Platinumb Heart Open
On Platinumb Heart: Open, Msaki draws on folk, jazz and traditional African melodies to address her innermost feelings and the state of South African society. Linking social ills and the commercial pursuits of modern industry to the impacts it has on communities; she anchors her work in the dichotomy between trauma and healing. “The summary of the album is minerals and the emotional state of the heart being numb,” Msaki tells Apple Music. These socially conscious themes are cloaked in poetic lyricism as the singer-songwriter grapples with the Marikana tragedy on “Blood, Guns and Revolution,” gender based violence on “At Stake” and explores her heritage on “Statues,” while advocating for self-love on the acoustic rendition of “Fetch Your Life”. With Beatenberg, The Brother Moves On and TRESOR complimenting her richly textured tones, this conceptual work deftly unpicks the tapestry of society. “It's not about whether I'm endorsing this or that and I'm also not judging,” she says. “The questions are specifically about characters... but they're also about humanity.” She talks us through the concepts she explores on the album.
A Title To Feel “Platinum–the mineral—was a reference because the first song I wrote was in response to how miners were killed on the Platinum Belt in Marikana. I wasn't really trying to write that song; it kind of poured out of me in shock and disbelief that this was happening. For it to happen in a supposed democracy and a new dispensation, when we've had black people getting shot in the back by apartheid police in 1976—that was a rude awakening that capital will kill people and replace them. It's a highly contested story and obviously there's leadership involved and I already started having questions about the heart, because of that instance. What happens to the heart of a leader who used to represent these people? Adding the 'b' to platinum was an attempt at not becoming numb and letting my own heart ossify because of disillusionment, apathy or a loss of faith in a country that kills its own citizens like that.”
A Conversation Birthed This “I started with one song which got me into a beautiful conversation with composer, installation artist and librettist Neo Muyanga—the one half of Blk Sonshine. He came to a show I did at the Bassline and my life has never been the same. We started a conversation that grew into a mentorship and a friendship that has spanned years. From this conversation I said, ‘Hey, I think I have more to say on this'. Things happened in the country that also sparked more anger, confusion and questions for me. We had to deal with all sorts of things and the music was a way for me to traverse some of those questions and unanswerable things. I wrote more songs, like “At Stake” which was trying to grapple with the fact that we're the rape capital of the world. Neo was there for those conversations and we both realised that there's a body of work on our hands: something emerging from the books we were sharing back and forth and the ideas that started forming from the very first conversation we had. The other interesting thing is that Neo had been studying protest music from all around the world and I'd been reading some of his texts so it became a two-pronged conversation. It wasn't just about sonics, but research and the archives he’d been building—he had been collecting, dissecting, performing and presenting in academic spaces.”
A Dialogue Begins “I've shared a lot of the acoustic songs because they've been ready for so long. I've performed and trialled them and have had my compositions informed by how they sound in public. You don't hear songs the same way when you're in company! I've made some songs faster and others slower and rearranged violin and cello parts 'cause that's what happens when they hit the room, resound in people's bodies and you hear them back. I held open rehearsals and a lot of ‘Protest Album In Progress’ shows, just to share and start the conversation outside of my own head. So, these songs are alive and people know them. It's just me saying 'I'm taking a snapshot of what they sound like now'. You have to take a photograph, archive it and move on but the songs will keep morphing as I perform and grow them into orchestral compositions. They're still going to have a life outside of this moment!”
A Place To Move From “Structure is key and I guess I'm also a student of ancient practices: the form of jazz standards and flow of jazz songs. There's always a head that people can go back to and a long section so they have an emotional place to move from or go to—to improvise over. Putting together an electronic album; I've been looking at how some of those principles can be applied and that happens in some of the songs. For me, it’s a search and something I'm interested in exploring. So many bands I like use this electronic format but with the looseness of jazz. There's an incredible future, I think, in merging these two worlds that are supposedly live and electronic. I'm looking forward to that future but first I had to establish myself as a commentator in the electronic space.”
A Space For Humour “I think there's a lot of space for humour in trauma and I see it all the time on social media. People are dealing with their trauma in comedic ways and making memes out of the most ridiculous things. I'm just commenting, repeating it and putting it in peoples' faces that this is what we do. It's commendable but also cringeworthy... what we do as a country when something shakes us to the core. From a president who laughed in the face of things that deserve poise, to the insensitivity of a president who thinks it's fine to buy a multi-million rand Buffalo in a country with such inequality rates. On “How Many Bloody Buffalo Bulls” I'm referencing that and also the fact that there was a speech made in Fanakalo by a mineworker at the foot of the hill. It was about how there are two bulls in a kraal and one must die. I'm interested in how power can possibly corrupt and also drawing on the cacophony of parliament and the fact that it's a chaotic space on there.”
A Reclamation “During the lockdown I was musing about viruses. I was thinking of the one that we've been able to live with the most and which brings about such cunning ways of expressing violence: the neocolonial, capitalistic way of doing life. I find the worst forms of violence are the ones that come with assimilating young black children into a specific way of thinking and being—where proximity to privilege gets you far. I find those violences the most tragic; the ones that leave our children with difficulty speaking their mother tongues but are accepted because they're seen as progressive. I deal with these silent violences in personal songs like “Statues” and “Enough”—my own revolts saying ‘I'm reclaiming my language and I'm going to sing my grandfather's song. I'm going to unlearn and relearn the things I could have gotten if I wasn't whitewashed as a child or given a different artistic palette.’ My artistry is a way to map my progress at healing through that, to say, 'Okay now I know a bit more than I did before and this is how I see my identity... this is how I see my cultural inheritance. Those are the things I want us to think about.”