Graded on a Curve: dumama + kechou,
buffering juju

buffering juju is the debut album from dumama + kechou, a duo from Capetown, South Africa who describe their sound as Nomadic Future Folk. It’s an accurate self-assessment that really gets to the music’s blend of new and old, a mix that can also be approached as having a local foundation and a global reach. Where a lot of folk-based stuff derives the largest part of its appeal by simply carrying forth the traditional, dumama + kechou are connected to the past while unreservedly pointing the way forward; there’s no mistaking this music as belong to any other era than the now. An exciting development, the record is out March 20 on LP/ CD through Johannesburg’s Mushroom Hour Half Hour.

By the looks of it, buffering juju is the fourth vinyl offering from Mushroom Hour Half Hour and depending on how you count, either their fifth or sixth release overall. The label commenced operations back in 2016 and, befitting an enterprise with a geographical (one could also say national) focus, they have been in no particular hurry putting releases on the shelves.

It was the self-titled debut from Spaza last year that put Mushroom Hour Half Hour on my radar, a positive connection that found me eager when the existence of dumama + kechou’s LP entered my consciousness a few months back. Time spent left no trace of disappointment. While Spaza is tagged as an Afro-futurist improv collective with no permanent members, and the makers of buffering juju are a solid twosome (although assisted by a handful of guests, which we’ll get to below), the records are ultimately quite complementary.

This is partly due to the vibrant input of women. dumama (Gugulethu Duma) and kechou (Kerim Melik Becker) first met in Cape Town in 2017. kechou is of Algerian-German descent but he was raised in Germany and was studying at the South African College of Music in Cape Town during this period, while dumama, who is from South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province, was beginning a mentorship with Madosini, a composer and instrument builder who is celebrated in their country for her skills as a performer and improviser.

Fittingly, buffering juju is a record of fresh possibilities and rich juxtapositions. Opener “leaving prison” soars with the sort of vocal beauty that put South African music on the international radar back in the 1980s. This is the work of dumama, whose voice is apparently multitracked here to striking effect. Her singing contrasts with field recordings that help set in motion the album’s narrative of a woman leaving prison; as the short track progresses, multi-instrumentalist kechou delivers a rising and falling electronic pattern that chatters and chirps before giving way to audio that’s clearly the unlocking of a cell door.

And then, a lowing cow. An utterly captivating beginning that segues into the horn-inflected, almost Ethio-jazzy (courtesy of Siya Makuzeni’s trombone and Shane Cooper’s upright bass) “wessi walking mama,” though dumama’s vocals exude a soulfulness that easily supports the record’s accompanying comparisons to Meshell Ndegeocello, Erykah Badu, and Miriam Makeba.

It’s the strings both bowed and struck in “for malala” (dumama notably plays the Xhosa instrument the uhadi) that magnify dumama and kechou’s ties to African roots, as the tense mood in the track’s initial moments reinforces buffering juju’s reality as a concept album. Nobuhle Ashanti’s piano lends a further jazzy flourish as Dion Monti’s synth reinforces the contempo flair. But it’s the vocals by dumama and Odwa Bongo, alternating betwixt the poles of beauty and wild, borderline frenzied unspooling, that dominate the cut.

Those aforementioned sound clips, often capturing speech, are a recurring element across the album, emerging at the end of “for malala” and carrying over into the rhythmically potent “intaka,” which prominently features the dundun (the Yoruba talking drum). In “uveni” the string striking reemerges as the cut welcomes the clarinet of Angel Bat Dawid (notable for The Oracle on International Anthem) and the vibraphone of Dylan Greene. There are also flashes of what almost sounds like “backward”-psych guitar from kechou. In terms of instrumental breadth, buffering juju really is a gift that keeps on giving.

“Umzi” is a stripped-back showcase for dumama’s vocals and uhadi playing that leads into the comparatively lush “khala zone,” with its hint of what sounds like kettle drums leading me to think Van Dyke Parks would approve. It also features a batch of dumama’s most pop-focused singing. The way it all fades out would make a fine finale, but then we’d be cheated out of the extended and deftly layered “Mother Time.”

In closing, I’ll mention that the 140-gram vinyl comes in a heavyweight matte jacket with a custom M3H inner sleeve and a 12-page booklet that includes the album’s narrative. Reading it while listening profoundly deepened buffering juju’s already considerable worthiness. It also led me to pull a few Octavia E. Butler paperbacks of the shelf for rereading this spring. For that, I give thanks to dumama and kechou, and additionally for this terrific debut.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

This entry was posted in The TVD Storefront. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text