Warrick Sony is one of the most prolific and groundbreaking South African musicians. In many ways he is the godfather of electronic music in South Africa. No surprises then that release number 11 for African Dope Records is the new Kalahari Surfers album, Muti Media . Although Warrick is the only member of the original Kalahari Surfers trio, infamous for having three consecutive albums banned in the 80s, his music remains political, groove-infested and strangely unsettling. Warrick Sony explains himself.

'I was born in Port Elizabeth 12 Sept (now Biko Day) in 1958. I'm the same age as Madonna! Moved to Durban and went to Westville - Infant through to High School. I learned to play guitar when I was 13 after seeing the older brother of my best friend do "The House Of the Rising Sun" with a wah-wah peddle through a Marshall 100 watt amp, just like Jimi Hendrix. I sold my soul, at that

moment. I started playing guitar then moved to bass and worked at being a virtuoso jazz bassist .l left for Damelin College (problem learner) then ultimately did the Sri Sri Radha Krishna temple in Desai Nagar-Tongaat instead of Matric in 1976.I learned to play mridangam and started my Indian music education there aslo learned hindi and beginnings of Sanskrit. I met a lot of Indian people during this period,the very rich and the very poor, and it gave me much empathy with their struggle in this country and was possibly my introduction to politics. Religion and politics exist very comfortably side by side. Certainly Ghandi was a powerful icon to all at that time. I visited his home in Phoenix where it was beautifully maintained. An IFP Zulu contingent destroyed it in the 80's and built shacks out of the remnants, cementing Zulu-Indian tensions that persist to this day. Zulu music impacted on me as a bass player during my school years: Soul Brothers, Moses Mchunu, Puzushukela,Mahlathini and the Queens I loved the slides and percussive plectrum styles that Mbaqanga bass players used.

I was drafted into the army in 1977, as punk was happening. I had the right haircut and got into punk and reggae in a big way churning out songs until I was discharged in 1979. Went to UCT 1980-83. Met up with Hamish and Brian and jammed and recorded stoned jams that were compiled and sent to an obscure label in Germany and eventually released a double 7" single as Kalahari Surfers. Then back to Joburg to work with Lloyd Ross in the Shifty Records mobile studio and sustain myself working as a sound recordist in film.

What is experimental punk satire?

'A combination of all of the above. An eclectic artrock from guys who grew up during punk. Punk was the shift from playing to protest.'

What happened to the rest of the Surfers, where are they now?

'Hamish is gardening for Maharishi Mahesh yogi in America somewhere and Brian is a career drug addict.'

What did you do between the early Kalahari Surfers albums and Akasic Record ?

'I had a group called Trance Sky with Brendan Jury and did an album called Killing Time . Opened for Massive Attack. Did album with Greg Hunter and Kris Weston of early ORB fame. Had 2 children.

What was it like to work with William Kentridge on Faustus in Africa and Ubu and the Truth Commission ?

'I also did the one before called Faustus in Africa with the late James Phillips. William is a great creative person and a sign of a great creative person is the lack of insecurity over the question of what is good and what is bad. A question that puzzles many advertising creative directors. William knows what is good and what is bad and I trust him on that account. If something needs to be changed there is always good reason. If something is on target... good… move on to the next piece. I respect his judgment in the area of aesthetics and, for this reason, found it easy to work with him.

Your music is politically charged, and always has been. Is there a specific message you want people to get?

'I don't know. You get what you can - it's a Zen thing. I've learned over the years that things seep through. One can't change the world with music. Even Bob Dylan did no better than spawn millions of Bob Dylan impersonators but what he did do was give a green light to millions as well. So artists were thinking "OK now this is possible". He broke new ground. I hope to have broken new ground for South Africans. An inspiration for me is a guy called Marcus Wormstorm whose work still doesn't seem to have an SA release, but he's out there and he's someone who I think is breaking new ground, especially with his extreme glitch noise aesthetic. Sort of Aphex Twin through torn speakers.

How did Muti Media come about?

' Muti Media , originally, was a multi-media spectacle I tried to put together some years ago for a French festival but it didn't get off the ground. My collection of compositions from last year seemed to gel around the idea that African medicine, music and electronics were a synthesis that could not be ignored.

Do you ever do live gigs?

'I Toured Europe twice in the 80's, Germany, Holland, France and even played in the former Soviet Union undercover, false document, etc. Used British musicians from the Recommended Records artists pool. I recently toured with Gugulethu based ragga rappers Ghetto Muffin whose album Paralyzer I did a few years ago. We toured with Felix Leband and Fletcher and Inka doing the Dope tour of Holland and Belgium. I like DJ work where I'm able to compose and play special mixes of my own or remixed versions of other artists work. I only play what I've tampered with and use live sampling and tonal scratching from my archive of sound and vinyl.'

You have done a lot of meaning-filled collaborations with artists like William Kentridge, Brett Murray, Lesego Rampolokeng and soundtracks for Country Of My Skull, Blood and Ochre amongst others. At the same time you have also done music for BMW, Klipdrift and Nike - do you see that as contradictory or hypocritical?

'One cannot live off music in South Africa unless commercial work is taken into the equation. Even the biggest selling artist of our time sell nowhere near what a middle rung American hip hop outfit would achieve. All composers who stay in South Africa have to expand their repertoire of work into the commercial world. I tend to be approached by people in the commercial world who know my work and want to tap that talent for a commercial possibility and are willing to pay good fees for that. As someone who refused to do any of this sort of work throughout the 80s and was harshly critical of those who 'sold out', I feel that now is the time to exploit all my skills and talents to be able to achieve my goals. We do not get record deals here that give one the luxury of an advance whilst doing an album. Unless you're a bankable mainstream artist The indie circuit is so small I'd need to be a plumber or something to afford to do my albums. Also many of my best pieces began as paid commissions. Often the first shot at a brief is the best and I'm not one to throw good work away.

'You tend to use quite complex beat sequences in your music - and while the music sounds dubby and mellow something seems to be a bit perplexing. The music has an unsettled surreality to it, call it queasy listening. Does this form part of the political communication?

'That is a great way of expressing my sound "Queasy Listening" .I used to say that I did undanceable dance music. Reggae in 7/8 rhythm. Indian music always impressed me that it had no bias to 4/4 timing. In the back of my mind, though, is still the symbiotic relationship between the totalitarian, robot, all-obey-my-orders relationship between high impact dance and military drill. Something kinda scary I always feel about all those people doing what they're told to do. I know it's my baggage, but I love dance music and always have. But I also have a slightly uneasy feeling about huge crowds doing the same thing in time with each other. My sci-fi imagination runs way with me.

What would you like to be remembered for?

A great work of symphonic proportion, which is still in the throes of nascence.

What's the wackiest sample you used on Muti Media ?

'There are two, actually. But side by side to form one:
"going away"… "with the weapons inspector"

What's next?

'I've just completed a commission for Microdot Records - a whole new album of serious 130 bpm down the line dance stuff for their "Africa in Trance" series, called Conspiracy of Silence and was released last week. It has a spin on it, I think. Check it out.

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