Deaf Safari is Laband’s fourth full-length studio album and his first in a decade, the last being 2005’s Dark Days Exit. Essentially an excercise in collage, Deaf Safari weaves together a capacious array of sampled recordings with original composition and arrangement influenced primarily by South African Kwaito house and American Roots music from the early 20th century. With regard to the latter, Laband cites Alan Lomax’s field recordings of Negro prison and chain gang work songs and the early recordings of Leadbelly as significant influences.
For Laband, one of the most important developments on Deaf Safari is the use of the spoken word. The album comprises a myriad of sampled recordings taken from the media landscape that has been the soundtrack to his and our life over the last decade, and arranged to tell a very difficult, but (at least to South African ears) instantly familiar and deeply felt story. We hear, for example, religious sermons of the type common to African Evangelist churches, a movement whose ethos and practises fall somewhere between tribal spiritualism and Pentecostal-charismatic Christianity; a phonetic unpacking – spoken in Afrikaans – of the different clicks in Khoisan languages; animal calls at dusk; a press conference held by President Jacob Zuma’s legal counsel, describing his back-and-forth appeal process as a “ding-dong thing”; Julius Malema calling himself “the leader of THE revolution”; lines from feature films and documetaries like: Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple, The Night of the Hunter, Enki Bilal’s Immortal (Ad Vitam), Jeff Lieberman’s Blue Sunshine, Argento’s Suspiria and Bertha Egnos’ famous Ipi Tombi.
While some of the referential content might get lost on the foreign listener, it is not a prerequisite for enjoying the music. The album is, after all, also simply gorgeous, filled with heart and charm and artistry. Musically, its appeal is wholly universal.
On Deaf Safari, Laband reaches in deep for the heart of the South African experience, and squeezes. The emission, by turns joyous and melancholic, steeped in feeling and social commentary, is a thing of wonder: a truly outstanding, perfectly polished, emotionally enthralling album about what it feels like to be a part of this country, this time, this world, entirely free of posturing. Laband hasn’t come to preach, he has no position to expound, he hasn’t come to solve anything – he’s simply telling a story, our story. He came here to sing, and for us to sing with him; and beautiful it is, and honest, and good.