Name: Themba aka Euphonik aka Themba Mbongeni Nkosi
Occupations: Producer, DJ
Nationality: South African
Current Release: Themba's debut LP Modern Africa, Pt. 1 - Ekhaya is out via Kontor/Armada.
Recommendations: Book: How To DJ Properly by Bill Brewster; Blog: https://djtechtools.com/
If you enjoyed this interview with Themba and would like to stay up to date on his music and creative activities, visit his official homepage. He is also on Facebook, and Soundcloud.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started producing in 2005 out of necessity.
In South Africa they used to import a limited amount of vinyls so only the top or prominent DJs would get the music. I was familiar with computers and CD players were starting to be part of a DJ’s tech rider so I started producing so that I could have my own music and exclusives.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
This is the hardest thing to get right especially when we are all easily influenced by the world around us. What I did was pick 3 of my favourite artists and fuse their sounds/style into one song using what makes me unique.
You also have to look at the biggest DJs/acts in the world as your peers and colleagues. It’s mostly about how you view yourself so self-esteem is a huge part of it.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
The world isn’t looking for anyone else they are looking for you and your contribution to whatever craft you choose so you have to trust and embrace that. You need to find what inspires you without exterior influence. If you sound like something or someone else you risk being known for what you don’t appreciate or never reaching the heights destined for you.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I listen to a lot of music as a DJ so it’s difficult to draw the line between what is me authentically and what I’m inspired and influenced by.
I also have a lot of writer's block especially while touring because you are over loaded with so many different people, places and sounds.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
My work flow hasn’t changed since I started producing. I make 80% of the record on my laptop using samples and vst’s then I move to a big studio for final arrangement and mixing.
The only thing that has changed is that I moved from FL Studio to Ableton.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
The more you travel, learn and see what tools other people use to get their end results you can’t help but be influenced. I used to mix my own tracks but now I send that out to someone else for mixing and mastering.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
Collaborations are an important part of the creative journey. You need to do as much as you can so you can grow and have a broader view of your craft. Sharing is caring as they say.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
A work DJ balance is a difficult thing to achieve. I’m fortunate that I’m really passionate about what I do so integrate it as best as possible into my life.
Besides music I’m also a family man so that’s my first priority over my music career.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
I think you’re always working towards this all the time. Luck is a big part of this industry but so is the prep and hard work put into making sure that when you do get lucky you are ready for that opportunity.
Behind the scenes work and work ethic is the biggest part of what you do in the forefront.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
What I do is record Ideas on my phone and lay down melodies and riffs on my DAW whenever something inspires me. So when do I sit to make a song it's basically to add onto an idea or to finish it off.
The right thing to do is to not force the creative process but rather let it flow.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
I’ve never heard any destructive music but what I strive for in my music is to make music that is emotive. I hear lots of functional music that does have any soul and emotion so I try make sure my music has lots of that.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
I think there is nothing new under the sun and all of us are going to be inspired and influenced by one thing or other even without noticing.
I’m up for being influenced but don’t copy without shame and if you are going to do it make sure you pay respect to where you drew influence from.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
As a DJ I think the combo of visuals and sound (eyes and ears) is the best combo. Sometimes I make the breaks in my tracks as if they are a soundtrack to a movie scene.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
This takes time to get right because of how the industry pressures are but from what I’ve learnt music is art and just like art the music you don’t put out is as important as the music you do put out.
Art just like music takes time so make sure you release the music you know you would be happy to stand firm by 10 to 20yrs after release.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Music brings back memories and takes you back to times your words wouldn’t be able to express. Certain songs can make you super happy whilst making the next person super sad.