It was just a few weeks back that a small and committed crowd joined to witness the launch of Liminal Sketches. Only so many people could fit atop the blustery rooftop venue off Commissioner Street that night and it’s safe to say we consider ourselves all the more enriched for it.
The stage was minimal and level with the ground, but that didn’t stop 22-year-old jazz-soul singer Langa Mavuso from commanding the crowd like a headlining act. With a background in musical and dramatic arts, and having honed these crafts at institutions across South Africa, Langa is no stranger to the stage and it made for a stunning performance. Liminal Sketches, Langa tells us, is an EP that was written nearly four years back. Now, after growing, adapting, and reworking, the EP is finally out in full.
In short, it’s an intimate collection of music which traces the forlorn and the heartbroken, before riding a mounting resolution – high and resounding in its new-found renewal. As October comes to a close and Liminal Sketches enjoys increasing circulation across online, radio and live music platforms, we catch up with the musician himself to talk process, the emotional intricacies of music, and finding inspiration in the tub.
You launched Liminal Sketches a while back at a very intimate venue. How did you feel your EP was received?
The work was an honest and open expression of my own experiences, shortcomings, moments of clarity and growth. The music was received well, especially ‘Vivid Dreams’ and ‘Love Six’. The EP is made up of four songs, an airterlude (interlude) and bonus track featuring the guitar skills of Bongeziwe Mabandla. I think there are some sounds that are quite unique and a little harder to digest for the South African audience, but I’ve found that many people are enjoying these experimental choices and they seem to have connected a lot with the emotionally charged tunes. ‘Libalele (pray)’ has been the main dance/turn up tune for most of my listeners who seem pleasantly surprised by the electro/dance sound that isn’t usually associated with a jazz-soul singer like me, but the collaboration with Spoek Mathambo on the song made it so easy to transcend into that sonic realm.
The EP has been a long time in the making. When it came time to finally put it together and release, how did your approach the tracks? Had any of them changed or become a bit distanced from you over the years?
The work was written from a traumatic experience that happened four years ago. The lyrics have mostly evolved with time as my understanding of love and death changed with the years. The music mostly came together in my car and bath tub. I have a lot melodies come to me while I’m driving and I’ve always felt most free in a tub of water. The lyrics come from that intimate vulnerable place. I usually record those moments on my phone and write everything down afterwards. Some of the music changed with collaboration and that has been mostly a modification of tempo and melodic rhythm. The message and soul in all of it has stayed true. I think that every song evolved and became something bigger and more beautiful than I imagined. The only song I refused to modify was ‘Love Six’ which was the song which inspired the entire work. It was a voice note I made after a tough night and I didn’t want to lose the pain and authenticity that existed in the words and expression.
How did you go about the process of working with the producers to pair the production with the lyrical content?
Spoek is someone I’ve known and worked with since I was 17 years old. I would visit him and record music and I performed with him once in 2012 at the Brickfields music festival. Every time he came back to the country I’d make sure I at least went to one of his sessions. He never put out the music we made and I was always waiting for him to give me a chance to do my own stuff. He always encouraged that I focus on school first then start working on the music. Once I came home and started work on the EP he saw that I was serious and sent me a couple beats to write some songs to and that’s how I came up with ‘Pray’ – listening to the beat while in the bath. ILLA N who produced most of the music, was introduced to me by my friends who knew from WeHeartBeat. We spoke over email, booked a session and the synergy was just too hot. The moment he played his first beat, I was just like ‘YAAAAAS!” and we just kept making more and more music each time we had the opportunity. Darren B also contributed some beats and will probably become more valuable in future work.
To take it all the way back, when did you first think you’d like to become a musician? Has music always been present in your life?
Well both my parents are singers and I grew up with them going to choir rehearsals every weekend and choral competitions. All of their friends were in the choir with them so I heard a lot of music from a very young age. I began singing at the age of nine when someone was completely blown away after I sang a Whitney Houston song. I wasn’t aware that this thing I did was special. I thought it was a weekend hobby. I began to sing in choir and at school events. I found out about the National School of the Arts after watching the movie ‘Fame’ at the age of ten and I told my mom that I wanted to go to a school like that. Fast-forward a couple of years and I was at the art school pursuing my passion for drama and music. I went to study further at Rhodes, doing a BA in politics and economics, but even there I found a way to take music as an elective and I did classical singing – it was then when I realised I was chasing the wrong degree and I enrolled at UCT music school where I studied jazz performance. Music has been a major part of my life and expression.
Lastly, on both a business and a personal level, what does music mean to you?
Personally, music has been a huge saviour for me. In most of life’s instances I seem like an extrovert, but I hold many things closely to my chest and there comes a time when I need to let go but still protect myself. Music allows me to let go of those emotions and reflect on them as they become a sound mirror of my experiences. Business wise, music is my bread and butter and I treat it as such. I believe that music is both a product and service that is offered at a specific value point. At this stage and time in music I believe that recorded music should be free, almost an invitation or enticement into the high-quality service of live performance and visual artistry.
Find more by Langa Mavuso on Soundcloud.
Photographs by Anthony Bila.