Album Review: Msaki x Tubatsi – Synthetic Hearts Part II (Nø Førmat!; May 2024)

Words by Lucas Keen


Synthetic Hearts is the second volume of a collaboration between self-described “songcatcher” Msaki and multi-hyphenate creative Tubatsi Mpho Moloi.

The result of this meeting of hearts is an extraordinary record, best appreciated in one sitting.

Recorded at Jazzworx in Johannesburg, the two rising stars—Msaki, who has collaborated with the likes of Black Coffee and Diplo, and Moloi, a member of the breakout Soweto group Urban Village—are joined by cellist Clément Peti and Frédéric Soulard on synths.

A minimalist album, it opens with “Imini Yesithembiso,” which translates to “The Day of Promise,” a heart-achingly soulful soundscape that sees Msaki and Moloi joining their soothing voices in a lullaby-like salutation. It sets the tone for a production that is spare and sincere throughout.

The rising sun turns out to be something of a motif on the album, and “Off the Ground” is another song about greeting the day, this time with a tighter rhythmic centre over which Msaki soars and Moloi takes care of the lower registers.

Multi-instrumentalist Moloi also contributes mbira to “Summer in December,” an instrumental interlude featuring the music-box sound of the thumb piano.

The album’s highlight, “Izinto Zobomi” (“Those Are the Things of Life”), features rhythmic pizzicato cello and is inspired by the Xhosa saying “di khawulele,” which translates to something like “please meet me halfway,” referring to the custom of venturing out a little way to receive a visiting guest. Featuring some tasty organ reminiscent of Ethiopian maestro Hailu Mergia, it’s a big-hearted song about companionship—and if some songs on Synthetic Hearts are floaty, “Izinto Zobomi” is firmly grounded.

The album closes with two of the project’s folkiest tunes, “Time Against the World” and “Refuge,” the latter a full-circle moment about looking forward to a better tomorrow that expands from the personal to the universal by considering the refugee experience.

Released on the Parisian label Nø Førmat!, which releases a limited number of albums a year as a millésimé (borrowing from the wine-making idea of a production year), Synthetic Hearts is sure to age well and leave your heart full.


Synthetic Hearts Part II was released by No Format! on the 24th of May 2024.
You can listen to it and get your copy HERE