South Africa's funky pop R&B evangelists MIC continue to produce a spiritual harvest while ringing the stylistic changes. Tony Cummings spoke to the band's founder member Stephen Rothquel.
The last time Cross Rhythms spoke to MIC it was a year after George Mhondera and Quintin Delport had left to join The Tribe and the South African purveyors of funky pop rap had momentarilly expanded to a five piece. A lot has happened to the group since 2001's 'Give Your Love' album. During a break at Devon's Creation Festival I asked the group's founder member Stephen Rothquel to bring Cross Rhythms up to date on the band's activities. I began by asking Stephen about the current line up. "I've been there since the beginning of course. I started the band when I was 14! (in 1990). Theran Knighton-Fitt, Peter Stainbank and Marlon Van Whye have been with MIC about four years. It's really been a great season of MIC - we've just seen God's blessing and we've seen an increase in our growth personally and as a band. With the sort of look of the band, the CDs, the presentation, often the outside view is that we are just a normal band trying to make it out there in the Christian music market. But really we are a band that are very focused on our vision. Very focused. Our vision is to reach young people in South Africa by doing free concerts in high schools and for the last five years we've probably done nearly 200 free concerts around our country and seen over 2,000 kids respond to the Gospel. So that's our passion, that's why we exist. The reason we come to England each year is to tell people about that and also to raise a little bit of support for what we do back home."
The band's heart for schools evangelism is very similar to that of those Manchester musicianaries The Tribe. Said Stephen, "In the late '90s, close to 2000, we spent a lot of time with The Message, just doing work in schools and getting a first hand view of a ministry that were using music as a tool and I think that as MIC that's actually how we always saw ourselves. But we kind of accidentally found ourselves on the CCM ladder which if anybody knows anything about CCM, at the top of the ladder is America, it's touring around, it's getting in there with the Christian music market. Now that is a fantastic environment. But if you're called to evangelism I think it's a terrible place to be because the audience is Christian. About five years ago we were offered a deal from a company in America to move over there, relocate. We knew if we were to go there we would lose our vision and so we decided to kind of re-evaluate and re-cement what God has called us to do."
2004 saw the release in South Africa of two MIC albums, 'Re Invention' and a remix project 'Re:Invented The Remix Album'. I asked Stephen why they chose the title 'Re Invention'. He responded, "Prior to 'Re Invention' the four of us as a band were feeling that for a long time when you have to re-invent yourself as we have done over the years, you land up kind of carrying the baggage of previous years. In some cases it's really nice baggage. And I think in MIC's history we have a history of nice baggage. We've got great guys who've been part of it - the Quintons and the Georges and the Gunthers - guys who've made MIC what it is. But at the same time the four of us felt a real clicking together of musical ideas and obviously cemented with this whole vision. And so we wanted to call this album 'Re Invention' because we felt that it described not only what we were going through musically and as a band but also what we could communicate to young people about what God can do in their lives."
Stephen went on to talk about MIC's remix album. "Over the last few years we've really just spent a lot of time building up a little bit of a studio back home. We just felt one of the ways to best utilise this was to take some of the old tracks, some of the favourites and play around with them a little bit and put together a package. It's more a mixture of greatest hits re-mixed so hence 'Re:invented'.
One of the extraordinary things is that despite MIC having a large UK following and 2005 seeing the band play numerous UK festivals, both 'Re Invention' and 'Re:invented' are not available in the UK Christian bookshops. "At the moment MIC are kind of in between distribution agreements. Our priority is South Africa but we allow ourselves a certain amount of time every year to kind of spend time in other countries like Holland, New Zealand, the Philippines, England and there is only so much we can do within that time. Hopefully MIC CDs will be back in the UK shops before too long."
As well as MIC two albums Stephen is also excited about the MIC DVD 'Moving Pictures: The Video Collection', the group's first in their long career. "It's a full length DVD. It's got 10 music videos on it, it's got documentary footage, it's got some extras, a whole lot of nice goodies on there. We brought 400 of them on this tour and we're running short of them already. But you can get all this stuff on our website - it's www.micweb.co.za. I might be biased but I think it's great!"
I concluded our chat by asking about MIC's ongoing change of musical styles. "As I've said, our passion is first and foremost evangelism. And when we look at South Africa, South Africa is made up of 45 million people. Only five million are white and so in South Africa if we weren't wanting to reach the average young person in South Africa the worst thing we could do is make heavy metal music. Or make hard rock or make country music. We live in a country where the young people are basically an emerging MTV generation. They're influenced by hip-hop, by R&B, by pop music. We feel our music has got elements of all of those things and it has a little bit of an aggressive edge to it to maybe kind of hook in those young white guys, white kids in our country as well who perhaps like the rock sound more. We really try to hit the bull's eye, we try to make music that if you look at a cross section of our teenagers in South Africa would hit the middle and hopefully drag in the outside kids on the periphery."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.