Captain My Captain: TMak Q & A

What does it take to lead?

By Alex Gwaze (Curator)
Questions by Alex Gwaze and Joanne Peters (Image Coach)

As a person who doesn’t like crowds, being a leader is the last thing on my mind. But for award winning musician TMak – being reliable, loyal, committed and open-minded are qualities he’s known for. This is because TMak, real name Tawanda Makanga, began his career on stage and in the choir in the Midlands. Both of these arts require collaboration, consistency and communication. Furthermore, when TMak started rapping in 2015 he formed a group called Visceral with Teemo and they released a mixtape called “Projekt T.U.R.P (Totally Under Radical Possession)”.

However, in a quest to find his own sound TMak released his first solo project called, “My Fortune”. “My Fortune” earned him the nickname “The Fortune Teller” and it was quickly followed up by another mix-tape, “#LOVE” and his first studio album “#LOVE extensions LP” (2016). These #LOVE projects featured Zimhiphop heavyweights Cal_Vin and ASAPH and were well received in Bulawayo. In addition, they earned TMak some radio airplay and a second home in the form of Cottage #47. Cottage #47 was formed in 2017 and it is one of Zimbabwe’s biggest and most successful collaborative groups. With acts like TMak, Indigo Saint, Gama and more, the collective has amassed several nominations at the ZimHiphop awards, winning best Best Promoter in 2020.

Moreover, the group started the Cottage Festival, Cottage Fortnights for new artists, and their own SANDO Awards. In 2020 the collective awarded TMak the Best Trapper SANDO award, but it’s the nickname “Captain Zimbabwe” that his most fond of. Late in 2021 TMak mentioned he was leaving Cottage #47, so we caught up with him to find out what is next for the Captain.

AG: It’s hard to talk about TMak without bringing up Cottage #47. I sometimes feel like your collective is like Zim’s Wu Tang Clan, in terms of it’s depth, ideals and output. So tell us why are you leaving the collective?

TM: When we started Cottage #47 we had the idea of bringing people together with different skills that could help artists in Zimbabwe. What we didn’t realize is that we created a family with a bond so tight that it’s hard to break. Everyone within Cottage #47 is my brother/sister. I am still invested in Cottage #47 as they are also invested in “Fortunes Home” (my new venture) – but we have separated the entities. That’s why, even though we thought of announcing that I’m leaving Cottage, we decided not to do it publicly because their is nothing wrong within the House of Cottage (laughs). It’s just time for me to grow. That’s why I opened up my own shop called “Fortunes Home” because I felt like it’s time to make my own path and elevate my “Captain Zimbabwe” brand. But Cottage #47 will always be family.

AG: Alls well that ends well. And people recognise that you have done a lot, not just for the hip-hop community, but other creatives in Bulawayo. So you are now pushing “Captain Zimbabwe”. Very #CaptainAmerica vibes. So we got to ask. How do you motivate your fellow artists?

TM: In my case its not just other artists. “Captain Zimbabwe” is for the whole country! It started as a joke but now it’s my identity because I want to change the country. So my music should motivate anybody whether you are an artist or not. I grew up in a family where it wasn’t normal to become an artist. Its time to change that. Someone once told me that God didn’t give us talents to just sit on but he gave us these talents to use them. So like Jesus, I want to be me an example through my acts and words. Captain Zimbabwe is about using music to create conversations, impact peoples lives and foster change.

JP: You’ve mentioned in previous interviews that your “vision is to be the voice of Zimbabwean youth”. What is the message of the Zimbabwean youth?

TM: Apologies in advance for this long answer. First let me tell you a story. Me and the boys had parked somewhere in Tegela to listen to our new songs. A street kid came by. He was about 6 or 7. He didn’t talk to us or anything he was just vibing to the music. One of the guys offered him some water. He drank it like he hadn’t had clean water in a while. But what shocked me was that when he was now half way down the bottle, he stopped and offered the water to everyone. That’s Zimbabwean! That’s my message – #Hunhu. We are one people, one nation and one blood. We should take care of each other. Let’s be ready to help others. The little that l got l will share because you are Zimbabwean. My dream is to take the same message, put it in my music, and spread it to Africa because we are connected.

AG: I can picture the kid vibing to the beat. Everybody loves a dope beat; but you are lyricist, right? Why are the words so important to you?

TM: That’s very simple. The beats don’t change lives, my words do. I don’t mean that the producers don’t have any impact on a song. They do! But what l say determines how many lives l am going to change. What l say either makes or breaks a song. People memorize and recite lyrics.

JP: Interesting. It sound like you are planning on mentoring through music. Does mentoring come naturally to you?

TM: (laughs) You know, mentoring is something I am trying to get the hang of right now. I won’t lie its not an easy thing to do because every artist has their own sound and vision. People think l mentor artists because l have worked with a lot of them and some of them end up doing well. But all that we are doing is making music. So mentoring doesn’t come naturally to me, music does.

AG: I’ve noticed your music is not the ‘everyday’ kind of rap. Your sound has always been labelled “underground” or “alternative”. No artist wants to be boxed in, but people need a frame of reference. With that in mind, what are these labels trying to say about your sound?

TM: Yeah people want easily digestible words like “alternative”. Nonetheless, I think they are trying to say that my sound is different and unique. Which is exactly what l want. I don’t want to sound like everyone. I want to sound like me. There is nothing wrong with being called “alternative”. But Rap isn’t the only genre l do. l am not just a rapper. I’m an artist. My friends and l usually listen to artists like Tame Impala, Kid Cudi, FKA Twigs and of course amapiano.

AG: As an artist who has shared the stage with one of ZimHiphop’s pioneers, EX-Q; and a studio with ZimHiphop trailblazer, ASAPH. Which do you prefer, the stage or the booth? And why?

TM: I look at myself as being a performer because I have been performing plays and singing in the choir since l was in Grade 2 by Carmel Primary School. So I prefer the stage. Plus the booth comes with its own stresses and pressures like writers block. But on stage I’m never stiff. I actually regard myself as one of the best performers in Bulawayo. And l always tell my friends that it’s a risk performing after me because my job is to entertain the masses. But I do like the booth because it’s a personal space.

JP: Can you give the artist’s out there some tips. What should you do if your audience looks tired or bored during your performance?

TM: If you see that your audience looks tired during a performance try to engage with them. Communicate with them or even start a chant of some sort just to get them hyped up. But the real trick is to practice so you don’t find yourself in that situation often. I plan my set, my movements and how l am going to deliver my performance. It’s the same as an athlete. They will train constantly just to run 100m. That’s how l view my performance strategy.

AG: Is that the same mindset you are applying to your new venture, “Fortune’s Home”? Can you tell us a bit about it?

TM: Like I mentioned before, “Fortune’s Home” is this new shop I set up on my own. It’s a recording studio, record label and we also host events and offer accommodation. Those who have been to “Fortune’s Home” know that it is a base for artists to be able to create, vibe, share ideas and rest. At moment, we are working with Anubis Creed, a Bulawayo artist. Watch out for something from him before the end of year. But, as you know this is my first time doing my own works, so I’m experiencing it all as it goes. Fortunately I’ve had a lot of work-in-practice with my brothers/sisters at Cottage #47.

JP: Before we end this. People always want to know, so we must ask. You’ve had entire projects dedicated to #LOVE. So tell us, who is the lucky lady in your life. Who is TMak writing all that poetry over beats for?

TM: (Laughs) If you really wanna know #LOVE is a series of music that l have been creating for my girl, Miranda. We have been together for the longest and l always want to tell the story of my relationship with her. But its not only about her. It’s about my take on #LOVE. It’s now fashionable to be involved in many relationships at the same time. I don’t support that! #LOVE is about special bonds that you build and nurture with time, like the relationship between my mum and dad (r.i.p). For me that’s true love. So far l have made 3 love projects: “#LOVE”, “#LOVE Extensions LP” and “#LOVE: The journey continues”. “#LOVE: The journey continues” is not out yet. We are still trying to iron out the finer details, but I’m sure you guys will be falling in #LOVE with it pretty soon (laughs).

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