Local band are wizards on UK music scene
Unknown in SA, group’s album is Guardian’s eighth best of the year
IT’S NOTHING short of insane – that a Cape Town band made number eight on The Guardian newspaper’s list of 40 best albums of the year.
Gaining playtime on British radio is a miracle in itself. But the surprise gets better, considering the band is from South Africa, but hardly known here.
Last week, the Guardian described the band’s self-titled album John Wizards as “magical”.
The newspaper’s music editor, Time Jonze, wrote a feature on them in August, documenting how a Rwandan security guard met a South African advertising music writer, and the two created the fusion music that won them recognition in the UK.
The band members are carguard Emmanuel Nzaramba and ad jingle writer John Withers. They played live on tour in Britain and Europe as part of a six-member band.
Last month they had an interview with Gilles Peterson on BBC Radio 6 Music.
They also have tour dates lined up again in Britain and Europe next year – yet nothing back here at home.
Withers told Weekend Argus this week: “It’s hard to say how it happened. We got picked up by British record label Planet Mu after we posted on SoundCloud, and we started working on the album last year.”
The two met in 2010 when Withers used to frequent Starlings Cafe in Claremont, and Nzaramba guarded cars on Belvedere Road. He had arrived via Tanzania to be a musician, and the two started recording.
Although they lost touch later that year, their paths crossed again early last year when Withers bumped into Nzaramba on Loop Street.
The album is not available in South Africa, but its sound is very danceable electro reggae, with a little folk.
The song titles and music are influenced by their South African experience, particularly the trek of a Rwandan man to Cape Town, Withers says.
Song titles include Lusaka by Night, Limpop, Muizenberg, Iyongwe, Durvs (as in Durban) and Hogsback.
The song titles are not directly referred to in the songs, which feature Nzaramba’s vocals in his native tongues, juxtaposed with Withers’s South African English.
“UK audiences don’t get the the song titles. They are baf- fled,” Withers jokes, recalling various British mispronunciations of “Muizenberg”.
Withers had recorded instrumentals before meeting Nzaramba, who later added his vocals. The “foreignness” of all of this, Withers thinks, drew the attention of the British.
While on tour abroad last month, they played more shows than they’ve ever done in Cape Town. But Withers is set to do a DJ set of John Wizards music at the Nu World Eve party at Founders Garden near Artscape.
In London last month, Withers recalls seeing the album on a shelf for the first time, at the Rough Trade shop.
“It was amazing to see the CD in a record store.”
Planet Mu have no distributor here, he says, adding: “Hopefully that will be sorted out soon.”
Their album is sitting at No 26 on the store’s albums of the year.
Of their Guardian Top 10 nod, he says: “I am surprised we made it. It is hard to digest. I am continuing with life as is. The Guardian is widely distributed and for some it will be the first time hearing of us.”
John Wizards will return to Britain at the end of May for their summer tour.
INTERNATIONAL ACCLAIM: Ad jingle writer John Withers. Security guard Emmanuel Nxaramba joined him on the album John Wizards which made it to No 8 on The Guardian’s list of 40 best albums of the year.