Nhlanhla Mngadi and Andrew Curnow have just returned from Magaliesburg when we speak, where they were recording an album for a Pretoria-based group. The duo, who are the two current creators behind the experimental music imprint Mushroom Hour Half Hour, have been sharing a music journey for many years that has its origins in the underground hip hop scenes in Cape Town and Joburg in the late 90s and early 2000s. Since then their musical influences have grown together (as well as separately) and evolved to include many different creative expressions and experiences that now all converge through the Mushroom Hour Half Hour online platform.
This online home though is a new addition to a concept that has been evolving since 2012, when the pair were invited by João Orecchia and Mpumelelo Mcata from the band Motel Mari to do a show on Invisible Cities Pirate Radio Station. They decided to do a show where Andrew would play vinyl and Nhlanhla would rap over the vinyl. This was supposed to be a one off gig. Four years later we catch up with Nhlanhla and Andrew to speak about the vision and evolution of the Mushroom Hour Half Hour musical experience.
For those who aren’t familiar with Mushroom Hour Half Hour, what’s the platform all about?
Nhlanhla Mngadi: Mushroom Hour Half Hour is an experimental music imprint and platform for us to put out material or experiences that we have been working on over the years and for times to come. It’s a space to share what we do with the world and for people to interact with this material, whether it’s for commercial release or for free.
Andrew Curnow: It’s basically just a platform to house the things we make that appeal to our souls and for us to share them with the world.
What’s the backstory that lead to the launch of this online MHHH Imprint?
NM: Starting with that first radio show, every step of this journey has been organic and unfolded as we progressed. But with it being a pirate radio show with only a 5km radius we changed the format of the show into a monthly podcast that was hosted on the ICR website. But our tenure at this space came to an end due to a gentrification process. So we took this formula of a radio show onto the road. We took our equipment and hit the road, doing recordings with poets which would become the Words on Wax series. Through this experience we become more focused and began working with more curated sounds and collaborating with people we thought would match up with the vinyl soundscapes we were creating. Through this process the idea of doing recorded improvised jam sessions also came to the fore. As these different interventions came about and we began to feel that that Soundcloud wasn’t working for us and we needed a more dynamic platform that could better house all these things we were doing.
AC: With each step that we’ve taken we’ve grow a little bit, and more than just in our sound. We started taking photos and getting friends to come film our interventions, so we needed a space where we could share the multi-media package that we were creating.
MHHH launched with 4 distinct sections each covering music or sound recording from a different focus. How and why did you settle on these?
AC: We felt as if the work we do exists in many different formats. For example Word on Wax features poets, rappers, and authors performing over vinyl. This was the first format we started with on the radio show. As we got better at the art of recording we decided to try our hand at recording improvised jam sessions in interesting spaces from a sound perspective. We felt that this was suitably different from the other format.
NM: The Lab Sessions is more on the side of commercial recordings. More often than not we make these recordings available for commercial sale. The Choice Pickings section arose from the thinking that now that we had a website it’d be nice to also feature the music that our friends like so we created a tab for mixes that will open it up a bit and try get as many sounds as possible onto the site. Not only friends, but also people who aren’t necessary DJs; it’s not about being technical, more about the music and sharing with people who appreciate music and can put together select choice pickings from their collections.
AC: By the nature of collaborations you end up with stuff that doesn’t fall into any of the above labels, such as art residencies, commissioned work, pop-up radio stations, etc. so we created the Mixellaneous tab to house all of this.
Where does the name Mushroom Hour Half Hour come from?
AC: A few days before the first show we did on ICR we needed a name. I was sitting on a friend’s couch on mushrooms listening to a podcast called Ghetto Funk Power Hour by Binky Griptite (from Daptone Records) and this inspired the name. Because at that time we thought it was only going to be a one off thing we weren’t too serious about the name.
What are the guiding principles (if any) of the platform?
NM: Because it was supposed to only be a once off thing, it was all about fun! All sorts of different people, playing music, rapping, playing vinyl. But then when we were driving home we thought how much we’d enjoyed ourselves and that we wanted to do it again. So it was having fun that became our guiding principle. Also experimentation, and exploring different configurations to figure out how different collaborators can come together to create something without knowing what the outcome will be. The zeitgeist of what we do is experimentation, and trying out different things, fashioned in a way that leads to news experiences, which is what artists do every day – to express ourselves. It’s all about having fun! And being true to what we feel and think is relevant.
AC: The quote that we use by Dr. Sazi Dlamini on the “About” page of our website sums up the idea that experimentation lies more in the process than in the sound. This is very important to us. We try put people together based on energy and let them figure each other out.
Collaboration is an integral part of making music and seems to be at the heart of MHHH. From your perspective and experience, what’re some of the advantages of working together rather than separately?
NM: I think that at the heart of music, and at least how we’ve come to understand it, you need more than one person to get it together. We find it so enriching to work with different minds, hearts and spirits to create these soundscapes – different people and different sounds coalescing around one thing. It’s easier but also more challenging balancing all these people around one idea. The advantages are so much more colourful, and have made our experience so much so that we are learning through each encounter that we have. We leave each interaction having learned something new. I’ve always worked with lots of people – the more the merrier. The more people the more skill sets.
AC: A few years ago the legendary artist, Lefifi Tladi, who was part of the black consciousness movement told us that artists don’t spend enough time working with artists of other disciplines. He said painters should hang out with musicians to learn how to hear colours. And similarly, musicians should hang out with painters to learn how to visualise colours, lines and textures in music. The goal is to be in tune with all one’s senses, regardless of your discipline or craft. This really inspired us to open the MHHH platform up for all different kinds of artists to be involved in.
NM: It’s about the texture of the output, which is a multi-sensory experience of life. It must have a sense of many different elements coming together. This is what we’re trying to achieve with all our collaborations. Collaboration is all about having a broad and expansive view of life.
Who would you most like to collaborate with on MHHH in the near future and why?
AC: We would like to facilitate cross-generational discussions. There’s a very lively, exciting group of musicians who’re coming up, as well as many important elders and we want to continue working with both of these groups.
NM: “Most” would be too limiting. As we go along our way new people keep cropping up and the scene keeps changing. There isn’t one set of “most” people. Rather, we want to continue what we have been doing – cross generational in the music and cross-disciplinary in the collaboration – all revolving around the central form of the music. We want to continue experimenting and seeing where that takes us. More often than not that will be with artists and musicians who aren’t in the ‘main stream’, rather those who are left fields, or forgotten voices of our country and the world at large.
How do you curate the MHHH projects? How regularly will you be adding to the site?
AC: It fluctuates. With each show we do our shows keep getting bigger in concept. We also have quite a big backlog as a result of this. We hope to release something new every 2/3 months. We are moving with this project as we move with life. We want to make it sustainable and are exploring different ways of doing this. It must continue regardless, even if it takes longer to release something. It’s about the quality and experience.
What’s the climate of the Johannesburg music scene? Where does MHHH fit in?
AC: We’re at a very exciting point in history right now, whether it’s from a jazz or electronic point of view and everything in between.
NM: There’s a lot of vibrancy happening across the country. We find ourselves left of centre by way of the spaces that we fall into, but there is so much beautiful stuff happening that MHHH tries to highlight including individuals and groups. The sense of possibility is so alive. Not being signed to a record company allows for new freedom. The internet has provided a direct access for people to get their stuff heard. It’s a goulash of so many tasty things; it’s exciting to be alive. And hopefully we get to work with some of these artists all over the country and continent. Last year we were privileged to attend Chale Wote in Accra and it was so amazing to see that the continent is brimming with so much vibrancy! People just pushing the envelope and not being afraid to do that.
Can anyone collaborate with MHHH? How can someone get involved?
NM: MHHH is an experimental process and we approach each project on case by case. It’s about what feels right at the time. The process is guided by the energies of MHHH and by the curatorial vision of the project as a whole. People can reach out to us via our different social platforms and it’s about starting a conversation, having a dialogue and taking it from there. Feeling the spaces and being able to develop a sense of connection.
Anything else you would like to add?
NM: More than anything we want to get people to engage with the platform and take their time to go through the content. Take your time and dig into the shrooms and be on the lookout for new projects.
Explore the varied frequencies of the Mushroom Hour Half Hour this way.