Julianknxx and soul musician THABO go back-and-forth on love, loss and Bantutronic in an original film commission from Fact in association with 180 Studios.

Bantutronic is the name chosen by Julianknxx, THABO and a host of musicians and vocalists for their ongoing project connecting the foundational stories and languages of African people with contemporary sounds and voices. Both a collective and a broader artistic practice, Bantutronic is the banner under which Julianknxx unites with other artists who identify as coming from the Bantu diaspora, descendants from the speakers of Bantu languages that span across several hundred indigenous groups in sub-Saharan Africa. “There’s a spiritual element to it,” says Julian of the project, “as well as sort or cry, a call and response.”

Cool Burn, a short film directed by Julianknxx featuring music by THABO and producer Aron Kyne, is a piece created under the Bantutronic principles, featuring the yearning movements of dancers Nafisah Baba and Theo ‘Godson’ Oloyade and tender performances of Mayowa Ogunnaike and Rhys Dennis. In his narration, THABO meditates on the ecstatic highs and emotional lows of human relationships. “The song is about words, the treachery of words, the danger of words,” Thabo says at the start. “It’s this idea that you can say a word, one word that can mean so many different things. But also it’s the idea that words can remind you that you said them. There will come a point where you will say something and then remember yourself saying it. And either you will enjoy that memory or you will regret that memory. So words will revisit you once they’ve been spoken.”

The film’s title comes from the Bantu practice of the controlled burning of grass before it turns into tinder, a “cool burn” in order to prevent a devastating bushfire. “In my conversations with Julian, we talked about how many Bantu cultures carry out a controlled burning of their fields, in order to refresh and restore them before the rains come. Relationships can also be viewed as that field, it is essential on some level, to burn the relationship down so it can reveal its’ true essence once again, so it can forget itself and then know itself anew. So in that case the lament caused by love is part of love as well.”

“So I’ve loved, and I’ve now lost love, and the pain of losing love is so severe that I want love to come back,” Thabo reasons in the film. “But feeling the way I feel knowing that this is what it costs to have love, do I actually want it to come back?” Speaking from the pain of this loss, which the singer understands in the most serious terms of grief and bereavement, he gestures towards an emotional controlled burning, ripping it up and starting again. “If you could (re)design breakups what are some of the thoughts that would cross your mind?,” Thabo adds. “What principles and philosophies would you lean on?”

The collaborative process behind Cool Burn involved several iterations of the film, which began with simpler aims before expanding into the piece it is today. “First of all Julian is a genius because of his simplicity of insight,” THABO says. “This started off as a music video but after watching the initial shoot, Julian came back and decided that there was more to do, more to explore. One of the Bantutronic principles Julian practices is to use every part of the animal, not just the choice cuts. This honours and respects every element of the artistic endeavour. My role was to be a sous-chef, to yell ‘`YES CHEF’ when Julian called for ingredients.” 

Cool Burn also allowed THABO the opportunity to explore his own heritage as an Ndebele man through the use of symbols that hint at a greater meaning. “These are Ndebele symbols and many people have seen them before,” THABO explains. “However not many people know that each symbol has its own significant meaning. There are nearly 50 symbols in Cool Burn. By combining the symbols we were able to uniquely ‘chapter’ the piece. It will be revealed over time what each of the symbols mean.”

The subtitles that appear throughout are in Zulu, a Bantu language that has ties to the Northern Ndebele dialect. “The subtitles were Julian’s idea and it just so happened that I’d been speaking to a Zulu friend of mine the day before,” THABO says. “If ever there was a big neon sign about what to do that was it. Thandanani absolutely came through with the interpretation, it has a gravity that makes it hard to tell which came first – the text or the spoken word.”

The music, written by THABO and Aron Kyne, provides an emotional backdrop for the stunning cinematography by Pablo Rojo and performances of Nafisah Baba, Theo ‘Godson’ Oloyade, Mayowa Ogunnaike and Rhys Dennis. “Interestingly, the song that started this whole project, didn’t make the final cut,” Thabo explains. “The songs already existed in various stages of development and once Julian picked the ones he liked, Aron (talented producer and collaborator) and I set about finishing the songs for the project. It was the first time we had worked in this way, finishing songs that would only be used as snippets on a project. It was liberating though, there was true freedom to say and do what we wanted.”

You can find both THABO on SoundCloud. For more information about Julianknxx and his work you can visit his website or follow him on Instagram.

Cool Burn is an original film commission from Fact in association with 180 Studios.

Credits:

Directed by Julianknxx
Narrated by THABO
Executive Produced by Julianknxx, Debo Amon and Patrick Bedeau (Studioknxx)
Produced by Isaiah Bradley and Debo Amon
Director of Photography: Pablo Rojo
Edited by Harry Deadman
Score by Aron Kyne

Cast: Nafisah Baba, Theo ‘Godson’ Oloyade, Mayowa Ogunnaike and Rhys Dennis

Production Manager: Sórcha Bradford
Stylist: Hannah Beck
Make Up Artist: Hiromi Iizuka
Colourist: Megan Lee (The Mill)
Zulu subtitles by Thandanani Gumede 

BTS: Anselm Ebulue

Bantu Ndebele Symbols 

Courtesy of Zimbabwe Institute of Vigital Arts 
Illustrated by Benaiah Matheson 

Music

‘Zulu Love Letter’

Production by Aron Kyne 
Poem by Mxolisi Mtshali 
Written by THABO 

‘Rwandan Love Song’

Production by Aron Kyne 
Additional Percussion by Ali Mac 
Written by THABO

‘Afraid You’ll Call’

Production by Aron Kyne 
Written by Aye Pee & THABO

‘The Conversation’

Production by Jeauneil Baptiste 
Written by THABO 

‘Single Together’

Production by Aron Kyne 
Written by THABO 

Special Thanks: Procam Take 2, Eternal Lake Nature Reserve 

Watch next: Julianknxx Presents – Black Room

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