Recently we premiered a track from a devilishly good digital dub EP entitled Dubokaj Meets Fortune Shumba, and immediately we wanted to know more about the singer adding his honeyed vocals to the Swiss producer’s ‘Alpine Dub’. As the title suggests, that singer is Fortune Shumba, a Joburg artist originally from the township of Mpumalanga.
After discovering music while cleaning his father’s taxi cabs, Fortune Shumba determinedly set out on a creative path that was not without its pitfalls. From being ripped off by unscrupulous promoters to getting accidentally stranded in Texas, it’s fair to say the smooth-voiced singer hasn’t had it all his own way. However, aided by a diverse range of influences and his irrepressible artistic energy, Fortune Shumba is showing that there are few barriers to self-expression that can’t be overcome. Read on to learn the rest of his compelling story…
MusicMap: We recently premiered a track from your EP with Dubokaj – what were your favourite moments from those recording sessions?
Fortune Shumba: Hard to pick! I could say the lunch breaks? But then you’ll say I eat too much hahaha so… it has to be when I was first being introduced to the instrumentals with no words and I had to come up with melodies that would perhaps enhance the songs (cause honestly they were already dope without my vocal!). Also cause this was new territory I was branching into, as far as the genre. I’d never really made dub before this.
How did recording with Dubokaj differ from your usual studio experiences?
He really lets you be as weird as you wanne be without giving you the eye LOL! He pays fine attention to fine detail, if a recording take has one tiny thing bothering him he will not be afraid to tell you to do another one. He also has a no rules policy, he makes music that feels good but there is no specific formulae. Anything goes!
Where would be the ideal place to listen to the EP, in your opinion?
With friends once everyone is super baked or alone in bed and in your feels (and/or baked). Bottom line is, it’s even nicer when you are baked. Promise you.
You’ve previously said your music is inspired by dreams – what’s the strangest dream you’ve had recently?
I keep dreaming of my late grandmother, and her house, it’s a recurring dream. But in these dreams there is a huge flood headed our way (My mom, younger brother and I keep driving to escape by driving away). She most probably misses me as much as I miss her. We used to visit her place every holiday and spend some time together. She was a poet and a school teacher so we’d spend most of our time writing or painting or something creative. I guess I also miss that life, hence these never ending dreams about that and tons of flashbacks from my childhood, suddenly.
You’re originally from Mpumalanga. How would you desribe it, and how does it compare to living in Johannesburg?
Mpumalanga is very quiet and reserved. I grew up in a simple, small township and not much really goes on that side. As a kid I was really errm.mo different (or weird depending how you look at it really…). So, as you can imagine – I did not have that many friends, hardly ever went out.
But I have some great memories of my time there. I know we had loads of trees at home so that meant we never had to buy Mangoes or Avos or Bananas. Some great weather too. I realise now how lucky I was because I moved to Joburg and had to pay a fortune for a tiny avo and it’s usually really cold. Nelspruit is generally relaxed.
Loads of WTF moments about Joburg however! Like, the fact that everyone is minding their own business and always on a rush to somewhere. No friendly hellos and smiles from strangers like back at home here. Everyone is on their daily hustle and no one trusts anyone or feels the need to get to know anyone. But also this is an exciting thrill, this pushes you to push yourself! I am still trying to get used to this rush and just being here and I moved here like a year ago already.
Can you send us a photo of the view from your window?
What sort of music were you exposed to when you were growing up?
Kwaito first, my father was a taxi driver who later went on to start his own taxi business. Before he and my mother divorced I was exposed to the taxi life almost everyday. My dad played a lot of Brenda Fassie, Soul Brothers and Yvonne Chaka Chaka in his cars.
When he expanded his business there were more taxi drivers involved, each one had their own different taste in music and since it was my duty to clean the “mini-bus” taxis upon their return every night, I’d go through each driver’s music catalog and sing my heart out while doing my “chore”. You’d get guys that would play Brandy or Whitney or Destiny’s Child or Luther or Celine or whatever, the more younger drivers would have more edgier Kwaito and House stuff like Boom Shaka or Arthur Mafokate or Mandoza or Brenda Fassie or even Oskido. Then you had those drivers that liked American rap, your Ja Rule and DMX and Jay Z or Biggy or Pac. I played everything!
My gran played a lot of Dolly Parton so I was exposed to that too. She’d cry over it or dance or whatever cause it reminded her of a friend that had passed on. My grandfather from my dad’s side was from Zimbabwe, he ran a drinking shebeen for the villagers to drink at and he normally played a lot of Zimbabwean records, really loud. We’d normally dance to that and the people who were there to drink would form part of our audience and would sometimes throw some money at us.
I then grew a little older and went through my little gothic phase (picture this, a township kid in a public school who is goth and queer). I was listening to 5FM which was considered a “white station”. Radio introduced me to bands like BLK JKS, Panic at the Disco, Freshly Ground (first live show I saw and to this day I aspire to be as liberated as Zolani was on that day) and so forth. I was also listening to Evanescence, Paramore, Green Day, The Killers, Daughtry, Queen, Adam Lambert and 30 Seconds To Mars.
Then I kinda outgrew that and started listening to a lot of world music, loads of Busi Mhlongo and Jabu Khanyile and Bholoja and Dobet Gnahorè, some Sade too.
When I was in high school I began dating a guy who was older than me and was a die hard Bjork fan. I jumped on that too, became super obsessed. Oh I loved Beyonce (still do), my playlist had some Rihanna, and some Missy Elliot, some Pink, some Madge, Bowie, Grace Jones. I liked the pop artists who were super visual and were pushing boundaries.
And then when I would still go to church one of the American missionaries who’d visit our house regularly told me about Florence and The Machine and Kate Nash and a bunch of very quirky and alternative Brit acts he liked. I was genre hopping a lot growing up.
When did you start making your own music and what was it like?
First time recording, I was in 10th grade and it was a hook [by] a guy called Pressure, a rapper neighbour of mine at the time. Never got to hear that mess after recording it and also, I was glad cause I hated it so much OMG I thought I had a really annoying voice!
Since I spent a lot of time with my writer gran, I became a writer and poet first before even deciding to sing my own songs. In 2013 when I went to University I was yearning to record music suddenly. I’d skip some classes and link up with some guy in the city who had promised to make me a star. I paid him for studio time from my own savings without telling my mom and he got these two guys to produce a house song for me and it was not as bad as my first attempt with the rap hook.
The two guys disappeared with the song and my damn money. The other guy who’d said he’d make me famous vanished too. So I never got to hear that song too, post- studio session.
Later on during the June school holidays in that 2013 whilst visiting a friend of mine from back home who had his little backyard studio set up, just a mic and mixer – nothing fancy but heeeeyyy. He played me a tribal house beat and I started free styling over it, he lost his mind completely. See, I was not that confident in my singing, he kinda hyped me up and talked me into recording that song the next day. We ended up doing an entire mixtape and I was like “I love this shit!”. I realised I really enjoyed singing more than anything.
I went back to University and wrote more music while other kids were studying hard for exams, it was an otherworldly experience honestly and I had been sucked into this fantasy land where I could be anything or anyone I wanna be through song. I ended up dropping out of University where I was studying Accounting and pursued the music thing full time. And yes my parents were disappointed in me, severely… but I could care less. I felt free through making music.
Does your local area influence the music you make?
Definitely! I mean… as a writer you find inspiration in almost anything and Jozi is like a melting pot of cultures so inspiration finds you all the time. I started being more outgoing, braver and edgier when I moved here. I grew into my own, away from all I knew back at home. The people I hang around with now, the spots I go to, just my general view of the big city and its impact in my way of living and thinking has definitely influenced my sound somehow.
Who’s your biggest South African musical influence, past and/or present?
Present: Die Antwoord, Black Coffee, Thandiswa Mazwai.
Past: Brenda Fassie, Boom Shaka/Lebo Mathosa, Busi Mhlongo, Jabu Khanyile.
What one place should music fans visiting South Africa see or do?
Definitely Maboneng. Very artsy vibe. Real African experience. There’s usually shows happening and there’s a back packer too, loads of places to get wasted at and buy some trees. Really tourist friendly and all the cool kids hang out there so there is some great company too.
What’s the biggest challenge facing musicians in South Africa right now?
People do not wanna pay for our stuff out here ’cause the respect for our craft is not really there. Though you do get lucky sometimes.
Promoters also do not pay artists and if they do it’s not what they are worth.
And you get festivals that will book the same acts every year and shut other kids out.
I could go on cause there’s a lot but that is up there in my top three… oooh also, no radio or tv air play for the kids who try to bring something fresh and original.
Where in the world would you most like to perform?
Does “All over the world” count as a valid answer? Lol
Would really love to play a huge stage at a European festival. I really love Europe. I think I was meant to stay in Europe?
What’s your favourite album of all time?
This is so difficult. I will go with Bjork’s Vespertine.
What’s your favourite track of 2017 so far?
Besides my own of course! I really like Sevdaliza’s ‘Bluecid’.
Finally, Fortune Shumba, what are the luckiest and unluckiest things to happen to you in life so far?
Unlucky: Losing both my maternal and paternal grandmothers around the same time. My messed up relationship with my father. My parents divorcing when I was a kid… getting lost at night in Johannesburg on my first week of being here… what else? I got drunk at SxSW last year and got on the wrong bus back to the hotel, ended up stranded in the middle of nowhere in America and I had a flight to catch the next day. Also being molested at a young age changed my entire life and not being able to talk about it. And recently I was supposed to go to Switzerland for three months and my Visa got declined. Too many things to mention really… LOL
Lucky cause I am still alive and able to create music. Lucky to have a loving and supportive mother and siblings. Lucky to be free. Freedom is not known to others.