By Joe Galiwango
South African bands seldom perform rap shows to sold-out crowds in Toronto, but after packing houses for eight straight nights throughout southern Ontario, the African Way Tour filled the Revival club on the first Friday of February.
The setting for the night, Little Italy, where socialites come to party without the messiness, isn’t what you might expect from an African hip-hop extravaganza. But once things get going, the racial mix on- and off-stage make it clear that the night is about African culture being enjoyed by all. So why not Little Italy?
“The racial makeup of the band is interesting,” says Tumi of his band, Tumi and the Volume. “It is really representative of a free society and where South Africa is headed. Music is the same, but the sounds are so varied.” The Volume is made up of white- and brown-skinned Muslims and Jews.
Tiago, the guitarist, Dave, the bassist, and Paulo, the drummer (they go only by their first names), are spreading a new post-apartheid South African tolerance around the world through hip-hop.
“I think we represent a dormant side of hip-hop, which is the experimental side,” Tiago says. “If you need to label it, you call it hip-hop because our front man is an MC. But, foremost, I think Tumi is a poet.”
Tumi is the poet, and the Volume is the sonic force behind him. The rhythm section operates organically, switching between soul, African, and hip-hop grooves, while Tumi, with his teddy bear round face and raspy voice, showers the crowd with rhymes?–rhymes not anchored in struggle or pain from apartheid, but grounded by the goal of communicating universally.
“With (regards to) South African politics, I’m not specific about it,” Tumi says. “I’d rather deal with the human condition rather than the political. “Right now people don’t want to hear about politics. I don’t speak about apartheid; I speak about living with those scars and being reflective about it, and trying to understand it.”
The show was jointly produced by Dave Guenette, a tall, skinny, white guy, and Jesse Ohtake, a tall, round, Japanese guy. Guenette is the founder of District Six Music Management Company, and Ohtake is the founder of TheCyberKrib.com.
District Six Music Mana-gement is responsible for bringing Tumi and The Volume to Canada. Guenette, an International Development graduate from U of T, discovered their music while in South Africa. “There was something about Tumi and the Volume that stuck with me after I saw them in Johannesburg almost two years ago,” says Guenette. “Tumi was a magnet and his words affected me in a really exciting way. I wanted to do something about it.”
That led to the creation of District Six music, which in turn spawned the African Way Tour, a tour of many of Africa’s sounds: Hip-hop from Tumi and The Volume, hip-hop/soul from vocalist Zaki Ibrahim, choice turntable selections from DJ Nana and Afro beats from local band Ultramagnus.
Afrobeat sounds like the deepest funk but tighter and bigger, with bass lines that come from a darker soil and draw in the listener. Ultramagnus is indicative of how African music has spread into other cultures. While Afrobeat was created in Nigeria in the ’70s, pioneered by Fela Kuti, Ultramagnus have no black members.
Still they look entranced while they play, devoted to each note and relentless on stage. As I listen to them I realize that, while black history month is the background for the night, it’s a distant background, because the people filling Revival didn’t come for black history, they came for colourful, vibrant music.
At the same time, I realize that nights like this prove how far black history stretches into multi-cultural places like Toronto. “One can’t really help what they are compelled by,” Guenette says of his love for and working relationship with African music. “We weren’t interested in defining (black history month). It just so happened that the shows were scheduled at the beginning of February.
A lot of exciting things for black history month are taking place.” During their song People, People, Tumi’s lyrics seem tailored to the black history month theme. “We are a proud people, a live people, Allah’s people, a beautiful people, and equally foul people,” he pronounces.
I have to check myself from thinking of Tumi and the Volume as ambassadors on stage, remembering what Tumi told me before the show: “We’re performers, we want to communicate, and if you want to communicate then we’ll get at you. If you don’t, then we can’t force it on you. “For me the biggest point is really that we have dope music and not that we’re African.
“Look I’m not here on some charity mission trying to say ‘support African music because we need your support.’ Nah. We’re here to share.”