26th of July Thursday afternoon, sitting in a lecture hall (absent minded) thinking to myself can’t it be 16:00 already? Time seems to crawl when you’d rather have it fly. Today was the day I would be having a young interview with one of my favourite poet emcee, the man behind ‘Love & other struggles’ himself Ian Kamau. The atmosphere at Union Buildings complemented the occasion, chilled, quiet, people jogging dripping sweat, a few couples here and there as well as a few familiar smiles. Me and Clear (my photographer for the day) had been waiting in the sun for Ian next to a large figure of a man riding on a horse and that’s where Ian would find us. 20 minutes later there’s no sign of the dark skinned, bearded brother, only to find out he had been waiting at another monument of a man and a horse further up the vicinity. Met up with the brother, exchanged greetings whilst laughing about the little mix up regarding the two monuments and soon after we got down to it…
Q. Could you tell us a bit about Ian Kamau?
A. I’m a mc I’m a poet, producer I’m also a graphic designer, usually I just describe myself as an artist cause there’s a lot of things that I want to do or I’m interested in, I do a little bit of photography, I enjoy creating things (Sounds like you do everything)… not everything (laughs)
Q. What’s your take on the South African poetry scene and how is it different from the one in Canada?
A. It’s actually very similar, it feels like a lot of people are listening to the same people, they mention the same names. There are a lot of very talented people, a lot of very talented and honest writers. A lot of them aren’t getting the exposure that they deserve, it’s like you almost have to interact with the United States in order to be known worldwide. I do think that in both Canada and South Africa there needs to be more people doing things independently whether it’s putting on their own shows or publishing their own books or recording their own cd’s, handling all of their business themselves as well as things like marketing and distribution, people like to be involved in the expression/ art part of things but there’s also publicists, distributors and all sorts of other companies around the creative industries that can spark up so yeah it’s very similar.
Q. What role does your art play in uplifting the community?
A. You’d have to ask the community that question (laughs). I mean people have asked me that question and I feel like it’s hard to say as a person who makes…(pause) well I make art because I enjoy making art, I speak about some of the things that I speak about because those are some of the things that are on my mind but I think in terms of the role that it plays as the person who’s creating it I think that it’s hard to say what role it plays so I think that is something you have to ask the people.
Q. You and Tumi (of The Volume) have been working together since way back, how did those collaborations come about?
A. Tumi came to Canada to do a tour and I think his first stop was Toronto and he went across the country, I knew the person who was managing his business in Canada at the time, he started this record company called District Six and played me some of Tumi’s music he was like; you guys should meet each other because he is in town, we ended up meeting and hanging out, one thing led to another. When I came to Joburg in ’07 or ’08 I stayed at his place, we recorded a bunch of stuff that never got released. Since then we recorded a couple of songs that were released like the whole worlds song on the whole worlds album and he’s on my album as well OneDaySoon, he is actually supposed to come get me later today to go to the studio.
Q. In your music and the artwork for the music you make a lot of reference to your parents, how much of a role have they played in your success?
A. My parents have made me who I am. They’ve made me think about what I think about and they’ve made me the artist in a lot of ways because my parents are film makers and have encouraged me to be an artist as well, it wasn’t one of those things where my parents would rather have me be an engineer, a doctor, lawyer or something they were like if you want to be an artist be an artist and work hard at it so my parents have played a big role. My critical thinking skills, my parents would always argue with me in one shape or form and always encouraged me to have an opinion, I think that’s where a lot of that comes from.
Q. Different artists create music differently, what’s your process of creating the music and how much of a role does the environment play?
A. I usually need a quiet environment to create music. I don’t have any particular form or structure that I use, when I feel inspired I begin to make things and I push to make those things complete and come together. I used to think at a certain point that I had writers block because I didn’t necessarily write in the standard way that people say you should write, sit down give yourself at least hours a day or whatever the situation is and write whole things. I write in small chunks. I think that the misconception that people have is that if you can’t write a page of something you have writers block for some reason because you’re forcing yourself, I don’t necessarily believe that and I think in order to output you need to input and that you can’t just be locked in a room with four walls expecting that you going to be inspired to write. You have to go out experience things learn things read things have conversations travel places and what you put into yourself will come out.
Q. What encounters have you experienced in the music industry?
A. People ask me about the music industry a lot. I’m completely not involved in the music industry I make music, put it out to people and there’s really no middle man, no industry and I rarely get played on the radio and I’m barely on television or anything like that, there’s no publicist there’s no manager it is just me doing things so sometimes it’s really difficult because you want to be an artist but really it’s only like 10 percent and the other 90 percent is me sitting behind a computer trying to build networks trying to book flights trying to put together my press package get shots done, it’s all the other stuff like keeping up with media. I’m a designer too so design all my stuff I designed my website, my cd covers so really a small portion of what I actually do is just purely create and a lot of the other stuff figuring out how to get that thing that I’ve created to a group of people and spread it and hopefully make some money (laughs) hopefully.
Q. Which show/ stage/ city have you enjoyed the most so far?
A. I think they’ve all been different. I like the shows where the audience actually get into it regardless of how many people show up. I did a show in Gugulethu and people where set up in that there’s a performer and then there’s an audience but there weren’t really that many people so I literally asked the whole audience to get on stage (laughs) and I did the show like that and that was probably my first really enjoyable experience but I’ve had a lot of enjoyable experiences since I’ve been here and they’ve all been different.
Q. What can we expect on the 18th?
A. Uhm a little bit of music and a little bit of poetry, I don’t really see the difference between Hip Hop and Spoken Word and a lot of the time i let the audience guide what I’m going to do so I’ll probably ask a few questions and see what people are into or not into, hopefully the energy will be there and it’ll be good.
Three poet emcees and a camera, this interview should’ve been w’rapped up but time wasn’t on our side as Clear had to run to another shoot and I had a performance to attend to. See you on the 18th.
IAN KAMAU LINKS TO SHARE:
•ONE DAY SOON FULL DOWNLOAD & CD (PAID)
•STUDIOFEED BIO PIECE
•THE VILLAGE (VIDEO)
•THE VILLAGE (WALKING VIDEO)
•PRAYERS (WALKING VIDEO)
•THE FLEETING MOMENT (WALKING VIDEO)
•PANDORA’S BOX (PROMO VIDEO)
•LOVE & OTHER STRUGGLES (MIXTAPE)