Fresh off rocking Rocking The Daisies (an opportunity not many Hip Hop outfits except, of course, Tumi and The Volume can “afford”) Momentss frontman, Motheo Moleko takes some time to chat to LIVE SA about his band and the state of hip hop in South Africa among other things. This is what transpired.
Motheo: I’m a musician and a writer. I love them equally. Momentss is short for Motheo Moleko & The Space Section and that’s the band I front. We’re a rap band in the sense that the guy who fronts the band is ‘rapping’ but I think calling the music we make ‘rap or hip hop’ misses a lot of what we’re really about.
LIVE: So could you describe your music; both sonically aspects and subject matter-wise?
Motheo: Sonically, we’re really interested in grooves common to funk music, and rhythm usually found in African music. Our feeling is this – we’re from Africa, and we think our music should represent where we come from. We’re also, as individuals, really influenced by tons of other genres, so all these other elements seep into our content. In terms of subject matter – we try talk about real life as much as possible. Like, my connection to the world is through shared experiences or common experiences, and I work really hard to tackle that. The human condition in particular is really interesting to me, so that plays a big role. Common themes in the music are: struggle and triumph, fear and depression, ambition, family, friendships, pop culture, and society.
LIVE: You just mentioned that you are not purely hip hop. I guess that explains why you’ve performed in festivals like Rocking The Daisies but not Back To The City and the likes?
Motheo: Well, yes, and no. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love hip hop. We all do. And we take the craft of rapping extremely seriously. But yes, I’ve come up in the band/rock scene because I understand that industry and I understand that circuit. By way of comparison, we haven’t come up in the rap scene at all, because, one, I don’t understand the scene that well but, two, I think our approach to music doesn’t fit the usual hip hop mould. Look at it like this — at Back To The City, acts play really short sets, right? Like 20 minutes on average? At Daisies, the shortest set was 35 minutes, I think, and the average set time was 45 minutes. We design our sets like that. In addition, I find because live instrumentation is not a huge component of hip hop shows in South Africa, we’d be under-catered to in terms of our needs. Finally, and maybe this is controversial and may upset people, but I really don’t think South Africa’s hip hop industry – and here I’m talking industry and infrastructure specifically – has really matured yet for many reasons. We just don’t really want to deal with that stuff yet — we just want to play our music in environments we know we have influence and some degree of control over.
LIVE: Yes. And that puts you in a better position than many rappers in the game, right? Without any radio hits and stuff. We might be moving around in circles here but what are your thoughts on the SA hip hop scene and the African scene at large?
Motheo: We’re not necessarily in a better position, we’ve just taken a different approach. I know radio doesn’t make musicians with longevity – it plays a part but it isn’t the be all and end all. Look at it like this — we don’t care about some of the superfluous stuff being on the rap come up is about. We don’t care who co-signs us or not. All I care about is making great music with a bunch of guys who are extremely talented. Momentss members Asher Gamedze (drums/percussion) Rob Scott (lead/keys) and Daniel Bruce Gray (bass) are all such consummate pros when it comes to making music that the focus is always on making the music. As to SA and African Hip Hop Scenes, again, I’m not one to speak too much on it because I don’t know enough about it. From the outside looking in — and let’s be clear, I’m very much on the outside — the scene is still undeveloped because there isn’t enough money moving between hands. We don’t have an Oppikoppi equivalent for hip hop because we don’t have enough people willing to spend that much money to see great hip hop at a massive scale. At least I don’t think we have enough as I have yet to see an Oppi for hip hop. Do we have enough great rappers? Maybe. Maybe not. But I just hope everyone focuses on the music and the music alone and focuses on how to make live experiences that blow people away. Then, and only then, will our local hip hop industry grow.
Also, unrelated but really important, locally we need to continue to find our own voice. While I was not necessarily huge on the music, I loved when that whole Maftown movement took form because that was us! That represented South African voices. All these imitations of American rappers we have in South Africa need to come to a stop.
LIVE: Ad interesting enough when I play your music to some of my peeps, they actually think you sound American. So where do we really draw the line there?
Motheo: (Laughs) Fair point. I get that. I sound unusual. You’ve spoken to me. You know that’s my speaking voice and not at all put on. But at the same time, you know that you will never hear me use terms like ‘N*gga’ and ‘trill’ because those are impossibly foreign to me. I think the line is in making music that speaks to a South African experience or, more specifically, tells South African stories. Moreover, we’ve got to be careful to not wear our influences on our sleeves so heavily. If you sound like a watered down Nas or a watered down Jay Z, why would I not just listen to the original instead?
LIVE: And I agree. Last time I had a conversation with you, you were releasing your EP “soon” and that was like over a year ago. When is it coming really? And what’s the hold?
Motheo: We were developing our sound, and we’ve matured a lot in that period. We basically threw out all of our old material because the newer material was much closer to who we really are. We’re actually well under way to completing the EP and we’re hoping to release it in December. We might push it to January, because there is a pretty big deal release potentially coming out in South Africa in December that we don’t want to have to compete with if we don’t need to.
LIVE: And let’s talk distribution. The internet seems to be the way right now. But with the high data costs in SA, where does that put us?
Motheo: Data costs in this country are falling rapidly. The internet is your friend. Physical CDs are your friend too. I know of one local act on the come-up that has sold almost 5000 CDs hand to hand at shows. This is before radio embraced the act.
It’s easy to release music, let’s be clear. It’s damn difficult to get people to listen to it. Haha.
LIVE: Which brings us to this question: what were you doing before you met Jeremy? Just rapping over beats?
Motheo: Before I met Jeremy? Yeah. Practicing over beats and producing stuff. I always knew I wanted more than a DJ/Laptop and MC set up, but I was more concerned at the time with developing my ability as a rapper. Meeting Jeremy was fortuitous for us both because he didn’t believe we could make it big and I did, and I didn’t know how we could make live music with a band setup work really well and he did. We just swapped skills and confidence and began building.
LIVE: Who do you look up to musically?
Motheo: I don’t ‘look up to’ musicians, per se, but there’s a lot of people whose work I really enjoy. Locally, man, there are some really cool acts. There’s a DJ named Kimon, who is the illest selector. His ear for music is something else. Another DJ named Tommy Gun who also plays really dope grooves. I think Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness is incredible. There’s this new band called ‘The Aztec Sapphire’ who are promising, but they’re still really young so only time will tell if they’ll become the real deal or not. Abroad, I really like Kanye West, Bon Iver, Jay Z, Nas, Em, Kendrick Lamar, and this new band called Haim, My favourite band of all time, though, is Radiohead. They’re amazing. I’d say I definitely ‘look up to’ Radiohead. And Fela Kuti! I’m going through a Fela revival! There’s a lot of stuff that comes and goes and I go through phases with what I listen to and enjoy but the acts I’ve just mentioned really move me.
LIVE: And the Walt Disney question: what advice can you give to the young person reading this and wishes to pursue a career path similar to yours?
Motheo: 1. Focus on the music. You can have the greatest strategy, the best designers, and the hardest working people in the world on your team, but if the music sucks, odds are you’ll get nowhere.
2. Build a brilliant business team and learn the music business fast, especially your local industry.
3. Build from your city before pushing on to the next city, and the city after that and so on and so forth.
4. Work like this is your career, and not a hobby you MIGHT take seriously one day. If you make it serious right now, it might be serious for good.
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