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Compilation of the Month: Aluku Records Various Compilation SA Edition Pt. 3.1 (B-Side)

South Africa’s Aluku Records looks to the future of Afro house on its latest compilation

It’s been a big couple of years for South African dance music. Genres like gqom and amapiano have grown from townships into global juggernauts. Afro house has also gained its rightful recognition, with stars like Culoe De Song and Lemon & Herb bringing their hybrid blends of all things deep and traditional to larger international followings.

Documenting this global ascendancy for nearly a decade has been Aluku Records. The label’s focus has always been on the underground, bringing together rising stars and established heroes from across the African continent. But if the label has slipped under your radar, their latest release, ‘SA Edition Pt. 3.1 (B-Side)’, is a good introduction.

House in its broadest sense is key to understanding this record. While there is plenty of traditional Afro house, the compilation touches on the muted shades of deep house, the soul-searching wander of progressive house, plenty of tech- house, and even the occasional throwback to more ambient-adjacent sounds. In fact, some of the best moments are where the label pushes the genre into conversation with others.

If you took the drums out of EyeRonik’s ‘Fairy’s & Crystals’, for example, its lush bird song and wandering synthline wouldn’t be out of place on an old Warp record. ‘Bantu’s Dreams’, another album standout, is like a slowed ‘90s progressive house track with its warbly bassline and skipping drumline. The lethargic deep house shuffle and whimsical guitar line of ‘Watsha’, on the other hand, is tailor-made for an Ibiza sunrise.

Other highlights from the album build on this hybridity, flirting with contemporary tech-house tropes. Many of the album’s tracks fall somewhere between the drama and tension of Innervisions, the bite and growl of DJ Lag and the heavier end of the South African electronic music spectrum. Take Bun Xapa’s ‘Space Invasion’ and Celestial Soul and Knight Warrior’s ‘Midnight’. Both are centred around a pulsing series of synths that can’t quite shake the feeling of unease. On Xapa’s contribution, the track climaxes with muffled chanting and sharp drum hits.

While ‘Midnight’ builds into a champagne- spraying series of arpeggiated chords, the synthline low in the mix seems to forewarn of tomorrow’s hangover. If you are in need of some more vintage flavourings of Afro house, the album has also got you covered. The genre has been fusing complex and syncopated rhythms with emotionally charged melodies for a while now and these feature heavily on the compilation, where the rhythms — on even what might appear as fairly straightforward tracks otherwise — butterfly into complex and intricate patterns. Celso Fabbri’s ‘Rhythm Section’, for example, is built over a straight four-four pattern, but he then layers competing hand-drum lines and a xylophone-like melody. Elsewhere, the drums are even denser. A whirlpool of hand-drums take over ‘Hunter’s Moon’, morphing the track into a frenetic whirlpool of rhythm. Rolling and syncopated tempos threaten to derail the four-four swing of ‘Preach’ every few bars.

Speaking about the release, label founder Aluku Rebels described a continual frustration with music coming out of Africa as being labelled de facto Afro house. What he wanted to do with this most recent compilation was showcase the diversity of sounds being made in South Africa. ‘SA Edition Pt. 3.1 (B-Side)’ does just that, paying homage to the genre’s legacy while also pushing it forward.