It’s a sweltering day in Sandton and the general whir and buzz that’s synonymous with the economic hub, together with the ringing in my eardrum from the chattiest Uber driver in the world, immediately dissipate when I walk into Anatii’s home and studio. It’s an oasis of quiet in the surrounding landscape of cacophony with its breath-taking double volume entrances and soft echoes of light, and also not hard to imagine as the backdrop to the creation of audio excellence.
I’m lead to ‘The Dungeon’; what Anatii playfully refers to his studio as, and cast a rudimentary gaze on the volume of what I have no doubt to be some of the more sophisticated equipment you could find in the music industry while I wait for him.
Anatii is bashful and reserved upon first impression. He’s respectful and pleasant, but also observant and very aware of himself and his presence in what seems to be an attempt to not give off the wrong impression. A quick Google search of him doesn’t bring forth much in the way of tabloid fodder and gossip on his personal life; the bulk of the results relate to his career, a possible validation of this artist’s unwavering dedication to the music as what he wants to be celebrated for.
Meticulous seems too mild a description of his process in making the music. Towards the end of the interview, when he’s warmed up to me a bit more, he plays a few tracks off the still unreleased album. Dan Joffe of Gold Tea Productions is in the studio with us and, mid head bop, Anatii turns around and the two start making notes on what modifications this particular track still needs before release, just a week away. They continue, almost finishing each other’s sentences in producer talk while I sit completely unaware of what little knob on the board made the difference that elicits the ‘So much better!’ that abates his concerns.
“Are you a perfectionist with your music?” I ask. A wry smile finds its way onto Dan’s face, still buried in his phone, and he slowly nods in agreement before Anatii can get a word in. “I’m not a perfectionist. I just… I get nervous. I’m nervous of the reception ‘cause I don’t know. I’m an artist, I just create art. But you don’t know, people might like it, people might not like it. That’s all it is. But I don’t think anything could be perfect. You could work on music for a long time, like the songs I have on my album… I’ve worked on them for months and years. A lot of the stuff that we do, you could really just hear how much time we put into it, it’s not really perfection, it’s just [about] how much time you put into it.”
Born in Bisho and having moved to Joburg when he was only five years old, the transition into music seemed to happen organically. “I started at a young age just in terms of, like, producing and stuff. My first track was when I was 16. And before that I was really influenced by music, you know… just, like, hitting on pans and things like that. I never knew how to make music but I was always inspired. My baby sister used to go for piano lessons and when she went for piano lessons, I would just watch and learn and I taught myself how to play. Then I started making beats and I started singing.”
He draws inspiration “From so many things! It’s like different elements. It could be Hugh Masekela and Young Thug. It varies every day, what I get inspired from. I love Stevie wonder, I love Quincey Jones, Michael Jackson, you know? Those kinda vibes. But every day it’s a different situation. I never try to stay closed off.”
Having recorded his album in both SA and the USA, he says travelling between the two countries was “Just more so me tryna learn more about the type of sound that I’m tryna create and also finding my sound. ‘Cause you know when you place yourself in isolation away from your home, where you’re at, most of the time your comfort zone, it brings you a different inspiration and flow when you’re working on music. So most of the time when I’m overseas, I tend to do stuff that’s a lot more African.”
When asked if there’s an amalgamation of an African sound with an American sound that he’s trying to pursue as an artist, he offers “Definitely. Because, more so in the States, they already have their Chris Browns, their Kanyes, their Drakes and whatever doing that. So, you know, those are the goals for me, is [to] just bring a South African flavour and an African wave also in working with these guys.”
He adds “There’s so many different pressures of almost conforming to what’s commercial and what’s commercially viable in terms of making music for other artists. And I spend a lot of time making music for other guys. You know, we have to make hip hop and trap and stuff. Which is dope, but it’s not my everyday favourite thing. Like, I love music as a whole.”
I’m curious as to his thoughts on the current climate in the SA music industry. “It’s quiet. It’s real cold and quiet. It needs some new heat.”
The injection the industry needs? “Just more good music in SA. South African artists just need to put out a lot more good music. There’s a lot of great music out, [they] just need to put out more. ‘Cause we have the whole 90% quotas or whatever, but the stations are dominated by, they’re playing more, old music because there’s no new music so we need more great music. But not just any content; quality content. It can’t just be ‘ok we have like 5 new whatevers’. It has to be the best content. If you turn on the radio in the States, it’s a repeat of the all the big songs only. You only hear Drake, Rihanna, Kanye, and that’s it. You don’t hear other stuff. In SA we have a chance to really take our music industry to the next level in terms of that, but we need to put out a lot more quality music.”
You can’t pin a genre title to him. “I’m not really genre specific. I mean on the album, there’s afro beats, there’s hip hop, there’s RnB, you know. There’s house, there’s even, like, some acapella stuff. So it’s just different vibes. It’s difficult to kinda stay in one genre for me as a musician. Whatever I’m inspired by.”
On who he’d like to work with in future “Locally, I’m tryna work with your legends and stuff. Because I feel like I relate to what they’re doing with the music. I have goals of tryna work with other people, more mature musicians; mature in terms of a sound, people who just have a dope understanding of music and not necessarily into what’s really hot.”
After AKA’s ‘I’m the reason nigg*s had The Saga on repeat. Now you wanna charge me eighty thousand for a beat?’ line on the track Composure, rumours ran rampant that the two were embroiled in a beef. I ask him about that. He holds up his phone to me and says “I just got a missed call from him. It’s crazy, look! 31 minutes ago. We’re cool.”
“You’re cool now?” I ask, to which he says “The thing is, I never had beef. I never have beef with anybody ‘cause I got too much positive energy anyway, you know. A lot of these things, for me it’s business. I don’t take anything personal so as long as the business gets straightened out, I don’t take anything personal. All we have to do is create more vibes!”
‘Vibes’ seems to be his favourite word, his speech is peppered with it. When I ask him about his stand out collaboration on the album, he says “Definitely working with Tiwa Savage was a dope experience. Also just because, I mean, I met her before, but then she came into the studio, and the first day we got into a session, it was in the evening and she was tired and I was sick. I had bronchitis, so like I could hardly speak. I wasn’t even in the mood to be in the session anyway and then I got downstairs, I met her in studio and we started vibing. And then we worked on something that was like slow, you know, it was like a slow vibe, and then the next day she came through and I was feeling much better and we did this other duet called Proper.”
“I think it was an amazing experience, just like, you know, from the vibes, it’s really just from the vibes. And also working with Omarion, it was dope. Also, like, at his studio, I just walked into his studio the first day I met him, and then he was like ‘You wanna plug up?’ and I plugged up and yeah, played him a few songs and he was like ‘So what do you want me to hop on?’ and it was just vibes.”
On the direction of the album, he offers “I really wanted to work around a specific concept and what I was tryna achieve was having a solid body of work that could be timeless. And that’s why I worked on Artiifact. So there’s different kinda sounds, different vibes, different inspirations. And it all comes together as what I call Artiifact because there’s art, there’s facts in it too, just because of the consciousness of what I speak about in some of the songs.”
I ask what we can expect from the tour. He says “It’s gonna be dope! For the first time people are gonna be able to see a South African act perform on the same stage as an international artist but not open for the international artist. We’re performing on the same stage and people are gonna really get to experience what we have as the Artiifact tour. And that’s really the reason why I did that. The only person I could really do that with is Omarion because we have the relationship where he understands the vision that I have. And in SA, we gotta start putting a lot more value on our artists. And once the other people start appreciating us, maybe we can also. And we hope that happens. Cos the stuff with Omarion, that’s just the first concert. Then we come with another concert, then we bring someone else!”
“Fill up the Dome was something that set the tone for what we could do in terms of live experiences in the South African music industry as an independent artist, as a local artist having your own stage. That was inspirational too, ‘cause the guys that are doing the production are the same guys that did Fill up the Dome cos we are going for something next level. Also, conceptually, what I’ve been working on for the past year or so, developing this stuff, is gonna come to life and people are gonna really understand [that] the music and the visuals are all-encompassing once they come to the Artiifact tour.”
On his debut, Anatii has served up a cornucopia of rich and elaborate production work, somehow topping the gold standard we’ve come to expect from him. The album meanders through both simple and complex themes, from the braggadocio So Many Rooms to social justice laden Pray For the Children. It isn’t the most lyrically grandiose, but the versatility shown and overall attention to detail make up for any shortfall therein. The vocal work he’s done with RJ Benjamin is evident with the autotune employed on certain tracks serving only to enhance the overall sound, and not in relief of mediocrity.
More than a solid offering, it’s an excellent one. It was a sweltering day in Sandton, but I walked out of the house with goose bumps in expectation. Anathi Mnyango did not disappoint.