Man Oh Man – Tumi Molekane

Rap­per and poet 36, ex­plains the need to rein­vent him­self.

True Love - - Contents - By SISONKE LABASE

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.”


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?”


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.”


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.



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