Secrets of an Asian Manby Ts'eliso Monaheng / 26.07.2012
“I want the next album to have more vocals”, informs Mr Sakitumi, perched resolutely behind a majestic drum kit that betrays his diminutive stature, projecting instead a more fitting representation of the stately figure that he is in Cape Town’s – and South Africa’s – music landscape. We are at a multimedia college in Cape Town’s CBD to witness him work on a collaborative effort with Ras Teba and Seven Raggasouljah. Mr Sakitumi’s statement followed from a conversation we were having about his debut, digital-only offering entitled Secret Asian Man.
Much like his name (which people butcher with various (mis)pronunciations – he does not mind though), the debut album’s title was spawned out of what Sakitumi calls a “fun play on words”. The title is also an extension of his identity, of who he is. It is a musical affirmation from a giant who, for over ten years, has exercised more than a secondary influence on musical projects ranging from Plush to Max Normal to Closet Snare. He has also worked alongside EJ Von Lyrik as part of her band, The Champions, touring lands as far afield as Sweden and the Reunion Islands in the process.
Mr Sakitumi (real name Sean Ou Tim) began his forays into music quite early on. Of his beginnings, he says: “I started with the piano, and got into rock music. So I’ve always kind of been playing live music.”A fascination with samplers ensued, spurred mostly by his involvement with Max Normal. As he puts it: “That [samplers] kinda got me into the more electronic side of music, and I just started exploring it a little bit more. It was amazing to jam on a sampler for me; you could mix and match bits of stuff, and you could make your own unique vibe.”
Samplers also fuelled in him a desire to make beats, a journey that ultimately led to his painstakingly-constructed debut. All but one song on Secret Asian Man are just pure beats; collages of drums, bass, and other musical contraptions orchestrated by the brain impulses of Sakitumi’s quiet genius, then tunneled into various ‘toys’ to further enhance a product that is as fluid as it is static, as rigid as it is mobile, and oozing with replay value. Literally it puts most releases in its league to shame. Channeling the nu-jazz groove of London’s Cinematic Orchestra, “Into the deep” brings one in contact with their maker through carefully-constructed patterns which side-step the mundane in favour of an alternative, soul-supreme touch of ‘the otherness’. It only gets better, as demonstrated by floor-fillers like “Jungle Jimmy” with its incessant piano loop conjuring memories of a carefree past spent idling on school playgrounds, or the D-Form-featuring “This That”, an ode to late-eighties b-boy aesthetics – replete with references to ‘Pumas on your feet’ and ‘turning the bass up’.
Sakitumi gigged (and continues to gig) endlessly on the back of that album, mostly with his right-hand lady and wife, The Grrrl, crafting custom-made visual elements to accompany the music (“she really adds a whole new level to the music and experience for the audience”). With Secret Asian Man, Sakitumi declares that he was very much sample-based, and provides insight into his recent work process: “I’m starting to create my own samples out of some stuff that I’m doing. If I do something like this (plays a break on his drumkit), and record that, I’ve got my own drum break. I’ve got a beat that no one else has, and that no one else is producing.” His idea of sampling/looping extends beyond the traditional model made popular by hip hop and electronic music; he goes beyond digging for sounds on records, opting rather to dig inside himself for sounds that regularly morph, twist, and turn at his command. He also prefers to think of computers as samplers as opposed to recording workstations, qualifying the belief by stating that, “it’s just a giant sampler taking bits of sound, piecing and arranging it together to make a track.”
At every turn, Sakitumi’s semi-geeky soundbites solidify his standing as a mastermind of sorts. His welcoming disposition provides a warm undercurrent to our conversation; questions regarding his hat collection (he had seven at the last count), or his love for black pepper (he likes food, but isn’t the best of cooks) do not seem awkward when interspersed with inquiries about which instrument he prefers between drums and bass, or what hardware he employs to get the right sound out of his instruments.
“I always talk about other bands like they’re different groups of friends,” he says about the musical affiliations he has formed. “You might hang with somebody and you talk differently, and then you hang with your mom and you start talking differently. You pick up a different vibe with everyone, and I think it helps with your character. It’s the same thing with band stuff. You might not pick up a direct influence; it’s not so much technique-based stuff, you pick up on each other’s personalities.”
Affiliations aside, Mr. Sakitumi and The Grrrl’s live show is another spectacle altogether. Effacing any pre-conceived notions of structure, the songs jitter endlessly at every turn, forcing unsuspecting by-standers into submission. “I’m not playing constantly, so when shows (of whatever calibre/level) come around, I’m given some time in-between to add any new elements or tracks that I may have been working on.” Says Sakitumi. He also credits his sampler for the improvisational aspect, revealing that it enables him to “abstract my music, improvise, update, add new flavour,” thereby facilitating a constant air of ‘newness’.
Working with other artists for his forthcoming project has meant providing leeway in terms of its due date. To remedy this, a free EP is in the works. Thus far, the follow-up to Secret Asian Man will feature talent ranging from Tumi Molekane straight through to Sakhile Moleshe, with splashes of Spoek Mathambo and Inge Beckmann to add to the merriment.