Feature Interview

Wandile Mbambeni: Musical Maturation As A Way of Life

The recent release of Wandile Mbambeni’s second EP “Maturation” saw him changing direction significantly as an artist. While his first effort “Good Intentions” has the singer-songwriter signature all over it that of “Maturation” shows a greater focus on the production side of things and expanding scope.

I meet Wandile Mbambeni just up the rad from Café Roux where he and his band will be playing their first set of his latest album, “Maturation”, in months. As we chat it very quickly becomes apparent that he has not been sitting still during his sabbatical.

Stian Maritz: Let’s start with a bit of context. What was your process when it came to writing a new album?

Wandile Mbambeni: With “Good Intentions” I felt like I had to be alone. I had created this singer-songwriter identity for myself since that was my introduction to music. I got into production after I wrote ‘Lovers Like You’. From then it was my focus and I would only play guitar occasionally because I was so addicted to it.

SM: So the change in setup inspired you to write differently?

WM: Writing on the laptop and writing on the guitar are two different worlds. “Good Intentions” is an album I wrote in my bedroom taken to studio while “Maturation” is an album built in studio specifically for that environment where you can constantly jot down different ideas.

SM: Were you listening to music that focuses on production value as well then?

WM: I realized that listening to folk is a healthy environment for a singer-songwriter but it’s also unhealthy because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to box myself in already. So I went way back to what I listen to. J Dilla, D’Angelo, Soul Child, James Morrison, old Passenger and many others. I especially wanted to understand how artists like Passenger are considered singer-songwriters but they have a band as well. I went to the Waiting Room Fridays and listened to the old school ‘boom-bap’ and I feel like that taught me a lot about doing simple things well.

SM: It’s also quite a shift in your approach for you.

WM: To be honest the production aspect didn’t come right immediately after ‘Good Intentions’. When you’re a singer-songwriter it’s like a rule that you never stop writing. I wrote ‘Lovers Like You’ first and that took 3 months. If I had to show you the original exam pad with the lyrics you’ll see it’s all scribbles now. The whole process was a growth thing, not a marketing scheme though. It’s what I needed to go through in order to create “Maturation”.

SM: That opens you up to collaborative work as well, I’d imagine.  

WM: If a person sends me a cool instrumental track I’m always open to working with them. It’s only recently that I’ve felt that I’m ready for that. As much as we all want to be unique and protect our own sound, growth is about opening yourself up to other influences. If I did a colab with someone like AKA it would be because I can do things he can’t do and vice versa.

SM: So you don’t sit still much, do you?

WM: Definitely not. I sometimes end up making seven versions of the same idea. I try to broaden my ideas as much as possible, and then take the pieces I like from each idea and stitch it all together.

I originally launched the EP in the August of 2016 but after the first time I performed it with a live band I saw the value in a live setup. I actually insisted that we go back into studio and redo the entire thing from scratch with live instruments. And since I now had a trumpet player around, for example, it was a nice challenge to see where else on the EP I could fit that sound in. My band is made up of jazz cats so as we’ve performed the album it’s changed even more. Because of that we’ve come to the point where we’ll also looking at doing a ‘Good Intentions 2’ with a full live setup as well.

Mbambeni’s idea of maturation is clearly more than an album title to him. He seems obsessed with staying busy, broadening his creative horizons and being open to musical growth in any way that feels right. We joke for a while about the lifestyle of jazz cats and walk down to Café Roux, reminiscing on our favourite living room gigs on the way.

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