Zim producer relishes USA exploits

HARARE – Rising Zimbabwean music producer Tinashe “T-Collar” Sibanda ,23, who was recently nominated for a Grammy in the Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media category, is making his mark in the United States of America.

In addition to co-producing Chris Brown and Rita Ora’s single, Body On Me, T-Collar recently released a chart-topping single titled Holiday under the name Bantu.

The rising producer spoke to Daily News on Sunday’s Dakarai Mashava about his blossoming career which began in Harare when fellow producer Phillip “Pip” Kembo, who is also now based in America, introduced him to a music software.

Both T-Collar and Pip were just 13 years old at the time. Below are excerpts of the wide-ranging interview:

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Q: Is it true that you and Pip Kembo (Zimbabwean co-producer of Jamaican superstar rapper Sean Paul’s latest single titled No Lie) began making beats when you were young teenagers?

A: Yes, Pip and I go way back. Our fathers actually went to school together. I remember going on a play date with Pip when we were very young. We must have both been about seven years old. Ever since then, we have always been really good friends. Pip is also the person who got me making beats. When we were 13 years old he brought over a CD with some instrumentals he had made. I asked him whose music it was, and he said his. I remember being so confused. I didn’t think anyone could just “make” music. “He (Pip) then gave me the software and taught me enough till I had the swing of things.

Q: Early on did you ever dream of being a top producer?

A: I have always dreamt big! I remember telling friends in high school that one day I was going to produce music for Beyonce and some of the biggest names in music. Some of them believed me, but most of them looked at me and laughed. It didn’t discourage me at all. I knew that the only way for them to believe it was for me to show them.

Q: How was the journey towards being a producer while you were still in Zimbabwe?

A: The journey started at 13 years old. I made beats every single day for four to six hours. Years went by and I kept at it. I would study the greats like Timbaland, Dr Luke, Pharell and Scott Storch and try my best to imitate what they would do in their tracks.

Q: When did it occur to you that for you to make it you had to leave your homeland for America?

A: When I was 18 years old I had to start thinking about university and where I could go to study. All of my friends were going overseas to study accounting, law, international relations etc. but I wanted to study music production. After a couple of intense conversations I convinced my parents to let me go and study music. I typed in, “Best Music College” into google and it brought up two schools Berklee College of Music and Full Sail University. I chose the latter, which is in Florida and attended there for two years. I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Recording Arts. Two weeks after graduating I moved to Los Angeles (LA). I didn’t know anyone there except one of my close friends from Zimbabwe Tapiwa Mugadza. I spent a year in LA just trying to meet people and network. The first year was the toughest. But eventually I started meeting people and getting introduced to record label executives etc.

Q: Share your experiences on Body On Me. How did the opportunity come about and how did it feel to work with Rita Ora and Chris Brown?

A: Body On Me was a song I wrote with a couple of friends. We sent it to our managers and publishers and after a couple of months of them shopping it they heard back from Rita Ora’s team that she liked the song and wanted to do it. I met her once when we were recording it. She was great! Really fun, upbeat and nice. I was really excited when that song came out because I felt like it showcased my love for my African roots. The intro has a chant that I grew up hearing in Zimbabwe and South Africa. Being able to put elements like that into music in America is what I am all about.

Q: Are there any big projects with big artistes in the offing?

A: Yes, there are songs that are coming out in the next couple of months that I am really excited about. I can’t tell you some of the names but a couple of artistes that I’ve been working with lately are Zara Larsson, Chris Brown, Tapiwa Mugadza and Elliphant.

Q: Can we expect a joint production from you and Pip?

A: Yes. Pip and I actually have a really big song coming out in the next two months that we did together! I am really excited about it.

Q: Did any Zimbabwean artistes impress you while you were in the country during the festive season?

A: When I was in Zimbabwe recently I was introduced to Jah Prayzah and Takura’s music. I like those two. They seem to be doing something really fresh right now! I would be keen to work with both of them.

Q: Which Zimbabwe-based producer has impressed you the most?

A: That’s a hard one. Off the top of my head I can’t think of anyone right now.

Q: Why is it that suddenly we are getting an increasing number of fairly young producers who include you, Brian Soko, Pip Kembo and Mr Kamera who are making a mark on the global music stage?

A: I think that as Zimbabweans we have always been musically-gifted. The difference now is that parents are letting their children pursue non-traditional careers like music, acting, sports etc. When you have the support of your parents, it’s much easier to put your full effort behind it because you will want to make them proud. I know my parents had friends looking at them wondering, “How can you let your son study and pursue music?” But it worked out and they are really proud of me and that means the world.

Q: What advice can you give Zimbabwean musicians and producers as well as those aspiring to take that career route? Are you willing to help Zimbabwean musicians access the American market?

A: Start now! I started making music when I was 13 years old and I only had my song play on the radio for the first time when I was 23 years old. It takes time and focus, but if you stick to it, the right doors will open. I think what producers need more than a handout is the right mindset. I have always loved the idea of teaching people how to fish as opposed to handing people fish. I love listening to people’s music and giving feedback. I think that takes you further than somebody helping you “break in”.

Q: Tell me about Bantu? Who is Bantu? Why the name Bantu?

A: Bantu is me! Bantu is my artiste project where I collaborate with different singers and rappers.Bantu is my sound when I can just be myself and don’t have to tailor it for a certain artiste or the American market. It’s heavily African-influenced and the visuals are really vibrant. I’m going to be releasing a lot more music for Bantu this year! Also we have just completed shooting the video for the second single.

Q: Any other information you think music fans should know?

A: I really want to start coming back to Zimbabwe a couple of times a year to do workshops. I really think that there are some really talented aspiring musicians, songwriters and producers in Zimbabwe and I would love to just come and tell them about the industry and what to do to compete at the highest level. I will definitely give you more information when we get some dates. But that is something that I am planning on doing this year.

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