South Africa’s ascendance to the forefront of global house music has been something to behold. The SA house scene emerged following liberation from apartheid and slowly metamorphosed into other sub-genres like Kwaito, gqom and, most recently, the jazzy, pulsing amapiano. Taken at face value, it feels odd to peg house music as the soundtrack of the country’s liberation, but when layered with vocals that speak of political corruption and police brutality, it serves as the soulful mouthpiece for a previously muzzled population.
Back in 2015, Kid Fonque, a South African DJ and house music curator, wasn’t in the most favourable of situations. He was the label manager for Soul Candi, one of the biggest house record labels in the country, and his job involved seeking out the next radio hits. He eventually said his goodbyes and started his own label Stay True Sounds, devoting himself entirely to unearthing the hidden gems of this thriving underground scene, all with his own funding.
The rest is history; versatile talents like SIO, FKA Mash and China Charmeleon have been brought to the surface via the Scottish-born DJ’s label, re-energising local house circuits with a quality-first ethos. The latest edition of his annual ‘Stay True Sounds’ series compiles 20 vibrant tracks into one serving for its fourth volume.
As a lockdown-free (don’t quote me on it) summer tentatively approaches, ‘Stay True Sounds Vol. 4’, with its therapeutic cadence and irresistible grooves, lands like an offering to some esoteric sun God. Each track demands relaxation but never settles as background music; these are the type of vividly cerebral sounds that conjure reflection on the dancefloor. The original version of ‘Bread and Milk’ by Tea White (the compilation’s opening track) is an early morning, mediative voyage. The track starts at the breakfast table and then suspends you in a starlit sky. It’s a serene mist of sound that slowly unfurls into a rush of twinkling sonics, revealing layer after layer without ever sacrificing its tranquil core.
Elsewhere, things take a funkier, more soulful turn on the airy ‘Make Up Your Mind’. It’s an atmospheric knocker that moves with a hypnotic stride, until its unapologetically sticky mantra ‘make up your mind’ glues itself to your subconscious. This is Chronical Deep at his most immediate.
SVGO’s ‘Above Water’ is steered by a glossy chord progression and some effervescent bass plucks; it feels like treading water alone on a dream holiday as you take a mental snapshot of your surroundings. The yearning, wordless vocals speak to the soul as some coarse percussion scratches the same itch that ‘Lets Break It’ by Deep Essentials does. Dazzling synth stabs act as light penetrating the canopy on this jungle-dash of a track.
When asked for his famous last words in a brief interview with The Playground, Kid Fonque replied: “Do you!”, a light-hearted response that ultimately mirrors his approach to curation. Each artist is given the platform to serve up sounds that are distinctly their own. With track titles like ‘Above Water’, ‘Confidence’ and ‘Open Window’, the compilation is laced with a consistently uplifting sentiment. It’s echoed in the music too: lush, radiant beats are met with blindingly bright climaxes that suggest a brighter tomorrow. ‘Stay True Sounds Vol. 4’ is an enthralling testament to the undercurrent of South Africa’s scene, and judging by the sheer talent on display, an optimistic sign of things to come.