Malose Malehela, co-director of the South African Keleketla! library and grassroots organisation, makes clear his intentions in a short documentary about this album. Gone are the days of white artists adopting the sounds of Africa with little regard or accreditation for the roots, culture and musicians who built them – instead, calling upon 90s electronic duo Coldcut to collaborate with, he states that ‘they’re not coming here to do a DJ set and disappear; they are coming here to absorb, learn and grow’.
And what do the resultant twelve tracks teach us? Bring together thirty-one international musicians in a genre-mash-up of jazz, rap, afrobeat, dance (etc), and you are rewarded with a record that spiritually revitalises and politically invigorates the conscience.
From the iconic, mind-altering percussion of the late Tony Allen, the protesting words of West-Papuan duo The Lani Singers and the scatterings of inner-city vibrations from the drum machines and samplers of Coldcut, Keleketla! has set a new benchmark for the collaborative concept album in terms of artistic quality and musical solidarity. This is not an album of headline acts, but one of equal union.
Indeed, this is evidenced by tracks such as ‘International Love Affair’. Composed of intricate layers of instrumentation put to the repeated chant of “It’s a love affair“, it’s hard not to become entranced to the rhythmic delicacy and incessant beat. Elsewhere, ‘Freedom Groove’ lets out a empowering battle cry for human liberation that preaches “Freedom is a fact of natural order“, lamenting the state of all who have been made to “follow an order to be“, while ‘Crystallise’, directed by the commanding vocals of rapper Yugen Blakrok, is a moment of subtle melancholia which exhibits Coldcut’s legendary electronics to full exposure, calling back to the similarly defiant sounds of Little Simz.
Keleketla! is a welcome reminder of the universalism of musical endeavour and human connection. Kicking against the ever-growing nationalist and individualist fervour of our time, it brings collectivity back to the forefront of creation and composition without compromising a second of material. This is a real highlight of 2020 which has been, for some, criminally overlooked.