Discwoman interviews Tama Sumo & Lakuti

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When we started Discwoman, Tama Sumo and Lakuti were always on our minds as folks to work with. I met Lakuti when i lived in London at and Anti-Racism conference that ended up being racist, we joined forces and called out the white organizers for creating an oppressive space for us. Since then we’ve remained great friends. Umfang and I have become huge fans of both Lakuti and Tama Sumo admiring their achievements with so much awe. Seeing Tama Sumo play at the Berghain garden was one of this summer’s highlights. As women in the industry it has been nothing short of motivating to have these kinds of role models to follow and now work with. Truly an honor to have this power couple play in our space and the opportunity to interview them. Enjoy.

-Frankie & UMFANG

Techno or House?

Lakuti: First came the blues then came disco and funk and hip hop and house along the way then techno. the moral of the story is – this music is rooted – and without those roots we will not be anywhere.

Tama: I want to be free in approach and play whatever moves me. This can go from House to Techno, Jazz, Funk, Soul, Disco, Broken Beat, Afro Beat…

How do you embrace digital music and how accessible it is vs. the sort of insider aspect of club music in the 90s? Do you think it’s ok for young people to access this music by stealing it off the internet?

Lakuti: I essentially play vinyl not to say that I am against digital music per se. I am a creature of habit and vinyl has been in and around me from when i was born. Both my grandfather and mother were music enthusiasts and mom had a suitcase full of records on top of the wardrobe in her bedroom and my late grandfather was heavily into jazz and I have gone on to inherit his collection upon his passing. My grandfather brought me my first 2 records when I was 7. One thing I will say though is that there is far too much emphasis on the medium itself rather than the message, is it not the music itself that should be playing top billing?
Regarding not paying for music. I believe we lose a lot if we do not pay for music. We lose a culture for 1 and I am a strong believer that artists need to be paid for their work. In a healthy society artists should be at the forefront as spiritual and mind healers and we can’t afford to lose the input of great artists simply because they need a roof over their head and therefore have to leave their craft in order to do that. Art can not just be in the hands of the rich which it is essentially already is and not paying for music is not helping matters.

Tama: Besides my personal preferences, in my opinion the discussion about the format got too much attention. I personally prefer to play vinyl as I find the sound warmer. Also I like the feel and touch of records. Nevertheless the digital format carries its advantages as well. One is that it makes music more accessible. We have to keep in mind that not every part of the world is blessed with many record shops for example. It is also easier for people with less money to have access to music. In terms of DJing: the conditions for playing records are not always perfect in clubs – it’s good if you have the digital option then. Or you are travelling and the airline loses your crate then the digital option becomes handy .
All in all I don’t care much what medium someone is using for playing – I am much more interested in the music that the person plays and whether it sounds great.
Stealing music off the internet on the other hand is a no go. Many musicians put a lot of work and heart in what they are doing and should be properly paid for it. Why should they work for free?

So many people glorify Berlin now as a capital of techno, does New York City’s house music history excite you in the same way?

Lakuti: Before Berlin came New York in my journey into this music. The Loft, Paradise Garage, Lime Light, The Shelter, Body & Soul + many more those are the things that played a huge influence on me . growing up in South Africa we were fed on a heavy dose of American television and we all aspired to be like something out of the Cosby show. Soul Train was also syndicated to south africa and american music was huge as well.

Tama: It actually excites me a lot! New York carries a wonderful and important heritage in music and club philosophy as well as current musicians without which we would not be where we are. If we speak of Techno my personal capital of Techno is still Detroit…

It’s easy to feel like a nihilist with the state of the world. Can you give us some thoughts about how music has eased feelings of doom in devastating political times in the past?

Lakuti: Music has provided some solace for me in the past and I suspect it will always serve as a life line. I have literally bawled my eyes out on many occasions hearing songs such as
Joe Smooth’s ‘Promised Land’, Sterling Void & Paris Brightledge’s ‘It’s Alright’, Mr Fingers – ‘Can you Feel it’, whilst growing up under apartheid. Powerful music with a message of hope.

Tama: Music is very powerful as much as it can heal. Songs like ‘I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free’ by Nina Simone, ‘Whitey On The Moon’ by Gil Scott Heron, ‘Fight The Power’ by Public Enemy, ‘Sign O The Times’ by Prince or ‘Zombie’ by Fela Kuti just to name a few addressed what is going wrong politically and socially and/or asked for changes. For me music like this transports understanding, unity, gives hope, strength and vision and is is sadly very much needed these days.

Tama -you have said that you are a DJ sort of by accident. I like the idea that if you want to be a part of the underground you just start going. This makes it so approachable, how can we encourage young women to feel this way about things they wish to be a part of?

Tama: I also like the idea of just going or giving things a go even though when it comes to myself personally it is often difficult to be that spontaneous as I often think far too much.
But i would definitely encourage other women to believe in themselves and to not let anyone discourage them. It is important to also understand that everyone had to start somewhere. If it does not work today, keep at it and allow yourself the time to grow and learn. It is important that you stay true to yourself despite what the ‘market’ requires of you.

Paula temple recently mentioned in an interview with Resident Advisor that it doesn’t matter what kind of length set you play it’s up to the DJ, which I was really drawn to. What do you think of the idea that playing a long set proves your ability?

Lakuti Everyone has their own approach to things and it is not about right or wrong it’s about what works for you in what you want to achieve. For myself personally I have learned a great deal more since living in Berlin with it’s long clubbing hours. I mean you can’t stay on the 1st gear for a duration of 7 hrs. I find that longer hours afford me the time to tell a story, to have highs and lows in the set, which is something difficult to achieve in an hour.

Tama: I don’t think that a long set necessarily proves your ability. But I think a long set gives you more of a chance to tell your story with more variety. More set time allows you to connect to people more deeply and to play with different atmospheres.

There seems to be a conflict between the idea of a safe space, a members only club, and a welcoming environment for people to join in. Do you think there needs to be a bit of exclusivity to keep club culture feeling safe?

Lakuti: I think it all rests with the people behind the venue or event. It is what you set out to achieve with the event which will determine what kind of event you end up with. If the event and the venue is all about just finances you will feel it instantly. For me clubs or events should serve a higher purpose, that of providing a safe space where the day to day rules of oppression and discrimination do not apply.

Tama: For different reasons there will always be a bit of exclusivity involved. Human beings come with different interests, mindsets, attitudes, spread a certain energy…there will always be some people you feel connected to and some where you don’t. Of course I would want to have a welcoming atmosphere, but as much as you probably do it in your private life: you chose the people that you want to spend time with – and you avoid the others. This also goes for club life.

Where do you dream of playing?
Lakuti: It has been a lifelong dream to return back to South Africa and play in the townships and we will do just that on the 14th of January: playing in Langa, one of the townships on the outskirts of Cape town.

Tama: There is actually not a certain place where I dream of playing. I am happy if I can play in an environment with people that come with an open heart and mind. If we all can create a positive vibe and give something to each other and – that’s what I dream of.

There is a lot of pressure for people to move fast in artistic careers and take any opportunity handed to them. How do you encourage people to slow down and build their practice/ find their voice?
Lakuti: I think with everything happening so fast on the internet, it is easy for a new artist to feel that the step into ‘making it’ as an artist is easy. That you only need to make an EP and that everyone will then book you. This maybe a reality for some with influential publicists, PR company backings and so forth. This may work in the short term but in the long term no. You can’t fake the funk and it should be a lot more than that. Art should be something that enables us to grow as humans and therefore it can’t be treated as fast food. What legacy are we leaving for generations to come if we do not treat art with the importance it deserves? Who are our next Nina Simone, Stevie wonder, Prince, Billy Paul David Bowie?

What you love/hate about living in Berlin?

Lakuti: Berlin has afforded me a much better quality of life in terms of having a home that I do not have to share with 5 other people unlike my time in London. The streets are often quiet in my neighbourhood and there is so much space. I can properly switch off when I am home and feel like I am in the countryside. I cherish this silence so much. The food could do with a bit of improvement, I mean it is getting better but still not quite on the level of cities such as London & New York. The darkness in the winter is a real challenge.

Tama: I love my Berlin family. There are people that I am close friends with since nearly 30 years and also newer ones – they all mean the world to me and make Berlin special for me.
On the minus side – the distinction about ‘real Berliners’ and new ones, that is still quite vivid, it sucks big time.

How can people be more proactive to elevate others as they find their own success?
Understanding the importance of community & skill sharing is key to building a sustainable and thriving music community.

How can we demand better sound/ equipment setups from DIY promoters, when so often money can be an obstacle for people to get in to music in the first place?
Lakuti: A fair question though how many events are DIY events at this stage? I do not come across them that often. I think we must demand better conditions for the music to really properly come through and shine. I find it inexcusable not only for the music but for the people coming to events and paying not being able to appreciate the music due to the lack of decent soundsystems. It is not only the soundsystem that are often the issue, basics such as proper needles, decks been properly taken care off, decent monitors, clean slipmats e.t.c.
I think with also not crazy money you are able to achieve a lot. It boils down to also empowering oneself by learning from the already available resources out there on youtube, Red bull Music Academy as well via their lecturers. There just needs to be a desire to do things right and caring.

What have you learned about music recently that surprised you?
Tama: Thanks to a lot of represses of African, Latin and Brazilian music and Jazz I learn and discover a lot of new beautiful music.