South African hip hop in the digital age is causing quite a stir. Trailblazers like Okmalumkoolkat and Mashayabhuqe KaMamba are paving the way for young South Africans to embrace their cultural histories while looking towards a future that screams postcolonial pride.

Pedi emcee-producer CMJAYMMOTLA is steadily gaining momentum as one of those bringing new flavour to South Africa’s hip-hop scene with his future-folktastic beatmaking and classic streetwear, shown in his latest singles Pedi Montana and Khuluma as well as his clothing label MAMAGASEHOME.

Shiba Mazaza: Tell us a little about yourself, CMJAYMMOTLA, and your journey.

An uncle of mine had this white rusty van (I can’t remember the make) with the loudest speakers. Growing up in Mpumalanga, he’d play a lot of Shwi noMtekhala and Soul Brothers. I remember this one song in particular with the chorus ‘Mama ka S’bongile…’. I only noticed that the music stayed with me a couple of years later, when I’d be humming the tunes as a teen in high school.

I admire how free the musicians are… they switch from a ‘longing, in-pain’ type of vocal to a joyful kind of praise in their songs. It all just grabs me even now. It really connected for me when the hip-hop group Jozi also adapted the genre to their own music and came up with an authentic blend of hip-hop music and Maskandi.

Tell us about your new single.

My new song Khuluma with its ‘we don’t care what people say’ theme is basically about breaking free of the boundaries forced on us, these unwritten rules we abide by… Rules. No one can point out who wrote them or what they actually are to all of us. My sights are set on bringing my style to those who wouldn’t initially think to give it a try, just to give their musical palates a bit of spice.

So now that you’ve broken into the music industry and are no longer on the outside looking in, do you feel that certain things aren’t as you’d expected or what you thought possible in today’s world has changed?

When making my first EP, Varsity Dreams, it wasn’t really about getting a music career rolling. I was just putting all my influences on a clean canvas and trying everything out, trying to see what would work. A lot has changed since then.

I’m trying as a young, stylish Pedi guy with all these influences living in ‘modern South Africa’ to show other Pedi kids that it’s not ‘uncool’ to be Pedi.

My idea of who I am, is like a toddler who first colours outside the lines and is then told ‘No, stay within the lines with your crayons.’ The toddler listens but then grows up and thinks, ‘No! By all means, I will use my crayons how I want to use them. I can see your lines and I understand their purpose and all, but yo this is my colouring book and my crayons! Let me do it how I like it.’

That is how I feel about the music scene right now.

The uptempo, percussion-focused, tribal-house-type sound I’m making is very progressive with a song taking on various forms during its duration. Black Motion and Rude Boys influence my production style as well as Da Capo and Hudson Mohawke, with the likes of Kid Cudi, Salif Keita, Okmalumkoolkat and Travis Scott (to name a few) influencing my overall artistry. Now folks like Okmalumkoolkat have really made it clear that it’s okay to take to the left; blend styles; and still be yourself with the music.

How does your Pedi background translate in your music?

Pedi Montana is a hybrid. I’m trying as a young, stylish Pedi guy with all these influences living in ‘modern South Africa’ to show other Pedi kids that it’s not ‘uncool’ to be Pedi. I feel most Pedi kids that come out to Gauteng for Varsity and so on tend to shelve themselves and prefer not to speak their language or hide that part of themselves in order to fit in.

The Montana part is just my attitude right now. Tony Montana is a character played by Al Pacino in Scarface. He knew he was destined for more than just washing dishes at a restaurant. He wanted the world. I feel like that’s me right now. I’m washing these dishes so to speak. I’m learning, figuring out all that I need to clock so that it can all connect from the music to my streetwear brand. I’m a fan of the process of making things… I’m speeding on an information highway at the moment catching mad fines ‘cause I’m trying to learn as much as I can.

I’m part of a new generation of South Africans where most of us have an idea of things from our histories but don’t really understand our cultures.

Another reason why I’ve come up with the whole Pedi Montana situation is because I’m part of a new generation of South Africans where most of us understand things from our histories but don’t really understand our cultures and so on: due to urbanisation, you know, city life and just the fast pace of everything right now. Thus the Pedi Montana AKA is something I’m using as I keep finding out more about things like the proper words and usage of the Pedi language to understand my heritage, and work toward building my future self.

I feel this tune has really made people take note. I was booked as the only performing artist for the second Annual Secunda Spring Party, tasked to heat the crowd up before headliners Cassper Nyovest and Black Motion came on. I got on stage at an hour when the crowd was getting impatient, anticipating the arrival of  the headliners.

With everything that occurred during my set, I can now say I’ve lost all fear of anything regarding the music I make. It was an experience opening for these artists I admire. I have no words for it at the moment. That was the biggest crowd I’ve played for to date and it really helped channel my stage presence.

If there’s one truth you’ve learnt along the way, what was the most difficult to swallow?

There are too many people discouraging instead of encouraging change or uniqueness… with a style of music like mine you’re bound to get those that aren’t for it or don’t understand it. It’s music and music is art and art is always up for interpretation. It’s supposed to have people on opposite ends in terms of how they feel about it, and how it makes them feel. Some will vibe and some won’t.

What do you think we should be looking out for on the scene?

There’s a clear shift from the heavily abroad-influenced music styles to our own vibes now. Yes, influence is there, but it’s an awesome feeling to get on the road and drive out to another province and all the way there on the road is nothing but local tunes… We relate more with our own now. I also just think it’s because now as South Africans we are starting to see how important we are to the rest of the world. We’re becoming aware; the inferiority complex is dying out.

If you peep game on the real, how many foreign acts have been accepting South African bookings now and own property here. There have even been musicians from abroad making Kwaito recently! The rest of the world is watching… and for good reason. Finally, the world is ours.

Check CMJAYMMOTLA on Twitter @cmjaymmotla

Photography by April S