South African group Tumi and the Volume comprises emcee Tumi Molekane, guitarist Tiago Paulo, drummer Paulo Chibanga and bassist Dave Bergman. Their bio points out that the four-man group is representative of post-apartheid South Africa, with black, white and brown skin tones.
Their jazzy, intoxicating style of hip-hop can be described as sounding something like the Roots, with a little more poetry and spoken word, and is representative of emcee Tumi’s affection for early ’90s hip-hop. It was a conscious effort, they say, to produce the type of music they genuinely feel, fighting against the popularity of the dance and club music that is prevalent back at home (and here).
Their 2004 debut, At the Bassline, was considered one of the biggest South African hip-hop debuts and was nominated for three South African Music Awards. Their self-titled follow-up drops on July 4th.
For their 2006 Heart Boogey Tour, they made Vancouver's UN-designated World Urban Festival their first stop. Before their performance that night—to a crowd of nearly a thousand—Tumi and Tiago sat down to chat with MVRemix.
MVRemix: You guys have toured Canada two other times [in February and September, 2005]. How do you like it?
Tumi: It’s dope. The first time we came here was in the dead of winter, so it shocked us. [Laughs] Second time was a little warmer. This time, I think, is the best.
MVRemix: Why did you decide to perform at this [World Urban] festival today?
Tumi: We’re on this tour, we’re doing the Heart Boogey Tour, around the country. You know, we’re doing the Montreal Jazz Festival; we’re doing Toronto as well. It’s kind of on the path, but also, last year, there was the UN hip-hop festival in Johannesburg and that was kind of a confirmation of that.
MVRemix: The first hip-hop song you heard was Kurtis Blow’s “Basketball.”
Tumi: Yeah. [Laughs]
MVRemix: When and where was that?
Tumi: I was in Lusaka, Zambia, and I’m not sure how old I was, but pretty young. I was like, “Wow. This is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”
MVRemix: Do you remember exactly where you were?
Tumi: I was in the living room, watching TV.
MVRemix: That’s wild that you remember all the details of the very first hip-hop song…
Tumi: Yeah. It was a video, too, so it was an audio-visual experience. And back then, I was all about basketball, so that’s why I think that song got me, you know?
MVRemix: How long have all of you, as Tumi and the Volume, been performing together?
Tiago: Since the beginning of 2002. It started as a jam session. We were all doing different things, playing with different bands, and there was this really popular open mic that happened every Sunday. I played there, Paulo played there, David played, Tumi played. Basically, it worked out that once we all played together, something else happened that triggered us playing again. Everything happened pretty quickly. We quick got a manager; we quickly got a first album. It’s like we didn’t even have time to think about it. We were even doing festivals in Europe pretty quick. Within the first year we were playing festivals in Europe next to big bands, which was overwhelming.
MVRemix: Who are some of your influences today?
Tumi: It definitely varies. Like, there are some artists that we all share, you know. For me, it’s pretty much the whole Native Tongues. ’93 to ’96, those are my years.
Tiago: Music that was made then? You don’t like music that was made after?
Tumi: I like it. It’s cool, but ’93? ’96? Can’t mess with it.
MVRemix: The “Golden Era.”
Tumi: The Golden Era! Tribe, Common, Snoop, everything.
Tiago: In terms of the change in hip-hop, I think it got a bit more exciting later, for me, at least. I don’t like music that’s formatted into one thing. For me, as much as I like Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul, I couldn’t just listen to those bands because they kind of sound the same, if you just listen to the music. Hip-hop has to evolve, and that’s why you have guys like Saul Williams and whoever, even this new spawn of hip-hop, which is not really hip-hop, like TV on the Radio and whatever. All these bands come from somewhere, and I think that hip-hop is really interesting now. A bit more interesting than it was.
Tumi: Also, I think, in those years, a range of artist came out, you know? Outkast, Southernplayalistic, the west coast came out, Nas was the young street poet, you know? In those years, it just kind of became wow, and they were at the top of their game.
MVRemix: Tell me about South African hip-hop
Tumi: Wow. It’s interesting. There’s a drive to create distinctively South African hip-hop from the media, from the audience, from the artist. It’s great in that it offers an opportunity to communicate with the community a bit more clear, in their own language, but it’s bad in that it marginalizes any kind of progressive shift towards making stuff that’s not comfortable, stuff that’s asking a little more of people. That’s where it kind of is now.
MVRemix: That’s what I heard; that the most popular hip-hop, like in North America, is the very simple dance music.
Tiago: Yeah, the club stuff. Five years ago, in South Africa, you probably had five, six hip-hop acts that people knew, and then now you probably have 50 that people know. Suddenly people were infected with the hip-hop machine. You have so many people doing hip-hop. In a country that doesn’t have a hip-hop culture, it’s like they’re trying to fast-forward to catch up by 10 years.
MVRemix: Why do you think hip-hop is as effective as it is in getting through to the youth?
Tumi: It’s most immediate. All you need for hip-hop is an emcee to say “cat” and “hat” and that’s all. You can reach people in a more immediate way, I think, whereas with other genres people need to have an understanding, and with hip-hop you just need to know the language and people can get at you and affect you.
MVRemix: Your follow-up [self-titled] album drops July 4 , which is Independence Day in the States. Was that intentional?
Tumi: Yes it is.
MVRemix: Why is that?
Tumi: Actually it’s not deliberate [Laughs]. Is that what they said?
MVRemix: Nah, I just saw July 4th and thought there might be something there.
Tumi: I mean, I could give you something interesting—
MVRemix: Tell me the truth!
Tumi: [Laughs] Ok, no, it’s not deliberate. I didn’t even know when it was, but [still] it’s definitely our attempt as a band to make a stand. We will not be moved. We will create what we want to make, even with this drive that’s happening at home, this brand of hip-hop. This is what we do. This is what comes from us, from our hearts, from our minds. This is what inspires us. The album definitely represents a stand for us. Plus also, we did it ourselves.
Tiago: The album, for us, was pretty simple to make. The technical side of it is complicated, but the music, half of the album was composed in a week or two. The lyrics were written, the beats were made and everything was like an ongoing process, but it was really quick, and then the album was finished. We never stopped to think, “Is this going to sell? Is this club oriented?” It’s kind of like how the band happened. Everything with us is pretty spontaneous. Us coming to Canada was a very spontaneous thing. Some guy that saw us in South Africa got really excited about us, gave us a call, e-mailed, next thing we’re playing a show in Toronto.
MVRemix: Who was that? Someone from [the label] District Six?
Tumi: Yeah, Dave [Guenette].
Tiago: Dave went on holiday a couple years ago to South Africa. He went all over. We were touring with Blackalicious, and then he found out that Blackalicious was playing, so he got himself a ticket. He got there, he heard us, got really excited, bought the CD and got us on e-mail. We always get people e-mailing us and calling us [and plans falling through], but with Dave, a couple months later, he was like, “Okay, get your Visas.”
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"There’s a drive to create distinctively South African hip-hop from the media, from the audience, from the artist. It’s great in that it offers an opportunity to communicate with the community a bit more clear, in their own language..."