TUMI and THE VOLUME at Harbourfront Centre's Concert Stage (235 Queens Quay West), Saturday, July 8, 3:30 pm, as part of Beats, Breaks & Culture. Free. 416-973-4000.
The Volume frontman Tumi Molekane is a socially conscious guy with thoughts of post-apartheid South Africa (his birth country) on his mind.
So here I am thinking Bergman's Theory, the title of a heavy funk instrumental track from his band's self-titled new LP, is a reference to some obscure political thinker.
Not quite, I quickly learn when Molekane laughs exuberantly. His group can be heard in the background kickin' it in Vancouver.
"Dave Bergman from the band was playing this bass line," says Molekane, over the celly. "We were looking for an interlude and he was just playing this tune, and we go, 'What is that?'
"He says, 'You know, just this thing I've been working on.'
"But the way he said it -- he was so suave about it -- I said, 'You say it like it's some sort of theorem.'
"He said, 'That's exactly what it is. '"
Whoops, my mistake. But as many new fans have learned wherever Molekane plays (from Johannesberg to Berlin, and now the Montreal Jazz Fest and Toronto's Beats, Breaks & Culture jam), instrumentally improvised inspiration and politically salient ideas occupy the same plane in the artist's world.
His band, which first broke through in 03 with the appropriately live album Live At The Bassline, is tight enough on its own. But you've also got Molekane's seemingly Native Tongues-influenced flow speaking and singing poetically on his experience, and occasionally humorous or cynical barbs that catch you off guard.
The production and musicianship on their eclectic debut studio effort are incredible. I'm particularly smitten with Signs, on which violinist Kyla Rose Smith's multi-layered string swells carry Molekane's grainy blues song-rap as he streams consciousness about travel, destiny and capitalism.
After about 43 listens, the song is still proving a lyrical Rosetta Stone that will take a few more focused spins to decipher. It's followed by Oslo, which -- with Molekane's funny exasperation -- hits on the frustrations of being an African Muslim at international airports.
South Africa is his greatest inspiration, especially the issues of freedom and apathy, the growth of a nouveau riche class and the country's apartheid past. But in terms of his own vocal evolution, Molekane is proudest of how he's intergrated himself into The Volume's rich, melodious output.
"It was more of a challenge to do music that's not necessarily hiphop. It was important to prove I can be an instrument here in this band. And now that's very much my forte. If you were to remove the vocals, you'd find it hard to call it a hiphop album, you know?"