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Sauti za Busara: Tumi and the Volume
Tumi and the Volume are one of the most important acts in South Africa today, with founder Tumi Molekane's socially conscious and poetic lyrics marrying with the soulful vibrations of his band, Mozambican crew 340ml.
In the run-up to Zanzibar's legendary African and Indian Ocean music festival Sauti za Busara, Mambo spoke to Tumi to find out more about what excites and motivates him.
Mambo: Tumi, you were actually born in Tanzania, as your parents had to leave South Africa. What were your young experiences of Tanzania and do you feel some affinity with the country even though you were there from necessity?
Tumi: I was born there but not raised there. I count it as a stamp on my pan-Africanist leanings. I have come to find that exile has made me see South Africa as just another room in a very large home.
You are a poet as well as a lyricist. Which other African poets and lyricists do you currently rate? Are you disappointed at all with the direction of commercial hip hop in the US?
I love Knaan, Awadi, Fokn Bois, Manifest, M.I, Ice Prince, Nneka, Reggie Rockstone, Ikechuku, Mode 9, Azagai. I don't lose sleep over the state of hip hop in the states, cuz there are forces at work there that are rooted in the very idea of Americanism, what is sad is what plays on our television and radios seems to be reading from the same handbook.
Is there a lot of competition between South African artists or is there a spirit of co-operation?
There is definately a competitiveness in SA hip hop but it is making the music better and everybody wins. You start to find that people from a certain locale band together and create great movements and subgenres. I like that.
(Tumi Molekane third from left, sitting on car. Photo: Youri Lenquette)
As almost a ‘supergroup’, the musicians in Tumi and the Volume plus 340ml are from quite eclectic musical backgrounds. Do you guys naturally work well together live and in the studio or did it take some time to figure out each other’s tastes, styles and quirks?
Musically, it's a natural seamless process, but socially you have to negotiate each other's quirks and egos cuz you spend more time off stage than you do performing with these guys.
If you guys were collectively in charge of South Africa, what three laws/changes would you first make?
1. Free university education
2. Free medical services, no private medical companies.
3. Turning left at the traffic light is a yield, even if the light is red. Waste of time that thing.
Tumi, how was it performing with Shakira as part of the World Cup? Were you guys pleased with how the World cup went given the doomy predictions some outsiders were making about security in SA?
Shakira was fun, all that effort for 30 seconds, crazy. My first memory of football was Maradona vs West Germany, to see that in my backyard is nuts, South Africa felt like a first world country then, a lot of the great things that happened then have continued, visible policing, roads, but FIFA really should be a non-profit org.
(Photo: Christian Nitard)
Tumi and the Volume play live a lot. Which is the best crowd you have played to? What is exciting about playing live? And what are you expecting from playing the Sauti za Busara festival in Zanzibar? What do you know about Zanzibar and have any of you ever been there before?
The best crowd is a new one, that's whats exciting about it, winning folks over, I have watched some Youtube video of the festival so I am gauging but its nothing like being there.
Sauti za Busara is generally pretty democratic as ticket prices are adjusted for different audiences to ensure that the live music is affordable. Is this the case in SA? Is access to live music and music making facilities democratic and affordable?
In short, no. Lil Wayne will cost you half your groceries, seeing Thandiswa Mazwai might happen once a year. There is a very poor live scene in South Africa, but the festivals are helping.
Tumi, there is a regular poetry night in Zanzibar called Maneno (words), which is well attended – would you consider reading a poem there if it's on when you’re around?
I would read more than one.
If you would like to see Tumi and the Volume live at Sauti za Busara in Zanzibar, they are playing at Sunday 12th February at 10.20pm in the Old Fort.