A passionate Toshi talks about singing and songwriting
I had an amazing honour and opportunity to chat to the incredible songstress, writer, poet and musician that is Toshi. We spoke about where it all began for her, her recent album “Life Music” with the legendary Timmy Regisford, what’s install for 2020 and much more about how she sees herself as an artist and the story and messages she tries to convey in her singing.
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I know you fell in love with music at an early age, with your first experience with a guitar at only 6 years old. I know that was the starting point for your love for music. But where did it all begin for you to head into the electronic music direction?
Well, I think first of all, my grandmother was the one that was pushing me to be in love with music as she used to be the one that was singing. So, for me, that was the realization that there is such a thing as music. She always used to sing around me, and she had a very distinct voice. She still does. And it was a kind of voice I’ve never heard before. I didn’t know a lot of people who were singing anyway. But for me to have an experience with that kind of voice, it just made me want to join her every time she sang.
When I was 6, she wanted me to participate in a concert at church and wanted me to sing. I wasn’t confident about singing, but she affirmed to me that I was doing well. When I got on stage to sing whatever song she wanted me to sing, after seeing the crowd, I changed my mind and sang a different song from what she had prepared. It was a bit of a mess as I didn’t know the words very well, but I felt like creating a new song right there at that very moment and everyone was amazed by my performance! From that time, I realized that I wasn’t just a singer but a songwriter as well, I was more comfortable when I was creating my own stuff rather than when I’m singing other people’s stuff.
It was just something in me, that I want to do my own songs. I don’t want to sing anybody’s songs, I’m going to sing my own songs. That was my childhood experience. From there I went to University to study music because I realized I really loved singing and really loved making music. I studied classical music for a year at the University of Western Cape and I realized that classical music isn’t really for me. I couldn’t be studying classical music the whole day, I needed to study about Toshi!
I studied classical music for a year at the University of Western Cape and I realized that classical music isn’t really for me. I couldn’t be studying classical music the whole day, I needed to study about Toshi!
I went to the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal to study Jazz for a year. At first I became a very confused type of a musician as I didn’t know where to find my place in this big genre. There was already a whole lot of genres of music created before my time. So now, I needed to have a signature and I didn’t know how I was going to get this signature. I left studying Jazz after 6 months as with Jazz music you are expected to deliver notes in a certain way and I could not be an individual there too. I started listening to folk music and that’s where I started finding myself. I started having my own sound, I started rediscovering myself and pairing sounds that I hadn’t heard anyone do before. From there I started writing, until I met Black Coffee. Back in 2013, I sent through one of my songs and told him that I really wanted to work with. I tried working with other people, but I was told that my voice was weird and that I should sing a certain way. They were taking me backwards as they didn’t like my sound where I was already comfortable with the way I sounded. Black Coffee was the only one who was amazed by my voice at the time which boosted my confidence.
Black Coffee was the only one who was amazed by my voice at the time which boosted my confidence.
We went to the studio and did the song in one day. He then had to travel to Europe and kind of disappeared for like two years where I hadn’t heard from him. I was worried that it was a horrible song and he didn’t want to tell me. Little did I know that he forgot about the song and when he released his Africa Rising album he had said to his wife that he didn’t have a hit for the album. But his wife had told him that the song I did with him a while ago was the hit that he was looking for. So long story short, that’s how I came back to life because that album also brought him back to the scene. It’s kind of resurrected both of us. Now all those people that said I sounded weird now complimented me on how great I sounded haha.
Taking it back, you did mention Black Coffee. With Buya, which is an anthem here in South Africa. Did you ever imagine the success that would come when you were still writing that record?
No, I didn’t imagine any success that would come from the record. The only thing that I knew was the words. I realized the power of the words that I was using, that I chose to sing. It sounded like a poem that I had been writing for many years. I didn’t know which beat or instrumental would fit. And for me to be able to deliver it to the core, there was a message that I wanted to say as well and I wanted people to hear it so badly. So I was concentrating on the words that I am uttering. I wanted anyone who listened to these words, to understand every single vowel and what I was trying to say. So, when people listened to the song and kept saying how wonderful the words are, how powerful they are and how it made them feel, I started to feel blessed because that is what I wanted. Sounding nice became the bonus. It was my first song. I wanted to deliver, I wanted to make everyone who was listening to understand that I’m not just a singer but also a songwriter. I wanted that to be very clear to everyone, that I’m not just a pretty voice but I can say things that maybe some people would think but aren’t able to put in a song. That’s what I wanted.
I wanted to make everyone who was listening to understand that I’m not just a singer but also a songwriter.
You’ve worked with some amazing artists over the years such as Black Coffee, Armonica, Fabio Aurea and of course Timmy Regisford on your latest release. What has it been like to be, in my opinion, one of Europe’s most treasured vocalists and having access to working with such great artists?
It’s such a blessing. After Armonica I did a song called ‘Hela’ with David Morales which kind of lifted my platform. It was also a dream of mine to work with him and I didn’t think I would work with him until he’s management dropped a mail and asked if we could please do a song. We did two songs together and it was such a blessing. From there I got to meet Timmy Regisford as well and he asked if we could do an album together where I had to meet DJ Spen the owner of Quantize Records. It was such an amazing feeling because at that time I think I was sitting on the number one spot on Traxsource for top 100 best vocalists of the year and my confidence was already going down as I had an album In SA that wasn’t really promoted and I was kind of depressed and didn’t want to sing anymore, I didn’t want to do it anymore and was very discouraged until Timmy came along. So we’ve been working since the beginning of this year, and it’s been absolutely amazing, the vibes and just working with people who are positive and believe in your craft is such an amazing feeling. We also did a new song with David Morales again, a single called ‘Nini’. Now not only do we have an album that’s coming up, we also have a single with David that is also making some loud noise. I’m feeling quite blessed at the moment!
With your new release “Life Music” with Timmy Regisford, what sparked this collaboration album after releasing the “Revolution EP” a few months ago?
Timmy is such a good producer. He has a whole lot of material and he’s been working with a whole lot of people because he is a legend. I felt like instead of having Toshi on her own, it sounds more powerful when it’s a joint effort rather than a singular. With more people there’s more power than being alone. The mere fact that he is good at what he is doing, and there’s people who have been looking forward to hearing his work over the years and now we’ve joined forces. If someone doesn’t know me, maybe they’ll listen to the album because of Timmy and vice versa. That is the reason I supported this idea.
What’s your take on our South African sound, from our drums to our rhythms to our vocals being such a huge part of the electronic dance music scene now in Europe and what does that mean for you as an artist and vocalist?
For me it’s an honor because since I was growing up, I always knew I was going to be and African musician. I understood that I have Africa in me. I hear drums and I hear rhythm in my head for when I sing. I sing in rhythm. I am singing to more than what I am hearing as I already have my own orchestra going on in my head. I always wanted to be an international musician, I always wanted to be at a stage where I make people who do not understand what I am saying dance and sing. It’s something that is like a calling of mine as I’ve experienced it myself. When I was growing up, I used to listen to foreign music and sounds where I didn’t understand what they were singing. I didn’t want to understand, I just relied on the feeling that I felt in listening to those words. Electronic music does this to me. You are merging the words and Africa because music is one. Someone can be listening to European or American music but somehow there is some African basic rhythms that are there and how can you separate that?
I sing in rhythm. I am singing to more than what I am hearing as I already have my own orchestra going on in my head.
With your writing process, is there any ritual or anything that you do to get into the zone before recording?
I don’t really have any rituals. What normally happens to me is that I listen to the song or instrumental. After listening to it, I start to imagine myself inside it. I don’t try to outdo the instrumental but more than anything else I try for us to communicate. I try to listen with my heart and whatever comes out of my heart is what I speak out of my mouth. I take the feeling, I work with the feeling and I start to dress up the song. Most of the songs I don’t write anymore. I chant on some of the songs. When I chant, I don’t write. I’m led by the instrumental, the instrumental will tell me what I should do. Whether I should close my eyes and start chanting and do whatever is in my spirit or whether I should pick up a pen and start writing. I listen to what the song wants me to do.
A similar question to the one before, what inspires you to write or the inspiration behind some of your lyrics?
For most of my songs it’s like I am a storyteller. I am forever telling stories when I am singing. Telling stories of experiences that I have gone through, experiences I’ve seen other people go through, of my beliefs and of my opinion. I always make sure that whatever story I am telling, it is going to make a difference in somebody’s life. I don’t just sing or write, I always make sure that the message that I am sending, is going to educate somebody somewhere, heal them or teach them something that they were not aware of. My whole point is that I try to make timeless music, that even in 20 years’ time the generation to come can ask me to translate what I was singing. So, it has to be something of a powerful message that can change somebody’s life. I can’t just sing for the sake of singing.
It has to be something of a powerful message that can change somebody’s life. I can’t just sing for the sake of singing.
What’s install for Toshi in the upcoming new year?
Right now, I’m working with a South African artist called Oskido. I did a single with him that just came out. We are planning to shoot the video in the next two to three weeks. I’m also on the pipeline about to do a song with another South African artist called Prince Kaybee. In March I’ll be going to New York to launch the album with Timmy Regisford and I’ve got a couple of performances in Miami and Jamaica.
Lastly, I have another Italian collaboration that’s coming up. Things are looking very exciting!
Thank you, Toshi.