Name: Urban Village
Members: Simangaliso Dlamini, Lerato Lichaba, Tubatsi Mpho Moloi, Xolani Mtshali
Interviewee: Tubatsi Mpho Molo: Vocals, Flute, Mbira, Guitar
Nationality: South African
Current release: Udondolo on No Format

If you enjoyed this interview with Urban Village and would like to find out more about the band, check out their website.

When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?

Music has been a part of my life as far as I can remember. It has been a part of my growing up, singing at home. I started composing music in the 90’s really living in Soweto with my family.

I have always been passionate about the different style of popular music then and jazz and African standards were a big thing in my family.

I was really fascinated by the idea of singing or vocal notes over musical instruments and the fact that I could sing a number of standard songs and it sounded good.

For most artists, originality is first 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? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?

I can say that I was really fortunate to grow up in a household of musicians and people who loved singing and music in general. So, I spent most of my youth days practising cover music and yes emulating other and this helped me understand a variety of styles of music and how to use my voice over other music and shape my technique. This process helped me to artistically develop my own voice.

What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?

Composition is really one of the toughest when it comes to creating. After many times of attempting to write good songs, I got to a point where I was realising that the methods I was using were working against me e.g. what comes first between starting with creating the melody of the song and creating the rhythm of the song. I’ve had to learn the necessary procedures to follow when working on production. I had to learn and unlearn new things as I work with other creatives and this has given me an opportunity to learn and grow my own creativity over time

What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?

My first studio session was challenging as I was never used to a recording studio set up and processes. But then, as time went by, I learnt that It was actually also fun and manageable, one just needed to do pre-production and prep for studio time and have fun.

Over the years my set up has evolved whereas at the beginning I only used my vocal processor and flute but now I brought into it the Mbira, harmonica, guitar and the lap steel guitar. the reason for this is that the instruments gives me the freedom to explore, create other soundscapes. My flute, the Mbira and my voice are my most important gear. I can’t do without those.

How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?

I use technology in my music, by applying different gadgets and plugins to enhance the quality of my sound and this gives me a different kind of freedom.

I think humans excel at creativity and machines excel at technology.

Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?

The production tools from instruments to complex software do contribute to the compositional process but I can safely say that with me there is an effortless process that I would normally use which is crafting the music in real time using old school method of playing the music live over and over to get the sound, arrangements, lyrics etc right before putting the music on programs and this gives me the co-authorship between myself and the tools.

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?

I always approach collaboration with an open mind so as to be able to learn and unlearn things and eventually it becomes easier to adapt to change In a perfect world I would prefer engaging with other creatives in-person as it is always better and easier to make all the musical connections, discussing ideas and jamming but then again I do also prefer file sharing as it always speed up the process with regards to projects and it’s an efficient and modern way of working.

Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? 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?

The world has changed at this moment. We are all trying to create different ways of functioning. My days are never the same even though I follow a schedule, I try to separate all things.

My days usually start at 6am with an hour to freshen up then another hour of a sound journey, then my day lifts of with practising my instruments to doing some admin, online interviews and meetings, to cooking dinner and spending some time with the family. Everything has its place and time.

Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?

I would like to talk about my creative process on the basis of a song called "Makolo Yanga" which is very dear to me.

I have always wanted to create a piece that would talk about gratitude and appreciation for family and loved ones. So, I started by keeping my self open to sounds and languages around me as I wished to offer something out of the norm. The idea of this song came from hearing two ladies speak in Swahili in a taxi ride from Jozi to Soweto. The way they spoke and sounded was really amazing to hear and ideas were transformed into my mind to write the song lyrics in Swahili since it was something out of my norm and an exciting challenge. I presented the idea to my band mates and they warmed up to it.

We started with understanding the story in the song, the words and how we wanted the piece to move our audience. We then applied different tones and rhythms really running the song over and over, revisiting the piece at rehearsals and shows. I must say the finished work always evolves as it grows in us.

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?

The idea of state of being a creative for me is a constantly changing thing because I am a creative who always wants to push the craft and always seeking better ways of creating. For me, being a creative is something that comes naturally because I choose to live my life based around art and music.

How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?

Playing live and writing music in the studio is connected because sometimes fresh Ideas happen in the studio but can also be challenging when you are on the clock. I have in the past been exposed to such situations because of that I am able to find ways to be create on the spot and trust the process. In this regard the relationship between improvisation and composition becomes a lot more swift.

How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?

I see the relationship between the sound aspects of music and the composition aspects as one because both contribute to the overall shape and direction of the piece.

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? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?

There is definitely a connection between our senses and the music because music is a beautiful collaboration between sounds and vibrations. When the sounds are almost at their borders, the energy moves us.

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?

For me art is an everyday thing which infuses with my daily living, the conversations, the stories we tell each other. It is the words that surround me and finding interesting and impactful ways of getting the message across to others through sing song, painting, sculpturing or dance. But it is my overall rhythm of life.

It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?

We are living in times which define a new normal. You constantly have to do things differently, the way we do things has changed. But the music remains honest and real.