[E]lectronic musician Ryan Murgatroyd has had an illustrious career. Working in music for over 20 years he’s had hits in the UK, number ones in South Africa and Europe, worked with the likes of Boiler Room and was named director of education at the Soul Candi Institute. And while these are all talking points, what we’re interested in is the project that Ryan started back in 2016 – Bantwanas. Meaning ‘children of Africa’ Bantwanas is a collective of local South African musicians fusing traditional African music with electronica to create something that is wholly unique and showcases both the talent and diversity of African musicians to the world beyond.
In recent years Afrobeats has grown in popularity around the globe and been picked up by mainstream acts, culminating in Drake’s massive number one track “One Dance” which was the first track to hit one billion streams on Spotify. This has focussed attention on African music, but as Ryan points out in our interview, there is a vibrancy to African music that is hard to match outside of the continent. He’s right, of course. There is a magic to African music, it is colourful, joyous and steeped in history. And recently too, something new is happening in South Africa. That heritage has fused with modern electronic music to create a genre that is currently riding high in the popularity stakes, so much so in fact that Ryan states that he would “categorise South African music as one of the forefronts of electronic music right now.” And one of the collectives pioneering this genre is of course Bantwanas, quite possibly one the most exciting collectives in music right now.
Bantwanas fuse dance music with traditional African music, how did the process start and how did you recruit your musicians?
I’d always been interested in African instruments and vocal from a purely sonic point of view. I met Blanka Mazimela about 10 years ago, he was initially a student and then became a collaborator. We have a mutual passion for reinterpreting certain sonic elements from African culture in exciting new ways in the context of dance music. We agreed early on that this was a purely sonic experience and didn’t want to get involved with any of the politics that came with it. Our aim is to do something new, something that hasn’t been done before. No disrespect to anyone but we always felt that when European producers use African sounds and samples they can seem a little hollow, seem to lack the warmth and magic that we know is a part of African music. In terms of the musicians it’s been a very organic process. Both Blanka and I have had the opportunity to collaborate with dozens of musicians over the years, who we have grown to know and trust.
What elements of your solo work did you bring into the collective?
I have an affinity for extremely textured, detailed, layered sounds. I think I had a blueprint for how to integrate interesting bits of African material into music such as with ‘iKalimba’ which was released on Get Physical. I’ve been making music for almost two decades and I’ve always warped between the South African and European sound. The whole aim of Bantwanas is to use traditional and neo-traditional elements that haven’t been used before. It takes a lot of sonic tweaking to ensure that when people hear Bantwanas they are hearing pieces of African sonic material in a way they haven’t heard before but the production is absolutely cutting edge and current and I feel that is where I come in.