Words by Mercia Tucker
Photography by @welcometoromesa
“I wanna show people here it’s bigger than this. You need to think out of the box, you need to take your mind out of the gutter and shoot for the stars, there’s no limit.”
He’s an enigma to most people but at the heart of the exuberant persona with seemingly endless stage energy is an artist who’s meticulously dedicated to his craft and has a passion for great music. I recall a conversation I had with Instro of Promise Land Entertainment to Gemini Major about Gemini’s work ethic, where he had to create the same beat three times for a Reason track.
“That song was a struggle. I made the seps [separates], I gave him the seps then he lost them. Then he came back to me and I made it again. With the seps I don’t know what happened, the link expired and that time I had lost my laptop. I was with Reason when I lost my laptop, it was his birthday at Sway so that day wylin and stuff… No, it was my birthday. Then someone just called ‘Yo, we heard gunshots at your flat in Auckland Park’ I was like ‘what?!’ When I came back home they say they took two laptops, my externals, everything. So I have nothing. All my beats, everything, gone! And this man was supposed to release his album and use the seps. So I had to source another laptop, remake the beats.”
Unfortunate circumstances aside, recreating a beat from scratch from memory – twice – without alteration and with the same attention to detail as the original is no small feat. It’s testament to his incredible work ethic and the makings of a producer par excellence.
Gemini came to SA in 2008 from his native Malawi and stayed with his sister in Durban while studying for a degree in IT and pursued his love for music while hanging out at the BAT Centre. He entered a producer’s competition for Battle of the Year in 2010 and met up with DJ Switch. “After that I was in contact with DJ Switch and I sent him some beats and one of them ended up being with Cassper; Ra Phanda Wena Wetsang.” On set for the video, he played some beats for Cassper and after they were on good talking terms, Cassper expressed interest in him signing to Family Tree.
Even though he was a dancer in high school and dabbled in production, his real love for making music came after hearing Bonging Fassie’s production. “I started making beats when I was in high school, sometime in 2004 or something, when I was 14. What really sparked it up was Da Les released a song – We on Fire – with Bongani Fassie, that song drove me nuts! After that I just wanted to be an artist, started playing around with autotune, tryna remake the song, the beats and stuff… That’s how I got into it.”
His studies took the back seat to the rockstar lifestyle. “I didn’t even finish the degree. School fees, I ate it with my friends while we were shooting a music video. Back in Durban I had this crew called Rock Star Island, and I was supposed to pay school fees for the semester so we were out there shooting a video and we’re flashing the money in the video…” I roared with laughter.
While the move into Family Tree did a lot for his visibility, he’d covered a lot of ground in Durban in a hip hop scene that wasn’t nearly as developed as its Joburg counterpart. “It was really underground. But then things started popping off. My come-up started in Durban. Started working with abo-Breeze, Dreamteam, produced a song on Dreamteam’s album. I recorded Dreamteam’s first song, they came to my shitty ass studio there, the mic had some condenser that I made out of wires and stuff… Ask them, they’ll tell you the story [laughs] Yeah, Dreamteam, I worked with Aewon Wolf… Aewon Wolf was actually my first song, I featured Aewon Wolf. I played it for him and he was like ‘this is a dope song, let me jump on the song and see what happens’ so he jumped on the song we started touring together.”
His foray into performing artistry and not just behind-the-scenes production work is credited to Bongani Fassie as well. “He was making beats and he was doing hooks and I wanted to be that guy. I never really forced myself to be an artist, it just happened organically but I love it.”
Gemini’s move to Family Tree saw him come into the public eye in a way that he hadn’t previously. His hit, Ragga Ragga, was one of the biggest songs of 2016. “With Ragga, I just had the concept. Initially I wanted to put it on a dancehall song, but then I made the beat and I just wanted that London vibe. Ragga is something I created on my own, it was a saying of my own. Ragga doesn’t exist but I made it into something. To me it meant an attitude, its rowdy, its ragga like you don’t care. Then Cass heard the joint and he was ‘actually this is a vibe, lets jump on it’”
“[Family Tree] was great, it helped me a lot. When I was in Durban, a lot of people didn’t know me so the Cass co-sign really gave me a platform. I grew, started getting gigs. Walking and Dabbing did well, we did Ragga, we pushed it a million views so there was a lot of growth that came from Family Tree.”
So why leave? “I wanted to grow as a business. As an artist you have maybe three years. Not everybody can do ten years like [Da] Les. 3, 4 years, 5, 6 years people get tired of your shit. So I wanted to start building something” he explains. “I wanted to expand as a brand and the whole company thing is something I had for a long time in my head. I spoke to Les about it and he was like ‘this is what we can do. I don’t think us, F2D, signing you is a good idea. It doesn’t change anything. You’re coming from another label, you’re signing to another label. From another artist, you’re signing to another artist. Brother, you sign yourself and let’s be partners, see how we can help each other.’ So we looked into it and I did my research, we both did underground work and its working, it’s definitely working for both of us.”
The move was one that reignited his passion for his craft. Asked how it’s been, he says “It’s great. I love my structure right now, it’s everything I wanted. I’m in a really good space, I’m making the best music right now, the energy’s crazy and the way we support each other. When I go to a show, I’m not alone. Les is always gonna show up, Yanga is always gonna show up, the show is always lit. It’s not just me, the backing is crazy. Same thing when I go to Les’s show, when I go to Yanga’s show. I’m in a really good space right now, I’m getting shows, it’s a lot of growth. I’m working on my album and I’m really confident about it. I’ve never felt so good about my music before.”
“We spend a lot of time together, in and out of studio, we [Gemini and Yanga] stay together actually. We’re really close. He’s working on his album, I’m working on mine. The relationship is really good, the energy is organic. But we support each other, the most important thing.”
His music on F2D’s surprise release, Hall of Fame, is more dancehall oriented, a sound that he’d been focused on for a while. “I was more on the African joints, I used to do a lot of dancehall joints. I never used to involve myself in the hip hop songs but slowly I started getting into it, doing a few hooks, people loved it and used to say ‘Yo, this is dope!’”.
The alchemy he’s attempted between dancehall and hip hop has garnered him a lot of attention from Nigerian artists. “In the album I’ve got some crazy features like Patoranking, Wande Coal… I’m breaking through that side. And Pato really fucks with my shit. Last time I met him it was unbelievable, he was wyling. Like ‘yo bro, I’ve been following your shit!’ YCee, from Nigeria as well, I saw on BBC Extra he put one of my songs on his top 5. So yeah, maybe the Nigeria thing is a good look.”
“I actually met Wizkid in one of Les’ sessions and Les introduced him to me, I played him some stuff and he was like ‘yo, that’s nice!’ I played some of my beats, he recorded some ideas. I met him again at Maphorisa’s house, I played him some stuff, he took some beats. Then when he was in London he was like ‘yo bro, I’m in the studio, I’m working, send me some stuff’ I sent him some stuff the next day, he holla’d the next day like ’we got heat’”
With the provisional album release date of June 2, he says “The album name is called No Bad Vibes. We got some crazy features. Emtee in there, Frank Casino, Nasty C, Kwesta, Riky Rick, Les, Maggz, Pantoranking, Wande Coal, Nadia, Tshego, it’s crazy…”
He also plans to go back to Malawi to release the album there after the incredible reception he’s had thus far. “Malawi is crazy. The first time I stepped on stage – this was in November last year – the first time I stepped on that stage I could not believe it. It was insane! I’ve never seen people so excited. I’m confident enough to say in December I’m gonna do my own show, 60 000 people. They treat me like the President out there, the love is crazy, it’s unbelievable!”
Even with the challenges of heading up his own indie label, this quiet storm intends on taking Africa one country at a time before taking on the world. “I definitely wanna do something that side for the industry and try and link them to this side. Just inspire other artists to see that it’s bigger than Malawi. I wanna inspire people here to see that it’s bigger than South Africa. Just getting gigs here and there is not the end of this whole thing, you can actually be big outside Africa. Look at the likes of Wizkid, it’s doable, it’s easy. Right now I know that it can be done and that’s where I’m heading.”