Spotlight on: Digital Sangoma

April 11, 2017

Eastern Cape born, Cape Town based producer Digital Sangoma combines Xhosa and West African rhythms and melodies with touches of now to create a sound that bridges the divide between the traditional and contemporary. We spoke to him to find out how he got his start in music, his influences, why he shifted from Mandi Mafu to Digital Sangoma and to find out about the collaborations he's been working on in studio.

What music did you grow up with?
I grew up in the Eastern Cape until I was 16. I’m Xhosa and there are these celebrations that happen often. Like when the boys are going up the mountain we have a celebration called uMguyo where they would sing songs from one village to the next village and it goes on for a week, sort of like a send off party for the boy. So that’s where I really fell in love with music, although I wasn’t aware of it at the time! Obviously there was TV. Lucky Dube was a major influence when I was young. I remember once I actually made a guitar out of an Omo Micro box and tried to do some stuff and used to ask my brother for a guitar so I can actually start playing music. So it comes from a young age.

How did you get your start in production & how did you become the Digital Sangoma?
Production started in 2008. I studied sound engineering at Cape Audio and after that I did electronic music programming using Ableton Live and I’ve been producing since then. Over the years, when you start to produce you dabble with a lot of things because you’re influenced by so much that is out there. Trying to find your way. Recently I got the sound that talks to me, that actually is a great representation of what Digital Sangoma is. A lot of that has to do with growing up in the Eastern Cape. Just last year I decided to just go back home to seek within myself and to see where it started and how I fell in love with music. That’s where I started to recall all the memories of growing up in the village and the ceremonies where Sangomas sing and people would dance. I started incorporating that and it actually flew into me. I changed it because I felt like I got there. Mandi was more sentimental with vocals and then I would do traditional music in a sense where I’d get elements of guitar and people in, but Digital Sangoma I can control it more and it’s all me that does the production.

Your sound has traditional Xhosa influences. How would you describe it?
Not only that, but I listen to a lot of West African music. You’ll find that in terms of my sound and time signature, you’ve got that 6/8 rhythm and you have those melodies that you find in West Africa. Because I feel as Africans we neglect our own and I happen to love that music. It resonates with me. So there’s a lot of those elements as well, because it works well with the kind of beats that I do. So the sound of Digital Sangoma would be African chanting and Xhosa traditional rhythms and undertones of house music and there’s West Africa and undertones of electronic synth which is what I utilise for my bass just to give all these elements, because as much as I’m influenced by the traditional stuff I’m also influenced by the new age of music so that comes across when you listen to my sound. 

You use a combination of hardware and software. What made you choose that combination?
I just like the tone of the Roland gear and I happen to be exposed because I’m endorsed by Roland. So I have the TR8, I just like the sound. Also electronic music it chows a lot of your CPU, if you don’t have a strong machine and you have these tracks that you layer, sometimes you just want something that is raw and you don’t have to do that much. One thing that people don’t understand is that when you talk about the TR8 or the TB303 or the TR808 or 909 they associated it with dance music, but you’d be surprised the African rhythms that you can do with the machine. At the end of the day it’s a machine that does what you want it to do. You can create certain tones, you can create melodies and rhythms.

What have you been working on in studio?
I’ve got a track that I did with Mo Green from Nigeria. We had a chat when we met at the Red Bull Listening Session and he liked my sound very much so we’ve been talking and I invited him to come through. What I wanted to do, rather than just focus on the Digital Sangoma, I’ve always wanted to do collabs with people, but I never really got the chance because my studio is in my house and I don’t really like to invite people into my house. I kinda sit alone and produce and do all these things. Never got the chance to collaborate so this was actually a great opportunity for me to do that. Why don’t I use this and just feed off a few people's energy and just see what comes out of this. Obviously there’s that Digital Sangoma signature because I produce all the music and see what it does. It’s been good, the energy’s been really good.

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