Feature Interview

Rising local youngster Malachi talks recording his debut during lockdown and writing a song for everyone

“It’s a bit of drag, I thought it would’ve been done by now,” say Malachi, echoing all our sentiments on lockdown. It’s a sunny Jozi afternoon and we’re, naturally, on the topic of Covid-19 – over the phone.

Tanaka Shereni, better known by his stage moniker Malachi, is chatty and cheerful, if a little brief. He dropped a fresh solo EP, Wicked Romance, with Sony Music about 3 weeks ago and he’s riding his very own wave of trap-soul exceptionalities.

Despite having just hit 20, he’s got an impressive catalogue of music under his belt – including his debut solo EP The Book of Malachi which dropped in 2018, as well as his collaborative release with producer Elizée, Lavish Mentality, which saw the two of them listed as Apple Music’s Artist Spotlight of August 2019.

It’s no surpise then that his latest solo venture is doing so well. “The reception has been pretty dope,” he says and I can hear his grin through the phone line. He’s exceptionally well-spoken and quick on his feet – with his immersive involvement in the hip-hop scene surfacing only as he throws the words dope and tape into the conversation, usually in succession.

“I feel like South African music is really starting to come out,” he adds. “There’s a lot of scope and there are so many artists here who sound international. If you’re from that side you’d be like ‘woah, this guy’s from South Africa?’”. Indeed if you look at the predominant scene on our shores these days, hip-hop rules the roost. We’re boasting a good few exports – just look at Sho Madjozi go – and Malachi is hot on the heels of becoming among the next as soon as this lockdown lifts and gives him room to move.

“I’ve definitely got plans to go overseas and start pushing my career that side,” he says. Anywhere in particular? Los Angeles is first on his list. When it comes to dream collaborations he lists Travis Scott and The Weeknd. This boy aims high, and I’m inclined to believe he’ll get there. He’s already hooked himself a deal with Sony Music after revving up some street-level traction via good old Soundcloud, so it’s only up from here.

He tracks a progressive sort of trap-soul sound in his latest tape, fleshed out in genre deviance and expert production – largely courtesy of his long-time collaborator Elizée. While he’d been brainstorming the album in December last year already, the entirety of Wicked Romance was recorded over the hard lockdown period.

“It was really dope because I had nothing else to do but be locked in the studio – so I was just, like, working on that,” he explains. “I think everything happens for a reason, […] so I decided to make the most of it. I had the full time to just focus on what I needed to do: just work on this body of work and really put my all into it.”

Beneath the sharp lyrisicm and simmering production it’s all very girl-centric though – which is in some ways to be expected. Love rules the songwriting mind. But Malachi had a slightly different reason for his multi-faceted love songs. “I was trying to have a song for everyone,” he says. “Wherever you are romantically, I wanted you to have a song that you can relate to and have that lyrical content.” And it delivers.

Now things have reached a bit of a standstill with this whole pandemic having brought the well-oiled gears to a standstill. So for the time being Malachi is kicking his heels and exploring the options. “I’m realising the power of the internet,” he says when I ask how he’s been keeping the ball rolling in a time of no live shows. “We can do a lot with what we’ve got, we just need to learn to work with it.”

This comes in the form of live online shows for the most part – which he’s looking to get on with quite soon. There’s also a visual ready to be realised as soon as lockdown allows (“I’m just waiting for that opportunity to appear”) and a whole lot of scope to keep expanding (“I’d like to do a bit more pop”).

Give the guy a couple of music videos and a foot in the LA door and he’ll be riding high in no time.