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People of the light: Tumi & The Volume bring Johannesburg to Harbourfront

26 Nov 2005

“The New South Africa”: we’ve heard the term so many times it is becoming its own cliché. Regardless of the brazen over-simplification attached to it, it is a reflection of something positive and hopeful brewing in a continent that unfortunately only earns negative mentions in the pages of our major newspapers. Tumi & The Volume is a Johannesburg-based band formed in that new South Africa.

“I think if you look at the make up of the band, you definitely start asking questions,” Tumi Molekane says. He is the Emcee, the craftsman of fancy expressions and nuggets of poetic bliss that guide the band’s songs. Paulo Chibanga is the drummer, Tiago C. Paulo is the guitarist and Dave Bergman is the bassist that rounds up the quartet.

Their music is an energy-filled mix of subtle melancholic jazz with the conventional Hip-Hop beats of tight bass lines.

Tumi & The Volume are in Canada, their second tour which started on the West Coast (Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton) with K’naan and will conclude with a show in Hamilton,Ontario on Friday October 7th.

Sipping tea in the Toronto living room of fellow District Six artist Zaki Ibrahim, the guys look tired but happy with the response of Canadian fans so far.

“I think people here more than anywhere else understand the nuances of Hip Hop a little more,” Tumi says.

“People here are very curious about where we come from, how we met,” Tiago adds.

Paulo Chibanga and Tiago C. Paulo are originally from Mozambique and were part of a band called 340 ml when they met Tumi who was already a big name in the Johannesburg spoken word circuit. In their early days it was poetry with background music. Now they’ve evolved into a cohesive musical band and have also unfortunately inherited some of the stigmas that come with being a musician from South Africa outside the continent.

“People just think, you’re from South Africa, you should be talking about politics,” Tumi says. “But in South Africa, people don’t check for that political social stuff, you know. They’re tired of it. They wanna let loose and dance it away.”

But the reality of yesterday refuses to go away. It lingers in the memories and ultimately, it has to be discussed before being shelved. So Tumi & The Volume discussed it. In a masterful song entitled ‘76 [listen], part of the “At The Bassline” CD, Tumi depicts in vivid terms the June 16, 1976 student uprising in Soweto that was meant as a protest against the Apartheid regime’s language laws that imposed Afrikaans as the language of learning in secondary schools.

“It was 76, the street blew in ebony mist/ I''m treading it swift, and running past where Hector [Pieterson] got hit/ bullets rang/ several kids ran…”

At The Bassline available now at www.districtsixmusic.com

Mindful of the accusation always leveled at conscious Hip-Hop acts about the message getting in the way of the music, their new self-titled album is much more refined.

“I completely opened myself to the music,” Tumi says. “We’re human beings we want to be balanced and have that reflected in the music.”

“It’s very playful,” Tiago adds. “You listen to it from track 1 to track 17 and it goes from Afro to Bossa nova to straight metal.”

“The nature of musicians is that you never stop you’re always searching and exploring,” Dave Bergman emphasizes.

Given the uniqueness of their sound and the diverse makeup of the band, one is almost tempted to view Tumi & The Volume as musical ambassadors of a 21st century Southern Africa, a label Bergman does not necessarily mind.

“You have to be mindful of the fact that you are, even if you are not trying to be,” he says.

“I think it’s just important that music portrays how we view the world,” Tumi adds. “We just want to get people to open up their minds a little bit. If you look at Fela or Chinua Achebe writing in English, the story is African, but it gets to more people and it becomes universal.


TUMI & The volume will be at Harbourfront Centre’s Toronto Star stage on Saturday October 1st at 8 pm. This is a free event!

Their debut CD “At The Bassline” is available now from www.districtsixmusic.com

Eloi Minka is one of the founders of AfroToronto.com.

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