In our sixth contribution from Godessa, Shameema Williams tells how the song “Mindz Ablaze” was born, and answers five quick questions.
Lost “tapes” of a jam session: The making of "Mindz Ablaze"
“Mindz Ablaze” was conceived during band rehearsal at Ricardo Moretti, our keyboardist’s, studio. He actually came up with the main melody and the band just played along. During smoke breaks the band would jam a bit and sometimes ideas for songs are born that way. Ej, the lead vocalist and the only one of us that actually sings, started to mumble some words to the melody and so the basis to the chorus was laid down.
It wasn’t until a month later, when Grenville Williams (our bassist and producer), Ej and I were chilling at their recording studio when we were checking out some beats to write a new track. Then we remembered the song we laid down at the rehearsal, looked at the piles of cd’s lying about in the studio and wondered if we’d ever find the unmarked cdr with the potential hit on it. Lo and behold, G reached up on top of the cd player and the first cd we checked out was the jam session! We really needed a good radio single to promote our debut album Spillage and we knew this song was going to be that single.
Immediately G laid down the music and got to work on the actual production, while Ej perfected the chorus and we started writing our verses. There was no fuss and no real discussion about the concept because Ej had done a great job with the chorus, which naturally gave us some ideas. Very rarely does this happen with us. Normally we’d write the chorus last and come up with the title days or sometimes weeks later. By the end of the afternoon we had four verses laced, a beautiful melodic chorus, a slick beat and we knew that the title should be “Mindz Ablaze”. The only thing missing was Burni’s verses, so we called her up and by the next evening the song was complete.
There is a very simple and standard formula for hit singles. As Godessa we always grapple with this since we are an independent band (not signed to a major label) and hate formulas which the majors almost always force on you. Yet we knew that to be play-listed on commercial radio we had to create a formulaic song so that we could be exposed to a larger market. In this instance we were fortunate to have collectively created a song that was not intentionally composed that way.
The formula works like this:
Stick to this formula, be creative with your songwriting, work with good musicians or producers and you will have your gateway into the world of radio.
“Mindz Ablaze” was followed by two more singles, “Journey of Mine” and “Nguwe”, proving that had we not entered the market with a good single these songs might never have hit the airwaves. Not that they were not good enough, but they just did not have the immediate charm that “Mindz Ablaze” had for commercial radio. The trick is that once you have your foot in the door they will support and accept whatever comes after, providing of course that the rest of the material is not wack.
After the album was released we started a relationship with Kurse Music, who is now our distributor, and got to work on ideas for the music video since it is important to have a video to promote the single and the album which it comes from. We had a gruelling touring schedule both overseas and locally, so we decided on an animation video. This worked well for us, since we did not have to spend thousands on equipment and staff and there was no need for us to spend long hours that we could not afford, shooting a music video. The video was received well by the public, except for those that would say that to increase popularity your own faces should be on your album cover and in your music video.
The video featured a monster in a make-believe version of Cape Town (Capetroplis) set in 2104. We are sent on a mission to make the monster feel a part of humanity, extending this ideal to everyone from the taxi to the club through our music. The monster also represents the tension we speak of in the chorus and we have to defeat the tension through our special powers as power-puff type heroines.
When you work in a group the verses usually get split up into different perspectives. I start off the first verse talking about wanting to be accepted for who I am, what’s in my heart and not what’s on the outside. Ej goes on spitting encouragement to the masses about not feeling left out if you think you’re different, basically reaching out to all kinds of people without prejudice. Burni drops a 16-bar verse that’s sort of “braggadocios” because she wants people to know where her mind’s at. She goes into a lyrical rampage describing that these words are more than just lyrics – it’s as if music is food for your soul, allowing you to tell your story through song.
In my next verse, after the second chorus, I ask people on the dance floor to allow the music to help them to let go and not care what the next person thinks. I am also asking people to allow us through our presence to be that vehicle for them to do so. Ej carries on that sentiment, hoping that people can feel us without being in some kind of induced state aware that there are many tortured souls out there that need to release the stresses and difficulties of everyday life. The chorus sums up this entire song perfectly, since it encompasses everything we say in just four lines.
We were really happy with the outcome of the song because Godessa is known for writing topical and serious songs relating to heavy issues such as politics and hip-hop odes, leaving very little space for dance-like melodic tunes that are really just there to sing along with and to “get rid of tension”.
The version on the cd4 compilation, most would know, is not the original song, since we did an acoustic version for the project. We were a bit hesitant to change the song at first, but realised it could actually appeal to more people, and later we found that some people preferred the acoustic version. Through this kind of project and many others we have been involved in, we realised that as an artist you have the ability to take chances and experiment, because you never know what the outcome could be. This version of the song has been well received by our fans and was an introduction to those who had never heard of Godessa. It also gave us the opportunity to combine our work with The Muse (a string quartet), which was quite exciting, because we are always open to working with other artists.
“Mindz Ablaze” was our first song that made the top ten on local and national radio and was nominated for best hip-hop song at the Metro Awards in 2004. Although we did not win the award or make it to number one it has helped us reach thousands of people all over the country. When we perform it and people are singing the lyrics with us we know we have reached ears, hearts and minds, not only through the sales of Spillage but through the bootlegged copies on your pc and cdr’s, alternative compilations such as cd4, as well as national radio and television. The response to the song and the album has been satisfactory, since South African hip-hop is a growing market that is only beginning to be explored by all facets of the entertainment industry. At the same time it is in danger of being misrepresented through the media and exploited by multicorporations and therefore we would rather co-operate with these mediums instead of leaving them to their own devices. Many “real hip-hop heads” would see “Mindz Ablaze” and our association with companies such as Levi’s as selling out, but for us it’s a bridge to get what we really want, that is, having our music heard by as many people as we could possibly reach. We are blessed, like so many others who have the ability and talent, to touch people holistically through our lives, which is written all over our music.
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