By BRUCE DENNILL
Mi Casa‘s new album We Made It is a testament to a decade of work. In April, the first single Church Bells was released alongside a video with a space-inspired traditional African wedding. Aptly titled, We Made It makes singer J’Something beam with happiness and speak about it as if it’s his newborn child. “We are completely re-energised with this record. It feels like we have emerged on another planet compared to where we were before we started the recording process”, he says. The band, with close musical companions such as producers Jay Em, spent three months writing from a house in Mpumalanga with no distractions, pushing through a tough time when the band was probably at its weakest in terms of spirit. Amid rumours of a break-up and songwriting apathy they emerged with an offering that leans more towards a ‘band act’ than the ‘club act’ they felt they may have been before. J’Something chat about his current headspace.
“Influence” is a loaded, often misunderstood concept. An artist may sound similar to another but have no knowledge of them, or be a super-fan of someone whose output is completely different to their own. Who or what was the artist, album, song, era or scene that initially mapped out the road to you becoming a musician?
There really were a few that I can think of, but none like Michael Jackson. There was something about him – his stage presence, his vocal range and his character – that really drew me to his music. I enjoyed that he didn’t need to sing about things that were necessarily trendy, but pushed a simple message in most of his songs. And ability to tell stories through songs was amazing.
Has that changed over the years? If so, how and why, and what are you currently exploring?
It hasn’t changed in terms of Michael. I will forever be a fan of what he did for music as a whole. But I would say that my musical taste and the people I look up to have definitely evolved. I love music, so I am constantly looking for something fresh and new to be inspired by. I think one platform that really further motivated my taste in music and specifically my mindset around music was Soulection. It’s a radio show by Joe Kay that started off on SoundCloud and now lives on Beats 1 Radio on Apple music. Their taste in music really spoke to me, as did their character. I can relate to a lot of what they stand for, so that has introduced me to a lot of new music and also made me believe a lot more in the music I’m into.
Name one song you wish you’d written or one you’d like to be known as the definitive interpreter of. What makes that song so important?
There is a song by JP Sax called If The World Was Ending. Man, what a song. I am a storyteller. I love using music to convey a message through storytelling and I feel that this song was so incredibly written – and then the vocals just make it everything. The message is so strong – you have to listen to it.
In production and arrangement terms, what are facets of your music and the music you love most by others that you feel are crucially important in terms of creating the mood you’re after or supporting the message of your song?
Each song is unique and needs to treated individually – that’s the trick for me. It’s not about making a song like that other one we had, or trying to make a song that is popping somewhere else. I feel authenticity is everything for me when it comes to making music. By approaching a song with sincerity, you can convey a much better message. If you want to write a song about something you yourself are not in or experiencing, then you should also try and feel the emotions that lie in that situation.
Which aspects of your music do you prioritise? For you, would you rather have that your lyrics, your melodies, or your vocals or instrumental work are the are the most memorable parts of your songs?
All of the above. I like to take my time with my vocals, which is something I learned a little later in my career. It all changed when I started to treat my vocal as an instrument and also when I learned about production and how to actually treat my own vocals and lay them down myself. But for Mi Casa, it’s really a 360-degree perspective: every element is key. Because we are three members, we tend to be able to focus a lot better, as each person has a role. Duda ensures the grooves are there; Mo-T finds the gaps for the horn; and I carry the melodic and lyrical elements of the songs. But collectively, there is something special about how we make music together.
What’s your favourite piece of gear?
My guitar, no doubt – a songwriting tool like no other. I’ve been writing on it since I was 15, so it really does help me to find inspiration. Other than that, I would say my MPC, for quick beat production and writing inspiration. It works wonders.
What is the story behind Eve – the genesis of the song, the people involved, and the muse behind its creation?
Eve is a single off our new album We Made It. It’s a song about all the crazy stuff that’s going on in the world. The aim is to shine light on some of the things we witness daily and somehow carry on with life. It’s a song that was hard to write – it drained me – and performing it is even harder. But I’m glad we put it out. I hope it inspires us to read more, to speak more, and to change the course of our future before it’s too late.