Free Love is the debut full-length by Fantasma, the South African supergroup that wowed dancefloor dwellers with their Eye of the Sun EP in 2014. Founded by producer/rapper/filmmaker/songwriter Spoek Mathambo, it also includes Bacardi house godfather and township funk legend DJ Spoko, traditional maskandi (Zulu folk music) multi-instrumentalist and singer Bhekisenzo Cele, neo-psych guitarist Andre Geldenhuys (Machineri, Jack Mantis Band), and drummer Mike Buchanan. Fantasma's music doesn't "fuse" styles so much as make them collide. Everything here is the result of musical and sonic overreach: Zulu melodies, post-kwaito house, shangaan electro, dreamy psych, funky hip-hop, and post-punk rub against one another aggressively in brash yet seductive ways. Opener "Basbizile" is a jam where electric and acoustic rock and maskandi guitars, layered drums, and organic percussion meet Spoko's loops and samples. Cele's beautiful Zulu singing hovers above Mathambo's rap. Under them is a hidden guitar hook that becomes the heart of "Shangrila," a duet between vocalist Moonchild and Mathambo filled with sexual tension. The vocals meet atop slinky yet forceful township jive and maskandi, driven by Cele's bumping bassline, martial snares, and shuffling loops. Both "Higher Ground" (one of four tracks here featuring the awesome Nandi and Nongoma Ndlovu) and "Sefty Belt" are reprised from Eye of the Sun. The former is anthemic, old-school urban R&B, driven by funk vamps and hard rock dynamics as they meet post-kwaito floor grooves amid passionately sung choruses (think Labelle's "Space Children"-meets Sly Stone's "I Want to Take You Higher"-meets-Run-D.M.C.'s "Rock Box"-meets-Mathambo's "Let Them Talk"). The latter tune features vocalist Josiah Wise, who rides Spoko's post-electro soul grafted onto wide-open neo psych, Kraftwerkian robot rock, and roiling funk. "Cat and Mouse," with vocalist Mim Suleiman, adds dubwise reggae to the set's already pregnant mix. Mathambo's angry political rap is dramatic as a female backing chorus crosses township gospel, rocksteady, and nyabinghi chants made even more humid by Cele's wood flute and Geldenhuys' serpentine blues lines. The manic busy-ness on the album loses focus and force on a couple of tracks near the end as sonics and beats, riffs and vamps follow themselves into oblivion rather than resolution. While Fantasma's Free Love is perfect, it is adept as well as provocative. It drops a bomb on listeners who prefer their sounds neat and tidy. This collective knows and understands the musical past. They respect it enough to make use of it in the creation of something altogether new, and that makes them not only part of a continuum (several, actually) but as a whole, something far more dangerous: Undefinable.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek