FEATURED: meet my friends WITH SIHLE ON

Music is an art form that transcends limitations and disciplines, often it is an engaging, therapeutic and fun soundtrack to life and its fleeting moments. The medium holds its power in its ability to move people; from your heart racing to the rhythm at groove, to soulful harmonies at an intimate listening session, right down to the tunes that help you through heartbreak. This form of expression is not limited to the makers, producers, vocalists and instrumentalists but includes the playmakers, curators and promoters amongst others. One such playmaker is music curator now dubbed “the Streets A&R” Sihle “ON” Nombe. He is most known for being the music guy on social platforms like Twitter with  people listening keenly to his fresh recommendations. He funnels this influence by creating playlists and platforms like Meet My Friends. Read on as we tune in and discover more about ON.

Photo by Austin Malema

Before we get into it, how are you and can you please introduce yourself to our audience and how the streets A&R moniker came about?
Generally speaking, I’m quite good. I am at peace with a lot of things even though the times are chaotic. So earlier this year Nike had AirMax day and they were essentially celebrating people who are doing selfless and meaningful work in growing the community and pushing the culture forward. They were interviewing a friend of mine and they asked him about me. He said that I’m the guy he goes to for new music and I’m someone who puts new artists on, “ I call him my streets A&R.” A lot of people read that interview and it clicked and connected like that moment when you finally know what to call something. It kind of stuck, he coined it, I liked it and I am now using it.

Tell us what Meet My Friends is and how the idea and execution came about?
On a technical level Meet My Friends is a series of curated music playlists. How it came about was prior to the playlists and platforms- I’ve always been the guy when I’m in a room and they are talking about a particular role/skillset/talent I know who to suggest. When they are looking for people who are dope it’s alway been natural for me to say I actually have a friend who does that you should check them out.

One incident that happened, a year before Meet My Friends came about, is an international brand/festival I was working with was looking for photographers to work with. I mentioned my friend’s name & work in the room, they loved her work. She eventually meets one of the brand members, outside of me, and later lands the gig because of her amazing work. After that I realised that I’m actually connecting my friends to platforms, prominent people and audiences and for me it’s just me sharing my friend’s work. So when it was time to launch Meet My Friends I was basically saying everyone needs to meet my friends they’re amazing, talented people across different mediums.

Arguably, 2020 was the year of the livestream, from webinars to IG and Facebook live you went with Clubhouse why that platform?
To be quite honest it’s a personality thing and I’m not very big on having my face everywhere – I don’t think I’m that interesting to watch. So I tried to choose a platform that was not centering me . My whole mandate has been introducing people to new talent and new music and other mediums. Also, I’m not a huge fan of being in front of the camera and Clubhouse is audio only so we can highlight the music. Often I’ll give a short intro  “Welcome to Meet My Friends, we Jam here.”  The artist’s come on , introduce themselves and play the music

The creative process is often collaborative, who are the people you feel have been integral thus far to your professional journey?
It’s going to sound so cliche but I have to be honest: my friends. I take so much inspiration and drive from these talented people. For example when I was deliberating the concept there’s a friend of mine named Emceei/Mbali Cobotwana who works at a record label; he’s always pushing me to do such things so when I needed music type advice he was there . Another friend of mine, WhereAreYouTalent aka Sanza/Sandile Mhlongo, is really big on research so he is always consuming knowledge and content. So when it comes to how I consume music and people’s content I have him in mind. I have another friend, Cole who is a photographer. She is one of my most spiritual connections as friends because she always believes and gives assurance. To quote Jay Z he has a line where he says “Jaz made me believe this shit was real” and Cole has literally been that person. Then I have other friends who are not even in the creative sector who inspire me to do. I’m lucky to be one of those people where I have people who not only believe in me but see beyond me – even this moment my friends saw coming before I did. My vision was just supporting my friends so as cliche as it sounds it really is my friends and the company I keep that has been instrumental. I have intentionally kept these amazing energies around me. There was a time where the only motivation I had was seeing that all my friends are doing what they love and they’re actually happier and I want to do that too. That’s when I knew I had the right people around me.

Image by Keanan Purcel

What are the ingredients that make up a good selection of music for you? 

Before I create any playlist I need to know the environment I’m creating for. I like when people tell me the type of artist and music they like and I’ll provide a newer “undiscovered” talent that’s similar to show that there’s more music out there. If you’re someone that likes groovy stuff you need to feel the music; if you’re someone who likes heartfelt stuff the lyrics must hit. The best ingredient is knowing your audience and your angle. It’s easier to curate a playlist when you have an angle and a theme. Just get the curation right, don’t go Katrynada and Adele without synergy.

A year later, how can our readers Meet your Friends now? What’s next?

Now, luckily, we are getting vaccinated, I hope everyone is getting vaccinated since outside is starting to open up more. The friends that you guys met on the playlists make sure you follow them and you go see them live. For Meet my Friends specifically it’s going to continue to have the playlists, the clubhouse and in the future it will expand to more. In the future hopefully there’s going to be physical Meet My Friends shows from intimate to bigger stages. We’re trying to reach as many people as possible and there’s nothing as exhilarating as live performances. As you know upcoming artists have a challenge when it comes to reaching a much wider audience. So whatever feeds into the vision that grows the audience my friends need ,we’ll explore: be it a YouTube channel, a show at Constitutional Hill or an intimate show in Cape Town I don’t want to limit the possibilities.

Understanding that COVID has taken a lot from many people and the days are different, how do you keep going on an off day?
To be honest I don’t have a strategy like you should jog for example. I let it be. I allow myself to feel through it if I’m feeling sad. I try do things I like, care for the inner child and eat the foods that I like. I move with the understanding that the times are unprecedented and I don’t expect my productivity to be where it was pre-pandemic. So I’ll give myself time, when I can to allow myself to feel through it. Music is also there in all the moments whether they are happy or sad moments so that keeps me going.

Outside music curation, what interests are you wanting to explore? What are you currently up to? 

I’m interested in music consulting for artists marketing and PR. So far I haven’t charged. I’m a big appreciator of visual arts, galleries, design and photography. I find those forms engaging and intricate. I like running, I picked up jogging earlier this year. I don’t think I’ll be running the comrades marathon anytime soon but I enjoy it . I enjoy socialising , I have social anxiety in the physical but once the ice breaks I love making friends. I enjoy engaging people on what drives them, going out, parks, picnics, meeting people, nature and the world.

A little known fact is my geeking interest in psychology, I studied it for two years at UJ and it wasn’t my thing but I still love learning it now through books and series.

What do you think the local creative industry needs or is missing right now?
Opportunity, you know when Viola Davis said the only thing standing between black people and success is opportunity.  By people I mean the people who have the talent they are here, we have the brains, we have the capability. Luckily, the digital landscape is growing in South Africa so we’re able to point and say these are the people doing it. I wish there were more accessible opportunities in the industry, especially for young talent. Our industry requires you to have done so much, to have collaborated with so and so known-figure/brand and that already makes it difficult for creatives who are starting out.

I don’t like asking this question of ‘favourites’ because I think it’s difficult to answer but I’ll try rephrase; what has been some of the highlights since starting MMF?

 I think on the 2nd or 3rd edition of Meet my Friends. There’s this DJ and producer who I am a fan of who put out a mixtape. I loved the mixtape and I put him on the second edition and after that he was debuting his music video on other channels like MTV Base. He then hit me up and said “hey man I just want to let you know that our audience didn’t grow this exponentially until we got on to the playlist and I wanted to thank you.” So that was the first time something hectic happened. Before that the whole point of the platform was to grow audiences for the artists but for it to grow on that level was amazing.

Second highlight was a few weeks ago when we reached over 100artists featured on the playlist. You know people make it seem so hard to find talent in South Africa and it’s actually out there. It just needs people to care about it enough. It’s so seamless, it’s easy for me to find the music- I have my ways to get to it. So I was looking at the record sheet and I realised we’re at a 100 undiscovered artist’s just doing their thing. That was a beautiful moment for me.

One of the best highlights was Nike giving me a call. That was really dope because when you get validation from ‘brands’ then people take you seriously and when they take you seriously they are going to take my friends seriously. Which is what it’s all about.

So to end this amazing conversation, thank you for your time: Do your friends and family make you responsible for playlists at gatherings? 

(laughs) Yes, definitely. The other day someone trolled me at a gathering and said “oh, you’re a curator, let’s hear you curate for us.”  There’s been too many stories. I’m the playlist and music guy. It has inevitably been my role for a long while and I enjoy it. 

Listen to “50 Friends I think you should learned an ear” a Meet My Friends x 10and5 Playlist curated by ON on Apple Music and Spotify .

Between 10 and 5