by Silke Hartung

NewTracks New Artist: Tusekah

by Silke Hartung

NewTracks New Artist: Tusekah

Hailing from South Africa, the now Te Whanganui-a-Tara-based singer extraordinaire Tuseka Njoko artistically goes by the name Tusekah. Her recently released third solo single, the soulful I Ain’t Waiting Around, made it on NZ On Air Music‘s NewTracks compilation this August.

What are your full names, where are you from and what instruments do you play?

My name is Tuseka Njoko (artist name Tusekah). I’m from South Africa originally but I’ve spent half my life in New Zealand. I play enough guitar to write songs and I sing!

I normally will get different band members to play alongside me depending on availability and where in the country I am. I am lucky enough to be surrounded by a lot of talent. Drummers I have performed with include Hikurangi Schaverien-Kaa, Iona Ulaula, Rani Cohen and Josh Derwahl.

Guitarists I have performed with: Jules Blewman, Tim Heeringa, Oscar LaDell, Tom Clarke and Tyren Wilson. Bassists I have performed with: Oliver Robsen, Harrison Scholes and Callum McInnes. Keys players I have performed with: Michael Crawford, Sabryna Ngaau and Daniel Hayles.

Was any high school or other music training especially important to you?

In high school, I took music in Year 13 and got some experience using Garageband as a result. I taught myself the basics of guitar using the Ultimate Guitar app. Songwriting was something I’ve done since I can remember. I think out of anything I’ve learnt the most from doing lots of gigs and having to figure out how to convey musically what I want a song to sound like to band members. It helps that most of the time I have at least one formally trained musician in the band. Vocal lessons have been important for me this year.

Any other projects that we might know you from?

I’ve worked as a songwriter and backing vocalist with Oscar LaDell on a song called Summer Rain, and have been a songwriter and lead vocalist with AziFM on a song called Say Enough.

What’s the background to how you came to be a performing artist?

I started doing gigs in mid-2021 in Ōtepoti. I was living there at the time and had a rich network of support to give me encouragement. The first gig I ever did was with a mate of mine from high school, Jacob Reeve, after we had written a bunch of songs together. That first gig was a room full of our friends and family.

I had my second gig the day after that opening for Oscar LaDell and the rest is history. A week after that I was recording my first single called Childhood Friends at Carlyle Studios with André Theis (studio owner and producer), Oscar LaDell (guitarist), Michael Crawford (keys) and Sam Healey (bass and drums). I released that single in November. In December, I went on a tour with Oscar LaDell and we played in various locations around the South Island (selling out shows in Nelson and Dunedin).

I moved to Ōtautahi at the start of 2022 and have been continuing to do music here. I have since gone on another South Island tour with Oscar LaDell including a show in Wellington and performed headline shows of my own.

How has your writing evolved from your beginnings in songwriting to now?

One of my earliest memories is a song I wrote for my mum about the love I had for her. I was 4. I don’t remember a time when a melody or lyrics weren’t spontaneously coming out of my thoughts. I have a box full of journals/books with songs I’ve written from when I lived in South Africa and the many years that have followed. My writing has changed a lot over the years. I used to fill songs with a lot of metaphors and try to write from a clever standpoint. Teenage angst led to a lot of sad songs.

The way I write changed the most after I received advice from someone in the industry who I sent a demo to at the end of 2020. They told me the song I had sent them wasn’t easily digestible because of how clever I was trying to make the song, but told me to keep going.

I write songs with more years of life and writing experience behind me now. I also use technology such as my laptop and phone way more in my songwriting process as well. For example, because I write my songs to be performed by a band now I need to write each part of what the band is playing when. I use apps to tell me what note I’m singing, or what you call the chord I’m playing on guitar/keys (when I have access to them). They’re quite accurate and it is that information I pass on to the bands I work with. I often send beatbox recordings to drummers who are the first to perform songs I have written!

How did you choose Tusekah as your artist name?

Tusekah is derived from my first name Tuseka. Tuseka is a Zulu name meaning ‘be praisable’. I like the meaning of my name and the fact that it is rare, even in South Africa. At the time of my first release there was an artist on Spotify using the name Tuseka and so I decided to add an H to the end of my artist name. I also changed all my handles to @Tusekah.

Aside from this release, what’s been the big highlight to date?

I have opened for Niko Walters in 2022 and for Deva Mahal this year. My songs have been played on BBC Radio 1 in the UK (2022), Triple J in Australia(2023) and iHeart Radio in Australia(2023). I had a full-capacity headline show at Rogue And Vagabond in Wellington opened by (2022). I will be playing at the Tea Party Festival on the 21st of October 2023.

What makes I Ain’t Waiting Around stand out for you as a single?

The writing process for I Ain’t Waiting Around was done in three sittings. I started with a four-second recording on the first line of the song (which at the time was, “You make me forget about him, so stop playing games”) and wrote from there. I’ve had so many memories of performing it to crowds that loved it before it was released. It feels good to finally have it out there.

I am also still honoured to have worked with Marley Sola in getting recorded. The fact that he liked it enough to work with me on it made me realise even more that the song had to be released. The backing vocal harmonies in this track are unlike any song I have heard in recent history.

What is the story behind I Ain’t Waiting Around?

It is based on a true story. I was watching some friends of mine go through a pre-dating phase and I decided to write a song from one of their perspectives. I had no idea what their perspective was because I didn’t want to be nosey and ask, but I decided to write it from the perspective of their patience getting thin. Mostly because my patience was getting thin watching them go so long without making it official!

What’s your favourite moment, musical or lyrical, of the single?

There are two: The second verse and when the ‘waiting’ backing vocals come in for the breakdown before the final chorus. The second verse was so fun to write and I remember being excited about it when I first wrote it. Every time I listen to it, I get that excitement all over again. I had written the breakdown just so it would have the ‘waiting’ backing vocals supporting it. When I was finally able to hear it back when it was properly recorded, it sounded so awesome.

Who did you record/produce the single with and where?

I wrote the song then it was recorded, produced, mixed and mastered by Marley Sola at Mellow Studios in Christchurch. I remember the first time performing it to the friends I wrote it about. I love how much they enjoyed the song. Another funny thing that happened as part of the release is that people kept DMing me about the irony of the song being called ‘I ain’t waiting around’ but I was making them wait three weeks for the song to be released.

What would you like listeners to take away from this song?

Good vibes most of all. I hope this is a song they can share with their friends at a party, during a car ride and many other situations. When people get down to the lyrical meaning behind the song, the perspective is of someone who feels like they aren’t being valued in a relationship as much as they should be. I think it is such an important thing to vouch for yourself when you feel like you are in that position.

How do you generally work out what song would make a good single?

There are certain songs I write where they get stuck in my head and I can’t wait for people to hear them and make memories to them. These are the songs that I invest into releasing. I don’t think I would ever release a single that didn’t give me a good feeling.

Who else is in your team?

So far I’ve worked with André Theis and Marley Sola on production. I don’t have a manager but I would love one. I am not under a label. I do not have a publicist or a booking agent. I would love a team.

Are there any other musical endeavours you’re working on that we should keep an eye out for?

My next single for release is called I Changed. This track will feature Sundial (a trio consisting of Oscar LaDell, Hikurangi Schaverien-Kaa and Michael Crawford). I am working on ticking a lot off my to-do list, but those are secrets.

Can you please name three other local tunes that would fit well on a playlist alongside your song.

  • Marley Sola: Lift Your Head High
  • Sam V, Edy, Hales: Stunner
  • Zoe Moon: In Person

Have any previous NZOA applications not gained funding or been included on NewTracks? Got any advice for others out there?

This is my first time on NewTracks. I am so honoured. I applied for NewMusic Single funding in the last round unsuccessfully. The first time I released a single I was unable to get NZOA funding. I pretty much met none of the criteria so that’s what I have worked towards achieving, not so I can fulfil an application, but so I can further my career. To think of it like that has been motivating. My advice would be to give everything a shot (don’t be the first one to say no to yourself). Ask for feedback on funding applications. Say exactly what you want to do with the money (names and quotes).

Are there any musical blogs, Youtube channels or podcasts you’re super into?

Podcasts: Broken Record, A Waste of Time with ItsTheReal (even though they stopped making new episodes), Tape Notes and Song Exploder.

On Youtube: Genius, COLORS, NPR Music and others.

Any last words?

I want to thank my bandmates, family and friends for their constant support. Thank you also to NZOA for featuring me on NewTrack and NZ Musician for having me.