THERE’S something sacred about being welcomed into the working space of an artist. It’s where they immerse themselves in their creative catharsis. It’s akin to being received in someone’s home.
It’s in the evening of Nelson Mandela day and the faceless Suzie on the GPS of my phone has led me to the suburbs of Waterkloof. This is where PG13 has worked on their debut project, He’kaya. Upon hearing the title of the EP, my Nguni brain, thought it fitting that I come to their abode in Pretoria, to have a listen to the project right where it was recorded.
But He’kaya is Swahili, meaning legend. The four track EP will be launched this Saturday at Tembisa Lifestyle where the band was formed late 2015. “It’s where it started. The reason we chose Swahili, is because it’s the oldest African language,” says poet Angela Mthembu.
“Legends as in folktale and ‘legends’ as in legendary human beings. Our journey has been blessed by those who came before us, that’s why we always do To The Ones Who Came Before Us first[when performing live],”Mthembu says. The track is also known as Dlozi and is on the EP.
Paying homage is a serious thing for them. So much that they open their performances with To The Ones Who Came Before Us, and if not sung well, there are irreversible consequences. “It’s really important that, that song goes well. But if it doesn’t, we’ll play a great set but everyone’s mood [in the band] will change,” says drummer Steven Bosman. Mthembu chips in to say “…You guys won’t hear it. But certain weird things happen when that song goes wrong- either Wanda bursts an amp or I forget my lyrics in the next piece. ”
The song is their prayer, to those above and below them. And they have strong belief that if they aren’t earnest about the music and being on that stage, a bad set is guaranteed.
For their launch party they would like to pay homage to the late Phillip Tabane and Moses Taiwa Molelekwa, vicariously through the descendants of these icons. “The idea is to collaborate with the offspring of legends that have shaped our music. So Thabang Tabane and Zoe Molelekwa- we’re hoping Zoe will be in Joburg on the 18th so he can come have a jam with us,” an excited Mthembu tells me.
PG13 includes vocalists Thando Msiza and Bongiwe Nkobi, Harry Thibedi and Zelizwe Mthembu on guitars with Wandisile Boyce on bass. The clique started out as three females- Mthembu, Nkobi and Towela Tembo- and has morphed into what we know today as the band. The PG represents Parental Guidance, but the 13 has a strong significant modest element to it. “13 is the beginning of teenhood and that’s the element where you as a child need the most guidance from your parents. It represents innocence. But it also represents us entering into this world and we’re starting to learn what it means to be a human verses what it means to be a child or an adult,” Mthembu says.
The band has performed on a decent number of stages which include the Smoking Dragon New Year’s Eve music festival, The Dawn, U the Space, Tembisa Street Food Market, Afrikan Freedom Station and Soweto Arts and Craft to mention a few. On He’kaya are songs their ardent followers have heard them perform on these various platforms. “The people who’ve followed us from the beginning, actually most these songs are relatively new to them because they knew us with Jack and Jill. Moving from a band that just had guitar to a full seven piece band, the sound shifts altogether- so even if you say ‘I’ve heard these songs’ you get a different flavour and taste from them,”Mthembu says. The tracks were recorded sporadically over a period of months,close to a year and were mixed and mastered by Bosman and Jamie Van Niekerk.
Speaking as Ndoda serenades our conversation in the background, Bosman says “With this track, the guitars were recorded last year, the drums were recorded this afternoon and six months back was two vocals. So it’s been little steps trying to mould a song.”
The version of Ndoda on the EP that we’re listening to in their studio is a tad different to an older version they recorded a while ago. On the older version Mthembu’s poetry comes off as lambasting all men, but her tone on the He’kaya version is a softer and a more conversational tone with the male species. Her poetry comfortably falls on Nkobi’s warm backing vocals in the backdrop. While in her verse, Nkobi charges boys to heed the call to be the men that are needed. But her vocal dexterity tones down this charge, sounding like it’s your mother singing you into your manhood asking to wake up and be idnoda! Bosman’s drumming is sharp, punctual and in sync with the vocals.
I wouldn’t have guessed they recorded in the process in which they did, had I not asked because it sounds as though they were all in studio at the same time. A mark of good sound engineering and says a lot about their chemistry as a clique. “The challenge as well has been, not knowing what someone else is doing, which was also exciting. Because a few members will pitch up and be like ‘what! I didn’t know the song was gonna sound like this’ one day I wasn’t here for the vocals, and I never thought our vocalists would do something like that, that they came up with a completely different concept for the chorus and completely changed the song,” says Bosman. He quips that, Monday nights in a tiny smoky room is chemistry. “It’s like a new perspective, every day with different ears-if you do it all together at one point, everybody hears the same thing. When it’s changing, you start to get some cooler stuff,” adds engineer Van Niekerk.
“The chemistry moves from the physical…like I gel with Steven and I start to like, gel with Steven’s drum. So when I hear Steven’s drum in my ears, that’s the chemistry that’s transferred,” Mthembu says.
If done wrong, the cocktail of music and poetry in a band can go south pretty quickly. A group that mastered this was Kwani Experience, so good was the blend that is wasn’t evident to the ear-the music just captured you.
PG13 also has that busyness. The chemistry, especially between Nkobi, Msiza and Mthembu makes the whole set digestible. On Jack and Jill Nkobi and Msiza beautifully go back and forth on vocals, requiring you to pay close attention. Their music doesn’t only borrow from Jazz and African music elements, but also has unmissable rock sounds.
Jack and Jill came out on Women’s day as their first single and is available on Soundcloud. The band has a tour planned after the He’kaya launch in Tembisa. “We’re doing three provinces-KZN, which is the longest leg of the tour, we’re gonna play about six venues there. A festival in Rustenburg and about two shows in Joburg,”Mthembu says. The tour is named After Skul is Afta Skul: He’Kaya.