Electric Localby Mahala High Five Brigade / 23.08.2013
Culolethu Zulu had his musical grounding spinning Durban kwaito with a specific interest in where it crossed over with house music. In 2007 he met Nkosinathi Maphumulo (Black Coffee) and in 2008 was invited to attend the Red Bull Music Academy in Barcelona. Soon after he got his break on a track called ‘100 Zulu Warriors’ he produced for Black Coffee’s second album. Over time his sound has gotten deeper, more minimalistic and soulful. Today Culoe de Song stands alongside Coffee, Christos, Lewis, Oskido and Da Vinci as one of the leading proponents of that original Mzansi House sound. He plays the Puma Social Club in Braamfontein tonight and we thought to ask him some questions.
MAHALA: How would you define the term Mzansi House and what differentiates it to House music made in the rest of the world.
Culoe De Song: It’s just our heritage definition of the music but the best way to get a description is through listening to the sounds of South African House Music… I don’t think there’s a better way.
As a genre where is it going? Is it still growing and becoming increasingly relevant? Or is it falling back on itself and in need of revision and hybridisation?
I think the genre is growing by the day and becoming a very important element of this country’s cultural equilibrium … To say it’s falling back would be ignorant and foul.
How do international audiences respond to Mzansi House? And where do you find you get the best crowd response to your tunes?
The world response to our music has been massive and overwhelming. Everywhere I’ve performed, I’ve been appreciated with warmth and I’ve had the pleasure of going back several times to most of those places , so in a way, that can mean they are receiving our music in a positive manner… In Europe there’s a very spontaneous response to the music, great energy but the overall best atmosphere is here at home. There’s no place like SA when it comes to house music.
Musically who inspires you and makes you want to up your game? Local and international, old and new?
I get inspired by my surroundings, from the guy with no food on Bree Street right up to the CEO of Soulistic Music… Inspiration comes from what you are exposed to vs your subconscious. So, home vs my nomadic dreams. That’s what inspires me.
Give us some of the Culoe de Song foundation myth. Where are you from, what did you want to be growing up. How did you get into music? And what made you decide to pursue a career as a professional musician?
Culolethu “Our Song” is my birth name… I come from a musical family, church background if I can put it that way. My mother and granddad were very active in the musical side of church, in a small town in KZN called Eshowe, where spent most of my childhood… in Zululand. I got into music when a friend of mine, Dj Kabila taught me how to play vinyl while I was still in high school. At the same time I started making sounds when I had my first “second hand” computer… Kabila knew the rising Black Coffee (at the time) from childhood and I started making demos for a while until it all came together with Coffee starting his label.
Give us the long view. Where is your music going? What kind of direction are you going to take your audience over the next few releases?
Well, my 3rd album is coming out soon, EXODUS. This album exposes what I’ve been through, from rural inspirations to making music on a flight to Athens. It’s Africa meets the rest of earth type of sound, in a form of dance music. Electronic vs local rhythms. Story telling , not only in words but with beats and melodies… I think I’m still sharing my journey with the world while making people dance. I just want to inspire those who look up to me. I believe that’s part of my purpose.
What’s your view on the SA music industry. Is it still an almost impossible place to dig out a living? How do you do it? And what can you tell the next generation of musical hustlers?
It’s tough industry but its very healthy. Nothing beats having a work drive, it’s the only way to grow in this economic world and with every kid out there wanting this piece of cake, you gotta have some sort of drive to survive or see any bit of success. I do this with faith and a bit of discipline. If you don’t believe in yourself, no one will. My advice to the guys is: It’s a sporty industry and requires one to be motivated and mentally fit.
Over the last few years, your career has really taken off. How busy are you these days? Give us a basic run down of your itinerary.
Yes, for me, it’s been a blessed time in this industry. I push hard man, where there’s work, I’m in. I sometimes DJ in 3 provinces in a night or 4 countries in a weekend. Sometimes you land in the evening from Dubai and then drive to Zeerust for a show, I never realize this until I calculate in instances such as this interview…
You travel a lot to perform, what’s the one thing you cannot live without when you’re on the road?
I can’t live without a mobile device… iPhone or iPad. I gotta carry some sort of communication instrument, otherwise I’m alone in the world.
You attended the Red Bull Music Academy (RBMA) in Spain in 2008. How much influence did that experience have on your career?
RBMA was dope. My life and mind has never been the same ever since. I learnt that music is really a great thing and it is very important to the world. You can make a track with a brother from Japan, someone who knows nothing about Umlazi or Orlando but understands you through music. That’s amazing for me.
You had your breakthrough on Black Coffee’s second album, what’s your relationship with him like? Supportive, competitive or both?
It’s brotherly. More like family. Supportive.
Beef? Got some? We’re all ears. Who / what needs to be set straight?
I eat beef to satisfy my digestive needs. It is my fuel. No beef can survive my jaws.