A platinum selling debut album, 3 South African Music Awards (SAMAs) and thousands of fans later: it is Mi Casa’s time! Their work is what I love to call quintessential-feel-good-music and anyone of their over 28 800 Facebook friends or 36 800, and counting, Twitter followers will deem it so, too. They have managed to quickly infiltrate our radios, good times and hearts. There is no doubt that they are at the top of their game, at the beginning of their game and are A Youth Come True!
For a winter’s day, it is relatively sunny and warm. I am seated outside a swanky Tasha’s restaurant in Rosebank amidst a crowd that looks like it is from a Woody Allen set: Euro-American chic is all I see. I am soon joined by the lead singer of one of my favorite bands and he explains that Mo-T and Dr. Duda could not make it as they are busy in the studio cooking up a second feast for our ears: their second album. I am struck by J’Somethings’ humility, positive and introspective energy as well as his openness to sharing his truths. Amongst many topics, we conversed about the change fame comes with, living beyond his dreams, Christ, the importance of keeping your private and professional life separate, his dream for the South African youth and the power of the mind. Yes I know it sounds kind of cheesy, but I had one blast of a time. By: Kabelo Khanye.
Kabelo: Arnold Palmer once said, that “the most rewarding things you do, are often the ones that look like they cannot be done”. What is the most rewarding part of your current success?
J’Something: Geez man, you know what, the most rewarding thing for us at the moment is seeing people smile. Seeing people dance and not just in Jo’burg, but all over the country, all over the world. Being able to influence people in a positive way …
K: …and that’s your mission, with your music?
J: Yes, it’s one of the missions. You know, you have a lot of goals with your music. I always wanted to be famous so that I could have a platform to reach out to people. It’s such a gift to be where we are and the fact that so many people are looking at us to see what we say, what we do, what we wear and all of it. It’s a gift to be in such a superior place. It’s a gift and a responsibility given to you by God.
K: How many years did it take you to get to where you are?
J: I don’t mean to sound funny but it took us a day. It took us an hour to get us to where we are. I mean realistically, if I have to look back, none of this was planned; it all happened by fate, by luck, by chance, whatever you want to label it as. The fact is [Dr.] Duda was dejaying at an event, where Mo [-T] started playing with him and they didn’t know each other at all. I was there as well and I didn’t know Mo [-T] and we all started playing and the next thing we knew, Soul Candi approached us and asked us if we wanted to do a group. So I guess it took that little moment, which then in turn led us to where we are today but it’s been a year journey since then to now. It’s actually a year in July.
K: I understand that you all had an intimate relationship with music from a very young age. How did all of that work prepare you for that lifestyle change?
J: Man, you can never be prepared for this lifestyle change. It’s a change that no matter how prepared you are mentally, physically you’ll never be ready for it. You can’t go to gym for this stuff. It’s not just a physical fatigue, but it’s an emotional fatigue, it’s a mental fatigue, so even though I’ve been singing since I was 5, Dr. Duda has been doing music since about the same age and Mo [-T], the same age. It never prepares you fully for what you’re going through now.
K: Do you feel like you are living your dreams, is this what you imagined?
J: One way. I have to correct you, I’m not living my dream, I’m living my dream and more. The dream I have, I’ve achieved, I’m now running ahead of my dreams. The stuff that is going on at the moment is beyond my ‘dream-ability’, I could never dream such things. It’s ridiculous. I’ve been completely blown away.
K: You know one of the things I appreciate about the youth of this country is that we are go-getters; there is an ever-growing need to be better, to succeed, to attain the dream. This is what we, as Inspired4Writers, are celebrating this month: the practical steps the youth is taking to attaining their dreams. May you please tell our readers what were the practical steps you took to attaining your dreams?
J: I must agree with you, being part of the youth of this country, it’s such a privilege to be apart of such a group. Through the years and everything that we’ve gone through, we as a youth have developed in a very strong way. Some of the steps I’ve taken, and I’m only 23 now, and one of the greatest things I’ve known since I was a kid, was to take a risk, go for something and try it out because you’ll never know if you’re going to get it. My brother used to play basket-ball for a little bit and he once told me that Michael Jordan said that “you’ll miss all the shots that you don’t take”. That sort of stuck with me. I thought, if I don’t try this out then I’m never going to know. I followed my passion, I followed what was inside but I won’t lie, for a majority of my life I never thought that this would be possible but I kept believing in it somehow but I didn’t believe in it one hundred percent. I kept pushing and you just have to have faith in yourself. I think that’s what I did as a kid: I came from theEastern Cape as a small town boy and I was told to come to Jo’burg for no reason. It was not even in music, it was ‘just come to Jo’burg’. Three months later I was sitting in the Soul Candi offices.
K: So that move aligned with your big dream of being on a musical platform?
J: Yes, I was doing music on a small-scale: playing music on my guitar, but every little thing gave me a glimpse of this future that I could live. I honestly thought that everything would take years; I thought that Mi Casa would take two or three years to be where they are.
K: You know, I think a lot of people think that their dreams will take years to manifest …
J: …yes, and you know sometimes it’s good to think like that, sometimes it’s not. I think you need to be realistic with yourself but also be ambitious. It’s a very fine balance.
K: What fears did you have about your dreams?
J: I never thought that I’d be a failure, never in my life. I always knew that whatever I was going to do, I was going to kill it. I have always had that mentality. No matter how scary it is and trust me, music is scary. I have never been overly confident in my talent but I knew that if I got a chance, I would kill it. The fears were that, when Mi Casa was coming out, you always have that little voice that’s saying ‘what if your cd doesn’t sell?’, ‘what if people don’t respond positively’ but my spirit, my personality countered all of that stuff. I would be like, I hear it but I would also say ‘come on, I can kill this stuff, we are going to tear everything apart’. There’s always those little fears in your mind but you got to learn to counter them. I believe strongly that the greatest gift God has given you is your mind. The power of the mind can either make or break you. Since my parents got divorced from when I was a young age, I was 7 or 9, and I grew up by myself, training my own mind and saying that’s their life and I’m going to live my life and I’m going to be the best.
K: Taking responsibility for your life.
J: Yeah, you gotta speak to the mind. It’s a biblical concept: speak things into being.
K: And wasn’t it Christ that said ‘it is you that limits what you can get’?
J: Yes and the bible also says that you have the power of Christ. When I started thinking about that I was like, ‘that’s hectic!’. If I have the power of this dude, I can do anything. I followed a passion and a dream I had because I believe that that was a seed that God had planted. I strongly believe that a dream that you have, the passion, is Gods way of saying ‘this is what I want you to do, now go and dig for it and plant it and water it. Do it and work for it’. God doesn’t do stuff for you, He’s done everything already and now He’s saying ‘go out there and smile’. That’s the thing: what makes you smile, is your mission.
K: Definitely. What have some of the challenges been for Mi Casa?
J: You know, the greatest challenge is that we’re a group. Starting out as a group is never easy: there’s always that thing of three individuals, three different backgrounds, three different mindsets … [Dr.] Duda had been doing music for 10 to 15 years, Mo [-T] had been doing music already, I had not been doing music and he had experience and earning money and I had been doing nothing. This was now a clash because we’re [J’Something and Mo-T] saying ‘sacrifice all of that because this is going to work’. But you don’t know if it’s going to work, you’re just believing in it. But it’s been good, it’s a definite challenge being part of a group but the benefits of it pay off.
K: You’d do it all over again.
J: All over again.
K: How important was your faith during those challenging times?
J: Extremely important. The industry is ugly, or not ugly but it’s dangerous. You can get carried away especially with fame and all of the attention that you get. It’s also hard with the kinds of environment you are in, such as clubs and all of that kind of stuff. It’s always important to remember who you are and be secure. I’ve always said to myself and to others that you can’t try to live anyone else’s life or be in a relationship with someone if you can’t live by yourself.
K: Wow, I agree.
J: So it’s the same as music. You are now responsible for all these other people, but if you’re not responsible for yourself, it’s not going to work. So faith has been the foundation of not only my career but of my life. It’s helped me remain humble, it’s helped me remain thankful because I’ve always known that without God and everybody else who’s behind me: the supporters, the media and everything else, I’d be just another musician trying to get out there. Faith is extremely important, whatever your faith is. I think morals are important too.
K: Establishing boundaries and standards for yourself.
J: Definitely man. Definitely.
K: Are there people in the industry that you study for the purposes of being better?
J: Yes there’s lots. You know, these questions, you have to always sit and think about them but at the top of my head, I’ve met a lot of great guys and I’ve met a lot of douche bags as well: you learn from both, you don’t just learn from the good guys. If I have to name a couple, I think Black Coffee is a great example to a lot of people: the way he handles himself, the way his mindset is, the way he handles his fans, I think that’s great. There’s a lot of amazing and humble people. There’s a young boy, young boy? I think he’s a year younger than me …
J: …he’s name is Shimza, he’s a Dj, he’s quite big but not famous yet, a lot of people have labeled him as the next Black Coffee. He’s an amazing Dj and I just love his attitude, I love how he does things, I love how he does work and he always remains in that business mentality. Poppy from 5FM, I mean I have seen the way she handles herself at gigs, it’s impressive. I mean you get some other guys who get there and are already drunk and telling people to voetsek and stuff, but you learn from both. You definitely learn from both. I’ve only named three but there are a lot of people.
K: As you were growing up, the people that you admired …
J: …Jabba [HHP]! I remember looking at that guy when I was at school and thinking that this guy is the coolest oak around. You never got to meet these guys but now I know them personally and I can tell him that ‘dude, you’re so much more than what I thought you were’. Jabba is a great guy man, he’s so humble and so motivated and so talented. InSouth Africaand internationally, there are a lot of guys that we are fortunate enough to look up to because for the majority, you can’t.
K: And do you as J’Something or as Mi Casa, do you have mentors?
J: Not really. I used to have a mentor until I nearly completely messed up my life. This mentor that I had had certain beliefs and certain standards that I thought were correct because he was my mentor but that all fell apart and I thought, ‘well geeze, that doesn’t make sense’. We are very fortunate enough to have a beautiful label, Soul Candi records, which looks after us and it’s not just a label, it’s a family. So the owners of the label and Sergio [Botelho](MD and owner of the label), they are just a call away. I think I speak to them everyday, I do have a weekly meeting with them as well and it’s more just a chat about life. I think that’s so important, that you can have someone to speak to and ask advice about life.
K: Definitely. How important is it to keep your personal life private as compared to your professional life?
J: It is so important. One of the biggest things I’ve struggled with is that I’m 23 and it feels like the world owns me. I don’t own any aspect of my life any more except my private life and I think one of the most common questions you get in interviews is ‘are you dating anyone?’ or ‘are you single?’ and I just say to them that you can label me whatever you want because you will never know. I want you to ask me about my singing …
K: …yes, it’s about the work …
J: …that is what it’s about. You know, they also wrote in a Times interview that once you expose yourself to over, I think a couple of thousands of people on some platform, you have to understand that your life is not your life anymore. It comes with it, with fame and responsibility. People want to know if you sleep with anyone, people want to know these things and yes, sometimes you need to tell but I think it’s all about timing. For now, I want to be established for who I am and not for who I date.
K: Would I be correct in saying that you all admire one another, as Mi Casa? If so, what is the formula to your professional and personal brotherhood?
J: It’s exactly that. That mutual respect for one another. We all know each others strengths and weaknesses, we’ve been able to spend nearly everyday with one another for about a year now and it’s been great to get to know the guys. We are a very strong team. We are a team that speaks about a weekly, ten year future. A team that knows to not step on that side and leave that side and let me do interviews …
J: …let [Dr.] Duda do productions because he doesn’t like doing interviews that much, he likes to do music, he likes to perform. So it’s important to know each others strengths and weaknesses in a group and ride off of that. It’s been a long journey to get to where we are and now, we are unstoppable.
K: On that note, what’s next for Mi Casa?
J: It’s already been such a crazy time for us, I mean eleven months down the line and we look back …
K: …three SAMA’s later, a platinum album later …
J: …it’s crazy. It is so much more than we could have ever asked for. Now we are working on a platinum album which is coming out at the end of July, we are also working on a DVD which is coming out at the beginning of next year and we are also working on a new album for the beginning of next year as well and we are now in the process of discussing a major deal with a big brand, so it will be the first time we get involved with a brand and it would be something quite cool if it pulls through and also just working on our sets: we are constantly rehearsing, trying to work on new stuff and trying to make the show exciting …
K: …yeah, because is there a fear that your next album wont be as successful as your second album?
J: Yes, because I think you need to be realistic with yourself and know that it was a new album, it was a new band and it was something that completely opened people’s eyes to a lot of hit songs. Are we going to be able to pull that off again? Who knows, only God knows, but when we made that album, we never went in thinking we’re going to make a hit album. We just went in and made music, we took it one song at a time, we weren’t even thinking of an album. The original theory of Mi Casa was to make music so that we could perform, get our name out there and in two years time, release an album. But when we finished the album, we had 14 tracks and we thought we have to release this stuff now! We knew we had something powerful. And then we didn’t even know what we were doing together: we just got together and had fun and we’re doing exactly that with our next album. Whether it’s going to be a hit album or not, it doesn’t matter. We want to make more music, we want to do more things and keep fresh.
K: And you’re also the songwriter for the band, so how do you go about writing your work?
J: It comes from a lot of things. The mind is a powerful thing: it’s thoughts, it’s inspiration. Whatever you see, whatever you hear, however you feel, whatever you’ve been through and whatever you want to go through. These are some things that help to write a song. There are a lot of different influences, it would be unfair to tag just one thing as the major thing. It’s life and how you live it and how you wish to live it. So it’s how you’ve lived, how you live and how you wish to live: that’s where song writing comes from. Especially for me, I like to write stuff that I can relate to. I hate writing songs that have nothing to do with me because I’m a performer and it must make sense.
K: And that’s a great business strategy.
J: Ofcourse, money for royalties and its better.
K: What is your dream for the South African youth?
J: We’ve achieved so much together already. You know, when I moved to Jo’burg I think that is when I was open to the real youth: people that really hustle. I meet guys my age that own companies or want to own companies. Jo’burg is the place to be for us youngsters, if you can. The dream is that we wish we can infiltrate a certain mindset into the youth: to know who they are and how much value and potential they hold. Once you start understanding your full potential, that is when you’re dangerous. That’s when you can do anything. That’s why, not just the enemy, but people, they get scared when they understand who you are. When you understand your full brand value, as a person, you become unstoppable. So my dream is that all youth get this mindset, that they understand that they are the future kings and queens.
K: And at the age of 50, where do you think you all are?
J: I have no idea man [laughs].
J: At that age, everyone’s dream is to have a legacy, to have left something behind. To be sitting on a good amount of wealth and not just financially, but family and more talent that we’ve developed and that we’ve helped get to where we were and even more. That’s the main thing: to always want to achieve more and more. 50, I’ve still got 27 years to get there …
K: …and to continue dreaming?
J: Yes! Dreaming at 50. I don’t think I’ll ever stop dreaming, until I get put in the grave.
K: What is the one truth that you hold onto?
J: That I am amazing. I am fearfully and wonderfully made. That I can do anything I want, if I believe. The one thing that I have always told myself is that ‘I can’. Never once did I think ‘flip, I’m not going to be able to do this’. It comes but then I counter it straight away. So the one truth I hold onto, the summary of all of that, is the power of the mind. I said it earlier, your mind is the key to your success and your destruction. I also tweeted it the other day and I said, ‘understand the power of the mind but let the mind know whose boss’.