Interview by Chris Timm
You started the label ‘Lilies’ which features some amazing music, mixes, and films. What is the significance behind the name and what are you looking to accomplish with this label?
My mom used to call my Lili, short for Likhona, when I was little and for some odd reason, I think that name just kept popping up in my head from time to time throughout my first year in 2017. (I was probably homesick because I had just moved to Cape Town that same year lol). I had been thinking of starting a radio station, label or something along those lines around the same time, but I just wasn’t too sure what yet. Then around September when I got more serious about the idea, I think I just kept hearing Lili again and it somehow quickly turned into Lilies. It was kind of the first name that came to mind and I just rolled with it.
In some ways that bleeds into my approach in operating this project, and, I guess, what I’m trying to accomplish with it: I really just want to create an organic and diverse space for South African artists to connect, share and create unique and captivating work. Be it through a piece of music, a radio show, a film or whatever else we venture into. I’ve been quite frustrated with how much of our histories have been erased or forgotten in the past, so this is just our way of making sure we don’t do that in the future. There’s way too much talent in this country to let go to waste.
I really just want to create an organic and diverse space for South African artists to connect, share and create unique and captivating work.
Your label aims at ‘erasing the lines between short films and music videos. Why is removing this barrier important to you?
This will probably come to bite me in the bum a few years down the line when we somehow end up doing a straight-up film or something haha! But I’m okay with that. I do think, though, what I am trying to do for now is explore the grey area between what music videos and short films traditionally function as. I really don’t think there is much that separates the two from each other and I think through our film projects (for now at least) we want to show that. At their cores, they are just different ways of telling stories through the combination of sound and visuals. As soon as we can break those little mental barriers down, our approaches to filmmaking become vaster and the easier it is to fall back into organic, intuitive creation. It’s absolutely important in my work to find ways to truly be free in how we create our art, and this breaking down of genre and form lends to that beautifully.
You make such a variety of music drawing from traditional African music, electronic, jazz, breaks, hip-hop, ambient and lo-fi. Are there any non-music things that inspire you when writing and producing music?
I’m quite often inspired by feelings I get after reading an essay or book, or even a little line that sticks with me. Sometimes it can be the feeling I get after encountering a painting, or a little bird singing outside my bedroom window. It can be anything that gives off some sort of energy, which I then try to react to or enhance musically.
The comparison between Johannesburg and Cape Town is often made when predicting the trajectory of South African music in an international context. Having spent time in both places, what would you say distinguishes these two cities right now?
Personally, I think investigating their respective club spaces and nightlife scenes is a great way to try and figure out the answer to that, but we will never reach a fully definitive answer to that without addressing other issues first.
The truth is none of these cities have a distinct sound or characteristic that is unique to them yet. There is no Joburg or Cape Town sound yet. For the most part, it’s still the same group of white dudes playing Jeff Mills and DJ Lag in the club. And it’s still the same group of white dudes charging exorbitant door fees for us to see the same faces on their line-ups each weekend. At what point are any of the other artists in these cities actually given an opportunity to show and develop their sounds? If we don’t have a diverse range of music and artists playing in our most prominent club spaces, then there’s no space for these sounds to even develop or form themselves. So, until that happens, I really don’t think there’s a difference. It’s the same gatekeeping across the board.
I think the only current outlier in this conversation has been Durban and the sound of Gqom (or even the Bacardi House sound from Mamelodi/Atteridgeville in the 00s to mid-10s). And look at how well that’s done them. They had their own clubs and taxis to share their music, they built their own fan bases and there still is a large wealth of talent that is continually being cultivated largely by the people who made it. It’s a system that didn’t really rely on a select few to be heard (as is the case in Joburg and Cape Town). And when that was taken to the rest of the world, they were able to be the authentic voices leading the sound and they wear able to authentically represent themselves.
I think we need to have that discussion that at a later stage and focus on creating direct lanes of access, particularly black artists, to these spaces for sounds to develop.
You have solo projects under your belt but also some collaborative projects, in particular, ‘Twice The’ your duo consisting of yourself, and Fernando Damon. What happens when the two of you are cooking up a project?
We probably spend the bulk of our time listening to music and saying: “bro, we HAVE to try something like this in studio next time.” Beyond that, we play lots of FIFA, we have lots of hungover breakfast missions and lots of talking about our dreams and hopes. And then when we’re in studio we just jam over ideas we may have made by ourselves, or anything we may have thought of on our instruments. There’s never really a plan, and quite often we only realise we’ve actually made a song days after opening the project files from our past sessions. It’s quite organic and that’s how it’s been since our first project.
Most of your endeavors seem music orientated. What about music as a form of expression draws you in so much?
I don’t want to think too hard about this question…. But I think it’s just the fact that I don’t have to use words to tell you how I’m feeling. I can just play you a song. It sometimes feels like I’m talking in a language that can be translated by literally anyone in the world and there is no need for me to try explain any further. Like, you know when you tell a really funny joke and everyone in the room laughs? That’s what it feels like when I’m playing. At least only after I break past all my performance anxiety lol. But that’s just because most of my music doesn’t incorporate any lyrics, I think a songwriter would have a slightly different view.
Not only do you produce music but you also play the bass. What is your favourite bass line and why?
It’s by no means my primary instrument! My main instrument is the guitar, though I have been desperately trying to up my bass game recently haha!
Off the top of my head, I think the bassline Pico Palladino plays in D’Angelo’s “Africa” makes me feel like I am being hugged a million times over every time. It’s so simple and delicate, but it literally guides every single move that song goes through. It’s timeless and almost perfect. Though, I have to add Herbie Tsoaeli’s “Hamba no Malume” as its rival. Just because I saw him perform at the Joy of Jazz when I was about 16 and was blown away by how he explored the melodic capabilities of the bass, it sounds like he is trying to make the bass sing at times. This song is a really good example of that.
Thanks for the chat!