He left Polokwane, South Africa, in the early 2000s for London, in search of a global outlet for his broad artistic proclivities. Mr Ntshebe “Mo Laudi” Bopape went on to become a global DJ, producer, sound artist, collaborator, entrepreneur and more recently, clothing designer. In this extensive Q&A he discusses collaboration, Art, Paris, Amapiano, Kimonos and the politics of outrage, with Mr Siphiwe Mpye.
noted.man: Mo Laudi is a DJ, producer, sound artist/curator, designer. But What kind of artist are you, if that’s even a thing?
Mo Laudi: Since a young age, in my township of Seshego, we made cars out of wires, we hummed to improvise the lack of instruments, we created what we did not have. As I was growing up I kept a drawing book and drew whenever I could. I felt the possibilities to express myself in various forms. As a teenager the family moved from the township to the Sterpark suburbs of Polokwane. I had private music tuition and also private art tuition. When I watched TV or radio, I remember that I felt this huge urgency of representation, there was a void.
My friends and I started rapping in SeTswana and Sepedi, we thought it was so cool and amazing – at the time there was no one doing it. I started recording our sessions, that’s how I taught myself producing. Music was always there. There was an art competition in Limpopo province on who could make the best depiction of a Gerard Sekoto painting, I represented my school and won. As a prize I got to paint an outdoor mural outside the Polokwane art gallery, I painted Sekoto’s ‘Street scene’ depicting the life and the conditions of Alexandra. The gallery loved it left it there for 3 years, my parents were so proud.
When it came to academic studies I was afraid of the conditions most artists found themselves in, so I chose to study advertising at AAA School of Advertising. After my studies and a stint managing a night club in Polokwane, I went to London. Instead of working in art or advertising, it was music that came fast, quicker and with a spark. I continued to paint, produce music, rap, I was doing spoken word, slam and DJing, which became more professional.
It was the early 2000s and saw that the London crowd did not know our South African electronic sounds such as Kwaito and South African House, so I started the first weekly club night make this introduction. A year later other South African DJs joined me and it became a regular hangout and we invited other bigger names. When I moved to Paris from London, I started a club night called Globalisto. In 2013 we created a festival called Sharp Sharp Johannesburg with the Gaité Lyrique and invited 50 visual and music artists to show an alternative side of South Africa. It was a sold-out success and I thought, why not create a label.
I released ‘Avant Garde Club Music’, ‘Gazelle’ and ‘DJ Invizable’, 2 EPs and an album of my own sound, as well as a single by Tallisker. Darque and Simbad remixes are coming soon. I’m a multi-disciplinary artist – when there is no platform, I create one, I’m constantly creating more videos, more sound installations, experimenting, I feel unlimited now that my various universes are morphing and merging into one.
NM: What kind of lessons have you learned through the multiple collaborations you have you been involved in over the years?
ML: There is an old African saying: ‘if you want to go fast, go alone, it if you want to go far go together’. It is absolutely necessary from the beginning to be clear, to set out terms and conditions. Everyone always has their own idea or interpretation of collaboration; some people are purely focused on financial gain, some are mostly creative. For me, it’s great to have both, and sometimes, of course, it’s nice to collaborate and not gain anything but just to experiment. Experimentation allows one to keep growing. I love sharing and learning new skills.
NM: Sections of the creative African Diaspora (the parts of it we can see on the internet, that is) looks very exciting and seems like a movement with a view to collective growth. You are part of this and I am curious how real or impactful is this kinship?
ML: There is a collective creative African diaspora energy brewing. For many years this community has been marginalised, with a lack of opportunities but many of these fantastic colleagues are entrepreneurial and create their own opportunities where the opportunities do not exist. It’s beautiful to organise events and know you have a core support base. When I need models for a fashion shoot, for instance, I can just send a text message since someone will know someone. More and more I feel there is a general interest in Africa from Parisians too, you can feel it in the air, in fashion and music. Now even old school Kwaito is trending in Paris!
“Everyone always has their own idea or interpretation of collaboration; some people are purely focused on financial gain, some are mostly creative. For me, it’s great to have both and sometimes, of course, it’s nice to collaborate and not gain anything but just to experiment.”
NM: With the acknowledgement that there are other sounds to the Mo Laudi arsenal, what did you sound like – as a DJ and beat maker – before Gqom set in, how big a departure to what we may hear on ‘Dance inside of you’?
ML: My brothers were into House and Bobby Brown, Bell Biv Devoe – imitating all their dance moves and studying the lyrics. My parents had a choir, they were into jazz, R&B, Mbaqanga, pop. We were into singing and creating songs with my friends since I can remember.
When I was in London in the early 2000s, I met some British guys who liked my vibe and politics, we created a band – ‘Weapons of Mass Belief’ later known as ‘Weapons’ – which was supposed to be a Trip-Hop band but it became a Punk band after the guitarists joined. We toured all corners of the UK and one month we even did 27 shows, with only 4 days off. I got into drum bass, Kuduru, dubstep, Techno, Techhouse, Acid house, Breakbeat, Broken beat, Bmore.
Some of my earlier sounds were quite pre-Gqom-ish, without the name, tracks like ‘Jozi Acid’, ‘Slave Meditation’ or the intro of Yadi’s ‘Unbreakable’ remix. I genuinely love drums, I love playing around with different rhythms not only 4/4 kick to the floor. When I was a kid, I remember loving Dinaka/ Malopo, there are some tracks that I made inspired by them. I’ve experimented with drum n bass, jazz, and Arabic sounds. In ‘Dance Inside Of You’ there are Hip-Hop samples, Japanese samples, there are Techno elements. When I played this track in Polokwane, one person was like, ‘what is this, electro, I love it’.
NM: Amapiano has been in the spotlight a lot in the last few months, with some criticism about its musical value, but mostly a love of the genre from township to Sandton clubs. What’s your take about the musical or cultural value of the genre, one which you have also dabbled in?
ML: On ‘Tiger Style’ I put in a little Amapiano flavour. I really love the sound, it’s got that early Jazzy Kwaito nostalgia. I love the drum programming, the whole vibe, It’s brilliant but too much of it can be a ‘snooze fest’ (referencing DJ/Producer Mr Lahrs Behrenroth’s controversial comments earlier this year) . There are some amazing killer tracks out there. I feel the spotlight is well deserved, it’s fantastic to see homegrown genres flourish, we should not wait till it becomes big outside South Africa before we pick it up, it’s funny how Gqom was big in cutting edge club nights in London and Paris before it was big in the rest of South Africa. Amapiano will grow and inspire other producers to create other genres.
NM: How good is your French and how long did it take you to get there (or not)?
ML: When I arrived in Paris, I observed that I was getting better treatment as a black man speaking English than as a black man speaking French. There are these social codes and how well you speak French can determine your background, where you live or level of education, there is an arrogance or hidden class system in France, some people don’t believe in equality but believe Africa should still be colonised and they see African countries as still part of France. There is still this belief even though President Macron recently said ‘Colonialism is a crime against humanity’. I love Paris. It’s impossible not to pick up French living here, it’s actually a beautiful language, I’m still taking French classes, it’s a rather complicated language that takes years to truly master. I made a song years back with a fellow Frenchman known as Lazy Flow. The track was inspired by Josephine Baker, it’s called ‘Paris, Paris, Paris’, I sing the chorus in French.
NM: Paris in 2019 – Macron, European immigration crisis, xenophobia etc. – how do you see where the city (and the country) is going when you put on your Polokwane gaze?
ML: It’s a sad time politically, there is definitely an economic crisis but nothing compared to what is happening in South Africa. In South Africa we have normalised poverty and crime. There were 20,336 murders in South Africa in 2018: South Africa suffers 31.00 per 1000, compared to 1.0 per 1000 in France.
People are exploited by extremist and external forces they are not aware of. There is a growing rightwing movement, when the vast amount of the public is not happy economically, they turn xenophobic blame on the foreigner, the outsider, the muslim etc. In some parts of Paris you come out of a club and outside you see tents of homeless people from Syria, Afghanistan, Libya.
“In South Africa we have normalised poverty and crime. There were 20,336 murders in South Africa in 2018: South Africa suffers 31.00 per 1000, compared to 1.0 per 1000 in France.”
NM: You have contributed a sound installation at an Ernest Mancoba exhibition currently at the Pompidou, how did that come about?
ML: Ernest Mancoba’s life’s work has been a great inspiration to me and many artists, he is the one who told Sekoto to keep going. Mancoba has contributed so much but yet he seems to be mostly forgotten, or rather still unknown in some circles. I believe the interest in his work should be higher than it is. I love his work and his vision. There is a quest to create a better society, bringing together the spiritual and the politics, the metaphysical and the physical. It’s interesting that he was in the same debate team as Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, he could have chosen a life in politics but he chose art.
When the curator Alicia Knock told me she heard about the collaboration that I did at Palais de Tokyo in Paris with the artist Julien Creuzet, she mentioned the new exhibition that she was preparing on Ernest Mancoba. Immediately I felt the urgency to be involved. I feel a deep connection with his trajectory, leaving South Africa, starting life in London, Paris and Copenhagen, the nostalgia and the sense of longing for one’s homeland yet facing challenges in a new environment. All of this you can feel in his work.
My sound Installation ‘Motho ke Motho ka batho(A tribute to Mancoba)’ is a dialogue with Mancoba using his voice as vehicle to channel ideas or travel through his memories, its critique of society. one part he speaks of how his grandfather was happy because white people were no longer beating black people, and they were clapping their hands celebrating freedom, I juxtaposed this clapping to field recording of Marikana miners clapping their hands singing, commemorating the death of their co-workers shot down for higher pay. We still have far to go as a society. I’m constantly asking myself how can we make a difference.
“I questioned myself when the attacks took place in Paris. The world stops and there is a deep soul searching that happens but yet when they happen in Nigeria, it is as if nothing has happened, what can we all do to create a society where we all care about each other?”
NM: The Globalisto Collection, a collaboration with French- American designer Elizabeth Relin on a range of African/East Asia inspired Kimonos, has been out in the world for a few months now, was the genesis of the collection the product or the symbolism in design and fabric?
ML: Globalisto is a philosophy to re-imagine a borderless world from a non-occidental view, what happens one side affects the other, we are living in an age where we have to care how we can end racism, patriarchy, sexism, make the world more green, how can we make the world a better place?
I questioned myself when the attacks took place in Paris. The world stops and there is a deep soul searching that happens but yet when they happen in Nigeria, it is as if nothing has happened, what can we all do to create a society where we all care about each other? Creating this collection is an extension of my vision for a better society, I believe this can be created through art, music, and design. With the Globalisto Collection, I wanted to create functional art. Fashion with a purpose or message. I want people to have fun wearing these clothes knowing they are contributing to something bigger than us.
Elizabeth Relin shares this vision, we designed these Kimonos inspired by Japan in the form of design. The fabric is African wax, and inside is the Scottish tartan. The story of African wax print is fascinating, it was originally from India, then Indonesia adopted it; there were African soldiers based in Indonesia who sent the fabrics back to West Africa for their wives who fell in love with the fabrics and made their own clothes. The Dutch being industrious saw this trend and started to produce the prints in the Netherlands. That’s why some people call it Dutch wax. I love this story of cross pollination, migration, why can we as human beings have this freedom of movement, it should not be only people from rich countries that can move freely.
NM: Work, hard work is something that you are clearly acquainted with. Many people – myself included – work hard, at various things, but we are not as organised as we could be. How do you keep your sense of control, or being organised, with so many things on the go?
ML: I’m still learning a lot to become more organised, I make lists and one thing the French are very good at is holidays, taking time off to have a break. I did not understand this when we were on tour as a band and there was one of the members who was French. He would totally disappear with phone off, email off for one month, he was on holiday. I find it is indeed important to take time off, step back and reflect.
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