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Get to know Okzharp & Manthe Ribane, the cosmic, politicised r’n’b duo

The Hyperdub mainstay and South African multimedia queen make music with a futurist rhythmic framework

  • Words: Joe Muggs | Photography: Sarah Ginn
  • 30 August 2018

Okzharp & Manthe Ribane’s album ‘Closer Apart’ was made for situations where club pumpers aren’t enough. Last summer, Gervase Gordon (aka Okzharp) and Manthe Ribane were asked to play an auditorium show by the swanky Galeries Lafayette department store in Paris. “We played our two EPs,” says Ribane, “but they’re all bangers! They’re great for clubs or big festivals, but it made me realise I wanted to be able to play anywhere – galleries, theatres, anywhere – and that’s where these songs began.” The result is a record of dreamy, futuristic r’n’b fusions, still immense in scale, yet intimate, too, with the soft certainty of Ribane’s poetic invocations front and centre.

Amazingly, given her assured voice, Ribane had never made music before she teamed up with Gordon – formerly of Hyperdub stalwarts LV – in 2015. She was already a rising star in her native South Africa, though, a stylist, designer and dancer with her own studio who’d toured with Die Antwoord and Spoek Mathambo. Gordon is also SA-born, and while he’s lived in London for many years he’s made regular trips back since his career began just over a decade ago: indeed, one of LV’s breakthrough tracks was 2010’s UK funky-inflected ‘Boomslang’ with Durban-born MC Okmalumkoolkat, now a big star at home. “It’s great to see him play to thousands of people,” says Gordon; “and hilarious to think we made ‘Boomslang’ entirely in my kitchen!”

Gordon met Ribane via an extended family of artists that included Okmalumkoolkat and filmmaker Chris Saunders, and though their tastes were very different (“I think it was really only Sun Ra, Björk, Erykah Badu and house music that we converged on,” says Gordon), they found common ground very quickly. “We’re inspired by our life stories and what we went through,” says Ribane; “how we can even take our wounds as a positive revelation to speak about. It’s about strength, and imagining a new world and new possibilities.”

This isn’t an over-serious project, though. Everything the duo do is shot through with wry humour, and if they’re ambitious about the cultural spaces they reach, they’re still rooted in dance rhythms. Last year, they played alongside Chicago’s Teklife DJs in London. “It was Manthe’s first exposure to footwork,” remembers Gordon. “She had a dance battle with Sirr TMO, one of the best dancers out of Chicago, with her doing mega-speed Pantsula moves!” Ribane says, “I want people to listen to our music in all contexts. I hope it can work anywhere, including big festivals. And that means we’ll always need bangers!” Joe Muggs

‘Closer Apart’ is out on Hyperdub now

Joe Muggs is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Mixmag, follow him on Twitter

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