Lately, I have taken a step back to ask myself why any of the songs on this project that Neo and I have been working on, exist at all. I have simply been fighting for my heart and refusing to let it become hard. Learning to say ‘ouch’ when it is sore and work through pain and disappointment as soon as possible after when it arises. We’ve been at it for long enough for me to ask myself if it is working. My heart has not turned to metal. I count it a small miracle.
My country kills its womxn and shoots at marching workers and students. Even in the back as they flee, they are chased and shot at. No one ever gets arrested. The body of a black person is cheap and easily replaced in the production line. My heart can’t process it and begins to shut down. How many revolutions do we need to have before we treat each other as human? How is this possible in the rainbow nation democracy we were taught about at school and in the songs with various artists. I soon realise this smoke from burning tyres and teargas and we might never see this rainbow. White people also show us more explicitly that their hearts have not changed and black people realise they still own nothing. We are hovering and our feet can’t touch the ground. Black bodies also mean nothing in the United States, the land of the free. New names haunt us: Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Michael Brown. We have a new words: white privilege, femicide, rape capital, #menaretrash, #blacklivesmatter #aminext
I lament in song.
I try to make sense of my identity and relationships, my new role as a mother and my heart threatens to shut down. The songs and the hopes behind them keep it supple. So this project, Platinumb Heart, is a series of heartbreak songs that I sometimes call protest songs and also little miracles in between, the love songs which have become my defiance to still feel and to still hope. They too are a form of protest. Even the cheeky Pearls to Swine.
I meet But’ Neo soon after I write my first song in this series. The song is called Blood Guns and Revolutions. It’s about the heroic gaze we grew up holding when we think of this previous generation that gave us freedom. It questions the naivety of this gaze, its lack of understanding of this generation’s trauma and hypocrisies that come with it. It ends with the brutal murder of the Miners in Marikana. Towards the end I reference a song Miriam Makeba used to perform called Jikela Emaweni. It is also referred to as ‘the retreat song’.
I perform Blood, guns and revolutions at the Bassline in Johannesburg and But’ Neo is there. I admire him greatly and I have followed how he has been tracing and performing an extended protest song and telling its story in his own work. He also happens to be the person who wrote one of my favourite love songs called Born in Taxi.
He is to become a great friend of my heart. Now we are here in this strange time and I am fighting for the energy to complete this project. I hope it will mean something on the other side of this. It has already given so much to me. I hold on the words of the beloved Mama Miriam Makeba. “All I have is hope, determination and a song.”
Pearls to Swine is a song about love languages and the delicate offerings that go undetected or misunderstood. It’s a cheeky wink at long-term relationships as well as the humility and hurt that comes with trying to love someone through all the seasons. Pearls to Swine features Congolese/South African pop musician Tresor and wordsmith Kid X of ‘Aunty’ fame.
If I had answered your mail exactly when it came in I would have probably told you that this song is a desaturated look at love and the things taken for granted when we feel a little ‘comfortable’ in a relationship. I would have left the emotional side and told you about the colour grading choices and the deliberate bad acting and in perfectly symmetrical frames that could be photographs. How the colour pallet is referencing the emotions : muted and restrained, slightly mournful and a dash of silver for hope. I would tell you that shaky hand-made props are a sign of my sense of humour through seriously tough times. Like bad memes on social media in the face of collective pain.
I story-boarded the video an hour after writing the song so everything has been clear as the bassline from the start. I was mad, but I also wanted to laugh at myself for whining, for thinking that pride and love could be roommates. If this video is a poem, the costumes and the props from the art department are the figures of speech. I had so much fun designing costumes with Unathi Mkonto and Gift Kgosirileng of No Modern Slave, who dresses me for my live shows and making props with Francois Knoetze. He is one of my oldest collaborators. I met him while studying Fine Arts at Rhodes University and we have been collaborating since our first year. He is a fine sculptor who works also in digital art and installation. Every technical decision from the cotton wool clouds to the ‘Silver lining installation’ towards the end is an emotional one. It would have been a different video had I only been a director without the backstory and the inside jokes to every sentence in the poem. It was the most fun I’ve had creating and all my languages found home for expression in this weird thing that now lives on youtube. Wild!
NEO MUYANGA on producing Pearls to Swine
Co-producing this record with Msaki has been a joy. She’s a very talented singer and songwriter. We began discussing this project a couple of years ago, as a concept album intent on exploring themes of love and protest from the perspective of the African diaspora. As Che Guevara is alleged to have remarked, without love there can be no revolution (resolution?). I think of protest as the act (or bridge, if you will) that connects these two – love and revolution – on this material plane. Asanda (Msaki) and I began our collaboration by sharing the things we love – of course, books and music among them. I gave her a copy of Ma Miriam Makeba’s (please link this to the Lindokuhle Nkosi page in herri 3) autobiography,’My story’, wherein she gives a candid account of her life, her love(s) and inspirations. Such shared obsessions are the elements that inform the language we’ve used for this new record. For example the track, Pearls to swine, is driven by a slinky synth bass that is reminiscent of the moog sound of 1970s and early 80s funk which really define how we hear bands like Parliament Funkadelic’s (George Clinton) Atomic dog; The Gap Band’s Early in the morning; Rufus and Chaka Khan’s Ain’t Nobody or Michael Jackson’s Baby be mine.
Also importantly, the sample you hear on Pearls To Swine is a manipulated clip of Elizete Cardoso singing Luis Bonfa’s, Manhã de carnaval, which was one of the key musical themes in the movie, Orfeu Negro of 1959. 1959 was also the year Makeba starred in the jazz opera, King Kong, which was likely why Lionel Rogosin came and asked her to also feature in his film, Come back Africa of 1960. Makeba attended a showing of Orfeu Negro at a film festival in Venice later that same year, where she would have heard Bonfa’s tune. Brazilian music would subsequently form a great part of Makeba’s Afro diasporic repertoire while she lived and worked in the United States of America during her time in exile. This is some of how we reflect on our music and our collective history, and how we use both to project ourselves headlong into future(s).
David Langemann on the mixing process for Pearls to Swine
I was asked by Msaki and Neo Muyanga to handle the music mix for Pearls to Swine. With such a minimalist musical arrangement each element had to be portrayed as boldly as possible. The main elements were: Human Beatbox Groove, Electro Bass, Voices and Live String Quartet.
Additionally, the song had a hidden Brazilian guitar and voice sample chosen by Neo Muyanga. The audio clip of Elizete Cardoso singing “Manhã de carnaval” was placed and manipulated, by stretching the time and tempo to play along correctly. Ultimately, the clip blended in well, and brought a distinct emotional effect to the song.
The voice and string quartet were elements that were fairly straight forward to mix but there were some elements that took more effort to contextualise. The human beatbox was recorded by Msaki into a vocal microphone. and then enhanced with a “bass drum” sample, so that the song would sit well next to contemporary tracks on radio or online. The sample was carefully blended under the beatbox in order to keep it real and organic sounding.
The most prominent element was the electro bass that Msaki played using Logic X software. I processed the bass using a Moog filter, some distortion and also a touch of echo. The processing of the bass took several attempts with key input from Msaki and Neo Muyanga. I am glad we took our time on it because it made the song stand up and say “listen to me”. Once that happened, we knew the clever lyrics and sublime vocals would do the rest!
Art Director: Unathi Mkhonto | Msaki
Wardrobe Stylist: Unathi Mkhonto
Set | Art Department : Francois Knoetze
Production Studio: Uncap Productions
Colorist: Fiks (at Uncap Post)
Costume Design: Phetogo Gift for Nomodernslave
special thank you to Nirox Foundation for the beautiful location and the residency that allowed Msaki to create this work.