by Jon Savage
Mumford And Sons, Baaba Maal, The Very Best & Beatenberg – Johannesburg
For anyone who is genuinely interested in South African music, this is one of the most important records that you should own and I genuinely believe that this slab of 10” vinyl is going to be a collectors item in years to come – not only due to it’s historic importance, but more importantly because I think it has been massively underrated and is truly one of the best pieces of music ever recorded in South Africa – that includes a local band that has not even yet truly come in to their own, despite their successes.
For the many years that I produced the Mashlab (a national collaboration project), I kept on trying to include Beatenberg in to the mix as I believed them to be truly capable of collaborating with international artists – and nearly succeeded with a collaboration with UK band, Bastille – but circumstances interfered and it wasn’t to be.
But then, the next thing I knew, they had been personally invited to join Mumford and Sons for some shows in Scotland and after that, they were recording this EP in the basement studios of the SABC, Johannesburg! The stars had aligned and their big break was on their doorstep.
If you have not heard any of these songs yet, let me tell you that despite sharing the studio with one of the most musically tight bands on the planet (Mumford) AND one of the most talented singers on the continent (Baaba Maal), Beatenberg still stand out like an Orca among the dolphins.
“There will be the time” is the opening track of the first side of “Johannesburg” and even though it is a powerful collaboration, the Beatenberg involvement on this particular song is barely audible. It was to my horror, that this was the song that was chosen to be performed on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” – the most important television show on the planet well known for breaking new artists from a single performance. My heart sank as I watched and I’ll tell you why.
The second song on the record is “Wona” and is not only a far superior song, but shows Matthew Field (lead singer and guitarist of Beatenberg) to be in a league of his own.
Baaba Maal’s unmistakable voice soars across this song in the mid-sections and Marcus Mumford’s gravelly vocals gives drama to the chorus’s, but it is Field’s lazy verses and deft touch that give the song it’s specialness. His delivery is both effortless and cheeky, obviously unphased by the superstars he shares the microphone with. His melodies are perfect and his African-inspired guitar lines show his creativity and his class. Perfection!
If this was the song that had been performed on Jimmy Fallon’s show, I believe Beatenberg would have been launched in to the musical stratosphere by now and we’d be struggling to get them to answer our calls.
Side B give us three more songs. The first is “Fool You’ve Learned”, a sweet little mixed up pop song in which everyone gets a chance to be heard – but again, it is the Beatenberg chorus that stands out as the cleverest songwriting and the subtlest of deliveries.
“Ngamila” and “Si Tu Voux” are two more beautiful songs heavy with Baaba Maal’s influence! Don’t get me wrong, I think Baaba Maal is INCREDIBLE and this EP will have brought global attention to his incredible talent, which he undoubedtly deserves! And, if I haven’t mentioned it yet, this entire EP is spectacularly beautiful!
But I believe that Beatenberg’s incredible ability has been overlooked on this particular release and it is a pity as I hoped that this would have been the launching pad that they needed to find global ears!
They have shown that they can easily handle the big leagues but maybe it is not quite their time. But magic is in the air, and these collaborations should lead to more opportunities for them. And that’s why I believe this to be one of the most important records that you can own. Specifically because it is not the big “One.” It’s the one before the big “One;” the one that will become a collectors item when Beatenberg genuinely do make their mark on the world.