Balancing a busy life, Grammy Award-winning Una Rams was born into a life full of music and love.
Images: The Children of Midas
Una welcomed me into his lovely luxury apartment, located north of Johannesburg. He offered me some litchi juice, cookies, Wi-Fi and anything else to make me feel more comfortable. The crazy part of our conversation is that he started it by asking me a lot of questions about myself. This was a way for him to gauge my level of comfort in his space, and I appreciated that. His upbringing has played a role in shaping him into who he is today.
Hailing from Makwarela, Limpopo, Unarine Rambani, the third child of six children in the Rams dynasty, started making music at the tender age of nine or 10 when he was exposed to a lot of music through his uncle, who was very involved in the gospel industry. He also saw his older brothers write and perform music; they were heavily involved in inspiring Una to partake in using songwriting as a medium of expression, and they later decided to start a boy band. He states that the content he consumed as a child was pivotal in growing his passion for making and performing music. “I was watching a lot of TV and it was a lot like Disney content. So, you’re growing up, and Cartoon Network [is on]… way back in the day. But at that time, what you’re hearing on TV is that you can be anything you want. And my family’s only affirming that. So I always was a big dreamer.” I gushed as he said this.
“So, it’s Grade 4, and I’m writing my first-ever verse with my brothers, and we burned it on a bunch of CDs, then we went out and performed at our church and school. I remember we had this performance at my primary school. It was the year-end event, and usually, I shine. We had these jumpsuits on… the CD wasn’t playing, and my brother decided to beatbox when we only had one mic. It was so funny, but we made it work.” Una reminisces, as I die of laughter.
Raised by educated parents who were both teachers, he had to prove himself as an academic to convince them that he could also pursue his passion for music. “When I told them I wanted to do music, they were like, what about your grades? And I said, okay, let me prove myself. And when I showed them that I could do school and what I loved, they started supporting me. So I felt like I didn’t need to choose between one or the other,” Una says sincerely.
He also used to write poems and recite them to his mother. He smiled as he remembered that she would immortalise some of his childhood writings by printing them out and putting them into a flip file. Una also displayed a deep love for computers growing up: “I loved computers; I always told my mom in Grade 3 that when I grew up, I wanted to work with them. She always said it’s because when she was pregnant with me, she used to give computer classes. There was also a white dude who used to come to my house due to my parents’ affiliation, and he was really friendly. He brought a PC with a game that he actually made, and I was like, ‘Wait! What? You can make games?’ So in that moment, I was sure that I was going to work with computers.”
His current corporate backing has been key to him finding himself in his art, as he says, “It’s taught me a lot of discipline. And it’s kept me afloat. I never wanted to be a struggling artist. And think, as you’re pioneering something and building something, it takes a while for it to really hit that mark. So this has been like a good thing to hold me down. As I’ve figured out my place. My dream job would be no job.”
“I dropped ‘bebé’ featuring Tron Pyre. This was inspired by C-Tea who recently got married in Ghana and invited me to the wedding. He kept calling his wife, Bebé, and I took it as the hook. I was low-key manifesting my next love interest.”
As his self-confidence and passion for performing and making music grew, Una finally had the courage to get his first solo song as he taught himself to make beats on EJ (audio software similar to Fruity Loops). “The first time I released was in Grade 8 or something, and that first night, I got like 1,000 downloads on Datafilehost. I also loved dancing a lot and was in a dance group with some of my peers and friends in high school.”
Una is one artist who can’t be necessarily boxed, as he has made multiple music appearances on hip-hop, R&B, Afrobeats and Afropop songs, with his preference being R&B. “In essence, R&B is very soulful and has some of the most beautiful chords, progressions and writing. And those are things I consider high priorities when I’m making and creating music – how it’s gonna feel. And love is something I was always taught, whether in the church or at home. Something I just want to see around, be it romantic or just platonic amongst friends and whatnot, just people loving each other. And that’s the vibe,” he states gleefully, while some oldies are playing in the background. “Yeah, so I have an eclectic taste, which means I gather inspiration and influence from different spheres.”
When it comes to the music business moves and overall sound, he looks up to Drake. For the revolutionary musical ideology, he looks up to Kanye West and Pharell, and to Frank Ocean, and states he loves just how he moves in general. As he mentions Musa Keys, I interject and point out that they have a similar fashion sense, which caused him to chuckle a bit. “I don’t know if it’s similar. He has this distinct style, you know? It’s just always fun seeing someone else having fun with the outfits.”
As he focused on his high school career to acquire the grades he needed for his parents to approve of him also pursuing music, Una’s older brother Tondi was studying at EMENDY, a sound engineering school in Pretoria. He played quite an important role again in introducing Una to a producer by the name of C-Tea, who told the then-17-year-old that if he ever wanted to make music together, he must hit him up anytime.
“When I started my first year at the University of Pretoria, that’s where I hit him up. And I’m like, yo, I want to take you up on that offer. I went over to his house, and we recorded a song called ‘All Out’, like before trap was booming. I remember going to the studio session. I had my last R20 or something, and after recording, I was so excited… we were all in the mood and feeling the tune. I had to call my dad and be like, ‘Yo, can you send me some cash?’ And he did.” Una giggles at this memory, and we burst out laughing when I mentioned he actually “went all out”, like the song he recorded.
“I went over to his house, and we recorded a song called ‘All Out’, like before trap was booming. I remember going to the studio session. I had my last R20 or something, and after recording, I was so excited… we were all in the mood and feeling the tune.”
This was his first experience with a professionally recorded song, which he put out on Datafilehost. The song also got a lot of downloads, and he scored a few small gigs around his university as he saw the fruits of his labour. He started making music with his fine arts creative designer and director, Wonke “Abucus” Lepheana, which birthed a collab tape for one of his art exhibitions. Abucus would send Una some beats, and Una would create a song. “I made a makeshift studio in the garage at home. I had the mixer from church and the mic from church, and I’d figured out a way to connect it to the computer. And then, I just got a hanger and my mom’s leggings, and I made a pop filter.” Una couldn’t hold back his laughter as he detailed this; he continues, “And I’d record my verses, and like, it was recess, so I could just go in the whole time. I’d call my siblings over to come listen to what I was doing and send it back to him, for about a week.”
This session birthed the Uncuss tape, which was taken from their stage names, UNa and abuCUS; this was in 2017. “There’s some old videos on YouTube that you can check out because I was rapping. I was talking about stuff that was happening in my life. Like how I saw politics and, you know, my uncles and friends passing and dealing with grief at that time. Yeah, that’s when Abucus and I made ‘Pink Moon’,” Una elaborates.
He got his first major playlisting from DJ Doowap, who at the time had a show on YFM, and Una decided to submit a song he made with C-Tea in 2018 called ‘Nobody’, which she loved so much that she playlisted him on her show. This was a major turning point for Una’s musical career. “It definitely opened up new sets of possibilities in my mind, which made me go and approach new opportunities. Like, ‘Oh, yeah, I can play on radio’. So I started looking for more places to submit where I would mention that my song was played on YFM and it’s currently at the top, whatever. They’d jump onto it,” Una states.
His first official solo project, Wavy Baby – EP, is a soothing, experimental EP where Una explores his sensual side as he addresses various love interests, his self-love journey and explores his love for poetry, unlike his rapping ability that he touched on in his first single on DSPs called ‘Monies’, which he co-created with C-Tea. The tape features SAHHA winner and critically acclaimed singer, Thabsie, on the intro ‘Good Intentions’; his frequent producer and vocalist, C-Tea; Nigerian singer-songwriter and actress, Seyi Shay, on ‘Murder’; and creative artist, producer and renowned writer, Misa Narrates, on ‘Eden’.
As an independent artist, Una Rams is part of the cohort of African artists who got scooped by Platoon, even though it came a bit later after he researched better ways to put his music out. He sent his music, artist profile and any important information to be considered by the Apple distribution company, and they were eager and keen to sign him, and eventually, he dropped hold me when it’s cold: a mixtape in 2021.
This mixtape sets the tone for his intriguing rise to being R&B’s most valuable player and his exceptional attention to detail. As the title goes, this is a project that aims to reveal the types of emotions one goes through when wintertime comes around, both literally and figuratively, in relationships. The features are as impressive, with R&B’s most notable singers like Mikhalé Jones, Nanette, Langa Mavuso, Lucille Slade and alternative trailblazer Muzi, hip-hop superstar, Blxckie, and Mizo Phyll with Maeywon, who helps Una bring his consistent vernac bag as he sings in Tshivenḓa on ‘ndo tou rali’ which means “as I am”.
Una Rams has made a lot of notable appearances: ‘No Stress’ by DJ Speedsta; Muzi’s ‘Chocolate Dreams’; Shekhinah’s ‘Pick Up’; Tyson Sybateli’s ‘Homecoming’; and MashBeatz’s ‘888’ plus ‘CANNOT STOP ME’ to name a few.
After he was featured on a song called ‘Flava’ by Black Coffee in his 2021 Grammy award-winning album, Subconsciously, Una also earned a Grammy award to his name.
He definitely shined through each feature as a star vocalist and writer whose lyrics are often well sophisticated and relatable while balancing his versatility. He has been on my radar since, as all his releases and collaborations have had a major impact, and I could not deny the Una Rams brand any longer.
“So, it’s Grade 4, and I’m writing my first-ever verse with my brothers, and we burned it on a bunch of CDs, then we went out and performed at our church and school. I remember we had this performance at my primary school. It was the year-end event, and usually, I shine. We had these jumpsuits on… the CD wasn’t playing, and my brother decided to beatbox when we only had one mic. It was so funny, but we made it work.”
Now that he has my full attention, it’s not hard to notice that Una is definitely preparing his audience for something new. As one of my favourite rollouts this year, Una Rams started the Lovers & Friends series that features comedian Primo9teen as “Dr Thando”, who plays a charismatic host, while Una Rams plays “Pr!nce”, a confident singer and ladies’ man. “So I dropped ‘bebé’ featuring Tron Pyre. This was inspired by C-Tea who recently got married in Ghana and invited me to the wedding. He kept calling his wife, Bebé, and I took it as the hook. I was low-key manifesting my next love interest.”
With the next instalment of hold me when it’s cold, the Cuddle Pack aims to unlock the fully fledged lover boy by Una Rams as he channels his alter ego, Pr!nce.
“Track one is this song called ‘2am’. I co-produced this with the duo London Rhodes – that’s Christer and Loud ‘Vogan’ Fourie, and discovered this brilliant, talented vocalist on TikTok. His name is Sandile M. The aim was for Sandile to lay angelic vocals, and Rowlene managed to link up with me, and I’ve wanted to make a song with her for the longest time because she has this way of writing and layering her vocals so beautifully. And she completely ate it up.”
‘S.O.S’ is the second song, and it is quite a well-layered duet between him and Mikhalé Jones, where they both sing from a relationship point of view of how they need each other or their respective lovers, the romantic levels of treatment they receive, and how they reciprocate the love.
Next is ‘Body Party’, which is this monster of a song that sounds something reminiscent of Timberland. “Yeah, and that’s something I made with Zeke, it’s just me on the track vocally, but Zeke worked his magic and even added additional vocals; it’s just insane to hear and experience. Even the video, we shot it like that, reference or inspiration for that was like Hype Williams, so your Missy Elliott vibes. And I think we captured the essence of it in a way so I’m excited for people to get that too,” Una states, as he enthusiastically takes me through each song.
Track three is ‘bebé’, a song that took a lot of challenges to come together as they suffered a lot of technical issues even after it was created and done. It came out as an R&B anthem of two lover boys, Tron Pyre and Una, to detail a serenade to the one they love currently.
Ammo Moses is the final feature on the last song called ‘Pull Up’, and he lays his soulful, creative vocals that has Una Rams taking inspiration from his South African roots while including his grandparents’ vocals to add a sense of family and unity to the song.
The entire Cuddle Pack will be available on 19 November, which I cannot wait for. Everyone who’s in tune with Una is in for massive surprises, as he has set visuals for most of the tracks on this mixtape, which he plans to work with notable creative directors like The Children of Midas.