Beats Without Borders

02/05/2016 20:20

I've recently started imagining the world where Donald Trump wins the American elections, Brexit turns into reality and our society becomes even more consumed by social and cultural divisions fuelled by terrorism threats. Yes, I know it's a grim picture. I'm still not sure how we've come to this after an entire generation grew up with the advantages of multiculturalism and a borderless Europe.

Amidst my existential fears, a press release arrived into my inbox about an emerging South African music label based in Paris - Globalisto. An optimist by nature, I always react to troubling tectonic movements in society by instinctively clinging on to individuals and initiatives that are still trying to bring humanity together. Globalisto catches my attention.

I connect with Mo Laudi, South African DJ, producer and now founder of the label. We steal moments In between his DJ sets in Paris to talk on Skype about his project and how it sits within the context of the current social climate in Europe.

The first minutes of our conversation take us back to South Africa, where at the height of apartheid young Mo Laudi took part in the protests where the communities all joined together in mass chants and songs to manifest their anger against the regime. Back then, he learnt that music has the power to bring people together, make them organised and connected and empower them to stand up against the system.

Fast forward twenty years later, from the streets of Jburg to hipster nightclubs in Paris, it's a different setting and a different battle. Mo Laudi is on a mission to make the African electronic beats known in Europe. He takes them to places where they wouldn't normally be played, where people are not used to it. "Through music I see people integrating, who couldn't normally integrate. The more I play the tunes, that more I see change happening. You shouldn't be afraid, it's almost an educational process", he tells me.

Mo's tracks are a musical road trip across the African continent. As he glues together various songs into one track, he discovers the beats that connect the sounds from different cultures. While on a tour in Cairo, he collected a lot of electro shabby music that is played at weddings in Egypt and Lebanon. While listening deeper to those sounds, he heard the similarities with kwaito - a typically South African music style - that if made faster turned into kuduro rhythm that comes from Angola... "I want to break the walls that confine us, we are too comfortable in our own culture, we don't want to explore!"

Even the cover of his first EP, Avant Garde Club Music, is a play on cultural stereotypes. Why a snapshot of a cheese skewer from a European buffet to illustrate an album that promotes African music? Well it's not - the picture was taken by his sister at a wedding in South Africa where traditionally old women make cocktail skewers. Mo Laudi is clearly proud to see I've fallen into the trap.

In 2013, he made a first attempt to bring a structure to his efforts, not only as a DJ but as a cultural ambassador. The Sharp Sharp Johannesburg took place at the Gaîté Lyrique, where Mo brought together 50 artists and musicians to showcase South African contemporary culture. It is the biggest South African cultural festival in France to date.

Now, the label Globalisto is very much a formality in this musical crusade - an organised space where all the musicians from across the African continent can have a promotional springboard in Europe. Yet it's more than just music PR, it's a process to bring various cultures together, an attempt to show that we don't live in isolated cultural islands, to make people comfortable outside their comfort zone.

The title of the next EP, due to be released in May this year, may be an indication of a less subtle approach and Mo's desire to also challenge musicians in his homeland. Speak Up, more chilled with elements of afro disco, was put together in Paris in collaboration with two other South African DJs - Gazelle & DJ Invizable. Mo wants to empower his fellow artists in South Africa not to be shy about their cultural identity, but go out into the world, share it and be proud of it.

After all, Beyoncé was inspired by the Mozambican dance group Tofo Tofo for her Run the World (Girls) moves that brought the traditional South African dances to global attention. Yes, she didn't really credit them, she wasn't really their ambassador but it proves that the barriers with the African creative scene are slowly melting. It just takes crusaders like Mo Laudi to continue bringing the heat into the mix.