“After the show/there’s always a
couple that wanna know/
how you mapping your flow/
and where you wanna go/
in six years after/ what’s your
vision for Africa/
man I’m just a rapper/
give me a break, stop that!”
These lines are found in a song called What It’s All About on Tumi and the Volume’s second self-titled album.
They are the same words that come bursting out from the mouth of this band’s frontman (and solo artist in his own right), Tumi Molekane, as we sit down for a chat in Newtown, Joburg after I, unaware of the above mentioned lyrics, ask for his perspective of Africa.
Once his hysterical laughter at me bringing life to this verse has ceased, I realise this is one of the few times since he sat down that he has really laughed out loud.
My question seems like one this Tanzanian-born South African lyricist has had to deal with too many times before.
So he laughs it off at first.
As a lyricist who is well known as the rapper in the awesome band Tumi and the Volume, he has toured the world extensively. But he still feels that while it is his music that has provided him these opportunities, it often isn’t credited in interviews.
“People hardly ever ask me about my music or my new songs. That’s what I find the most puzzling about having a little bit of fame. People smile at you or do certain things and you change their whole vibe just by being in their presence. But what is the basis of that? It’s never about the music – that’s my personal experience.”
But surely it’s the music that earned him nominations in the Best Rap Album category at this year’s South African Music Awards for Tumi and the Volume’s second album and for his new album, Music from my Good Eye.
Yes, that’s right, he got two nominations in one category. He didn’t win, but perhaps that’s alright because it seems his music has won the hearts of many fans. Being a fan myself, I was eager to sit down with this musician and after repeatedly rescheduling the interview, I finally got my chance.
Reclining on an elongated couch with snazzy sunglasses tucked into his jersey pocket, he occasionally sits up straight when emphasising a certain subject.
He springs up when eager about a question, just as much as he slumps back into the sofa and slurs his words when he talks about the change in his sound.
“There are some people who think my music has lost its optimism. I would agree, because I have lost a little bit of optimism. Before my new album I thought I knew a lot, then I discovered I really don’t know so much. And I see that it’s okay to not know so much.”
“I beat myself up a lot and I’ve only started to achieve life now. I think I live so much of my life in songs and in poetry and in words. I realised I’m far from being perfect and I now know that it’s okay to not be perfect.”
I’m not completely convinced of his imperfection. Especially when he starts rapping the first verse of Yvonne (a song on Tumi and the Volume’s debut: Live At The Bassline) over a retro funk instrumental seeping through the Newtown restaurant’s sound system.
He sounds so perfectly on point that one would be forgiven for thinking that the instrumental was one of his songs. Then he recites the same verse in a slower tempo and he still sounds awesome. This all in a bid to prove that “blurring the line between what people call spoken-word poetry and rapping” can be done.
This is just another illustration on how Tumi “the thinker” may very well have been sculpted by Rodin’s own hands. He is an enigma that has become jaded by predictable questions.
“My dream or vision for Africa,” he indulges me, “is to have more responsible leadership. Yeah, let’s start there.”
This article appeared in Tonight on 9 May 2007.