- A killer gqom retrospective that highlights the uncompromising sound's appeal and commercial potential.
- Citizen Boy has been making gqom since 2012, when he was 13 years old. That makes him one of the cornerstones of Durban's hard-hitting house mutation, though at the time his age was incidental. Most of gqom's original architects, like Griffit Vigo and Da Soul Boyz, were teenagers when they started sharing their bedroom productions on mobile phones and download sites. Eight years on, From Avoca Hills To The World is Citizen Boy's first proper international release, following a handful of compilation tracks and loosies. The standard version contains six new tracks that showcase Citizen Boy (and his Mafia Boyz duo) as a frontrunner in a sound now going global, but serious gqom spotters shouldn't miss the extended version, with six tunes dating back to 2013 that offer a counterfactual history of the South African sound.
Much of the material across the 12 tracks (the extended version is available on Bandcamp) is a recognisably classic take on gqom—that irresistibly menacing combo of droning bass tones, skull-cracking drums and a scattering of grunts and spooky details. "Night Cries," a newer track, brings cascades of pitched drums, heavy as a waterfall in spring. "Seasons," a 2018 track credited to the Mafia Boyz, is distinguished by the blurred buzz of trap-style hi-hats. "WOZA," also a Mafia Boyz production, is four years older than "Seasons" but shares the same fundamental mood and aesthetic.
Gqom's thundering drums and dread bass haven't lost any of their power since the launch of Gqom Oh!, the Rome-based label that's been driving the Durban sound's international success since 2015, but the sound has become more familiar. Recently, we've been hearing gqom mutations from outside South Africa, like Scratcha DVA's "UK gqom" concept on "Muhammad Ali," or France's Tommy Kid splicing gqom with Bernard Herrmann's Psycho strings. With that in mind, the most exciting track among Citizen Boy's new material has to be "Mzanzi," a streamlined pop-rap hybrid with a catchy chord progression, verse-chorus structure and Auto-Tuned vocals from ANT The Artist and Simore. It's the kind of crossover-friendly track we should expect more of as gqom begins to express itself in the international language of pop—DJ Lag, for example, made inroads last year with his Beyoncé collaboration on a The Lion King-themed album.
Listeners looking for a stronger hit—the sharp smack of the drum that gave gqom its name—should head straight to the archive tracks in the extended release. "Uhuru," produced seven years ago, is so stark it's barely there, just a skeleton's shadow of a rhythm. "Bhengi Yabathakathi," also from 2013, swaps out the bass drones for a soupy burbling and punctuates the beat with klutzy drum rolls. Even further off-piste is "Ndanda." The sound of a rookie cop going rogue with his Taser, it's a ferocious, bongo-splashed rhythm bearing traces of Brazilian samba. On these fascinating early experiments, Citizen Boy works like a chef without a recipe, going by sense alone. His juvenilia is as inspiring as anything you'll hear in the current wave of gqom-pop mutations.
01. Citizen Boy - Hlasela feat. Thalerh
02. Citizen Boy - Dark City
03. Citizen Boy - Mzansi feat. ANT The Artist & Simore
04. Mafia Boyz - Seasons
05. Citizen Boy - Night Cries
06. Mafia Boyz - WOZA
07. Mafia Boyz - Ugugu
09. A Night In Durban
10. Citizen Boy - Bhengi Yabathakathi
11. Citizen Boy - Ndanda
12. Mafia Boyz - Teaspoon La Qoh