Average read time: 6 minutes.
Occasionally an artist comes along and creates a body of work that bestows clarity of perception upon us regarding some complexities of life. Serving that purpose in my life right now is a musician and multidisciplinary artist from Gqeberha, Camagu Oberon.
His debut album, Goduka Camagu (IsiXhosa for ‘return home’), is a perfectly curated presentation of explanations and affirmations that I’ve been seeking in my never-ending journey of self-discovery.
Goduka Camagu, is the culmination of a years-long dream that has taken many sharp turns and hurdles to finally materialise. The self-produced record, which was released in October, confronts issues such as existence, spirituality, and death, which seem to be the prominent themes of life amidst the current global Pandemic. Naturally, the first question I shoot at Camagu when I finally sit down with him is about the inspiration behind this aptly timed album.
I expect a standard response to this very common question. But when he tells me that each of the 12 songs in the album was gifted to him by his late grandmother in his dreams, I conclude that this album is indeed a divine intervention. “Every detail, from the lyrics, the melodies right through to the instruments, it all came to me in a series of dreams,” he shares.
Perhaps it is worth mentioning that Camagu is not only an artist but also a healer. That should explain the soothing effect and sense of calm assurance you feel when listening to his music. And from the passion and conviction that he demonstrates as he talks about his work, it becomes evident that this is what he was born to do.
I’m taken aback when he reveals that he was in the middle of his natural medicine studies when his spiritual and artistic calling uprooted and urged him down a tumultuous journey of self-actualisation. “I initially enrolled to study music at Stellenbosch University, but I fell into a dark, deep pit of depression. At the time I thought that was because I wasn’t feeling fulfilled – it felt like my spirit wanted me to study something that is people-focused. So, I left music to study Naturopathy at the University of Western Cape. However, as my spiritual awakening became more intense, I quickly learned that was not the type of healing I was being called for. But I was still not ready to fulfill my obligations, so I left varsity to work in retail.” he recalls.
Realising where this story is going, I interrupt him and remark that this detour was probably a redirection to his truest passion – music. And I am right. “But, as with most artists’ journeys, that did not happen without some hurdles and unexpected turns of events. I was at the executive level of my retail career, when – out of nowhere – an impressive opportunity to join the world of performing arts landed on my lap. Before you know it, I was an actor performing on some of the country’s notable stages. I did that for a while before finally deciding to obey my calling and embark on my journey to become a healer. It is through that journey that today we are sitting here and talking about the music of my dreams!” he says.
Talking about his music is exactly what I came here for, so I jump at the opportunity to ask about the process of making this album. According to Camagu, Goduka Camagu is a collaborative effort between him and his team at Fokotho Collective, a creative agency that he co-founded to pursue his creative ambitions.
He co-produced the album with music practitioner and indigenous instruments extraordinaire Luyolo Lenga, Thembinkosi Matiwane, Richard Kabuya and it was mixed and mastered by Victor Masana. Sinelizwi Teka, Biko Mabuse and Nomhle Maqetuka are the vocalists that contrast beautifully against Camagu’s modulated voice throughout the album. “I was very fortunate to work with a group of people that not only understand my vision but also respected the wishes and the instructions of my ancestors for this body of work,” he says.
Camagu’s music, which he calls ‘Traditional Funk,’ violently provokes the kind of nostalgia that only people who grew up in the 80s and 90s will relate to. Amongst his inspirations, he counts the likes of Busi Mhlongo, Jabu Khanyile, Stompie Mavi and I immediately gain a new understanding of his work. “People might think traditional funk is a newly formed genre of music, or it is a term that I coined to describe my music. But if you listen closely, you’ll recognise it as the type of music that our parents grew up listening to and so fondly passed it on to us. As the times progress and new ways of doing things are adopted, music and art also evolve,” he adds.
Listening to the album, you can hear and sometimes feel multiple layers of vocal sounds, singing, chanting and even gasping. Accompanied by the sounds of indigenous music instruments such as uHadi, these vocals take you on a trance-like trip that, on some songs, is rudely disturbed by sounds of rain and thunder. I am amazed to find out that these sounds happened in real-time and that no modern technology was used to edit them into the music.
Camagu’s journey leading to the release of this album has not been a walk in the park. He has suffered the loss of loved ones, survived a mysterious fire that ravaged his apartment while, like the rest of us, trying to come into terms with the myriad of challenges presented by the Covid-19 Pandemic. Though I empathise with him, a part of me is glad because those challenges have given birth to a collection of songs that seek to heal, guide and soothe. Am I a bad person for feeling this way? Listen to Goduka Camagu before you answer that question.
Goduka Camagu is available for streaming and purchase on all major digital platforms.