Keleketla! isn’t a group. It’s a studio assemblage of British, South African, Nigerian, American and more musicians that recorded mostly in South Africa and England, produced by the English electronic-music duo Coldcut.
From its beginnings in the 1980s, Coldcut — Matt Black and Jonathan More — has embraced far-reaching sampling and genre-mixing, with an ear for African-diaspora music old and new: soul, funk, reggae, hip-hop, house, acid jazz, techno, jungle and more. Coldcut started the Ninja Tune label in 1990 and has gone on to experiment with ever-evolving audiovisual technology; the duo has produced and remixed music for and with Eric B. and Rakim, Lisa Stansfield, Queen Latifah, Annette Peacock and Steve Reich. Keleketla!’s tracks rely on Coldcut’s fundamental skills as D.J.s and producers: layering multifarious sources to find and sharpen a groove.
The “Keleketla!” album ticks all the boxes that distinguish collaboration from exploitation. Coldcut was invited to record in South Africa by the Keleketla Library, an arts archive, educational workshop and performance space in Johannesburg. (In the Sepedi language, “keleketla” means the “response” in call-and-response). On the album, the African and Black musicians have their voices up front, carrying messages in African languages along with English, and they share the songwriting credits.
Each track finds a different cultural mesh. Coldcut visited Johannesburg for sessions in Soweto in 2017, held more sessions in London in 2018 and 2019 and completed mixing in 2020, consulting with the Keleketla Library via video calls. Coldcut’s electronic expertise surrounds Yugen Blakrok, from South Africa, in “Crystalise” as she raps about solitude, cosmic connections, communal memory and personal strength over a track that draws on both breakbeats and “What’s Going On”; her husky rhymes are answered by the Barbadian-British saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings. The album’s core South African musicians — Nono Nkoane and Tubatsi Moloi on vocals, Thabang Tabane on bass, Sibusile Xaba on guitar and Gally Ngoveni on bass — agitate a smooth, scalloped melody with a double-time undercurrent in “5+1,” fused via multitracking with Joe Armon-Jones’s jazzy piano from London.