve taken that song and we’ve reworked it into a contemporary style.

We’re taking tropes of South African music and then remodelling them with a contemporary electronic style, so it’s got a unique sound to it. It’s got futurism, it’s got synthesisers and it’s dancey and uplifting, and it’s meant to move you, make you shake your booty. But at the same time, it has its roots. It’s got this story and context behind it which, for us, is very important.

JON: And it’s got respect for older traditions…

NICK: Yes, it acknowledges its roots and gives them their place. It’s not trying to do Die Antwoord; walking over a culture and pissing people off, which is their shock value. We’re not in that game, we’re in the game of positivism.

JON: XiFi is about inspiring the youth, people of colour especially. It’s about, creating your own style, being proud of your roots and where you come from. This is very much the drive for us.

PHOTOGRAPHER: CHRIS SAUNDERS

‘When I say this music is for the people, it’s not a rash statement. Most of the music that I perform is not for money, I’m playing for free.’

Tell us more about the album.

NICK: The whole XiFi album is based on a science-fiction story.​

JON: Classic good versus evil…

NICK: Yes, classic good versus evil. Nothing out of the normal here (laughs). It’s pretty much in line with any alien movie you’ve ever watched. Star Wars was referenced to the ground. XiFi is a hero’s journey. It’s about being able to overcome adversity through very normal African ingenuity. For example, upcycling, repurposing, making something from nothing. Taking these things that the Western world…

JON: Ja, the throwaway society…

NICK: Yes, these things that they take for granted. Africans take those things and reimagine them. We’ll take that TV PC board and turn it into an amplifier. And we’ll be able to take that and spread our message across the continent and all over the globe. This is the kind of ethos that’s behind the album. The album is that whole story from beginning to end, so it starts with The Dream and it ends with The Celebration.

JON: We do have a meta-stab at colonialism. The main antagonist is an evil guy who’s come to conquer a rural planet and steal its resources. Obviously, you don’t have to have a massive imagination to know what we’re referring to there… the white man coming to Africa with his rifles and bibles. We portray that story in a futuristic narrative, bringing home the message that as Africans, it’s OK to stand up for yourself, it’s OK to have your own identity and it’s OK to buck the status quo in terms of imposed culture.

NICK: Moving forward from that, we now sit in a situation where we can’t avoid colonialism. It’s part of our culture. Look at all the African dictators over the past 60 years… what do they all look like? Idi Amin, who was a royalist at the end of the day. It’s not going to go away, and you can see that in terms of the aesthetic and style of InviZAble. Although it’s distinctly African, it draws from many different cultural references, not just European but also Malaysian in terms of the dress and the style and the cut. The latest outfit I wore was made by Malikah Hajee, who comes from a lineage of tailors that came to this country as slaves. We don’t have to dwell on the past, but we have to accept it.

What it comes down to is creolisation (the mixing together of different people and cultures to become one). That’s what we are going though right now. It’s a never-ending process. Even now we see that the internet has made little people all over the world think that they are massive rap stars because they have access to the internet. Likewise, we are going to have a situation on a global scale, where people will be able to identify with cultures they’ve never experienced before. Like, for example, Berlin house music.

PHOTOGRAPHER: NADEGE SANZ

What’s the significance of the colour spectrum on the cover artwork for the XiFi album?

NICK: It’s another semiotic. We went from plain primary and secondary colours to totally neon. That particular colour spectrum not only has a deeper meaning in terms of how we see the world in terms of colour, but it also has significance in a very futuristic way. When you think of neon you think of electricity, you think of Asia. It’s another one of those ways that I’ve been able to express creativity in a visual way.

JON: Stylistically, it’s been kept traditional, but it’s like the colour of the future is neon. All of these things are like adaptations of past and present and looking towards the future and what that future could be.

NICK: That’s the main focus – don’t forget where we’ve come from, don’t forget where we are, but let’s have a look where we’re going. Look behind but look ahead at the same time (laughs).

JON: I feel a Kung Fu Panda quote coming on (laughs).

NICK: We come from a post-socialist perspective. One thing that we’ve done while collaborating on this album is ensured that all the intellectual property invested belongs to the artists.

JON: We’re quite socialist in our approach, even in terms of the exhibition. Every single one of those images had been given to us by the photographers. So, we were happy to share 50:50 with them on all the sales, even though we paid for the production. It was our way of saying thank you because over the years, we’ve had photographers giving us photos because they thought our gigs were amazing. We’ve built up this incredible library of images and it’s added to the visual aesthetic of DJ InviZAble. Likewise, it’s even splits for everyone with regards to the song royalties.

NICK: Our objective is to try and uplift the people we work with – that’s our mission. At the end of the day, we’re broke musicians (laughs), but we have a sense of pride artistically. We’re doing it the right way. There’s always positive intention, despite the challenges. Even yesterday I was spitting at the windscreen because I couldn’t get something right. I had to sit back and remember that this is why I do this. For Mandela Day, we decided we were going to play music to orphans who’d probably never heard a live show. The feeling that we walk away with afterwards was just incredible.

Where are you performing next?

NICK: We’re performing on 28 October at Open Street in Observatory in Cape Town. They close off Main Road between Woodstock and Salt River. There’s a very poor community on the one side and a wealthier community on the other side. So, the idea behind this is to find a way to create a cultural intermingling; one that isn’t a capitalistic undertaking. You just come and hang out on the street and as long as you’re not riding a vehicle that’s self-powered, you can bring it along. So, I bring my Skorofietsie, I play my sound. You see these little kids staring at you as though you’ve come from another planet, man (laughs)

You’ve said that your music is for the people. Can you explain?

NICK: When I say this music is for the people, it’s not a rash statement. Most of the music that I perform is not for money, I’m playing for free. I haven’t earned any money from any of the gigs I’ve played for the last five years. As an artist, you have a massive responsibility on your shoulders which very few artists recognise. And that is the following: you are the representation of the prevailing culture of the time. You are the mirror and you have to put something out there that is going to represent that authentically. That’s what I’m doing.

Get the album here

2019-08-20T09:47:33+00:00