By BRUCE DENNILL
Packing a distinct cross-continental sound, and futuristic visuals, London-based South African MC, Toya Delazy, released new single Funani late last year.
Rapping Zulu over a gritty garage beat, Funani is a co-production between Delazy and producer Henry Counsell of Joy Anonymous. “Funani is a notable divergence from the happy pop music my fans have come to expect from me, and my new hard-hitting African-inspired sound is something we’ve dubbed Afro-Rave,” says Delazy.
Directed by Kyle Lewis, the Funani video was shot in Tembisa in Gauteng, South Africa. The video is a raw, flamboyant feast for the eyes, visualising Afro-Rave in a stunning multi-coloured set with the help of fashion designer Blünke Janse van Rensburg and delivering the track’s message: “Be what you want”.
“Influence” is a loaded, often misunderstood concept. An artist may sound similar to another but have no knowledge of them, or be a superfan 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?
I have been influenced by a lot of genres and artists. My musical journey began in 1999 when I started classical piano lessons. My upbringing was extremely conservative, so I mainly listened to classical music until I was introduced to Lauryn Hill via Sister Act. She managed to fuse the piano with hip hop, and that got me intrigued about the possibilities. I started to listen to hip hop and discovered artists like Eminem, Puff Daddy, 2 Pac and Biggie Smalls and really became interested in rap. It got me writing verses from a young age. In 2009, I went to Howard College University in Durban to study jazz. I fell in love with the freedom that jazz gave me compared to how classical piano requires you to play a song the exact same way it was written. Jazz allows for improvisation. I started mixing jazz, electro and hip-hop – a genre I call JEHP – and started performing around Durban pubs. I frequently performed at a pub called the Winston Pub, predominantly a punk, rock, ska and Goth metal venue. This is when I started listening to Nirvana , Radiohead (I wished I’d written Idioteque – an exceptional music piece: the soundscapes were so unusual, the lyrics conscious; it showed me you can be rock and relevant) Pink Floyd, Kings of Leon, Skunk Anansie, The Prodigy and even Marilyn Manson. I loved the culture, and the scene was a space in which you could freely express yourself and not feel weird. People would dress up in the most unconventional ways. You could head bang if you wanted to. Some people used to even get naked. I even saw a bondage installation – something unheard of in the countryside!. Coming from Mahlabathini and my first time living in the city, this was extremely liberating for me and soon enough I found myself making music that was influenced by the spirit of rock ‘n roll and punk culture. But I wasn’t done. My journey continued and in a quest to put my musical identity together after feeling limited to being a pop star, I started looking into African music, discovering African rock stars like Fela Kuti, Kinshasa Sound System and KOKOKO to name a few. Fast forward to 2019, and I have created Afro-Rave, which is a sound that finally, authentically reflects my complex being, mixing the sounds of southern Africa and grimy UK garage beats. It’s my biography in musical form!
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?
I see the song as a body of work, but the most important thing is the intention and the emotion you put behind it. This is what people resonate with. Then I look at assigning that emotion to lyrics and melodies that further emulate it. I want people to remember the hooks , I love making hooks that empower and that people can sing along with and just lose themselves.
The music industry is no longer a single-narrative operation. For you, what is the best way to get your music from your head to potential listeners? Please comment on digital means (from social media to full streaming and download distribution), playing live (how often; where; to whom), being a cottage industry (eg selling CDs from a box in your car) and any other creative channels you’ve explored.
We are in the digital era, so posting online seems like the way to go, especially for an independent artist. The platform is enormous, but that said, it also means it’s harder to break through the noise and stand out as an artist. So I work with a music distributor, which in my case is AWAL (Artists Without a Label), which prioritises independent artists. They help me get on playlists and distribute my music to all the leading streaming platforms. A lot of money has to go towards distribution, because you may be the best artist and write the best song, but If nobody can see or hear it, you do not exist. I struggled bit after I went independent to find the best company to work with on distribution, and getting my music on radio was harder as it is dominated by the major record labels. Another great way to get the exposure is being included inf festival line-ups, or being a support act, especially when you are coming up. You have to do everything in your power to ensure that people know you are around, from deals with music stores to selling albums at your show. I released an EP a few years ago and we printed it ourselves and would sell the physical copies at gigs. When we realised that CDs were impractical for my fanbase, we started putting the music onto USBs – it’s small and you can plug it anywhere. This was quite successful. Another way to get out there is through sync opportunities, where your music can be used in films and adverts. Right now I am focusing on making the best art I possibly can because this also influences the deals you can get and gives you power in the negotiating. I honestly believe an artist’s success lies in the distribution – it can either make or break you.
What is the story behind Funani – the genesis of the song, the people involved, the muse behind its creation?
Funani (“What do you want?”) was created when I started mixing Zulu rap into garage/bass/grimy UK beats. I teamed up with the amazing producer Henry Counsell of Joy Anonymous, and tailor-made the track to a movement we’re calling “Afro-Rave”. The song is about getting what you want out of life, even if it seems absurd. If it is your truth – go for it, otherwise you will never be happy. Try that idea you have always wanted to do, invest in it and implement it. It also embraces my heritage as a relevant part of current affairs and society today. We often think the Western way is the only way to be and neglect our culture, or think it is less progressive. Funani brings this identity to the forefront. A Zulu person can be like me – queer, open minded, retro and funky. We are global citizens now, and our culture is what makes us. Shooting the video there further drives the message that even though as a country we are third world , we are diamonds in the rough, and if you use your imagination a township can look like a museum installation. Anywhere is somewhere. Dream bigger and make something out of it.