In The Golden Wake: A Q&A with The Brother Moves On

The Brother Moves On are equally comfortable performing a low-key gig at The Orbit as they are Burning the Bullion alongside fellow artists Albert Khoza, Fuzzy Slippers, Nolan Dennis and Stuart Cairns at Goodman Gallery. While individual members may identify more as musicians and others as performance artists, these labels matter little in the collective sense. The Brother Moves On are an ensemble who tell stories – sparking a vital dialogue about the complex realities of living in South Africa today – and they’re greater than the sum of their parts.

At the end of this month The Brother Moves On are releasing a full, mastered version of their 2011 EP The Golden Wake along with a music video for their new single ‘Shiyanomayini’. Ahead of all of this, we chatted to the collective’s lead singer Siyabonga Mthembu.

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Since the start The Brother Moves On has been shape-shifting; your sound evolves as people come and go, but your overall energy isn’t dependent on any one member. How does this fluid band structure reflect the themes and ideas in TBMO’s music?

To everything we do the theme of oneness is central, from how we warm up for a show to how the music is composed. The idea of staying consistent is not equated with sounding the same thus the essence is finding that space that centres us. So the theme is dictated by how the collective interprets this very transient idea rather than trying to be everyone’s favourite band and playing their favourite songs. Our music is about the idea that happy brown babies are a reality and a possibility, and we are only the beginning.

While you release tracks and play gigs as any band would, TBMO is very much situated in the arts sphere. Do you view yourselves as performance artists first, musicians second? Or are these tiers unimportant?

Well collectively they are unimportant, but a true expression of collectivism needs to respect the individual – some within us are musicians who appreciate how performance art has shaped us, while others are performance artists awakening to new spaces.

The intriguing narrative of Mr Gold has been an ongoing one in your work, including a mock funeral and a re-appearance in the afterlife. Tell us about the origin of this character, and his story.

The story of Mr Gold is the idealistic rural to urban story told backwards from his funeral. The story begins with a dream he has where his grandfather tells him that he will have to leave for the city whose streets are laced with gold. We all leave home for riches but not all our stories end with glory. Mr Gold doesn’t end up with the riches and glory, he dies. Enter the Ronin’s, ninja assassins here to avenge his death…

In acting the character of Mr Gold in your performances, did he become your alter ego? How did you use this persona to address unspoken concerns?

Mr Gold was not related to me, he was a forceful move to tell the story rather than simply sing. His was a story draped in allegory but asking the audience to become active in making and taking meaning from the story. To take a page from the philosopher Tshepo Tshola, “We hear what we want when someone speaks not what they’re saying”. Mr Gold is a broken telephone about dreams in a world with forgotten intrinsic value. An urban myth about ninja’s.

On October 30th you’ll be releasing a full mastered version of your first EP, The Golden Wake. What was it like revisiting and re-recording this, four years down the line?

I started dreading listening to that atomised version, the whole point of recording his funeral was to bring back an idea of storytelling and without the story it was a few dry songs added to the internet, which isn’t vital. With this version I can feel the nervousness and tension of that night. The humour in our exercise is retained, and though I feel that certain things could have been better, it was our first work and years later I’m glad we documented it – it was epic. It has four additional tracks and an MC at a funeral, its classic and I’m amazed little me was a part of it. Very little me.

How do your questions about language and culture in South Africa manifest in your songs?

Language is simply the guide, we are more interested in our very primal relations to sound and frequency. We come at it more with feeling and the words come later. Thus why some of our songs are lyric-less or in made up languages.

What can the average South African do about what you’ve coined the “Apartheid babalaas”?

Deal with apartheid. We need lots of new narratives about it, not one shared scared one.

Alongside Mbalikayise Mthethwa, you co-directed TBMO’s upcoming music video for the track ‘Shiyanomayini’. Can you give us some insight into this process?

Mbali, Jannous Aukema and I wanted to do a video which, for a change, tells the story of the track. Zelizwe Mthembu wrote the song and was MVP of the whole process. So we set about brainstorming a video of simplicity that shows the everyday boredom of a taxi ride from Tembisa to town and back again. We did it guerilla on little to no budget, this was an ode to Bj Engelbrecht and Nkululeko Mthembu’s videos done for TBMO (The Rainbow Child and Babalaas videos). The two used to brag to the band that they made our videos with no budget.

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Who or what are some of your current influences?

Omar Sosa, Richard Bona, Atjazz, Kid Fonque, Phillip Tabane, Nduduzo Makhathini, Ayanda Sikade, Themba Mkhize, Zim Nqawana, Thandiswa Mazwai, Moses Molelekwa, Busi Mhlongo, Lianna Havas, Tshepo Tshola, Christian Scott, Tumi Mogorosi and Project Elo, Sons of Kemet, Thundercat, Bob Marley rasta, a big man dat, Malcom Jiyana, Mthunzi Mvubu, Sauti Sol, Thandi Ntuli, Siya Makuzeni, Carlo Mombelli, Black Motion, Moss Mogale, Neo Muyanga, The Comet is Coming, Bateleur, Dj Mighty, Bubbles, Miz Buttons, Follow Me Follow You, Spindle Crew, Okmalumkoolkat, Sibongile Khumalo, Bheki Mseleku and BGFKNGN.

How has your output developed over the years – both conceptually and in terms of the way it sounds?

Well members have moved in and out so content is reliant on where our talents meet our collective sense of humour or mourning. So conceptually this idea of death and renewal has made simplicity the order of the day in relation to finance and independence. We value what we’ve done directly connected to our audience. No filter, they watch us make mistakes and tell you in toilets at music gigs or at the airport. They know this is something they are a part of and have helped build. Our output is about to spike – we been mourning, but the brother must move on. We about to release content from our archives, live performances of us in Paris and tour extensively doing galleries and centres of black excellence. We think we are vital when we aren’t bound.

Pre-order The Golden Wake on Bandcamp and find TBMO on Facebook and Twitter.

We’ll be sharing the video for ‘Shiyanomayini‘ on the 30th, keep an eye out for it.

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The Brother Moves On - The Golden Wake

Photographs of The Brother Moves On by Kwena Chokoe

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