LaliBoi (Rural Boy) – Siphosenkosi Nkondlwane – has been pushing genre boundaries since the release of his debut ‘Singayaphi’. The multi-instrumentalist and vocalist chats about his artistic journey and his next act.
By: Thanduxolo “Thandz” Buti
Main image: Supplied
The release of LaliBoi’s debut album marked the arrival of a fresh and bold sound in the South African musical landscape. The rapper and vocalist’s unique blend of hip-hop, jazz, afro-pop and folk sets him apart from the rest and makes it impossible for him to be pigeon-holed as a hip-hop artist. His feature on Sun-EL Musician’s song Mngani Wam (from To The World And Around) showcases his versatility as an artist.
Laliboi was born in Butterworth, Eastern Cape, and grew up in Vooslorus, East Rand. However, he never lost touch with his roots and uses his music to celebrate his heritage. After years of being a background musician, the trumpeter and guitarist is finally making bold strides and claiming his spot as a solo artist. Now he is fiercely ascending to new musical heights.
Speaking to Blacklight over the phone, he reveals how hard it has been surviving as a musician during the Covid-19. And with the third wave engulfing South Africa, he fears that it will be a while before musicians can go back to performing again.
“It’s tough, especially considering that we are going back to stricter lockdown restrictions,” he says. “Not being able to perform live has been hard but, with the help of family and friends, I have been able to survive.
“There other artists who have side jobs to help them have some stability, but with me, music is my only source of income. I have managed to recover since the first lockdown (level 5), but this third wave might send me back to where I was last year.”
Watch the video for LaliBoi’s latest single Somandla:
BL: What do you think SA artists need to do so that they don’t find themselves in the same predicament as last year?
LB: We need to collaborate more with event organisers and take advantage of these streaming platforms. The future is virtual performances because streaming has taken over. We also have to record more music and push for digital sales and streaming – capitalise on the streaming culture. Even though the money is not much, the only solution now is to go fully digital.
BL: You released your debut album ‘Siyangaphi’ in 2019; what have you learnt about yourself since releasing your first offering?
LB: Nothing beats being unapologetic “yourself” on this earth. It’s important to be in tune with the inner man, the inner voice. Our fears sometimes do hold us back. I have been making music for the past 12 – 15 years, but never as the frontman. I was always the trumpet player in the band but pregnant with this idea of being a solo artist. I had this fear for so many years, and it took a while for me to be brave enough to step into the front. Making the album was a self-discovery journey and learning new things about myself and as an artist. Now I know that it’s okay to be different; it’s okay to be unorthodox; it’s okay not to fit in. It’s been a self-realisation process.
BL: How did your journey from being the background musician to frontman influence your approach to your solo career?
LB: There was a time when my dream was just to be famous, get a record deal and played on the radio. But I realised that there is a gap, globally, for the kind of music that I make. Now I want to be played all over the world. The self-realisation journey was important because having an idea is one thing, but being confident enough to see into realisation is another. After being in the background for so long, I reached a stage where I was not afraid anymore. I am bold enough to say I want my music in France, Japan, Ukraine – everywhere. And also make that happen for myself. Spotify tells you where you are most popular. And it’s sad to realise that you are played the most in Europe. However, I have to go where my audience is. Hopefully, my people will eventually catch up soon.
BL: Your music is a blend of the old and new; how do you position yourself in this ‘amapiano’ era?
LB: When making music, honesty and transparency are key. Amapiano is the resurrection of kwaito, and I grew up on kwaito and even experimented with the genre. Now I incorporate indigenous African instruments and sounds into my music. That does not mean if an amapiano producer wants to collaborate with me, I will refuse. I will jump on board because I believe in the spirit of collaboration. I love challenging myself and not being contained in any genre. However, I am not going to make an amapiano album just to fit in. I am true to the music that’s in my heart. I am composing music for my upcoming album. And I have closed my ears to what’s out there at the moment. I am only listening to the music that’s inside of me. I want to stay true to that.
BL: For people who are still unfamiliar with your work, what is the genesis of your art?
LB: I am not the first creative in my family. My grandfather W.K Tamsanqa was an author. He wrote Xhosa books, such as Ukuba Ndandazile, Buzani KuBawo, Imithaa Yelanga, to name a few. They were also musicians in my family but not as known as my grandfather. My uncles never formally recorded; they played weddings and other cultural events in my community. So I take from that foundation built by my family, and I carry it forward. I read a lot of my grandfather’s books and listen to a lot of the music from emigidini and cultural events from home, and then fuse both of those elements in my music. So instead of writing a book, I perform it as rap.
BL: What are your other influences outside of your family?
LB: After matric, I studied guitar at the Music Academy of Gauteng. There I met the late great South African guitarist Zami Duze. He inspired me a lot in terms of treatment and playing scales to highlight the South African sound. Johnny Mekoa was also another influence. At the time, I focused on the sound that was speaking to South Africans, like Mackay Davashe and Victor Ndalizwane. That was the inspiration behind the stuff I did for the album. I also worked with Spoek Mathambo, who comes from a different school of thought. He produced the whole album, and he is brilliant. There was that chemistry and understanding that made it all work. I was also inspired a lot by the new-age cats like Bongo Maffin, TKzee and Mashamplani – a lot of kwaito.
BL: How do you overcome and get through life struggles that come with being an artist?
LB: Tough times shape us as artists. I realise that many people go as far as harming themselves for inspiration. So if tough times come – by the grace of God – I take them as hard as they are, and I enjoy the results and not the process. It’s that philosophy of taking lemons and turning them into lemonade. Feeling pain also teaches us to be more empathetic. When the next man is struggling you can help because you know what it’s like to struggle. I have never been without food, but I know the struggle. That helps because, as artists, we are the reflections of our environment. For us to reflect on the times, we need to be in tune with the collective struggles of our societies.
Listen to Sun-EL Musician’s single feat LaliBoi Mngani Wami:
BL: How important is it for artists to invest in themselves?
LB: I draw a lot of inspiration from the Pakistani guys. When they first got here, they use to go door-to-door selling bedding sets and other houseware. Now they will tell you that they have five different Spaza shops in Johannesburg or the township. It’s about having a business model and treating your craft or talent as a Spaza Shop. I don’t try and look at Jay-Z and Kanye West because they are far from me. I draw inspiration from my surroundings. I look at practical ways to build a brand on a low budget because funds are still low. Musicians have to take themselves quite seriously in terms of business – understand themselves as brands. We also have to have direction as a brand. It’s important to invest in your business and also to invest time to perfect your craft. Investing in your craft ensures longevity.
BL: What do you hope your art says about you?
LB: I hope it can teach the kids to take ownership of their blackness – our Bantu and Nguni identity. When we say, ‘Sibuyela embo’, it’s important to clean up because African spirituality has been left unattended for a while now. When we say we going back home to our own spiritual identity, we need to clean up space. Unfortunately, we live in a time when African spirituality is seen as a trend or an access ticket to the cool society (the woke). I feel like that is very misleading. I look at what I do as anthropological work. There are still more stories that I am yet to tell through my music about the African man and African spirituality.
BL: What is Laliboi’s next chapter?
LB: I am composing music for my next album. I have also completed an album with my band The Charles Géne Suite. There is another project that I did with Spoek Mathambo. And another acoustic solo project that I will be producing myself. The one with Spoek is a continuation of my debut album, and the other is more of a live album.
LaliBoi’s debut album Singayaphi is available at all leading digital music stores and streaming platforms.