Interview: Laliboi Wants His Music to Heal You

Laliboi's says his new EP "is about healing and people's perception of mental illness in the South African context."

Image courtesy of artist.

Interview: Laliboi Wants His Music to Heal You

We chat to the South African alternative rapper Laliboi about his new EP 'Xam.'

Laliboi has spent years in South Africa's alternative music circuit as part of the group Impande Core and the duo Radio 123. The trumpeter/guitarist's transition to a solo artist as a Xhosa rapper keeps one curious about his next steps.

His latest EP titled Xam was made in collaboration with South African multi-instrumentalist Volume. Sonically, the four-track project is a departure from Laliboi's 2019 debut album, Siyangaphi. The 11-track album was produced by the internationally recognized South African electronic music trailblazer Spoek Mathambo whose thumping, digitally manipulated presence is felt throughout the project.

In contrast, Xam has layers of live instruments—garage rhythms alongside electric and acoustic guitars and keys—composed to give the impression of creating space instead of filling the project with sounds. Laliboi raps well; notably on the track "Uyaxoka" where he makes and holds the rhythm section with words. On "Isigubhu Asipheli," he goes bar for bar with Lesotho's Morena Leraba.

It doesn't stop at solid flows. Laliboi repurposes a Xhosa folk song sung at traditional healers' passing out ceremonies on the EP's title track. On "Madlamini," he uses his murmuring voice to create an otherworldly ambiance, and throughout the project, he recites what sounds like iintsomi (fables) in Xhosa.

Spirituality and healing form a huge amount of the EP's scope. The word "xam" refers to the skin of the monitor lizard used in traditional medicine and healing. "In the context of the EP, the name refers to the healing power of music and connects it to how we may all find spirituality in any form we choose and to respect all cultures, traditions and outlooks on the world," reads the EP's notes on Bandcamp.

OkayAfrica caught up with Laliboi about Xam, his musical influences, working with Volume and his future plans.

NB: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Your music is influenced by a wide spectrum of lyrical and musical styles, which ones are the most dominant for you when you write?

I learned instruments through jazz, and lyricism from kwaito. When I was at the Music Academy of Gauteng (studying trumpet), I was part of a four-piece band called Passport. When it disbanded, I joined Impande Core as a trumpeter. We pushed Impande Core for ten years, but we were not organized and we were kids. From there, we disbanded and formed Radio 123 late in 2016, around September. Before all that I was part of a Kwaito crew in the Eastern Cape (province) that was influenced by kwaito greats like Mapaputsi, the late Lollipop from Chiskop, and TKZee. So, my approach is based on kwaito.

How did you meet Volume and how has it been working on this EP with him compared to working with Spoek Mathambo on your album?

It's the same train of thought because it's storytelling. Volume used to play with a band called Go Barefoot. We met at a Converse gig called Get out the Garage when I was still with Impande Core. Our friendship grew from there. We've been chilling, bumping into each other at gigs and discussing the possibility of collaboration. What happened was I called Morena Leraba and told him that I wanted to record an EP. He said, "I know a boy of mine who can do good work during this period," only to find that he is talking about Saul (Volume's new name). The chemistry was there from the beginning, we just started creating music and collaborated with more artists.

How did you come up with the title of the EP?

XAM came about when I was walking one day and heard one of the grootmans (old men) in the hood who was drunk and he was singing that and I joined in. It's a famous folk song from the Eastern Cape that is sung at traditional ceremonies when traditional healers come out of training. We started singing that and I liked it. Most of the time, a lot of the things I do are inspired by events and things that I come across on the streets. People move me in different ways, I react and sometimes it sparks that something in me to use those experiences as material.

Why did you use the fast-paced delivery on all four tracks on the EP?

The rapid rap style is inspired by his Laliboi's state of mind. He has a mental illness, he sees a lot of things at once, so his speaking rapidly is him trying to offload everything that he sees. The project is about healing and people's perception of mental illness in the South African context; how people see mental illness. Xam, especially the song "Uyaxoka," focuses on that. The EP explores what people who are labelled mentally ill say and what they see in the first place.

What is next for Laliboi?

Another project, I'm not sure if it will be an EP or an album, with Charles Gene Suite. We've already started working on it. Another album with Spoek Mathambo, definitely, we are silently working on it. Right now, the plan is to release more music, more collaborations and doing things the way I see how.

Stream Xam on Bandcamp.

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