I hope to realise $100 000 this year: Tehn Diamond

HARARE - Tendai Nguni, better known as Tehn Diamond, is one of the leading lights on the Zimbabwean hip-hop scene.

The Daily News on Sunday’s Sharon Muguwu (SM) recently spoke to Tehn Diamond (TD) on his blossoming career.

Below are excerpts of the interview:

SM: When and why did you start singing?

TD: I started singing around the age of six when I was in Grade One. I was part of the choir at my school. We sung The Jackson 5’s Rockin’ Robin, and I believe we won that year too. It would be another 16 years before I’d start rapping.

My first love was always singing, and even acting came before the passion for all things hip-hop was born in me.

SM: How old are you?

TD: I am 30 years old. Had a massive birthday bash on January 17 at The Book Cafe, which was incredible.

To have all my friends and best fans around me on my actual birthday was just perfect.

I usually don’t celebrate my birthday, but this time around I just had to. I mean, you only turn 30 once, and I wanted to really savour the moment.

SM: Can you play any instruments?

TD: Sort of, I am currently learning how to play mbira. It is an instrument that has always been close to me, and spoken to something in my soul really.

I got my first lesson from the late great Chiwoniso Maraire, during a weekend at The Chimanimani Arts Festival way back in 2011.

She taught me three simple notes, and told me to practice. I think I must have stayed up until the wee hours of the morning just playing those three simple notes. I loved it.

But it would only be three years later that I would actually start really learning, and I owe that to the tutelage of my current teacher and great friend, Ammara Brown. I am no master just yet, but I was fortunate enough to accompany Ammara on mbira during my birthday bash just over a month ago.

SM: Do you come from a musical family?

TD: No, not in the direct sense. Although I grew up in a household filled with music. One of the first hip-hop albums I came into contact with was Dr. Dre’s The Chronic and that was in my dad’s collection.

My folks always had a huge stack of vinyl and I was that kid always sitting in the lounge with their collection laid out, learning, listening and just grooving.

So while nobody played an instrument or sung or anything like that, my family was very instrumental in my appreciation of good music.

The closest thing, other than myself, to a musician in my family was always my younger sister — she always had such an incredible voice and the most intriguing taste in music.

SM: What are your fondest musical memories?

TD: I think three musical memories stand out. The first would have to be very vague memories of spending hours in front of the TV as a four-year-old hoping and praying that Aretha Franklin and George Michael’s I Knew You Were Waiting would come on. At the time this was my favourite song, I lived for that music and that video.

Obviously, the memory of it is not clear or vivid, but I’ve been told so many stories about how crazy I was for that song . . . that it feels like a memory of my own.

Then there are very fond memories of almost every single road trip my family and l ever took.

As kids, my siblings and I were huge fans of all things Disney. So we would spend our road trips listening and singing along to these cassettes we had that played these incredible Disney musicals non-stop. From The Lion King to Aladdin and Beauty & The Beast.

Then I think my favourite musical memories have to be from when I was around eight or nine, and my folks would have these huge family gatherings outside at least once a year.

All my aunts would be there, young and gorgeous as ever . . . busting out all the latest 90s music and the dances that went with them.

The dance to do at that time was The Butterfly and my aunts used to get down with the get down... amazing family moments that I’ll never forget, we had fun back then. So much fun and so much love; that was the power of the music I grew up on.

SM: Of all your songs which one is your favourite?

TD: Be Amazing. It is my true north. The song that reminds me of why I am doing what I am doing. It encapsulates all of the values I hold dearest. It keeps me focused. It even picks me up when I’m down.

You see, there’s this misconception that just because a person earns their living doing what they most love . . . that there won’t be hard or dark days. That’s an absolute myth. The truth, because you do what you love, it will be harder and the days will at times be even darker than you could have imagined.

Your hours of business are endless, your vision of where you hope to be never shrinks — you just have to press on. And for me, when I feel like I can’t press on, Be Amazing rejuvenates my soul.

SM: How many albums do you have?

TD: Technically I have no albums to my name as yet. I have released three mix tapes, which are more of promotional projects and then I have completed two collaborative albums. So the album that I am about to release this year, The Perfect Tehn, will be my debut commercial solo release.

SM: Were you influenced by old records and tapes? Which ones?

TD: My main musical influences come from records like Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall and then the stuff I spent my teens in love with, the likes of Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin.

I was obsessed with The Rat Pack, and always thought I would become one of those kind of old school crooners . . . like what Michael Buble did with the sound. I did not listen to much hip-hop growing up. I was only interested in one artist and that was Jay-Z. His honesty, the relatable way that he’s always crafted his lyrics and then of course the incredible business acumen of that man.

In recent times, a lot of my musical influences have come from the incredible body of work left to us by Fela Kuti. Finding that man’s music has given even deeper purpose to the things I write.

SM: What’s your life plan? What do you plan to have accomplished in five, 10, 20, and 50 years — personally and/or professionally?

TD: I do not plan as far ahead as 20 or 50 years. I just have rough ideas of where I might hope to end up.

But in the next five years my goal is for my company I. AM. TEHN. Media to be a five million-dollar entity.

And five years from that, I’m hoping to be reporting turnover of at least $100 million. That’s how much I believe in the potential of our music industry and what can truly been done here if we get organised and set our sights on the stars.

This year my goals are to realise a turnover of $100 000, to crack the regional music market and to host a sold out hip-hop show in December at the HICC.

It has never been done before, and I would love to be the first to pull it off.

SM: Who are your favourite musicians, groups, CDs?

TD: Jay-Z, because, on their own, his lyrics raised me and guided me through my career. His business approach to this music has always been a huge inspiration. Fela Kuti because of his fearlessness and unwavering African pride and spirit. Kanye West because of his album The College Dropout. Oliver Mtukudzi, because of Shanda and Mbabvu Yangu.

SM: Which awards have you won?

TD: I have been fortunate enough to have won a Nama for my video Grown Up Kid in 2011, best male artiste, best album and best group at the Zim hip-hop Awards in 2013 and then more recently I won the best male hip-hop award at the 2014 Zimas.

Now I have my heart set on winning a regional award, a Channel O or a Mama. That would be an absolute dream come true.

SM: Describe your first public performance, how did you feel?

TD: My first public performance as Tehn Diamond was in 2008, in Brisbane, Australia.

It was at the launch of my very first project, #SOTG1: Higher Learning. The footage is actually up on YouTube from that night.

And there’s a scene filmed just before I went out on stage that really sums up how I felt then, and I how feel now really, just brimming with joy and gratitude.

I could not believe that anyone had actually come out to hear me speak and live out my dream.

So yes, the feeling was overwhelming joy and a very deep sense of gratitude. It’s not everybody who gets to come into this world, have a dream, and then set about actually realising the dream. I am one of the lucky ones, and I never forget that or take it for granted.

SM: What else do you do besides music?

TD: I do music full-time. That is where my rent gets paid from, it is how I keep the Zesa meter from beeping and how I keep myself fed week in, week out.

I tried all sorts of other endeavours on the side, from trading commodities to selling tyres, and I failed miserably at every single one.

Always believing that in order for me to make something of my music I needed to make money elsewhere first, and while that would have been awesome, it was a flawed way of thinking.

The truth is, my music is my business, and just looking at the state of music in the world...this is an industry that has been grossly undervalued in this country.

Any smart investor will tell you that times like these are the best to lay a foundation in a good niche with a record of high performance elsewhere.

So here I am, trying to get my piece of the billion- dollar global pie that is the music business. And loving every single moment.

SM: What are your educational or professional qualifications, which schools did you attend?

TD: From Grades One to Three, I was at St. Michael’s Prep School. From Grade Four to Seven, I was at Hartmann House. Then from Form One to Upper Six, I was at St. George’s College.

Then proceeded to The University of Queensland to study a bachelor of Commerce with a major in Finance, a programme that I didn’t complete...because I later dropped out to follow my passion in music.

A decision that I look back on with both a smile and a bit of a cringe. But one I would never change or look back on with regret, it’s the big gamble that made me who and what I am today.

SM: How do you handle mistakes during a performance?

TD: There are no such things as mistakes during a performance. Just moves that did not go according to plan, and that is life. If I miss a line or my band skips a part, we just keep it moving. The audience does not know what was or wasn’t meant to be.

The most important thing is to keep the energy alive and well. So no mistakes, maybe just a few happy accidents . . . and that’s what life is about. So, we roll with the punches and just strive to do our best always.

SM: What advice would you give to beginners who are nervous?

TD: Believe in yourself, nobody else will, if you don’t. It all starts and ends with you. There is great power in knowing and accepting that particular truth, especially in the music business.

SM: Have you always enjoyed the art of music?

TD: Since as long as I can remember. I live to create and express. And there’s no medium more powerful or better suited to that than music.

SM: Where did you grow up?

TD: Harare.

SM: Are there any political or social issues you feel passionate about?

TD: I am passionate about people. About the idea of human potential and how best we can unlock that in ourselves as individuals, and then each other. So when it comes to political or social issues, I am passionate about anything that can create more opportunities for people to realise their full potential.

SM: What comes easiest to you as a musician?

TD: Writing, words are my best friends. I do not believe in writer’s block. I just sit down and do my job. Sometimes the goods come out solid, other times the writing is hopeless, but no matter what I sit down everyday and put pen to paper. They say it is all fair and fine to hope for inspiration and the “right” mood, but essentially inspiration has to find you already working.

For me, inspiration knows it can find me between the hours of 4am and 6am, with a pen in my hand doing my bit until she’s ready to join me.


Comments (1)

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big linx - 4 March 2015

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