Warrick Sony doesn’t mince his words — a characteristic that resulted in his music being banned by the apartheid state in the 1980s.
Whether it was the The Last Kick/ One Verwoed in the Grave, with its great chorus — “This is the last kick of a dying horse” — or the cracker, Bigger than Jesus, which was banned at that time, the Kalahari Surfers were on the cutting edge of social commentary and protest music in South Africa.
Well, the firebrand Sony is back — and he is angry.
With his new album, One Party State, Sony returns to the overtly political song structures he created in the 1980s, but with a dystopian dubstep edge added to the mix.
Sony is on the attack and he has the ANC-led government firmly in his sights. Lock and load.
“I am feeling a rage that I haven’t felt since the bad old days,” says Sony. “A rage at being the joke of the world, being ashamed to be from here again is too much.
“We have something approaching anarchy with a government so wrapped up in criminal prosecutions and court cases and infighting and backbiting that it is hard for it to find time to govern,” he says.
“I have been feeling that a lot of the idiocracy going on now is not unsimilar to what we were dealing with in the 1980s. The kind of ‘Should I cry or should I laugh?’ moments with our political personalities that are very familiar to a lot of us who were creating artistic work during the apartheid years.
“I feel people should express what they feel,” he says. “The YouTube track with the Juju sample — “Bloody agent, bastard” — called Revolutionary House I think is a case in point, very much like what we were doing in the 1980s, turning the whole race thing around, making fun of it, lightening it.
“Anyone can dance to that track and laugh, too, especially when you are on the dance floor and Juju’s voice booms out at you: ‘Don’t come here with that white tendency, get out’. It’s a magical moment of supreme irony,” he says.
Sony, who spent most of February and some of March touring the United Kingdom on the African Soul Rebels tour with Malian diva Oumou Sangare and Benin’s funk masters Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou, says it was incredibly weird when he returned to South Africa.
“Coming back home was bizarre. I had missed out on a chunk of our history,” says Sony. “There had been Juju’s corruption claims, Jub Jub’s motor-car deaths and the murder of Eugene.”
Without a doubt it was a crazy time in South Africa’s history and One Party State sounds like the perfect soundtrack to the mad events we are living through.
It’s a dark, ominous monster of a record that skulks around the room, looking intimidating but offering a release from the madness, too.
“I actually wanted this album to comprise songs similar to what I’d done in the 1980s, but I had completed a lot of music that I felt was just music without a centre or a soul,” says Sony. “My friend Fletcher [African Dope founder and Cape Town DJ] lent me a whole lot of dubstep CDs.
“I loved the tempos, the simplicity, often of the electronics, and mostly the scary atmospheres, which for me gave it the edge that a lot of other dance music was lacking,” says Sony. “I relate to that. South Africa is a scary place. For me the best kwaito tracks have that edge, that attitude. They should scare you like the original Yizo Yizo tracks from mid-1990s.
“One Party State was material that I had been working on since Panga Management and was always next in line,” he says. “The African Soul Rebels tour came up and I set myself the deadline of having the album ready for the tour.”
When I ask Sony whether this album could be seen as a successor to Panga Management: South African Dub Chapter One — South African Dub Chapter Two, perhaps — Sony says no.
“This album is more to do with the content and a lot of the content is pretty scary,” he says. “Thinking Man’s Terrific Dub Volume One would be better.”
He is right. Take a listen to the chilling crime narratives that make up the track Frontiers of Madness, which is presented in an achingly beautiful way, like a long-lost outtake from Tricky’s Maxinquaye.
“Good people have left, criminals have rights,” sings Sony in the background. “The violence of the state has been replaced by the violence of criminals who are holding our democracy hostage,” he says.
How can you disagree with the man? South Africans live in fear to the point where we are not even conscious of it any more.
When the album closes with the hidden track, Pigs at the Trough, which juxtaposes chants of Long Live the ANC, Long Live to the sound of pigs eating their fill, it left this reviewer with a sense of satisfaction that Sony is back on the case.