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December/January 2021

by Silke Hartung

Phodiso: Brimming With Talent

by Silke Hartung

Phodiso: Brimming With Talent

Phodiso Dintwe is a modern renaissance man with his fingers in many a pie. Yes, he is a musician, he raps and plays percussion, but he’s also a poet, an actor, a filmmaker, a dancer – the list seems to go on. After a cameo on JessB’s debut EP ‘Bloom’ in 2018, and winning the pop category of the inaugural Bubble Bop, a 24-hour music-making competition coming out of Massey University student initiative SomethingSomething, he finally followed up with a release of his own, EP ‘Act 1’, the first part of a planned trilogy, in August this year. Silke Hartung spoke with him.

Phodiso is your actual first name, right? Does it have a meaning?

It means ‘healing’. My mum was ill before my birth, and so she hoped that with my arrival would come healing.

What do you remember about your early childhood in Botswana?

I still go back roughly once a year. It’s always interesting watching my country, family and friends change in ways I don’t get to witness all year round.

My early childhood was mostly split between Bobirwa (the district my parents are from) and Gaborone, the capital city of Botswana. My mum’s village Lentswelemoriti was home to one of my top three favourite people in my life, my grandmother. I lived with her for some time in the earlier part of my childhood. The area is very hilly, so we hiked a lot. I’d also sneak off for river swims with my cousins and friends when the grown-ups weren’t around. I remember climbing a lot of trees. There’s tons of indigenous fruit trees around. I remember my introductory lessons into traditional drum and dance.

Gaborone was like any other Southern Afrikan city – bustling. There was always something that needed to be done. For us kids, that was mostly playing a variety of games, going for runs, competing through dance/video games/singing, and the like. Most of my close extended family members are based in Gaborone so I spent a lot of time with my cousins.

How did you ultimately end up here in Aotearoa?

While we were living in the UK my mum heard that the cost of living in NZ was quite reasonable, so she made a plan and we moved here. The cost of living switched up on us real quick though!

Your bio says you’re influenced by Motswako. Can you explain and point out an example in one of your songs?

To ‘tswakanya’ is to mix and blend two or more things into one. The music style of Motswako was started by a Tswana MC who figured that most of Southern Afrika, being at the very least bilingual, would appreciate songs that featured one’s mother tongue and not just those performed with the colonial tongue. Motswako blends the MC-ing style of Batswana with that of black Americans. It mixes the traditional musical sensibilities we are accustomed to, put with those we learnt from being exposed to black American music.

Genres, styles, tones, and languages are permitted and even encouraged to collide somewhere and make sense of that meeting. That approach to making music became a part of my mode before I could put words to it.

Apart from music, you’re quite active in other creative pursuits. What other things are you working on right now?

I have been teaching poetry and dance to school kids. I’m also in the process of developing an idea for a documentary I’ll be co-directing with my friend Fatima Sanussi. My primary focus for this year has been music though. It appears that in the context of the wider world, any and all rapping fits under the umbrella of hip hop. I also think I play with enough of the song structures of hip hop for a lot of my music to sit well in that realm. I’ve also kinda carved out a personal performance poetry style, and because it’s different from how I’d do poetry as part of a song they don’t tend to cross over.

You’ve collaborated with Mazbou Q and JessB. What do you appreciate most about each of those artists?

They’re both incredibly hardworking. They are full-time musicians, which is amazing. It’s a scary thing to even think about, and so seeing people I know do it gives me courage. Mazbou Q, in particular, is a close friend of mine, someone I’ve learnt a lot from. His guidance and support has been invaluable.

I’ve been working on a few things with Abraham Kunin recently, he’s a great producer/collaborator. Junelle Kunin is like my music mum, super lovely and super supportive. A Rebekah Ngatae, my amazing manager. I know, I’d have really struggled this year without Rebekah’s support, along with help and guidance from Abraham and Junelle. A shout out to Alfdaniels Mabingo, Nuel Nonso and Mazbou Q too, for their teachings and encouragement.

You’ve been a percussionist since you were very young. Are many of your beats based on your own samples?

I think of everything as rhythm, so it tends to be how I start a song. I’ve been learning to not ‘over-do’ it, so only a few percussion-based tracks have made it out of my computer and into other people’s ears. I have been using my own samples a lot recently, and some of those tracks will be out real soon! I just play Afro-percussion at the moment but I’d like to pick up keys and guitar.

What’s the idea or story behind your song Running Lines?

I wrote about five or six parts, and I had planned on releasing them one after the other just on Soundcloud or something. I had been wanting to get an opportunity like Red Bull 64 Bars, but understood that without much music out I might not get that chance.

So I thought I’d do my own thing for fun, and to prepare if the moment ever came. I remember recording it right after finalising the masters for ‘Act I’ and then sending it over to my friends Mazbou Q and Nuel Nonso. They demanded that it be on the EP, and that was that.

What was your biggest challenge in creating and releasing ‘Act 1’?

Aside from the fear that I wouldn’t manage to complete it, the biggest challenge was coming to terms with how expensive it is to be a musician, haha. I wish I had been warned. Might’ve gone into law or something.

I write to help me make sense of the things I see in the world around me. Issues of nationality, indigeneity, kinship, love and friendship tend to be at the forefront of my thoughts, and so they are mirrored in the music. My goal with the trilogy is to get better with each project. I believe the sound, performance and ideas are stronger in this. ‘Act II’ feels more like home, like my childhood. Fun.

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