I have the Dutchby Andy Davis, images by Justin McGee / 02.06.2010
You can keep your ProKid, Proverb, HHP and JR… Tumi Molekane, right now, is South African hip hop’s leading light. Along with his band The Volume, they’re signed to a French label and perform most regularly in front of European crowds, 10 thousand strong. His recent solo album, Whole Worlds, has received major critical acclaim at home and abroad. And he’s about to release the new genre-busting Tumi and the Volume album Pick a Dream in South Africa.
Tumi has an uncanny ability to pull amazing musicians around himself, to make the innovative soundscapes for his rhymes. He pulled together Tiago and Paulo from 340ml and David Bergman for The Volume, then handpicked the Pretoria rock kids, Richard Brokensha and Alex Parker from Isochronous and Peach Von Pletzen aka Yesterday’s Pupil on drums, to back his live set on Whole Worlds. Add to that an ongoing creative collaboration and mentorship with Danyel Waro (described here as the Hugh Masekela of the Indian Ocean islands). But more than just working with incredible musos, Tumi is more on point than ever. You really get a sense that here’s an artist with something to say.
But right now the zeitgeist in South Africa is all about football, so what does the corporeal MC have to say about the World Cup? Is it a big deal or will it be forgotten by August?
Tumi: It is a big deal man. I tell you why, personally, people that I know have changed their homes. Have geared up to host people. A lot of people are very excited about that. To me, that’s not always the thing that gets me. What gets me is the ordinary people, like my cousins and uncles are going to get exposed to a Spanish guy, Italian people, Ghanaians. You know what I mean? It’s not a conference. It’s not exclusive. It’s shit that everyone speaks. The beer is the same. The culture is the same. And for me that’s the thing, as insular as South Africa is, that’s the biggest gain my people will receive from this thing.
Mahala: You’re playing at the FIFA gig?
Are you getting paid.
Don’t you think that’s fucked up?
It is fucked up. Especially considering that we were consulted about this gig early on in the process. And it feels like they filled the roster and then someone complained…
But if you’re on the bill because people complained, and there was a public furore, surely they should pay you as well. Otherwise it’s just tokenism.
It is. And it isn’t. I tell you two things… I’ve never seen a World Cup or Olympic event that is hosted in Barcelona or wherever and all the people that are performing are from that country. It’s an international event, people. And I just feel like, it works for me. I calculated things and it works for me. I’ve done free gigs for less people, that were less valuable, than this. I can go there conscience free. But I do understand the outcry. I do understand the movement. Personally, I get it. But it’s not that deep to me.
So what does football mean to you?
My earliest memories… Diego Maradona, I think it was against West Germany, or some shit like that. You know that game where he was always being fouled? Yeah! That was the one for me. This guy just diving and getting fouled for real. A marked man. I never really paid too much attention to football until that day.
You didn’t grow up in South Africa…
I supported the Zambian national team. I supported Kapambwe Mulenga, Kalusha Bwalya that 1994 Zambian team that tragically died, right before they fucking went and lost to Nigeria in the Africa Cup of Nations. They would have whipped Nigeria’s ass by the way! That was a team that I was very familiar with. When I came back to South Africa, my grandfather supported Swallows, and he demanded loyalty. But after I saw their losing ass I was like… And then Chiefs were too flowery for me, they were like, after their whole story with the US, I was just like… yech! So it’s Pirates nigga. Pirates! Those guys were goons. Every time they lost something burned. I loved that shit. So I was just like Pirates. That’s my team.
Tell us about the new Volume album. You can really feel the French flavour. And you’re singing a lot more melodies on songs like “Light in Your Head” and “Moving Picture Frames”… So here’s my thing. Hip hop is almost dead. After a while all this shouting into the mic, spitting out lyrics is just the same old same old. So after a while to flip things up, you just start singing. And it sounds really good. Where are we going from here?
It’s because of the music. It’s the nature of the MC. You spend so much time riding the beat and understanding nuances and rhythm and how melody works, that after a while, dude, you start to understand that’s how to write a song. You learn it without being taught. You know what I mean. And also, I’m a vocalist. A vocalist raps, sings, whatever. And sometimes you just feel, this needs singing. You’re the vocalist, sing. In that way, knowing Danyel Waro changed my life. Danyel told me, ‘you go to a funeral and everyone’s singing’. I used to think of singing as Whitney Houston and Freddie Mercury. This is some high level, don’t fuck with this shit. It’s the same way I view acting. You know people are like, ‘you’re a celebrity, you have appeal, come do this scene for us’. And I’m like, yo guy, this is a craft. I need to understand this thing. But Danyel Waro was like, ”this is functional art. It doesn’t matter where it is, at a funeral, at a wedding, when you’re happy, when you’re sad. It’s your voice. So just sing man. Express yourself’. And I’ve always tried to be more melodic in my rapping anyway.
The jump from where you were before Whole Worlds to this, Pick a Dream, it seems like you’ve slowed down, caught your breath, and you’ve got something to say. It’s much easier to get the message.
Before, if you listen to those old records there’s stuff in there. But it’s thick shit. It’s thick, gon’ take me some time to get this one. You know what I mean? With this album, I don’t think I rhyme better than Live At The Baseline but I do think I listen better. I know how to say something easier. I can get to the point quicker than before. Before it was like, I need to impress you. I need to prove that I’m fucking dope. I need you to know that when the song is done… this mother fucking band! Now if it’s a good song, it’s a good song. Now I know that you motherfuckers don’t have 3 minutes to waste and still tryna figure shit out. I definitely know you don’t have time to figure out what I mean about Malcolm X and blah blah blah. So when you just play it’s got to be nice, whether you engaging or not. I still put it in there but it’s clear.
What do you make music for.
To change the world.
Is it entertainment or politics?
It’s both. But I wouldn’t like to be quoted as saying it’s both. It’s politics, and I tell you why. When you go to a football game, right, there’s two teams competing for something. The reason they’re there is to win a cup. That’s the point. But then there are all these other things. There’s Messi on the field, this motherfucker is just lovely to watch. There’s some handsome players, the best dressed coach. All these other sideshows that make football this whole theatre production. I feel like, with music, that when a person first uttered something that was musical, there was a point. This person was either trying to soothe somebody, or exorcise something, it was some kind of cathartic thing. And for me, the point is more important than the form. So it’s always been politics first. But fuck dude, I love hip hop. The reason I don’t make rock music is because that’s the thing that got me, not rock. I mean I like rock, but hip hop was the thing that appealed to my circumstance, my socialisation. That’s the thing that got me. I mean shit, the guys look like me, they dress like me, so I’m fuckin’ with these guys. But with rock, as you get older, I get it now. It’s the same goddamn thing. This guy’s angry, the only difference is that this guy’s rapping and this guy’s singing and shouting.
Do you think we’re just waiting for a song to kick things forward. That someone hasn’t stumbled across the right formula to unlock what it is we have inside?
Nah, I think the songs are waiting for us to discover them. All those emotions, everything you’ve described, exist already. And I think the reason that there’s still even a music industry is because people ain’t getting it. I want something that soothes me, but I’m in 2048. Jazz doesn’t work anymore. We’re competing with spaceship billboards, so you need something new. So the packaging is different. Everything has been said, everything has been done. It’s just, it’s like the self-help books. There’s always a new one. If they worked they wouldn’t need to keep publishing them. There’s always a new one because people change, the world changes, people need stimulation.
Who is going to win the World Cup?
Ah, good one. I have two contenders. I have the Dutch. The Dutch. Top of my list. And… Cesc Fabregas. Cesc fucking Fabregas.
All images © Mahala.