Meet Black Math, a band that defies description on paper and can only be truly appreciated through their explosive sound. Hailing from the jungles of Durban, Cameron Lofstrand (vocals and guitar), Tyla Burnett (bass) and Acacia-Ann van Wyk (drums) came together over a decade ago as scrappy high schoolers. With their energetic creations, the trio has captured the hearts and moshpits of South Africa’s rock community.

In 2022, they made the move to Cape Town, where they have been stirring up a frenzy in the city’s alternative music scene in the wake of the post-Covid revival. In just the past six months, Black Math has shared stages with renowned South African bands like Peasant, Yndian Mynah, The Tazers, and Dutch-based garage-punk group, Bongloard.

Black Math
Headbang light trails. Black Math hit the stage at District. PHOTO: Gabbi le Roux

Black Math, The Origin

Black Math is a band that has been a mainstay in the South African music scene for over a decade. In an interview with the band, Acacia shared the group’s origins: “I joined about ten years ago when I was seventeen. We all went to school together at Waldorf in Durban, and we were already friends. It just took off from there.”

Tyla adds, “We were just a bunch of teenagers playing songs by The White Stripes and Led Zeppelin.” However, their sound evolved as Cam and Tyla started listening to more diverse and intense music, such as Godspeed You! Black Emperor, King Crimson and other psychedelic and progressive rock bands. “Those were really big influences in shifting towards a more dynamic sound,” Tyla said.

The band has played numerous festivals in South Africa, including Mieliepop, Endless Daze, and That 70s Fest. They have also toured Reunion Island and played at the closing of Durban’s legendary dive bar, The Winston. Black Math’s music is a testament to their willingness to experiment and grow as a band, with a sound that broadens horizons and keeps fans coming back for more.

Sonic Evolutions

Coming a long way from their gritty garage rock roots, Black Math has gained a reputation as one of the most respected bands in the scene. Their commitment to their music is evident in their performances over the last six months. They’ve incorporated massive multi-octave riffs, thundering polyrhythms, and raw, yet tender vocals to create an electrifying atmosphere. 

Watching a Black Math set is a visceral experience for the audience, and it’s no wonder that they’ve earned a dedicated following of headbangers who eagerly anticipate their shows.

The band draws inspiration from non-Western music, particularly Middle Eastern, Balkan, and North African music, using scales and modes commonly found in those regions. This unique approach gives Black Math a distinct sound, almost as if you plugged a bat mitzvah band into a bunch of fuzz pedals and combined it with African rhythms. Cam and Tyla lead this musical charge, incorporating the “Persian” and “Iberian” scales in their compositions.

Acacia talks about her rhythmic inspirations and how African music, especially Kwaito, has influenced the band’s sound. “Two of my favourite KwaZulu-Natal bands were The Trees and Fruit & Veggies, bands that were combining African music with a more indie rock, ska punk vibe that really inspired me,” she says.

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Acacia, with ashtray. PHOTO: Gabbi le Roux

 “We entered the scene watching those bands, and I really feel like Black Math has held onto something from that — it’s very Durban. You’d go to one event and there’s heavy metal, electronic stuff, Kwaito, hip-hop — it’s kind of multicultural, and we really try to do that with Black Math, bringing in all these different influences from different kinds of music. Black Math Isn’t just like a fuzz, whatever, guitar drums band — my favourite music is actually world music — and my favourite beat is the taxi beat, so whenever I hear that in the music, I just gooi it,” Acacia continues.

When asked about the “taxi beat”, Cam admits, “I don’t even know what that is, we just call it the taxi beat ’cause you hear it coming from the taxis,” he adds, leaving the group to erupt in laughter. With their dedication to their music and unique sound incorporating different cultural influences, Black Math is definitely a band to watch out for in the music scene.

Growing Up/Showing Up

Having made a name for themselves with their nihilistic and existential approach, Black Math is undergoing a philosophical evolution. Cam reflects on their past work, stating that their earlier albums were fueled by anger and a sense of meaninglessness. However, he admits that this type of music started to feel juvenile, leading them to focus on more personal experiences and diverse perspectives. Their new material reflects this change, with a more uplifting and non-serious tone that is sometimes even tongue-in-cheek.

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Cam, post-gig, District. PHOTO: Gabbi le Roux

As Black Math’s philosophy evolves, so too does their musical standard. Their previous albums, Death, Existence and Other Forms of Life (2016) and Birth Create Dissipate (2019), were recorded on a shoestring budget in a typical DIY-punk style. However, the band is now taking a big leap forward with their next release, which will be recorded at the legendary Milestone Studios with the sonic wizard, Jethro Harris.

Tyla explains that the band’s decision to step up their production was deliberate. While they previously wanted to control every aspect of their music-making process, this time they want to do a proper release and even tour overseas. The opportunity to record at Milestone Studios was perfect timing, allowing them to take their music to new heights.

In short, Black Math is a band that is evolving both philosophically and musically. With their new material, they are moving away from nihilism and anger and towards a more personal and diverse approach. At the same time, they are elevating their production and seeking to take their music to a wider audience. It will be exciting to see where this new direction takes them.

Finding Catharsis in the Collapse

Behind the scenes, the three members of Black Math are reserved and good-natured. Sitting across from them in their art-covered apartment, it’s hard to imagine the intense energy they bring to their shows.

Cam admits to being a naturally angry person, but he keeps his rage bottled up most of the time. Playing with Black Math provides him with an outlet. Acacia and Tyla feed off his energy. Tyla explains that heavy music has momentum and energy that can’t be found anywhere else, and it’s fun to let loose in that way. For Acacia, playing drums is an all-body experience that takes every part of her being.

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Tyla holding down the fort. PHOTO: Gabbi le Roux

The band members’ frustrations with the world around them also find expression in their music. Acacia dislikes the way society works and how we destroy everything we touch, but playing with Black Math allows her to give her frustrations to the drum kit. Cam agrees, adding that playing with the band provides a sense of collective catharsis that helps them and their fans feel part of something bigger.

Watching Black Math live can be an intense experience, with bodies pulsing to the beat of the music. Cam acknowledges that some fans come to their shows to be abused, but he enjoys the sense of chaos and vulnerability that arises from their performances. Ultimately, the band’s music is about more than nihilism or wallowing in their own unhappiness. Black Math channels their anger and frustrations into something positive, offering fans a chance to feel part of a countercultural group therapy session where kindness, catharsis, and great music reign supreme.

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