Best New Music: Prince Kaybee Curates A Mystery-Driven Masterpiece on “Inkumbulo”
Best New Music: Prince Kaybee Curates A Mystery-Driven Masterpiece on “Inkumbulo”

Best New Music: Prince Kaybee Curates A Mystery-Driven Masterpiece on “Inkumbulo”

The South African house veteran reaches further into his deep bag of tricks

Mystery is an important element in House music. The feeling of being led through a sea of bodies, when it’s utterly dark, and loud music is banging from a speaker you can’t place—this atmosphere best visualises the quality of South African House and Dance music. A sonic descendant of Kwaito, it shares the older genre’s penchant for turning inside out the possibilities of pain. It drenches the listener in the rhythm of progressions that might otherwise be tedious, but which, alongside purposeful sonic choices, becomes the perfect medium for letting out angst.

Prince Kaybee understands these sensibilities. Since entering the SA music scene in the mid 2010s, the 34-year-old producer, composer and sound engineer has created within the vivid, expansive soundscape of House music. First releasing a string of Electronica-focused songs, he began to move closer to the ebbs of local cultures and consequently opened up his artistry to fit into the developing sprawl of the contemporary pop industry. Nowadays, Prince Kaybee isn’t quite the commercial juggernaut of ‘Re Mmino’, but he’s been working from a place of inventive freedom, as evidenced by last year’s spectacular LP, ‘Gemini’.


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Last weekend, the prolific producer and DJ released ‘Music Theory’, his third album in three years. As the title suggests, it’s a flex of Kaybee’s powers, rightly positioning himself as a master of his sound. Across the one-hour runtime which incorporates the output guests from around the continent but mostly from South Africa, he curates an expansive, exquisitely-paced project whose brilliance shines through the wealth of its implicit sonic choices. 

On “Inkumbulo,” the mysterious dazzle of House creates a poignant atmosphere certain to grip any listener. It runs over five minutes, but the subtle sonic variations never fail to excite. The dusty rattle of jazzy drums set the stage for the song’s imminent explosion. Coloured with light hits of cymbals and brooding notes which build up as the drum base intensifies, the lone vocal trait—”Uh”—becomes part of the production. 

Fresh Meat alum Azana delivers on singing duties, layering a typically evocative performance over Kaybee’s beat—she also features on “Amaphiko Ekono.” For a continent deep into the plains of global domination, it’s striking that the various African languages being spoken in songs do not possess any barrier to their appeal, not in the real sense. Music being a tonal language is able to pass across emotions even without complete appreciation for its lyrical components; in essence, the sound is key.

Benefiting from its rich soundscape, “Inkumbulo” goes about its party-starting task with grace and efficiency. Like the many amapiano and House songs with words completely sung in local dialects, the record has a primal instinct to its movements. Melancholic without losing its groovy elasticity, the utilisation of Azana’s vocals, whether in full stretch or stripped to the haunting presence of a single note, truly demonstrates the mastery of Prince Kaybee when it comes to House music, much like Black Coffee who’s one of his major inspirations. 

“Inkumbulo” starts off the second quarter of the ‘Music Theory’ album. That positioning allows it to advance the folksy leanings on the earlier trio of songs, pointing out the album in a boundless direction. As he’d demonstrated on ‘The 4th Republic’ and ‘Gemini’, there’s a stuffed feeling that comes with listening to Prince Kaybee, although the rapturous elements worked to genius levels which then highlight the groove of each distinct listener. 

A remarkable record which sets off the wheels of mystery and climbs off the last second with more transcendental feelings that harbour close to joy, Azana and her host producer showcase their strengths. More crucially, these qualities are fused to reach sonic harmony, and for those who’ve followed the resilient career of Prince Kaybee, it’s an extension of his captivating artistic vision.