Catching up with Mzansi-born international muso, Spoek Mathambo, is sometimes a challenge. When the artist isn’t jet-setting around the globe to collaborate with interesting acts, he prefers to just kick it with his grandmother. Mathambo spoke to Helen Herimbi about South African songs and Simunye Grooves.

Father Creeper is my name… and I’m creeping for your lo-o-o-ove.

Pause.

“Hi, I’m Kalashnikov and Simunye Grooves.” Spoek Mathambo can’t help himself.

He’s in stitches. His eyes are wide behind his specs and he keeps trying to talk, but the laughter on his lips won’t let him. Upon hearing that Mathambo’s second album will be titled Father Creeper, it’s like a confetti-filled gun went off in my head and it was time to get silly.

As if on cue, Mathambo joined me after I began singing South African lounge artist Kalashnikov’s most famous claim to fame among our generation. “I’m creepiiiing for your lo-o-o-ove,” we echo and he laughs.

Just like that, I am reminded that you can take the man out of South Africa, but you can’t take South Africa out of the artist.

In fact, his music, which marries European sounds with South African languages, sensibilities and references (he named his debut solo album MshiniWam, after all) and sensibilities is what makes him an alchemist of sorts. It’s what has seen international media and even our own hail him as one the best musical exports of the country.

Born Nthato Mokgata in Soweto, Mthambo spends his 365 between Malmo, Sweden (where he lives with his wife Ana Rab, aka rapper Gnucci Banana), South Africa and performing and producing music all over the world.

I sat down with the electro-rap prodigy on a sweltering day in Cape Town. Mathambo had just performed at a swanky horse-racing event and would head to Durban to shoot a music video, then Joburg to record music and then Paris to perform.

When he stops laughing, he tells me his album, from which the synth-driven Put Some Red On It single is taken, is named Father Creeper “just because of the way that title makes me feel. It’s like an inside joke because the people who know what it means will get it, but if you don’t get it then the title will just sound sinister.”

This sinister element seems to please him. So I ask him what his Simunye Grooves drop would be like in this day and age. Mathambo thinks about it for a long time and then says: “I don’t know. Maybe I’d have this ridiculous outfit with big collars,” he exaggerates a pose on the couch, “and I’d draw these big eyebrows.”

Father Creeper will be released under the international indy powerhouse Sub Pop Records next month.

In the meantime, Mathambo has decided to give his latest project, Nombolo One, to fans for free download. On this album, he collaborated with childhood friend, pianist and co-creative director, Theo Tuge, and bassist/sound engineer Ayanda Sithole.

“I wanted to do this Nombolo One album about four years ago, but that time wasn’t right because it was way more synth-based,” he says.

What hits the ears today is a mixture of throbbing bass, quick disco hi-hats (think Ngomqibelo Kamkibelo), distorted vocal treatment, straight-up rap and a lot of singing.

He also recruits The Brother Moves On, Solomon The Future (of BIGFKNGUN), The Frown and Dirty Paraffin’s okmalumkoolkat for their renditions of 12 iconic South African songs.

“Those are my contemporaries,” Mathambo says about the artists he chose to feature. “I want to work with people who are pushing boundaries, people I have faith in.”

“Smiso (okmalumkoolkat) is on my next album and Solomon just blew my mind. Actually, Smiso and Zamani, who make up Dirty Paraffin, are an encyclopedia of that age of South African music – that early kwaito. Their Nombolo Onewould have been more sick.”

From Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse’s Burnout to Brenda Fassie’s Weekend Special and Letta Mbulu’s Not Yet Uhuru, Nombolo One gives this music a Spoek spin.

“I’ve known a lot of these songs for most of my life,” explains Mathambo. “I have memories of hearing them in different places and remember how people used to mis-pronounce the lyrics to Weekend Special. These songs belong to all of us. Nombolo One is a big tribute to South African music and we’re humbly stepping back into our past and forward into our future with it.”

“It’s up for download for billions of people from all different directions to know. Like, for instance, Weekend Special. That’s 1980s pop, it’s not a strange language.”

Mathambo has managed to pique the interest of various people, particularly with his Control song, a house rendition of Joy Division’s She’s Lost Control.

He says the cover came about because “Richard the Third and I were interested in juxtaposing the angst and tension of that age of post-punk music with that of today’s South African house/ kwaito-house/ township tech. A homegrown music style we are fans of. I think our interest was always in converting more people to South African music through a legacy band such as Joy Division.”

The Pieter Hugo-directed video for Control has been nominated for Best Video in the MK Awards. “I am supposedly the only black nominee,” said Mathambo, “so that must mean something for the Afrikaans station.”

Visually, Mathambo is always down to push the aesthetics envelope.

One look at the apocalyptic Father Creeper album cover and you’ll see what I mean. This 20-something who dropped out of medical school, started a youth culture magazine with the prolific graffiti artist Faith 47, and is now a collaborator on the international Red Hot Riot project which sees entertainers from across the globe cover Fela Kuti’s songs, is constantly pushing the envelope, period.

So what does he have to say for himself then? “It’s a great, exciting time for South Africans on the world stage,” he says, getting serious.

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