A changing of the guards is happening in the local music industry. New and merging voices are being heard and one of them is Shumba Mahluli.
Mahluli hopes to become as significant to the world as Canadian rapper Drake.
He sees himself as a musician, unconfined to any genre. While he is more partial to the growing genre of dancehall crossed into R&B, Mahluli is also contributing to the new voices in soca. Not only does he write for soca artistes but this year he has himself contributed with the song Journey, which also features GBM Nutron.
He is a part of the 100.5 FM EyeSlam Superstar competition to find the next soca star.
Mahluli described himself in an interview with Newsday as a very versatile artiste and a singer/songwriter who “can blend in into any genre and I can do the same vocally. It might have things that might be a bit difficult in terms of achieving vocally, certain R&B songs...but I am still able to be versatile in music.”
His passion began at an early age. He recalls waking to his father, Aluko Mahluli, playing reggae music every morning. As a songwriter, he believes reggae comes more naturally to him because he heard it so much growing up.
Being in his primary school’s choir also fuelled his love.
“I went to Hockett Baptist Primary School, Morvant. They would have an annual Christmas concert and I was always a part of it and always sang Drummer Boy.”
He also loved poetry and at Woodbrook Secondary School he would ask his English teacher to be allowed to write poems instead of prose compositions. Mahluli would constantly write poems until, one day, at home alone, he decided to write a song.
While he is not proud of that song, that was what began his full-time career in music.
“It kick-started this whole thing because it was at this point I realised this is what I wanted to do.”
Being a singer/songwriter/musician is the 26-year-old Mahluli living his dream. He began university but dropped out to put his all into music. He has been doing that for 12 years and professionally for the last five or six. He has written songs for Gailann, and did a song for Azaryah (formerly known as Flipo), Dev and 5Star Akil.
Mahluli and 5Star Akil have been working together and he also has songs he is yet to release.
“I collaborated on something for Patrice Roberts, a song called Good. I collaborated on something for Ricardo Drue called My Kind of Party.
“There is an artiste under my wing in terms of my writing, which is Abdiel. Most of his projects we co-write together. He has a song with Destra this year that we co-wrote. He had a song last year that we did a re-mix with Machel Montano that I co-wrote also.”
Mahluli belongs to a group called the Da Nation music group, which includes him as singer/songwriter, Jhaye “Jay Dot” Mckie, his personal producer, and Stephon Gabriel, sound engineer. Mahluli and his partners hope to see Da Nation Music Group morph into a record label.
For Journey, Mahluli reached out to GBM Nutron and he gave him a yes.
He plans to release more music but that depends on the circumstances: “Pushing or marketing a song is not the easiest thing and it takes a lot. You have to be very strategic where that is concerned.”
While the local music industry is growing fast, with many taking the easy route to make their mark by singing “lewd or gangster music,” Mahluli prefers to distinguish himself by his lyrical content. He said those other types of music tend to get airplay faster and so a lot of youth are gravitating to them, but: “I try to keep it positive. Not all the time the songs are about positivity, but it is never disrespectful or out of line – even though I might sing about girls, but I do it still in a way I consider creative.
He believes good content is way to make soca more marketable internationally.
“In order to market something to someone, they must be able to relate to it in one way or another. If you strictly focus on the TT culture alone... if you’re singing about Carnival and you sing, 'Jump and wave, jump up and wave,' it is very easy for us in TT or a Caribbean market to relate to that, but a foreign market might not be able to.”
He knows music is “one of those things if you’re not serious, then you’re wasting time. You have to put in a lot before you get anything out.”
For him, “There’s so much more to come,” he promised, telling TT to stay tuned in.