From Avoca Hills to the World details the rise of Gqom (a strain of South African electronic music) through the eyes of one of its main proponents: Citizen Boy, a 21 year-old producer and founding member of the Mafia Boyz crew. It’s a fascinating journey, featuring tracks written before, during, and after Gqom achieved international acclaim.
The collection’s earliest track, 2013’s “Uhuru,” offers a glimpse at a sound still in its infancy. The song is sparsely arranged: a multi-tonal “guiro” and a skittering kick-drum lay the foundation for most of the six minutes, while an underdeveloped drone and the occasional vibraslap add light detail. Structurally, it is unpredictable; harmonically, it is bare; yet emotionally, it evokes the introspective nature of a teenage producer in a dark bedroom in post-Apartheid South Africa. Compared to tracks from 2017 and ‘18, there’s a noticeable tenderness to “Uhuru” that has—over time—been replaced by bolder, brasher sounds with more urgency and forward momentum.
“Dark City” from 2017 retains the brooding and hypnotic nature of earlier material, but adds movement and mutation—the drone pushes and pulls, reaching a lofty pinnacle at the end of each eight-bar phrase, before a new percussive element is elegantly introduced. Generally, when fringe musical movement makes inroads into the mainstream, the qualities that made it so remarkable in the first place become diluted in order to appeal to the largest possible audience. There’s none of that on From Avoca Hills; if anything, the sound has only gotten more frenetic. Citizen Boy maintains the spirit, style, and ethos of Gqom; if he attracts a following, it will be on his own terms.