Man Oh Man – Tumi Molekane
Rapper and poet 36, explains the need to reinvent himself.
Born in Tanzania to South Africanparents in exile, this spoken-word poet and rapper has been sharing his stories through music for over a decade. We know him as Tumi, from the band Tumi and the Volume, which broke up in 2012. Now known as Stogie T, the rapper tells us about his artistic journey.
“I was born in Tanzania because my mom and dad were in exile. My dad died when I was a one-year-old toddler. He was in an unfortunate incident, fighting terrible people. My life was shaped by politics, swagger and lots of music. I latched on to hip-hop music because it felt like the perfect soundtrack to my life. I felt like an outsider. When I was in Lusaka in Zambia, I was an outcast. In Soweto, I was an outsider too. This genre mirrored my life at the time,” he says.
“My mom influenced the kind of hiphop I gravitated towards, so I couldn’t identify with the gangster life, although I was fascinated by it. But then I heard people talking about icons such as former president Nelson Mandela, struggle hero Steve Biko and the American jazz artist Miles Davis. My mom talked about them too. That’s when I saw there was more to hip-hop than people swearing and wearing their pants low.”
Music as a career was an organic process. “I never made a decision [to go into music], but when I got handed an envelope after performing one night, I was, like: ‘This feels great! I actually get paid. I can rap and get money for sneakers, headphones and vinyl.’ I gravitated towards it naturally,” he laughs.
“The first time I did my own thing, I was in high school at Lyttelton Manor in Pretoria. They had a talent show – I won best male and singer Tamara Dey won best female. I received the envelope I mentioned at Bassline, a jazz venue that was based in Melville at the time. I was invited to do something with a band because they knew I was a poet. I went up and killed it! Once it became the norm to be paid for what I do, I started taking it seriously.”
TUMI AND THE VOLUME
The band he jammed with that night in Melville thought it’d be great to get
together for more gigs, and so Tumi and the Volume was born. “The next week, I called the band to say, ‘Let’s do this again.’ It continued like that for about 15 years.”
This niche, soulful band stood out in the early 2000s in the way they combined hiphop with melody and Tumi’s rhymes. They brought us hit songs like Yvonne, Floor and Asinamali, among others. So why did they break up?
“We just stopped enjoying the music,” says Stogie T. “Usually, if it gets stale, we go make new music – but we just didn’t have the energy. We were playing in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and the most fun we had was on the beach, partying or shopping – and the worst time was on stage. We realised that we didn’t want to play that music anymore, but no one was really interested in making new stuff. We realised that it was time out. It wasn’t beef or anything. I’m fortunate; I can still call my dudes my dudes, you know?”
WRITING COMES EASILY
Stogie T says it’s a myth that artistic torment is needed to create something. “I’ve been writing for so long now, all I need is 30 minutes and boom, I’m done! It’s my work; to me it’s like office work. The moon doesn’t have to align with anything. It’s nothing like that.
“The first song I ever wrote was in 1996, so I’ve had a long time to practise and master the art. I spent two years writing every day as an exercise. It didn’t matter what; it could be a poem or anything – I just wanted to spend a solid two years mastering my craft.”
And while he’s written lots of poetry, he isn’t sure about publishing an anthology. “I’ve thought about that, and I have had some of my works published – a professor at a university helped me publish one piece, but it didn’t ‘sound’ the way I wanted it to. I knew then that I couldn’t write for the page and still hear my voice. I love the form of spoken word and rap music far more.”
He loves working with the new crop of South African artists like Emtee and Yanga. “I’m a big fan of their stuff. I think it’s easy for people to lose sight of what hip-hop music is – it’s a culture, and we are all in one culture. I believe in hip-hop; I was raised on it. It formed all my thoughts, from my outlook on the world to how I treat women. People think Emtee and Yanga are so different from me, but we have the same hip-hop values. I wanted to send that message – that as different as we are, the genre is the one thing that unites us.”
Comparing the modern hip-hop scene to the way it was when he started, he says: “It’s cool, and it’s amazing that people are now creating music and making money. Back then, there wasn’t much – that’s why a weird niche band like Tumi and the Volume could get so much love.”
NEW STAGE NAME
He says his new name is about creating an identity beyond Tumi and the Volume. “I really wanted to explore some new music, and I felt like my name would disadvantage the process. For instance, if I give you some music and the songs are not what you expect because you’re expecting ‘Tumi’, that’ll take away from the experience. If I give you a Stogie T song, it’s a different thing.”
He isn’t worried that the new name will lose him fans. “I don’t scare easily. I love my legacy in terms of the music I’ve made. I’m extremely proud of it. But as an artist, you can’t breathe the same thing all the time. To keep doing one thing my whole life would feel like I was robbing myself, as well as cheating my fans and the gods that gave me this gift.” As Stogie T, he feels he has more to offer. “Now I want to tell ‘his and her stories’ without judging. It’s no longer about the kid who grew up in exile with a single mom. Right now, I feel strongly that hip-hop isn’t doing justice to the stories. There is more to life than money. Before, I wasn’t allowed to talk about everything.
“Stogie is also another name for a cigar, and cigars are my, like, fourth love,” he explains. “Cigars really have so much history to them, ranging from how they’re made with nothing artificial to the time it takes to develop them from a seed to an actual cigar – about seven years. Cigar-making is an art form with so much character. The level of dedication to a craft is something I identify with as an artist.”
Stogie T is working on new material, but he’s tight-lipped about the details. All he’ll reveal is that it’ll be titled Honey and Pain. “I’ve got a mix-tape that’ll be launched soon. It’s about making it easier for people to understand who Stogie T is. The purpose of the mix-tape is just to solidify in people’s minds that this is now me, so they don’t ask, ‘Uzobuya nini uTumi?’. That’s all I’m sharing,” he smiles.
JUDGING DUTIES. WITH HIS BAND,
DOING HIS THING ON STAGE.