Album and concert review of Skip & Die at the Chicago Social Club, Amsterdam, October 19th 2012 – M.I.A. meets Sleigh bells, tUnE-yArDs meets Mano Negra. It’s only two of many combinations I could come up with in order to describe the exuberant cross-continent musical stew produced by the Dutch/South African Skip & Die. The band presented their debut album entitled Riots In The Jungle last Wednesday in the Paradiso during ADE. The Fuzz was too slow and missed the gig. Fortunately, we got a second chance on Friday when the band did another short show at the Chicago Social Club. Even though Skip & Die turn out to be more about fusion than confrontation we predict a bright multi-colored future for the Eurafrican collective.
Skip & Die have an excellent front woman in South African vocalist / visual artist Catarina Aimée Dahms (aka Cata.Pirata). She is all over the stage and off. Even though she’s only as sexy as Gwen Stefani she knows how to turn her audience on. She has an extavagant dress sense and doesn’t like to keep the same look for long. Like a young Madonna she likes to perform in a bra, which is always a good way to get things going. On the sparsely lit stage of the Chicago Social Club it’s hard to make out the rest of the band, but we can hear a well balanced mix of acoustic instruments and electronic beats and bleeps, just like on the record. Unlike the record the gig never gets too multi-cultural to be called hip-hop. Allthough its been a while since I’ve danced to the sound of a sitar.
In Skip & Die Cata.Pirata collaborates with Dutch producer Jori Collignon (C-Mon & Kypski, Nobody Beats The Drum). On the band’s website is says that their debut album was written ‘while traveling through South Africa’s Soweto, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Guguletu, collaborating along the way with some of SA’s most inspiring music-makers on the rise. The album portrays their experience of blazing sun, dusty roads, township shacks, cockroaches, riots, skulls, bones and lovebirds. It contains songs in English, Afrikaans, Xhosa, Zulu, Spanish and Portuguese.’ If you close your eyes and listen to Riots In The Jungle it indeed feels like you’re on a bumpy bus ride, loaded with locals wanting to tell you their stories. There are so many impressions that it’s hard to take in all at once. You have to listen to the album a couple of times before you are acclimatized enough to enjoy it’s many smells, sights, tastes and feels. Until after a while once again it becomes too much.
The album’s title track is like a Goa rap version of Kate Bush’s The Dreaming. The song is quickly replacing Gangnam Style as the favorite sing along in our household. If four to eight year olds dig it, you know you’ve got a hit on your hands. La Cumbia Dictatura is a brooding rumba that the Neptunes could effortlessly mould into a Snoop Dog hit single. Killing Aid is based on a choral Mbube sample, but soon evolves into a fantastic piece of Worldbeat. It’s only when Skip & Die slow down that the melting pot of influences boils over. Halfway through the album the band’s identity is threatening to get lost in the plot. The many guest performances, recorded conversations, street noises and especially the unfitting brass sections no longer give me the impression that I’m listening to the debut of an actual band, but to a compilation album of world music. A great compilation it is, perfectly produced and well-played, but the image of cultural centers filled with middle-aged white women doing outrageous African dances to Nuru Kane, starts to force itself into my mind when I listen to a well intended, but bound to be misunderstood piece like Lihlwempu Lomlungu.
Skip & Die are in entirely different musical league than Cata.Pirata’s compatriots Die Antwoord. A league I much prefer to that of the heinous Zef duo. Still only a slice of Die Antwoord’s presumptuousness would keep Skip & Die safely within the realm of dance music and out of the cultural centers.