Okmalumkoolkat is the finished product equal to the sum of many stage persuasions performed by South African rapper Smiso Zwane. He chats to Rip Nicholson about his identities.
OKMALUMKOOLKAT interviewed @ 16:45 AEST Friday, December 18, 2015
For Street Press Australia [READ HERE]
Born in the Zulu township of Umlazi, south-west Durban, South Africa, Zwane began writing and performing as a kid over dubbed beats off TDK cassettes before his chance encounter in Johannesburg led him to Dokta SpiZee to form the electronic/rap duo of Dirty Paraffin (known for their feature on Boomslang with London-based outfit LV). Further alter-egos of DJ Zharp Zharp then emerged as he matured his onstage career, all of whom present a less refined extension to the more processed form of Okmalumkoolkat.
“All the stuff I’ve been doing since I was like, ten and 12 is a combination of what I am doing now. So there is no break, it’s like everything is connected,” Zwane explains. “Sometimes if DJ Zharp Zharp is struggling I will have Okmalumkoolkat come help him,” he laughs. “My whole thing is like, Okmalumkoolkat is way professional and very dope but when I am doing DJ Zharp Zharp shows and he gets to a place and is struggling I will call Okmalumkoolkat, which is the same guy, to help just a little bit. Okmalumkoolkat loves it but DJ Zharp Zharp is shy.”
The enthusiasm behind the Okmalumkoolkat persona stems from a childhood upbringing on local KwaZulu-Natal radio station. Where umalume means uncle in Zulu, Koolkat is derived from radio station host, best illustrating where Zwane draws his point and purpose in performance.
“That’s my main mission, to bring these kids to my shows to break away from racism or classism.”
“Koolkat was my favourite DJ who had this crazy show on Ukhozi FM where toddlers would call in to sing their favourite songs, give shout-outs to their friends. So when I started making music my whole thing was, ‘Yo man, I’m talking to the youth, I’m not really talking to people my age. I’m talking to young kids and really trying to instil confidence in them, you know?’ And I felt like he was doing the same thing so, the Okmalumkoolkat is like a salute to that.”
Zwane’s greater cause lies in lending peace to a volatile patch on Earth from which he represents wholly. When asked if it is on the agenda to provide a haven of peace in his shows, Zwane replies, “I think I do. That’s my main mission, to bring these kids to my shows to break away from racism or classism. When people come to my show and hear me play they’re not gonna care about where they come from or see the next guy, how he looks, how he acts, or where he comes from. That’s my whole thing, man, I just want to create a united South Africa.”
Before he drops his Holy Oxygen 2 EP off the Vienna-based Affine Records in February, the DJ/MC/dancer and underground culturalist is set for his first Australian tour. But what Zwane’s looking forward to the most, apart from spreading his Zulu knowledge across the nation, will be, to say the least, a rather tall order.
“I want to see Aboriginal people and I want to see the outback as is. I want to experience the whole thing, not just the city. But, the craziest thing I really want to do, and I know it’s impossible, I want to get into a pouch of a kangaroo and take a selfie.”
Conversation with Okmalumkoolkat
Okmalumkoolkat – what does this name mean to you? For those who are new to your brand?
Is like my favourite DJ, let’s say KoolKat, Malum means uncle but there was this DJ and he used to have this show on Ukhozi FM, which was like the most language vernacular radio station in the southern hemisphere and they’re really good. So, I grew up with this radio station and the DJ was KoolKats and he had this crazy show where toddlers would call in to sing their favourite songs, give shout-outs to their friends. So when I started making music my whole thing was, ‘yo man, I’m talking to the youth I’m not really talking to people my age. I’m talking to young kids and really trying to instil confidence in them, you know?’ And I felt like he was doing the same thing so, the Okmalumkoolkat is like a salute to that. Also that guy was also friends with one of my aunts and was the first radio personalities to come to my house when I was younger.
Is it enough to be a rapper portraying your art as you see fit or do you feel the urge to represent your culture?
Yes I do, that’s why I’m doing it man. My whole vibe is like, listen to Biggie Smalls man. I’ve never been to Brooklyn but I feel like I’ve been to Brooklyn because of him, you know? My whole thing is I’m not going to try and cover all bases and have all the levels. I’m just gonna be myself and whoever listen is going to listen, that’s my whole vibe basically.
So you don’t necessarily put in messages for the kids?
I do, I do but I don’t think about it. I don’t wanna think about it ‘cause if I started doing that it would be like I’m a political party or whatever.
Like you’re a teacher?
Exactly. I don’t want to sound like that, at all.
In college you studied communications, visual arts, and marketing – how does that lend to your career now in the various forms of music and performance you put out?
It works out because I use a lot of slang. I’m really a Zulu guy but I can speak like maybe four different languages and I use a lot of slang so the visual art elements kinda paints everything else I’m tryin’ to say instead of trying to bust it down to a language. I think it’s quite dope, man.
So you definitely put that education to good use then?
Yeah, yeah it really helped.
Through your group Dirty Paraffin, where you write for the electronic beats of SpiZee, do you see Okmalumkoolkat as a separation from that act or an extension?
It is an extension.
So it’s not something different but added to the mix.
Yeah, yeah it is. All the stuff I’ve been doing since I was like, ten and 12 is a combination of what I am doing now. Actually so there is no break, there is no ‘oh yeah, I’m done with that I better do this now’ you know? It’s like everything is connected somehow.
So would you call Okmalumkoolkat the finished product?
Yeah, kind of.
You have plenty of other alter-egos – DJ Zharp Zharp – the DJ, how do you stop them from all coming together on the one stage? Like, do you find yourself on stage having to hold back from one style so it doesn’t bleed into the brand of another of your personas?
Yeah I kinda do and sometimes if DJ Zharp Zharp is struggling I will have Okmalumkoolkat come help him (laughs). My whole thing is like, Okmalumkoolkat is way professional and very dope but when I am doing DJ Zharp Zharp shows, he is not as sharp as say DJ Black Coffee or whatever. So my whole thing is like sometimes DJ Zharp Zharp gets to a place and is struggling and I will call Okmalumkoolkat, which is same guy, to help just a little bit. Okmalumkoolkat loves it but DJ Zharp Zharp is shy.
Do you feel that you create a peace at your shows?
I think I do. That’s my main mission to bring these kids to my shows to break away from racism or classism so it’s my mission, if people feel my music they’re going to come to my show and when I play you’re not gonna care about where they come from or see the next guy how he looks how he acts or where he comes from. That’s my whole thing man, I just want to create a united South Africa.
Latest album, what’s in the pipeline?
I’ve got, we’re dropping Holy Oxygen 2 the EP with my Austrian friends from Affine Records dropping in February which is like really crazy. Then, in July in my birthday I’m going to drop 100k MaCassette which is like the first album I’m dropping for South Africa. I’ve never actually dropped an album in my life.
Are you still tight with Affine Records?
Yeah. I am coming to Australia to play all the shows with Cassper Nyovest. So yeah, that’s my family man.
Have you visited Australia before? What are you looking forward to the most?
Never ever. So I’m going crazy right now. The craziest thing I really want to do and I know it’s impossible I want to get into a pouch of a kangaroo and take a selfie. And I want to see Aboriginal people and I want to see the outback as is. The country, the people but everybody I want to experience the whole thing, not just the city.
What are fans going to get from your show
They’re going to get a zulu guy from SA and you’re going to get the essence of where we come from. Cuz i just don’t rap, I dance and I really believe in dance as a language and form of expression. And the beats are really crazy, I think the rap and the whole show will be wild.
Hopefully people come through and check it out. My shows are really interactive and I’m going to come there and speak to people in Zulu and I know they won’t learn overnight the language but I want people to be really open-minded.