An Interview with POW! Negro

POW! Negro have been a vital force on the Perth music scene over the past 18 months, bringing explosive sets to PIAF, In The Pines and SOTA Festival - as well as frequenting pubs, clubs and DIY parties. Ahead of their debut EP release, Lyndon sat down with MC/frontman Nelson Mondlane (pictured) to chat about inspiration, communication and perspiration.

Lyndon Blue: Word on the grapevine is that you recorded your debut EP recently, and that it's due for release very soon, and it's called 'Jasmine & Licorice.' How was the recording experience? And what's the concept behind the title?

Nelson Mondlane: We did basically all the recording for this EP in a 'studio' we built in the granny flat of our house. It was a huge learning experience. The recordings we ended up using were pretty crappy but we kinda wanted that character - a kinda DIY sound. As for the name, it's a lyric [of Nelson’s] and we thought it sounded nice. I think it kinda has different meaning for everyone in the band. We don't really know if jasmine and licorice would smell or taste good together either.

LB: I’ve never been fully immersed in the WA hip hop scene, but it feels to me like the west coast (and especially Fremantle) has been producing more exciting hip hop lately. More diverse sounds, more live instrumentation, more politically charged and/or surprising lyrics. From your perspective, does it feel like there's been a bit of a local hip hop revival? If so, has it got anything to do with what's going on in hip-hop on a national or global scale?  

NM: There have always been people putting in work in Freo and Perth but I think from the power of the internet they are getting recognised and getting out of their bedrooms and into the live scene. Also trap is sweeping the world and it seems to speak to and motivate the new generation of rappers and producers. It’s awesome to see because at the end of the day it means hip hop is becoming more broadly appreciated in Australia.

LB: In terms of the live POW! Negro's a pretty fun and intense thing, you guys are a blast to watch. How do you feel about balancing the "party" side of the band with communicating lyrical themes, in the live context? How do you want people to feel after they've watched your set? 

NM: The hardest thing in a live setting I’ve found is to convey the lyrical ideas 100% effectively, particularly when they’re presented in rap. It’s hard to follow especially if it’s fast and often there is already a lot going on sonically. We’re blessed to have an amazing sound engineer (shouts to Jeremy) who always takes this into account and does a stellar job but even then people are dancing,  screaming and are bound to miss something. So as the MC I feel that it’s really important to physically express as much as I can. Ultimately we want to take people on a journey through glimpses of our lives, the world, various ideas we’re interested in and hopefully sometimes they see reflections of themselves. From that we’d love the audience to leave happily exhausted, having taken in our perspective, maybe experienced some catharsis but also with something to think about.

LB: Going back to the upcoming EP... are there any musical influences in there that people might not expect? More generally, what are some tunes that have been inspiring you lately?

NM: Not sure what you expect, this being our first release. Hopefully it’s all fresh enough to be unexpected but in the most infectious way possible. Crazy long list man: Jon Wayne, Death Grips, Archy Marshal, Gorillaz, Tame Impala, Black Keys, El-P, Portishead, Koi Child, Earl Sweatshirt, Remi, Nick Allbrook, Yussef Kamal, Yikes & Muntz, the list could go on…

LB: Tell us about the launch gigs. I notice there's three shows, three nights in a row. What's the game plan? Are the supports all artists you've personally seen and loved?

NM: We’re playing the first 2 gigs down south in Bunbury and Dunsborough with our friends Western Kinsmen of the Sun. We’ve seen them play a few times and loved their style and charisma. They have awesome energy and crafted a set that has an epic storyline that takes you on a gnarly ride. For the Perth shows we got Weapon Is Sound who are one of the first bands we saw in the music scene straight outta high school, and who have an electric psych/dub/reggae live show that’s just straight dope. Also quintet Grievous Bodily Clam who are steadily rising, soon to be Nu-Jazz lords of Perth and KNOE MC who we’ve met through and saw perform with Melbourne rapper Remi (Young black Don).
So massively blessed that all the peeps are down for the support because we should probably be the ones supporting them.

POW! Negro launch their 'Jasmine & Licorice' EP in WA on 27/07/17 (Prince of Wales, Bunbury); 28/07/17 (Clancy's, Dunsborough) and 29/07/17 (Rosemount Hotel, Perth). Image: Matsu Photography. 

Lyndon Blue