Recently, we had the pleasure of chatting with MC Nelson Mondlane, from the Freemantle six-piece band, POW! Negro. With a diverse fusion of jazz, hip-hop, rock and electronic elements, POW! Negro is firmly cementing themselves into the Australian music scene, having already won a few WAMAwards. Just recently last year, they released their first debut EP, Jasmine and Liquorice along with their most recent single, Flesh Off The Bone which cleverly discusses about toxic masculinity that ensues in everyday lives. Paralleled to their deep lyricism, their songs are performed with vigour, highlighting the undeniable talents of the band.
There are many elements to your music. There’s some major hip-hop and jazz elements, infused with some electronic and rock genres. What is the creative process in incorporating all these genres to create the band’s distinctive sound?
Firstly, all six members contribute to making the sound. I guess we all have very diverse tastes that we all enjoy. Everyone is smashing genres together because they like all these different styles. Each member of the band makes their own beats so when we make songs, often someone from the band will bring a beat to the table and if the whole band likes it, we’ll flesh it out together, change things and extend stuff. That’s how I think all the different elements come together.
I can see that the band’s musical influences are drawn from every genre of music. Who are some of the band’s current musical influences?
To begin with, because all the guys generally make beats, there’s a lot of sampling that goes on. I would say that a lot of the guys listen to a lot of older records like funk records, jazz and RnB, but at the moment we’ve been listening to Flying Lotus, King Krule, Thundercats, Death Grips, Run The Jewels, Earl Sweatshirt, Yussef Kamaal…so many people….and then there’s a lot of rock like Queen Of Stone Age, ACDC and electronics. There’s probably a bunch of people I’ve probably missed that the guys will bag me for not saying!
With such a wide range of musical elements and instruments coming together, how did the band form?
I was playing a few gigs with a jam band called Casual Sets, which was made up of members from Koi Child and other bands throughout Freemantle. Because the guys from Koi Child came about from Casual Sets, when they came together, Casual Sets went on the back-burner for a while, because they were busy recording and touring. During one of our regular gigs at Mojos for hip-hop night called Hustle Hustle, the organiser said I should do a solo set with the DJ. The drummer in Pow! was like, “nah, this is the chance to become a band” so we got people together and made a set. It came about pretty naturally. The first gig was good enough to get together and continue.
So you’ve just released your first ever EP, Jasmine and Licorice last year. I know it can be quite difficult doing something for the first time. Were there any challenges creating this EP?
For Jasmine and Liquorice, we recorded it all in a studio that our base player Toby and our guitarist Lachy made in a granny flat. The recordings weren’t the best quality, it was more so an exercise in how we recorded our own music and did all the things that we wanted to try and achieve ourselves. We did try to record our whole EP in a studio with a producer but a lot of our ideas got lost in translation. We decided that for our own sake and happiness, we needed to try and do it ourselves, which was hard and took a lot longer than we anticipated; because it took longer, the mixing got rushed and some of the things weren’t quite to the standard we wanted it to be. I guess it is what it is and we’re still very happy with what we have. There were a lot of things that we didn’t expect that were really cool. I think overall, the first EP was as good as we could have made it.
I also want to talk about you most recent single, Flesh Off The Bone. There is a distinct duality between the heavy beat and lyrics about masculinity. Were there any challenges in the writing process?
Flesh Off The Bone was hard in from a writing perspective, trying to write to such a heavy beat and trying to come up with the concept of lyrics matching in a way that wouldn’t come off appropriating an American sort of view of…you know, with a beat that heavy. Most people would start to talk about guns and drugs, so it took a while for the concept to arrive on toxic masculinity, then we had to write to it without being too corny and not genuine. If anything, I think it’s a good thing to write about and discuss openly about. I don’t know if we quite hit it on the head but we enjoyed making it and it’s a good learning curve.
I found the lyrics very evoking, especially when you question the audience about toxic masculinity. I was just wondering, what’s it like performing Flesh Off The Bone in front of an audience?
Quite intense, it requires a lot of energy and focus, particularly in the last section of the song as I freestyle it every show. It's an important message so it needs to be uniquely said for every audience and in a way that has maximum impact.
Wrapping up, what does the rest of 2018 have in store for Pow! Negro?
We're finishing of our 2nd EP with a new single out real soon, creating a bigger live show, touring over east and playing festivals and shows near you.
Awesome! Thanks for chatting with us, I can't wait to see you at WOMADelaide.
Catch POW! Negro at WOMADelaide on the Monday March 12th.
Header Image via Matsu Photography