Essentials: Skai Lounge moves closer to the centre of Dance music with ‘Ebony Rising’
Essentials: Skai Lounge moves closer to the centre of Dance music with ‘Ebony Rising’

Essentials: Skai Lounge moves closer to the centre of Dance music with ‘Ebony Rising’

Four excellent tracks burnished by the producer's exploratory ideals

Invention plays the catalyst for South African dance music. Its contribution to African urban culture has come under focus in recent times, most recently after the surprise release of Drake’s ‘Honestly, Nevermind’, an LP which was executive produced by Black Coffee and has a strong House identity. It’s no exaggeration to say the country’s scene is running along the promise of global superstardom but, even then, material gains have never been the soul behind the creation. It is so with Dance music, which imbibes the peculiar history of the rainbow nation into its flagrant movements. 

The name of Skai Lounge might not draw immediate ears, but make no mistake: he’s an A-class student of the Dance genre, slowly cracking the ice of mainstream acclaim with venerable projects. ‘Night Sky Cinema’ was released in 2019, his debut EP which revealed the producer’s ability to broaden the soundscape of melancholy. The beats were minimal yet full, swooning with ambient elements and distorted vocals. Even the titles—from “Romance W The Ambience” and “They Always Leave!”—were indicative of his credo. 


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Skai’s output as a producer has been remarkably presented, interpreting Africanist ideals through a sci-fi prism. Before the release of his sophomore project, he flirted more with the African in him. The May-released “This Is What I Wanna Tell You…” still featured his signature burst of synths, but the percussive rhythms, especially during the song’s early moments, were purposefully allied with scenic trends. 

The ‘Ebony Rising’ EP sees Skai Lounge moving even closer to the identifiable centre of Dance music. He collaborates with childhood friend Tanaka on all four songs, and together they create emotive snapshots of one’s personal trajectory and black pride. Right from the opening track “It Feels Good To Be Good” there’s an unabashedly pensive mood, coloured distinctly with Tanaka’s soft vocals and poetic musings. “Tell me the secret, I know that you’re keeping/ The drug to our healing,” he sings, the production collapsing drums and synths to create a glittering even if tension-soaked soundscape. 

A consistent highlight of the project is the focused vision of its sound. Though it’s unmistakably cut from the electric synth-heavy Techno and other subtle forms of Dance, every second moves with urgency. You don’t get that dross that comes with some innovative acts, slowing down the journey to catch as many popular markets as possible. Skai’s unwavering dedication is admirable, and Tanaka follows suit in the best possible way. “Porcelain Hearts” ebbs with that free-flowing understanding as the musicians chart the exciting seas of young love with bursting synths occupying the chorus along with scratched vocals. “Too cautious I won’t deny, wrapped inside those big brown eyes/ Fallen high from the sky, hold me tight and fuck me right,” sings Tanaka in the brooding second verse, the shock value of his progression deftly hidden behind the reserved tone of his persona.

“It Feels Good To Be Afrikan” begins with the acclaimed Lupita Nyong’o speech after winning the 2014 Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, a speech that began with, “I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful. I put on TV and only saw pale skin. I got teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin.” As Lupita’s voice goes on, ominous chords unfurl purposefully in the background and, later, a bevy of piano chords create a relaxed atmosphere, its space and tone evoking the lush green of African forests during rainfall. 

The project ends with “Dance of Darkness,” a seven-minute tour-de-force collapsing all the project’s beauty and tensions into a freewheeling space. Whereas other tracks subvert a straightforward approach to Dance, this one embraces everything that’s made the genre so appealing to anyone anywhere in the world. Takana’s skillset is necessarily expanded to include coos and repetitive patterns, but the gripping allure of his language never falters. “Tied up in your thread, heard you yell/ Chanting all your spells, you’re an angel in my hell/ Dancing to the music when our bodies gel, You’re my weakness, open me up like a shell,” he sings in the first verse, setting the song’s symbolic vision early on.

‘Ebony Rising’ might be a small collection of songs, but it’s enriched by Skai’s years of dedicated practice. The music lingers on the strangely familiar, and there’s no way Skai Lounge isn’t becoming a bigger act off the back of such quality releases. Maybe not immediately, but surely.