Restless Beings talks life, music and human rights with Mangaliso Asi

Having met in London's trendy Brick Lane and trying out various places, the Vibe Bar was to be our setting for an interview with the Rapper, songwriter, poet, performer, producer, not to mention youth worker, Mangaliso Asi. Growing up in Johannesburg, Mangaliso was brought up by his Mother- whom he often speaks of lovingly and remembers fondly, against the back drop of apartheid South Africa. It was his Mother that often surrounded him with music, mostly South African and Motown. With a father who was once a jazz musician in his younger days, a love of music and creativity was certain to follow for Mangaliso.

For me it was a way of expressing myself, and then it became something that when taken seriously, gave me an outlet from what I was doing before, which wasn't necessarily the best route to go down for a young person.

Mangaliso, the basic translation of which is 'miracle', is his middle name but was adopted when he decided to pursue rapping. Specifically, Mangaliso tells me; "in South African culture names are said to hold great meaning as they are considered to write your destiny".

What is it that motivates you to create?

My inspiration is life in general, everything I've experienced. In my short time, I've seen a lot and I like to share the experiences I've had, to speak for the people that relate to them and that's why I speak a lot about poverty, depravation and so forth. A lot of people have suffered much worse than I have but I feel like a can sympathise to a certain extent, with what people are experiencing in certain parts of the world. Some parts of the world are just way beyond belief, but you know if I can give some kind of voice to those people, I think I'll be doing well, or at least I'll be helping out a little bit.

Your first Mixtape 'Heartbeat of the Street' was released last year, how has it been received?

I didn't expect it to be taken the way it was, I just needed a body of work so I could show people what kind of music I create, and so I made it for that purpose and then for some reason people grabbed on to it and catapulted it to a sound that I'm now recognised by. I was completely taken aback!

How long did it all take to produce?

All in all, about six months to a year, including recording, mixing process which took forever!

In your song, 'Dear Trident' you talk about gang and gun violence, do you think the root of the problem has been addressed and has there been any progress since you wrote the track?

Surprisingly I don't think it has been addressed correctly, I wrote that song when I was about 19/20 and recorded it when I was quite a bit older and it stayed relevant up to when I put it on the mix tape and even now. I think that some elements have been addressed but I personally believe they have been addressed in the wrong way. The people in power, if I may say, are only dealing with the aftermath, like imprisonment and how the process of dealing with offenders, rather than looking into the reasons why people are getting into these situations and the underlying causes within our society.

I think if we looked at it more on the grassroots level then we could solve a lot more, as more people seem to be getting involved in gun and gang culture. I know that for some people, they believe that it's a necessity, but if you can deter a few, then it wouldn't be as big a scale of a problem.

You also have other tracks 'Die Free' and 'Whispers of Revolution' what inspired you to write those tracks?

Die free is a track that I wrote ,when a lot of my family members had passed away, it was originally to leave as a basis of the memories I'd like to be left behind and what I would like to achieve. It covers the portrayal of where my mind was at that specific time and expresses that freedom of self.

Are there any human rights issues that are close to your heart?

Woah, well there are a lot of Human Rights issues that I could talk about. If I was to talk about them all, we'd be sat here for a long time.

Touching on some briefly; racism, growing up in South Africa, that was a huge issue and something I relate to directly, as at the time it was still the apartheid era and so I grew up witnessing serious issues and then came over here and I continue to see underlying issues that are still not being addressed and I feel that people shy away from things over here. They don't accept that racism still exists.

When we talk about racism, people think it's a black and white issue but it extends to for example how the traveller community is treated. It's unacceptable that they should be treated in that way, regardless of how society thinks they should be living their lives. It's not for anyone to say they shouldn't be here or there. They're humans and all humans should be treated equally. And that goes for the whole Gypsy community around the world as I know they get persecuted a lot in different areas.

Poverty is a huge issue! No one should be poor, in the world that we live in at the moment, it's unacceptable for anyone to be deprived of basic human rights, basic nutrition and clean water.

Women's rights are also key, having been bought up by my Mum, that's a big, big thing for me. Everyone should be treated as equals, it's that simple. No one section of society should be favoured over another. It runs to everything, from racism through to ageism, sexism.

Child poverty, anything harming them gets to me, especially as a Youth Worker and in fact one of the main reasons I went in youth work is because I believe that children aren't given enough support and we don't put enough responsibility on ourselves to maintain how children are treated in society and how they are educated and looked after. I really feel like children across the world need to be helped and we need to stand up and make an announcement for them. Including here in the U.K people see adverts and think child poverty exists somewhere else but I'm a child that grew up in poverty and there are a lot of children that are much worse off than I ever was. This is such an important issue that needs addressing immediately.

And you're part of the Honour 76, which other artists are also in the Honour 76 family and can you tell us a little bit about how it got started?

As of right now, officially myself- Mangaliso Asi, Cherri prince, Mr Dex are all part of the label. Were currently in the process of introducing some other artists too. They're just on the brim of becoming official and I'd say that probably in a month or so they will be. We're affiliated with a lot of different artists and we work with a lot of different people and of course Restless Beings- were really close to you guys as well!

What other artists do you think we should be keeping an eye or should I say ear out for?

I think a lot of African music at the moment is really, really good, like amazingly good!! South Africa has a massive house scene, mixed with a Kwaito scene which is a new breed of house called Mzanzi house, which is amazing- I love that music! They've got a lot of good traditional music as well, a lot of good rap artists. I would say that all over Africa- there's a lot going on!

UK has an extremely good scene too. I'm not sure about some of the artists that are classed as 'overground' as they say, but I've come across some amazing artists on the circuit. As far as naming some... see the things is I don't want to name anyone because I know I'm going to miss people out but there's a lot of people I respect and anyone that I respect- I make it known to them, they know how I feel about their music. The whole scene, like a lot of the people that Restless Beings support are just amazing artists and some people don't know about, but they should be known, they deserve to be in the rite places to get the recognition they deserve. At the end of the day everybody works their asses off to create so I can't falter anybody.

So do you go back to South Africa often?

Yeah I try and make a trip back once a year if finances allow because it's an expensive plane ticket. Although I've got family out there but it's still expensive. When I go I tend to go for quite a while so I need a lot of money to go out and chill and do the things I need to do and see family. I'm trying to get some stuff sorted out there so I can push my music too. The last time I went out there I got into contact with a few people and did a few shows and they really enjoyed the sound! There was a lot of love, which was amazing! People jumping up on the stage and dancing with me, the vibe was really nice. Just to feel that love and especially from back home it's great. In London you feel that love and I appreciate it a lot and it's nice to feel the love here but it's also good to know that you can go somewhere else and still be appreciated and people can relate to the message!

I've been to a couple of the Electric relaxation gigs and absolutely love the vibe, all my friends do too... when is the next one and is there anywhere else that you'll be performing in the next couple of weeks?

Ok the next Electric Relaxation is till yet to be confirmed officially. We have a lot more planned and lots in store so all will be revealed soon. Join the facebook page to keep in the loop.

I'm performing at the Restless Beings Human Writes 2 gig and I've looked at the line up and I'm really blessed to be part of it, some amazing artists on there! Some of my peoples are down there like Native Sun, Poetic Pilgrimage, and TY so it's really good to be on the same bill as these people and Black The Ripper as well- he's a good artist! It also would have been MaMa Asi's 50th birthday on the 26th, so going to be really special to perform on that particular night!

I'm always just doing random stuff, a lot of community performances to raise awareness. If you're on my page, my facebook, my twitter, then I'll always say where I'm going to be, even if it's just the day before!

And are you going to be back on the radio soon with Mr U?

I'm hoping to!! We're in talks about getting things back together, because a lot of people did enjoy the show, and I was surprised because I was only doing it for experience, just to see how it was. When Mr U approached me, I thought, let me see what I can do... never thought I'd be any good, at the best of times I've got a stutter, but when we were there we were vibing and having fun! So were in talks about doing it again and were very contrasting personalities, because our music taste and general views on things are quite different, but we have a middle ground, so when we are on the radio show it's an interesting listen because we bounce off each other quite strangely. If we do another radio show, hopefully it'll be a joint venture because the last one was his show and I was co-hosting, but if we do a joint show you might get to hear more from me!

So what's your ideal chill out music and what gets you into a groove?

My ideal chill out music would have to be Motown, a lot of Slow jams, because although a lot of males say they don't listen to slow jams, I grew up in South Africa, where it's a massive thing and all the males listen to that type of music also a lot of introspective hip-hop, a lot of jazz based music, loads of traditional African music and chill out house.

Stuff that gets me in the groove a lot of Afro-beat. I love Brenda Fassie, Fela a lot of house music, but not like techno house! More African house and I listen to a lot of soulful house- which I think is taking a turn for the worse at the moment in my view.

How comes?

It's like the funky house thing, when funky house first came out, I thought they've got something good here and its working and its really organic and then it became something that people thought 'let's take this to a commercial level and create with the intention of finance' and that's kind of what's happening with the soulful house movement, which is pretty sad, but you know things have to run their course. Everybody enjoys different things. Who am I to say they can't make it- as long as they're making it with quality- that's my only concern.

What would you like listeners to take away from your music?

One thing. I really want people to feel it. To feel whatever emotion the music evokes. Whether its happiness, sadness, thought, whatever it is, I want people to feel that. I want to leave a legacy behind, well not a legacy in the sense that I want to be some great human being that everybody adores- not that- but in the sense that when people pick up my CD they'll be able to hear my thoughts, my feelings, my ideologies on life, and just vibe with me, you know, have a dance sometimes, and just really get to know who I was. But even for people that never knew me, because everything I spit about the way I deliver my stuff, whether people like it or not it's always me or an element of me. I believe in being multifaceted, so I'd never be a one dimensional artist that would just talk about one subject. I spit what I feel. I've lived quite a multifaceted life. I've been part of the what people might call the underworld of society and then also came out of it so I can't necessarily speak from one angle because for me, if I was to denounce any type of view or opinion, which is what music is, then I'd be denouncing an element of my own life. I lived different elements of life that a lot of people don't condone, but it's life, it true and you're just telling your story. Some people capitalise on it and some just tell their story. Who are we to say your story should be silenced because we feel it's detrimental for others to hear? In reality we should be trying to help solve the issues.

What is the dream for Mangaliso Asi?

The dream... hmm I think in a weird way... I'm kind of living my dream, I haven't reached the height of the dream I would like to, but I'm living it in the sense that my dream is to leave my voice behind and to speak to people and for people to relate to my message. It might not be as big as I want it to be at the moment but the people that do relate to me really do and I'm so appreciative of that. The funny thing is that I relate to them more than they do me. When people say to me 'I heard this track or lyric and I really liked it' it really touches me. I'll read reviews of my work and people talking about my music and I'm just like 'woah man', I appreciate that people have taken the time for that. I'm giving people a part of me, my heart, soul, feelings and for them to take that, relate to it and tell that to me is amazing! There's no better feeling than that! I'd love for the finance to come in along with the work that's put in, but you know if we lived in an ideal world where finance wasn't an issue, I'd be living the dream right now!

And lastly something we at Restless Beings always ask... What makes YOU restless?

Hmm that's an interesting one, What makes me restless is the fact that we live in a world where people are so separated by false rules that have been imprinted into our brains and we can't just all number 1- get along, number 2- just live equally.

The reality is that everybody should have the same opportunities to achieve, if you have the opportunity and you mess it up, it's down to you. But I believe a lot of people don't have the same opportunities and one of the things is that some people that have had those opportunities and have achieved, believe that everyone has those same opportunities, but they don't. Some people are really struggling. When you're born into a situation where you are forced to start at the bottom, trying to get to the top, it isn't always as simple as ABC. It's a long road and that's what makes me restless, everybody should be equal from the get go, with the same opportunities, same chances. It's like running a 100m, everyone starts at the same line. Some people are naturally faster or they put in more work than others but everyone starts and finishes at the same line, it's just up to you who gets there first.

What's clear to see is he is a man humbled, modest, seeking for a simple world of equality and appreciation for all. His music described by himself is to demonstrate his "multifaceted nature". It certainly epitomises all that you'd look for in a good mixtape; a journey and variation of songs for every emotion and occasion. A jazz infused hip-hop journey, produced with amazing beats, with one track 'Looking Through You' sampling Lord Finesse - 'Hip 2 da game', listeners are taken on a journey and reawakening, transpiring through struggle, oppression, poverty and the passions of life and accumulating into a truly astounding mixtape.

Check out Mangaliso's bandcamp page and you will not be disappointed and follow him on twitter and like his facebook page to keep up to date with where you can see him next perform!

*Love, Light & Lollipops*

Pictures by Bruno Nguyen, Inshra Sakhawat Russell and Michael Antoniou.