Ghana-based Benjamin Lebrave speaks fluent French and English, and can schmooze in Spanish and Portuguese. He’ll report on new African music every other week. This week, it’s Zambian group 2wo 1ne's "Vitumbuwa."
Today we travel to Zambia. I warn you though: I know practically nothing about Zambia. I regularly hunt down regional or national music blogs, though, and recently felt the need to find out what comes out of southern African countries like Zimbabwe or Zambia. I barely scratched the surface, and I can't say much about what is popular there, but what I can say is I came across a SLAMMING track, which clearly stood out among the crop of mainly Naija, R&B and hip-hop tinted tracks.
Download: 2wo 1ne, "Vitumbuwa"
Vitumbuwa is apparently one of the most common street foods in Zambia, a kind of fried donut or fritter. I find it a fantastic name for a song, the kind of obvious word anybody can understand, a perfect introduction to a song I imagine most Zambians can relate to. The name alone fits right into the core of what I love: artists making music that embraces but somehow stands above their usual local sounds. Like vitumbuwas, this seems to be a very simple, yet very effective recipe.
"Every artist is fighting to escape the Zambian shell, but instead of being themselves, they are trying to be the world. If it's identical, there's no point." These are the words of Krytic, one of the three members of the group 2wo 1ne, alongside K. Star and X.S.I.Q. "The craze right now is Wizkid and them. Nigeria is playing a big influence, also South Africa, mostly kwaito. We have artists here who sound like they are from SA, it's ridiculous."
2wo 1ne's members each have solo careers. The group was formed as a satirical alter-ego, allowing them to creatively explore very different directions from their solo work. K. Star is probably the oldest in the game, having been discovered in the late 1990s via a budding hip-hop initiative called Exposed Natives. He later met with Lukundo Siwale, aka Superman, manager associated with So Good Entertainment. Krytic caught their ear and collaborated with them on a couple of songs, after which he was picked up by another crew by DJ Stretch, Slap Dee's manager. Together they put out mixtapes that Krytic says were hailed as "some of the best work to grace the local hip-hop scene."
Before long, Krytic came back to So Good, joining the team as a solo act. Superman then decided to bring Krytic and K. Star together with another artist, X.S.I.Q., who came up at a hip-hop cypher, where he allegedly gave Krytic a good run for his money. Together, the three formed 2wo 1ne. As an alternative to their solo careers, the group has a distinct concept. According to Krytic, 2wo 1ne "draws influence from anything that stands out around us. From politics to tradition, there is no limit to what we can make music about." And they hit the jackpot with "Vitumbuwa," "a song glorifying the local snack."
Being used to Ghanaian double-entendre, I had to ask what the real meaning of vitumbuwa is in this song. Well, either I was played, or it truly is a song glorifying the snack, something "everybody can relate to, everybody has had it." Whatever the case may be, it's working. The song is a hit in Zambia, the group has already been nominated for the Zambian Music Awards, and with their first album in its final stages of production, they're getting ready to change up the soundtrack for Zambians.
"Being an artist in Zambia can only be described as trial and error," Krytic says, "especially for new faces. We exist in an industry where the listeners are only just waking up to new sounds, and those daring to give it a chance are often drowned out by those that are comfortable with the same old same old…" Luckily, 2wo 1ne have been looking at different shores. In the case of "Vitumbuwa," the influence of kuduro is clear. "We did research, we learned about kuduro, we took elements from it. You have yet to hear anything like it in Zambia"
That's it! Every time I hear agbadja or mbalax, I think, When will these rhythms be turned into kuduro-esque electronic music? I dream of an Africa where every ethnic group and tribe creates electronic music using their own rhythms. 2wo 1ne just brought that future a step closer.