AVANT-GARDE UNA RAMS COVER STORY

Name your list of the top singer/songwriters in South Africa and if the name Una Rams doesn’t appear on it than that haterade you drank is clear effective because it almost seems impossible to draft such list and not have Una’s name a part of it. Forgive us if I’m being a bit blunt here but the truth needs to be told and who better to tell it then HYPE? Una Rams has become a staple name within the music industry in South Africa and that’s all thanks to his gift. The gift of music that is… As a major contributor to shaping & directing the future of the South African music scene, the young kid from a small town called Makwarela clearly has a purpose in this thing we call life. And what is that purpose you ask? Well, it’s whatever you want it to be of course because I believe one of an artist’s true capabilities is to usher you into your own truth as an individual whether it be through music, poetry or art, you are your true architect. And this where Una Rams music adds on to his purpose, which find has the ability to break down walls of restriction and open you up as a listener to a vast number of personal dimensions that can purely be experience through full immersion which is a wonder. Not a stranger to the limelight, Una Rams’ career hasn’t even reached its peak yet and we’re all in it for the ride! With that said I finally got the chance to shine a brighter light on an individual I consider an inspiration. And I’ve shown this light through having an interesting conversation with Una Rams about growth, love, family and so much more.

IN COLLABORATION WITH ASICS SPORTSTYLE

STORY BY RUDZANI “ROO” NETSHIHENI

PHOTOGRAPHY BY @theexpressionist

CREATIVE ASSISTANCE BY @uno.gondo

MAKE UP BY @enhlenyembe_

CREATIVE DIRECTION/STYLING BY @studiobila

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We’ve spoken so many times before but then you know the reason why I decided to shine a light on you two within this “cover” concept is because, you know, I’ve always personally recognized the alternative scene or artists that are not necessarily delivering hip hop but have some influence in it, artists that are experimenting with their sounds as them that are changing our music industry in a way. I love your music but then you probably have people that are around you too, those people being artists that I’m sure you consider friends that are also leading change too. And then obviously we have many other emerging alternative artists that are also taking on that pedestal. However even though the aim is to push the music industry forward, it’s never been easy to fully embrace the alternative side which is an overall set back because today there are a lot of young artists that are, you know, really just trying to not be a cliche within the game but eventually become… Because we see kids come through all the time and the first thing that they do is like trap or try to be like a Travis Scott…  Well I appreciate Avant-Garde that think left as true artists, you know what I’m talking about? How do you feel about our artistic market right now that’s beginning to get flooded with kids that aren’t necessarily coming through with the hip hop song per SE, but are really trying to narrate a different side of what our music industry could be? This is a position that you’ve been playing in for a long time and people have of course caught on and I guess some people are just catching on now, but at the end of the day, you’re moving forward… What do you think about it?

First of all, I respect anyone that can come out and say, “Oh, I want to do me”. Not coming out and saying, “yeah, I want to make music like so-and-so”. But having that deep burning desire to figure out who they are and what they can do. And that’s always been my take on it. Making music as a form of self-expression… And although the lyrics might be inspired by perhaps what’s being learned in my life or what’s going on in the lives of the people around me, there’s still a way that I’m putting out how I feel to the world.

Right. I remember seeing the first video I ever saw of you, I forgot the name of the track (‘A TREE OF NO LIFE’ is the name actually), but you were in some woody area and your face was painted [Laughs]. I remember thinking damn this guy is coming through in the game like this huh!? And at a time when the majority of the people were gravitating towards what hip hop was doing. But when you came out what hit & stuck to me the most was how vulnerable your music was. That made me think about what pushes an artist’s individuality to the point where the artists says,” I’m going to come on like this, I see what’s happening within the music industry within the country, music-wise, but I’m going to pioneer what’s inside”. What kind of forces convinced you to make that decision to take a different route? You know what I mean?

I’m the type of person to get bored by doing the same thing everyone else is doing… Yeah, even if we were to hop on the same beat, I don’t want to flow like you. Sometimes I’ll be in studio and you know when you’re trying to come up with ideas and you hear something in your head but you’re like, I’ve heard this somewhere before… Half of the time I have that feeling it only turns out that I’m referencing another song I did. So, I think it’s just not being afraid and trusting your gut. Because it’s so easy to say, okay cool, let me conform and do what people are doing because that’s acceptable. It reminds me of the market, the fruit market back at home…

Tshakhuma?

Yeah. what happens there is all those ladies are selling the same thing. So, it makes it difficult for them to do their business well… Like once a customer pulls up, they’re all fighting for their attention, right? Because they all have the same product. But if someone else came through with something different, they would then have their own market that they cater to. It might not be as easy to break in; but once everyone gets used to it, it’ll make more sense. So, I looked at music the same way and I was like, okay cool, there are a lot of songs talking about like getting lit or whatever. I know myself, I’m not the guy trying to be out there partying all the time. You know, I’m a more sensitive dude. I’m a more relaxed dude. I’m a fan of love and family relationships and that’s why that’s usually my subject matter. I realized that there are so many other moments between waking up & going out, that a person experiences and goes through. And those moments need soundtracks too. What happens when a dude gets his heartbroken? What is he listening to at that moment? You’re not trapping at that point bro [Laughs]

For me, it’s been about love. The matter has been hyper-sexualized as well as you know? It’s not that innocent & genuine. I didn’t feel like it was being translated well enough in the music. I’m not saying I put it on myself to be the evangelist of love or whatever… But it just so happened that that’s where I gravitated towards because that’s who I am and I might get my heart broken a million times but I won’t ever stop being a fan of love. I’m ready to be a gone boy again. And with the features. You can hear me play around with other topics. But half the time you find that my relationships inspire the subject matter

And what kind of music were you listening to when you were younger, when you were young? At what period?

I grew up around a lot of Gospel, R&B, jazz, you name it… I’ve always had like a diverse ear and til today if it sounds good to me I’ll probably play it. That’s why I feel like I can just explore/ traverse different sounds. That’s why I’m not afraid to just one day make a beautiful super ballad-sounding song like ‘Good Intentions’, float on an Afro-beat jam, or sound cool on hip hop/trap song the next day.

One of the things that I’ve been enjoying watching from you is the growth that you have been constantly displaying with each release or feature you’re a part of musically. I’m just wondering if you can define your growth right now?

I can try to explain it, but it might sound a little bit too obscure, vague, but in essence, it’s trying to tap into different versions and colors or flavors of myself. I’m a kid that wants to travel and see the world, so I create so many worlds inside my head and make that come alive sonically. I see my ability as this sort of big landscape that I can explore. Working with and collaborating with different types of people brings about my different sides and we get to see it. It’s as exciting for me as it is for the next person that gets to hear what Una Rams sounds like with A, B, and C, you know? That’s how I’ve grown. It’s taught me so much about adapting to different environments and about how limitless your talent and potential are. You just have to stretch yourself and see, I’ve never been super comfortable with comfort and complacency. I’ve always wanted to see what more there is, what’s out there. I’m trying to explore these sounds and see what the rest of the world looks like, what the rest of the world sounds like and that in itself is going to bring out a whole new me, a whole new sound, and I’m excited for it.

I totally agree with what you’re saying because I also feel that from you. You are an artist that I don’t think anybody can put a limit or ceiling above. Because number one, you can adapt to any genre or you can adapt to any vibe that you wish. And I don’t know… It’s just like now I’m starting to sort of imagine the picture that your music is trying to paint. Because I know that you did mention that a majority of your music is inspired by love and being in relationships because you’re that guy! But then I feel like you’ve reached a level where it’s not necessarily always about that. Maybe you might be conscious of it or not, but when I listen to your music, I feel as if it’s gone beyond just tapping into, uh, a theme such as love, you know? Can you see the bigger picture that your music is painting now? Yeah, perhaps the first image was a love theme, but now I’m starting to see other elements come in and I’m like, Oh, so this was just like one side of Una. So there’s a whole different picture that’s being painted. Is that something that you can sense or are or are aware of?

We never really know what we’re going to make when we go to the studio. A lot of it comes out in the heat of the moment and because I’ll be going through different situations over time, I’ll speak on that. I mean a lot of the songs about love I made were from stories from my friends or myself.I was in a position where I could relate to those stories, they inspired my process and so I inevitably made songs about them. Um, but when you grow up, things tend to change; relationships end & you get heartbroken. This is why even when I spoke on love, it wasn’t just puppy love / the honeymoon phase. But it also came to a point where that took a turn and I’d then speak about the frustrations, the heartbreak and how painful that process is. Being a person who has been navigating this industry, a space that’s also been tricky for me, there’s also been many moments of growth for myself where I’ve seen my shortcomings. I’ve seen myself disappointed. I’ve seen myself hurt because of what’s happened. But it’s taught me so many valuable life lessons, which I’ve used to grow, adjust and keep moving. Sometimes I’m able to then translate all of this into song and I find that beautiful because it’s like the music serves as a diary or an outlet and it’s not there just to service or help me process and express myself but it’s also there to speak for a generation.

“when I make the music, I’m servicing myself. But when that music gets released, it’s free for all” – UNA RAMS

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It’s also there to help so many people cope and deal with the many situations they go through. To empower Venda kids out there that dare to dream – a mere phrase, such as “Nne ndo neta”, which means, I’m tired just sounds super cool to someone that’s not even within our culture, you know? But to a kid back home it goes the extra mile and tells them anything is possible. So, yeah, man, that’s just part of it. That’s is part of the process. Like, damn, I don’t want to be boxed into a genre, right? I don’t want to be one dimensional. And I feel like it’s only been natural for my music to speak on so many other things. That’s why I’ve previously described my music as human, only time will tell what the next song will be about. Of course, collaborating with many other artists and producers will bring about different energies from me. Art imitates life. And as life continues, as I go through more things, I’ll have more to talk about and that’s how it goes. The beautiful thing, or what I’ve been noticing is that people can recognize the growth in my music and the fans that have been there since Pink Moon can attest to that.

I’m trying to find out if, who does your music serve the most? Does the music serves you the most, or does it serve your fans the most? Because sometimes I wonder if artists within this generation are making music truly for themselves and then we as consumers jump on or are our artists making music for us? And weirdly, they jumping onto us. Who does your music serve the most?

Bro, I cannot answer that question. I honestly cannot answer that question because when I make the music, it’s helping me deal with whatever I need to deal with. It’s allowing me to express myself. Like I said before, right. And for me, it’s a step forward. It’s a step towards growth. But once I released that thing, I have no jurisdiction over how whoever’s out there interprets that thing. They could take it in whichever way bro. And that’s the beauty of it all. For example, When you go to an art gallery or an exhibition and you see paintings, they exert certain emotions out of you. Right? And you get to feel that piece and experience it in your own way… Music works in the same way. I’ve seen someone cry from a song we’ve done and that song has never made me cry, bro. Like so when I make the music, I’m servicing myself. But when that music gets released, it’s free for all. Like it can make someone super happy, it can make someone else super sad. It can make someone think about their life. But I can’t tell you who it affects the most. I just know that I feel strongly about the music I make.

You can’t exactly quantify it. Even if I did try, who is to say mine is an 80 and the next person is a 100 next person is at 200 I don’t know. And I find that intriguing. Like we never really know how much impact we have on other people’s lives. The smallest gesture such as, smiling to someone, or telling someone that they’re doing well could mean the world to them. So with my music bro, like I’m just going to stay true to myself and do what I need to to be okay and hopefully, it has a lot of positive impact on the next person. That’s it.

Damn, I’m sure you cried at home though when you saw that fan cry. But that’s crazy. I was on the road like late at night and one of your earlier songs came up. The song I always hype up the most, which is ‘Nobody’, “she ain’t got nobody” [Sings] And I sort of naturally just compared your artistic approach today to then.  And I was like, yo, this ‘Nobody’ vibe was crazy. It was crazy. The whole energy was crazy. And I honestly thought like, man… I kind of felt like I missed that. But I guess I was saying all those, those comments within myself because I recognized how you have been lately, you know? Experimenting with sounds… And then I started to think, in terms of like, um, you know, because I’m going to be real… You’ve created relationships with like the likes of Black Coffee and all these other prominent people who too were obviously attracted to your earlier versions of music. Do you have the ability to distinguish between the different timelines of your sound? Like in other words, can you still remember or put yourself in the same mentality creatively that you were in when you were creating like a Pink Moon or ‘Nobody’ today?  You know, there’s so much happening around your life. Do you give yourself enough time to just evaluate where you were?

Yo like it’s precious because that song came from really a beautiful place. The story of that song (Nobody) is, I’m not sure if I have told you this, but excuse me… So I go over to C-Tea’s, he decides he wants to take like bath, shower or whatever and then by the PC he has like his Fruity Loops open. I played chords and I start singing something. And that’s the melody that came out, the progression that came up which was organic. He’s (C-Tea) like, yes, that’s it. So we work on that idea, that song comes out and that’s how I’ve been making music since bro. Like if anything sounds different it’s because I’ve grown and times have changed. And I’ve worked with different people too. I like that people fell in love with that because that was raw. That was honest. I’m still honest, still raw, even though we are a bit more meticulous and take time fine-tuning and refining our ideas these days. It’s like how you hear a lot of people say they miss the old Kanye.

That’s wonderful. That’s fantastic. If I had stayed stagnant and kept on making ‘Nobody’ type of songs, people would say ah, but it’s all the same. It sounds the same. And for me that’s boring. I know bands, I know groups that came up even in South Africa that had similar sounds for like various albums and I got bored of that, so did the rest of South Ah. They couldn’t do more because they didn’t experiment. I’m a mad scientist and I just want to create new sounds and evoke new emotions, not new but like evoke more emotions out of people. At this point right now I’ve been through so much more than I had 3 years ago when I made that song. And it has to be evident. It kind of feels like going on Facebook and seeing those memories on posts from like 2009 or something. You kind of look at that and you’re like, “ah, what was I saying?” And you can kind of remember what time was like back then. But you can’t exactly tap into your mind at that time. No.

Otherwise, I would be growing backward. Was that song beautiful? Yes, so much that it’s still relevant today and I’d like that to hold for the next 50-100 years. Are the other songs I make now beautiful? Yes, bro. It’s crazy because when you have a song like that, as an artist, you kind of get into this mindset. Like I remember coming back to the studio after that and thinking, how am I going to make a song just even as nice as this, better than this? ‘Girls Like You’ came out, ‘Good Intentions’ came out years after that. Which has made me trust in my talent and keep going.

It might not hit you the same way it did before, but we’ll find something that does trigger something. And that’s the art of exploration. That’s what being a scientist is. It’s experimentation. It’s not supposed to yield the same result, Bro. Like that’s the thing about it. So no, I can’t tap back into who that kid was because I’ve experienced and learned, my view on the world has drastically changed that it feels like I’m a different person now. I’m still the same guy at the core. Yes. So my values are intact, but it’s not going to be the same.

“we’re the weird kids and they might not understand this now, but we are the individuals who kind of carve out the new”- UNA RAMS

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Damn. Do you remember your first memory of you attempting to make music, do you remember the first day you decided to record a song? How was that like? I’m curious.

My family was heavily involved in the church; my mom was in charge of handling the youth and motivating them. I remember times when my brother taught the choir new songs and I’d be there. I was too young to be in that group, but I’d be there anyways just like rocking with them. And that’s when I used to sing and whatnot. That’s it. Because I was always kind of like an extroverted kid. I was weird in my own way, but the crowd didn’t scare me. So fast forward, a couple of years later, my brothers and a cousin of mine, uh, kinda formed a boy band. I just forgot what it was called. We rallied up some equipment and got to business. We had a computer at home and Fruit Loops, so we made a little beat. We started writing a song, he came up with a hook and everyone had to come with the verse, right? So I also went into my corner and I wrote my part, I still know that verse off by heart. We recorded on those headset mics and when I wrapped up my part, they were just so blown away! My brother used to go to boarding school, so I’d be left at home and I’d just mess around on the computer and I started making beats and playing them back to him on the weekends when he came back. So he was like my mentor in a sense.

Final question what would you say to all your fans, the family and the friends that have been like riding with you from day one? All the fans that you have met, you haven’t met before that keep on rooting for you and keep on being champions for your music. What words of, I guess appreciation and or encouragement would you like to give them if given a chance?

The last words would be thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you for understanding and allowing me to grow. Because there hasn’t been a person that has come to me and told me “I’ve changed too much” or “I don’t mess with what you’re doing”. If they wouldn’t it’s fine, like it’s a preference but I haven’t come across that. There is constructive criticism along the way and I appreciate that. I love honesty more than anything. But I’m grateful to have people that I can form a community with and this is why I’ll sometimes go on my Instagram reach out to fans and call the first 10 or 20 people to reply to a story. I often get DMs and my fans are in disbelief when I reply and have conversations with them because you know a lot of other guys don’t reply or whatever. But for me, that the connection is important. Like it’s doing the little you can to acknowledge the people that are willing to ride for you in life. I think that’s just what every human being wants, just to be heard and to be understood. I’m trying to establish that in real life as well and have events where we all come together and be ourselves. Plus it gives me like a different view with my music, you know? I don’t look at it as just songs I make in my bedroom anymore when I realize the impact those songs have on so many other lives… They positively impact my life too – in any day when I could be disheartened or discouraged, it’s messages from fans where they tell me, “bro, your song is beautiful bro. You just helped me achieve my crush bro. You just helped me deal with a breakup bro”. It’s all those little things that matter so much to me. You know, the small touches, the little interactions we have mean a lot and I’m humbled and grateful because it’s these same people getting in the Uber’s with their friends and playing my music, going to parties and playing my music, putting their friends on and growing the family. But that’s it. So, yeah, don’t stop feeling. Don’t stop being you. Be weird. Be the absurd. Be crazy. Be the very best version of yourself. You know, we’re the weird kids and they might not understand this now, but we are the individuals who will carve out the new. We bring a new perspective and a new flavor. Embrace it. Own it.

END.

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