#GetToKnow : BCUC

BCUC, Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness, are a South African seven-piece who perform music that is hard to categorize. For the record, they summarize their sound succinctly: “For the PEOPLE, by the PEOPLE, with the PEOPLE.”

This communal vision breeds a particular brand of music that sounds incredibly unique, but is in fact wholly representative. For BCUC, people-powered performance does not necessarily entail retreading traditional composition. Instead, it involves drawing inspiration from this heritage, but also engaging directly with the wide range of modern genres that their neighbors listen to today. South Africa’s musical history is rich, but in 21st century townships, this culture is in flux, buffeted and cross-referenced with Western hip-hop, funk and soul. Radio stations and street-side sound-systems in Johannesburg blare gospel, Kendrick Lamar and just about anything else in between. BCUC attempt to capture this ever-changing urban soundtrack.

That isn’t to say however that BCUC’s sound is muddled. The band’s success lies in the sumptuous, and often astonishing way through which they manage to bring it all together. In their most recent LP, Emakhosini, BCUC effortlessly integrate mbube-style vocal harmonies with funk and hip-hop influenced instrumental arrangements. The result is elastic, and explosive. The opening track, “Moya”, which weighs in at just over 20 minutes in length, stretches the band’s capabilities with epic results, overlaying persistent, atmospheric drumming with fractured vocal harmonies. Whilst this frenetic introduction displays the band at their most powerful, the final track of the EP, “Nobody Knows” demonstrates their meditative side. Here, the seven-piece offer a striking retread of the African-American spiritual song, “Nobody Knows the Troubles I’ve Seen,” which overlays ritualistic chanting with plaintive vocals and undulating percussion.

In a recent interview with South African TV Channel Afternoon Express, BCUC’s lead singer said: “we see ourselves as modern freedom fighters, who have to tell the story of Soweto’s past present and future to the world.” And indeed, the band’s key success lies in relating South African heritage through a kaleidoscope of modern influences, whilst managing to hold it all together through innovative arrangements and virtuoso individual performances. Whilst their sound celebrates this identity, BCUC’s music highlights the hardships facing ordinary people in South Africa too. Their lyrics are lucid and political; often focused on experiences of deep-rooted social alienation and deprivation. This adds an extra dimension to their performance, as they illustrate the challenges facing communities in Soweto and other South African townships with clarity and courage.

In attempting to speak and represent ‘the people,’ BCUC refuse to lock culture and heritage in a vacuum. Their sound is the sound of rigorous inclusion, and a celebration of South African diversity in its entirety. It’s hard not to become totally immersed in their forward-facing, exhilarating art.

Words by Matthew Hacke