Something is stirring in the South African music scene. It is as if a critical cultural mass has been
exceeded and a runaway creative reaction is underway. New forms are emerging from the tumult –
breaking time-symmetry like some freak of modern physics. Simultaneously of the past and the
future – yet ever-rooted in the unfolding present. This is the birthplace of Bombshelter Beast.
The astute listener will discern a veritable menagerie of influences. Old school kwaito and Ghoema
rub buttocks with deep house and drum ‘n bass. Dancehall, dub and ska make unlikely advances on
Balkan music and hip hop. There are visceral moments of rock and the odd sneaky bit of jazz. The
result is interspersed with some badass rapping and kept vibrant by live improvisations. There may
even be an operatic interlude.
Presenting such diversity in a package that will delight and entertain listeners - whether they are
sophisticated enough to discern the sound-origins or not - is no mean feat. That’s where Marcus
Wyatt comes in.
Wearing the garb of a ring-master and the wry smile of a seasoned jazz musician, Wyatt holds the
center of the madness with a well-earned gravitas. He is one of South Africa’s most loved players
and composers – a luminary of the music who has contributed to recordings by the likes of Winston
Mankunku Ngozi, Carlo Mombelli and Jimmy Dludlu and given us profoundly beautiful recordings as
band leader and producer, including ‘Africans in Space’ and the iconoclastic ‘Language 12’ albums.
His re-arrangements of his own compositions for big band resulted in an exquisite live album – ‘One
Night In The Sun’ - that earned him a South African Music Award in 2016.
Wyatt’s co-creators in Bombshelter Beast are no pretenders either. Janus van der Merwe, Romy
Brauteseth, Sisonke Xonti, Alex Hitzeroth, Aldirt Du Toit and Bez Roberts were all members of the
SAMA-winning ZAR orchestra and have colourful and varied musical careers of their own. Zoe
Modiga is a vocalist with power, poise and passion who is creating a space of her own as a unique
jazz and pop voice. Pule – the world’s most cunning linguist – navigates South Africa’s 11 official
languages with humour and intelligence. There’s also a Polish refugee, an opera diva and a songbird
with all the moves. It’s quite a family.
The beast only began its slouch towards Bethlehem in late 2015. Already they have held the most
successful residency ever seen at Johannesburg’s hippest music venue – The Orbit Home of Jazz,
played some of the region’s biggest festivals including Bushfire (Swaziland) and Oppikoppi (RSA) and
recently recorded and performed in an exuberant collaboration with the country’s National Youth
Orchestra. They are booked for the 2017 National Arts Festival and have an album in the oven.
But the truest testament to the power of the beast is the sweat of the endorphin-drenched audience
after one of their trademark performances. From the emergence of the first strains of sousaphone
as they stalk the stage until Friedrich Wilsenach - sound designer extraordinaire – fades out the final
strains of piano accordion and overdriven guitar the audience is captivated – willing participants in a
culture-science experiment that leaves them bewildered and rejuvenated.
And wanting more.
- Martin Wolfaardt