Over the course of four years, NYU Abu Dhabi's Barzakh Festival has showcased an international array of bands that surprised, dazzled and made us reconsider any ideas we had about certain genres.
This year's iteration, to be held at the university's arts centre tomorrow, will continue to push the envelope with half a dozen genre-bending bands hailing from various regions including the Arab world, Europe, South America and South Africa.
When it comes to the last, Johannesburg's BCUC (short for Bantu Continued Uhuru Consciousness) is a band you don't want to miss. The ensemble are a riot of styles as they fuse modern funk and hip-hop with various indigenous music from Africa.
The music is not meant to be merely listened to, says commanding frontman Nkosi Zithulele – it is more of an experience.
"This is why we always love playing live. This is really where you will find us at our best and know what we are about," he says. "We come from a country that has a rich musical heritage. That can be a joy or a burden sometimes. But we love to expose new listeners to South African music and show some of the magic it has."
Since forming in 2016, the Soweto group have built a firm following both at home and abroad for incendiary live shows that channel the kinetic excitement of a punk show – and the soul and fervour of a religious ceremony.
It is part of the band's twin aims of making people dance and raising their consciousness.
"I do have to clarify something about that, because we are not talking about black consciousness, which is what many people refer to as the work of [anti-apartheid activist] Steve Biko," Nkosi says.
“What we are talking about is more related to human consciousness because we are living in a time now in South Africa where it is not just about being black and white.”
Instead, the issues BCUC discuss in their songs are more complex than racial segregation. Nkosi says the growing class divide in South Africa meant the band took a more a universal approach to their songwriting.
"When you are writing about the struggle of class it is more difficult and messier because class knows no colour," he says. "The hardest part about it is that while I am out there saying my truth, I also don't want it to come across as being disrespectful to our elders. This is because they are some of the leaders that we are talking about in the songs and I don't want to ever forget that it is also these people who fought and gave us our liberation and freedom in South Africa."
BCUC managed to capture all that inherent tension, rage and levity in their latest and third album, The Healing. Limited to three tracks (two of them longer than 15 minutes) the band eschew traditional song structure to focus on rhythm and movement.
As a result, the songs take on a fierce and trance-like quality that recalls African musical genres such as Moroccan Gnawa and Nigeria's Afrobeat. The latter's style is all over pulsating tracks such as Sikhulekile, which features Femi Kuti, the son of the late Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti.
While BCUC are aware of the styles they are playing with, Nkosi says they are not interested in merging genres such as jazz, funk or rock.
“All of the music that we are playing, I feel that it comes it from the same source,” Nkosi says. “Now we are looking forward to showing you that in Abu Dhabi.”
BCUC performs at Barzakh Festival on Friday, January 31. Doors open at 6pm. Tickets are Dh150 from www.nyuad-artscenter.org
Also performing at Barzakh
The Barzakh Festival is fast becoming the region’s best world music gathering. The fourth edition will be in full festival mode with six live performances taking place nightly across three separate stages at the NYU Abu Arts Centre. In addition to South Africa’s BCUC, here are five other bands to check as part of the festival.
Shuddering bass meets rhythms from North Africa. Ammar 808 is the stage name of Tunisian and Belgian producer Sofyann Ben Youssef, whose work offers a dark and futuristic twist on modern Arabic music.
Formed by singer Malika Tirolien and Snarky Puppy founder Michael League, the nine-piece band gleefully skip across genres with songs that conveys messages of unity in the face of social unrest.
La Dame Blanche
Bring your dancing shoes for this. The Cuban singer and percussionist is renowned for fiery shows with high tempo tracks that mixes hip-hop and cumbia with reggae and dancehall.
Commissioned by NYU Abu Dhabi Arts Centre, the Dubai based jazz collective will present new and refreshed takes of songs by the late Egyptian diva Um Kulthum.
Sofiane Saidi & Mazalda
A new take on the popular North African pop music genre Rai, the show will see Algerian singer Sofiane Saidi's whailing vocals paired with colourful analogue synthesisers and horns provided by French band Mazalda. Expect to dance along to new and unexpected grooves
More information is available on www.nyuad-artscenter.org