“I BELIEVE THAT WHATEVER THAT I’M GOING THROUGH, WHATEVER THAT I’VE EXPERIENCED BEFORE, I KNOW FOR A FACT THAT THERE’S AN INDIVIDUAL OUT THERE THAT RELATES TO MY MUSIC AND MY LIFE STORY. THAT IS HELPFUL TO KNOW THAT YOU ARE NOT ALONE GOING THROUGH SOMETHING.”
This is what the 28-year-old singer, songwriter and record producer Thelumusa ‘TELLAMAN’ Owen, said when talking about his music.
TELLAMAN is on his own journey, at his own pace and has made it this far to 2019 with a solid debut album God Decides, what one can pronounce as his best masterpiece.
Straight outta Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, at only 15, it was a go for his music journey which started with just making beats and recording himself to put a voice on those beats.
Unlike other artists who are hooked on fame, he isn’t focused on attaining popularity but his craft for music comes first, he is also a passionate artist who keeps evolving with different sounds from time to time. TELLAMAN has gone through several distinct phases, putting out exceptional work both behind the scenes and in the spotlight.
The Universal Music signee has released a total of two EP projects; Mind Vs Heart ( 2017) and Lucid Dreams (2017), all which has led to his debut album which is a work of 20 new tracks.
With every sound, lyrics, melody, instruments and song titles playing a pivotal role, TELLAMAN recorded the material that became God Decides over the course of the last two years. Self-produced and -recorded, the smooth rapper/singer proves with this project that he is able to lay beats down (produce) and get heavy on the pen (writing), and by taking charge with both roles, he wanted the album to be delivered as he imagined.
Today, his single Whipped (feat. Shekhinah and Nasty C) which is on the album’s tracklist rose to be a chart-topper since it’s release. For TELLAMAN it was a vision and a fulfilment at the sametime to see a Nasty C and Shekhinah song happening.
But all that is not what defines his story and what he is about. TELLAMAN breaks it down for us sharing his views about the South African music scene, building a solid relationship with other artists and sheds light on some challenges that still bugs him. He rewinds back to the days when he put out a Soul Candi project to having a congealed picture that he is putting out his first-ever album which was recorded in his bedroom and mostly on the road.
When did your love for music begin and your break into the industry?
TELLAMAN: I started music when I was about 15/16, I didn’t think I was going be a musician to be honest because I wasn’t really interested in the process of making music, I just like listening to it. There’s an older friend of mine called Sanele that used to make beats, I used to go chill with him at his house for video games and sometimes I would see him working on beats. This one time he was working on a project for another client that he had, but he couldn’t get the baseline right, so I helped him with that and that was the first time I ever touched anything to do with music.
I didn’t start as a vocalist, I used to make beats and record. When I started making beats I couldn’t find people that were going use my beats, so I started recording myself just to hear how it will sound with vocals.
“I LIKE MAKING MUSIC, I MAKE MUSIC ALMOST EVERY DAY.”
Tell us about the type of music you make, and your contribution in the industry
TELLAMAN: I don’t really like to put a style or genre to my music. The first commercial projects that I ever worked on was with Soul Candi, I did like a full house disc for the compilation and I produced almost everything, wrote almost everything.
Ever since I started making music I’ve always tried to explore, try different things and different sounds. So I ended up making house music, hip-hop, R&B, those were like my favourites at the time. But right now you would say I’m an R&B singer but I don’t like putting a name to it.
I like making music, I make music almost every day, so if I had one style to do for the rest of my life, I don’t think that would have made sense to me.
"I NEED TO GIVE MY FANS SOMETHING THEY CAN LISTEN TO AND ALSO INTRODUCE THEM TO THIS SIDE OF MYSELF."
Two EPs under your belt, when working on those, other collaborations with different artists at what point did you realize you were ready to unleash your first album? And how have you evolved?
TELLAMAN: I wasn’t going make music and just sit with it at home with nobody listening to it, coz I believe that whatever that I’m going through, whatever that I’ve experienced before – I know for a fact that there’s an individual out there that relates to my music and my life story. That is helpful to know that you are not alone going through something.
The first project was basically me trying to introduce people to a different side of myself. A lot of people that were my fans because of the projects I dropped with Soul Candi, I feel like I starved them too much, coz I think I dropped a project after a year – so I felt like I need to give my fans something they can listen to and also introduce them to this side of myself!
Your album is called 'God Decides', Why that name?
TELLAMAN: It has nothing to do with religion!
God Decides because I feel like I wouldn’t be here if God didn’t allow it, so I feel like that applies in every part of my life and my surrounding.
“TO SEE WHIPPED DOING SO WELL RIGHT NOW IS ACTUALLY CRAZY COZ I DIDN'T EXPECT ANY OF IT ESPECIALLY AS AN R&B SONG IN SOUTH AFRICA.”
Take us through the creative process of putting together the album, how long did it take? And making the features happen.
The album took close to 2 years. I just woke up one day and just decided to work on an album, I didn’t have a plan, I didn’t have rollouts. The feeling of working on an album was interesting and exciting to me. Most of the song that I have on the album, I had started working on them, maybe it had a verse or sometimes just a chorus. I recorded on the road most of the times – I record my music in my bedroom, I don’t like big studios they feel uptight.
With Whipped I just felt like a female voice would be really cool and I had Shekhinah in mind. Lucky enough she liked the song, she was down to do it. The Nasty C part was like a coincidence because he recorded his verse for another song that I had – and then that song didn’t make the album and then when I was at home just trying to finish up songs, I was wondering how his verse would sound on Whipped. So I just created a small space and then transposed it then time-stretched it to fit the beat, and it just sat so well, and I was like OK! Then I played it to everybody that I work with, and they thought it was a good idea to leave it like that.
To see it do it so well right now is actually crazy coz I didn’t expect any of it especially as an R&B song in South Africa.
How does it feel to have such a dope song as Whipped that is rotating on almost every radio station?
TELLAMAN: It feels great to actually touch people in a very positive way because Whipped is a very happy and exciting love song.
I like to be as positive as I can in my music because I don’t like making people feel depressed in my music.
I didn’t know Whipped was going to be as big as it is, because it was one of the ideas that I had for the album, but also I’ve always wanted to hear Shekhinah & Nasty C in one song and I felt like that was taking too long – so I was like let me try put that together for my album.
Take us through your mind when writing most of the R&B songs in your album, even on the EPs – are these songs based on experiences? Dedicated to someone?
TELLAMAN: All the time I write my music based on something that I’ve experienced or based on a family member or a close friend that they have gone through – that’s where I get my inspiration from.
Mostly, love songs come from an experience that I’ve been through to that I’m going through at that time with somebody.
“Lately I been getting requests for features from people who didn’t give me a shot when I asked to collaborate with them. I haven’t rejected any. If you see potential on someone coming up please give them a shot, don’t wait for them to get a little buzz/hype. It won’t kill you.”
Is it harder to make connections with other local artists?
TELLAMAN: It’s hard because people are different, some people do music because they truly love it, some do it because it sounds cool.
I feel like in South Africa musicians just wanna be at the top, somebody wants to be there all the time and people must kiss their ass to try to get them to work – but it’s just music it’s not even like the song is going to benefit me only. But unfortunately in South Africa we still have to work on that part, it's another thing that is slowing us down in the music industry.
There’s an artist: We were in Durban, I was there for a show, so it happened that he was in a club that I was performing at. We started talking about music and I mentioned that I had some ideas so if you want to work we can do it – it’s music at the end of the day. This guy was like he doesn’t need to listen to the ideas that I had coz he knows that they’re dope, and he said that he wouldn’t feature on my song – if we were to do a song together it would have to be his song, it’s like him featuring me. So he wanted to get that power of putting me on as an artist, which I didn’t understand.
How is it important to support other local artists?
TELLAMAN: Just to see people grow, its very inspiring and a good feeling to see somebody come up and become something.
We really don’t have it here in South Africa because of the ladder, who wants to be at the top. And I can’t say I blame them because its what they believe in, everybody has their own beliefs. But supporting each other in every aspect of life, just supporting another human being is a good thing to do than to try to take something from them.
I’ve always made an example about Snoop Dogg, he is loved by everybody, every artist in the game and it’s not because he is the greatest rapper alive but it’s because of how he supports other artists and other people.
Here in South Africa, you blow up, you’re the talk of the town, everything is just happening – 2 or 3 years later when everything is starting to go down that’s when you start to make connections and start to be friendly.
What are some of the challenges you’ve discovered along your come up in the industry?
TELLAMAN: It’s what every young artist is trying to overcome, like not getting interviews, airplay, shows. People want to be associated with your brand or work closely with it when you have made it.
What makes a dope collaboration for you?
TELLAMAN: The chemistry between artists. I do my collaborations based on the song, if I like the song I would really collaborate. But whenever I’m in that situation, I think about what I can do or what I can add on a song to take it to the next level. A lot of artists would do collaborations based on competition, they wanna have a better verse than everybody on the song which I feel it ruins the song – you’re not thinking about the project, you’re thinking about yourself which is wrong.
Tell us about your relationship with Nasty C ?
TELLAMAN: We’re just friends that happen to love music, we started working together in 2015, before that I was just a fan of what he was doing.
We were working on crownedYung songs back then in 2012 that’s when I found out about Nasty C, so I wanted to get Nasty C to feature on some of Yung’s songs – so that’s how we got to know each other and then couple years later that’s when we started working together.
When we had just moved to Johannesburg we were staying together for about a year, ever since we’ve just been supporting each other and working on music.
(The Fallout Skit) : How do you find the balance between your career and your love life – ever experienced any challenges? And what’s your formula?
TELLAMAN: I work on my music almost like 24/7, when I go a day without making music it just doesn’t feel right – at least I just need to open the program and tweak a few things, even if I’m not making a new song.
So now when you have a girlfriend, and a family you still have to make time for them and that’s a very hard thing to pull off especially when you haven’t made it yet.
Is there anything you don’t think you get enough recognition for?
TELLAMAN: I try my best not to be that person who always feel like they are not loved or supported. That kind of thing is a bad vibe to have as an individual because you lack working hard to get where you need to be. There’s a lot of things that I do within the music that majority of people don’t know, there are people that still don’t know that I produce my own music – but it doesn’t bother me.
WHAT DO YOU THINK THE KEY TO LONGEVITY IN THE INDUSTRY IS?
For me its 4 things
To respect human beings as a whole
The ability to adapt to any situation coz music changes! Even every after 6 months there’s going to be a different sound, something that will be celebrated more than other styles.
Constantly trying to be a better musician. I know people that go into the studio when they have to drop something where else they should constantly be in the studio
Any Dream collaborations?
TELLAMAN: I got every feature that I personally wanted. But the label wanted to get somebody, an internationals feature (a girl from the UK) but the time frames were clashing when we had to drop the album.
I got a long list of collaborations that I would like to do in the near future , I like T-Pain, Brandy, Future, Young Thug also producer London on da track and Boy wonder.
Locally, I’m a huge fan of Siphokazi, aswell as GoldFish, GoodLuck, Thandiswa Mazwai to mention a few.
Working with brands, you are currently doing something with Shell …
TELLAMAN: Shell wants to bridge the gap between what they do and the music and the people, so they want to curate a playlist that will be updated constantly so that people can use that playlist. The campaign is based on the hashtag #EveryJourneyNeedsAsoundTrack, when you go on a road trip or travelling – its always nice to have music that you listen to. So that’s where I come in, to make sure they have the music, and they will have a Spotify page that has the music.