Blanka Mazimela takes us all around Bantwanas Back to Front EP
Get your sonic groove on with Blanka Mazimela and Bantwanas.
Bantwanas, translating to Children of Africa, is a collective of South African artists led by Blanka Mazimela and Ryan Murgatroyd specialising in fusing traditional African rhythms and samples together with deep house fit to dominate the world stage.
Having been musically influenced by his father and brother, Mazimela soon became obsessed with finding his own unique sound and upon meeting Ryan Murgatroyd swiftly went from protégé to equal as he continues to explore the deep-rooted call to make and share music.
From being the head of the Soul Candi Institute of Music, engaging with 500 students to cramming eight artists into a studio and a certain aversion to Celine Dion, not to mention the birth of this mega-groovy, sultry, summery EP; this is Blanka Mazimela.
The EP opens up which a courtyard session with the sounds of kids (abantwana) playing in the background and Korus providing the music for that scene.”
Bantwanas’ new EP All Day Dream was released on 6 September, perfectly aligning with the beginning of spring, warm weather and the end of hibernation (in South Africa at least).
The EP 100% reminds me of being outside, going to outdoor events and having fun in the sun with old friends and new. It is so groovy and light and masterfully constructed- thank you!
Speak to us about the process of producing the EP. Where the inspiration came from, how long it took from concept to completion and how it feels now that it is done and ready for public appreciation…
Blanka Mazimela: The EP opens up which a courtyard session with the sounds of kids (abantwana) playing in the background and Korus providing the music for that scene. With the second track breaking into a riff that we all loved from our guitarist Akinwale James.
The process of putting this together was more of a task than one can imagine. The task of leading the crew includes spending nights in studio, driving the whole crew back home, sleeping on the side of the road due to fatigue and getting home the following day.
Cramming 8 musicians into a studio and trying to lead the process of writing hooks and deleting some bad vocals in the midst of it all. Some of the tracks on the EP where recorded at one go whilst others had to go back and forth between myself and Ryan hence the name ‘Back To Front’. Whilst the track Zappa was an old song that Ryan and I recorded with the group Korus. We ended up losing the original file of the song which led us to having to rerecord the whole track and rerecording is something that every producer will tell you about – the song will never have the same feel but this one just sounded better than the older version.
Between Ryan and I, we draw inspiration from different places. I mainly draw mine from daily activities and my random trips to the rurals (Eastern Cape). If you find my phone it’s full of voice memos that I record wherever I go which I then try to emulate upon getting into the studio.
The love we have for original compositions and organic instrumentation is probably what makes the studio session a vibe for the both of us. We really hate sampling other people’s stuff. Why sample it when you can create it.
You’re not only a Producer and DJ, but also the sound production head of department at Boston College, which is amazing!
What is your favourite part of the job and how has it influenced your production and musical insight?
Blanka Mazimela: I’m currently head of the Soul Candi Institute of Music, a job I truly enjoy as teaching is my passion.
I engage with about 500 students from our institutions around South Africa. I think the idea of paying it forward for the guys is my favourite part of the job and the reason I wake up every morning. The other main reason is that back when I started this music thing there weren’t enough resources and information available for new up and coming producers but today, we have the Soul Candi Institute of Music/Boston City Campus gearing up these guys for the indus
They say class examples make the best hits.
Growing up you were influenced by your father’s music collection.
Who are some of your favourite artists from his collection? Did he have any embarrassing music tastes that you maybe weren’t so fond of?
Blanka Mazimela: My dad had a very wide range of music. I’ve listened to blues, rock, jazz and some mbaqanga just to mention a few genres. I think this is evident in my compositions. My all-time favourites are ABBA, Smokie, Teddy Pendergrass, The Bee Gees, The Soul Brothers and some Kenny G (on a good day).
I think the music made those long road trips bearable, so much that when I make music today I reminisce about the moments during those trips.
If I ever hear a Celine Dion or a Westlife record, I will jump off the nearest cliff. Let’s just say that I’ve heard this music above my normal limit.
He’s managed to nurture me both professionally and personally.”
So, you started your career as Ryan Murgatroyd’s protégé and now you are partners in the Bantwanas project. How has that friendship and mentorship helped you flourish in your career?
Blanka Mazimela: Look I could tell the story with Ryan a million times on how it’s one of the highlights of my career and how it has opened me up to a new world of electronic music composition but I think he saw a lot in me that I didn’t see in myself. He’s managed to nurture me both professionally and personally. The days where I used to make tea as an intern have led me to appreciate a lot of things about life, artistry and music. It has really taught me to just stick it out during the dark times and also understand the reasons why I started this music game. I bounce ideas on all my compositions to him all the time. I think it’s just always rewarding to get advice from someone who really cares about your music as much as you do. Any song of mine that you hear out there has passed the Ryan, Sol & Jarred stamp of approval. All it says about me is that I really want to offer people timeless music. Music that will stand the test of time.
Working on a group project was tough in school and I can’t imagine it being any easier as grown-ups in the music industry with individual schedules.
How did you manage the production process of the EP, considering everyone’s crazy schedules?
Blanka Mazimela: Seeing that most of the crew members are a based in Cape Town we do all the raw ideas down here. Meaning all the ideas and writing happen mostly in our Cape Town studio. After recording and laying down the ideas I then work the music by myself before sending it up to Ryan in Johannesburg to take it to the next level. It’s a method that has worked thus far even though the plan would be to house the whole project in one place (Joburg). I think collaborations reveal different things for every producer out there and working with a team of 8 talented musicians has really made this project special. The infusion says a lot about who the characters are in the crew when you get to listen to the music.
We don’t want to warp the culture by jumping on the ‘back to Africa’ movement and working on sampled material that really doesn’t represent our ideas well.”
Bantwanas is unique in the sense that you use entirely live vocals and traditional, locally sourced African instrumentation for each and every release.
Why is it so important that you do so? I can imagine it must take a lot of time and effort to source what you need when others may simply lean on vast royalty-free samples.
Blanka Mazimela: It’s probably a moral ethic code that both Ryan & I abide by. We don’t want to warp the culture by jumping on the ‘back to Africa’ movement and working on sampled material that really doesn’t represent our ideas well. So, we choose to record our own. If there’s a hot sound that we like from a Kora instrument or Uhadi (musical bow) then we are likely to record all that ourselves. It’s a strenuous process and requires a lot of resources but once we hear the final product then it makes it all worth the fuss. I personally believing that there are deep rich indigenous Xhosa rhythms that have never been heard in the context of electronic music and each day we are trying to bring those intricacies to life through our processes. Again, we’ve always wanted an authentic organic space.
What’s your take on the suggestion that ‘Afrobeats’ is taking the world by storm?’ Are you feeling that down here in the south of Africa?
Blanka Mazimela: Afrobeats have always been around. We used to call it tribal back in the day and it’s a sub-genre that has been bubbling for a while now. Whilst this is taking the world by storm, I feel that Africa has so much more to offer. We have 3000 tribes and 2000 languages. I think the world has not been fully exposed to Afrobeats because the drums & rhythms are alive and well down here. If you go to any township or rural area in South Africa, you’ll find that the deep gritty grooves are a part of daily activity. It’s a genre that will stand the test of time.
What’s next for Blanka and where to from here for Bantwanas?
Blanka Mazimela: Next is to finish the full Bantwanas album and travel to Kenya to record the Blanka Mazimela album. It’s a project that I’ve put about 2 years on and I’ll be starting on it in 2020. I really think it’s time to come out of the closet with my music because I’m not just writing electronic music so my future album will be packed with loads of forward-thinking music.