THE MAKERS FACE TO FACE EPISODE 3 – STEVE UMCULO

Staying in touch from our couch to yours #thepowerofsmall

Having played a couple of gigs at The Linden Market, we just love the vibrancy that Steve brings to the stage. We had a chat to hear what the man behind the colorful shirt and tekkies are doing to stay busy and positive during Lockdown. (PS. stay tuned to hear the awesome song he composed just for us: Lose the Lockdown Blues…)

TLM: Tell us a little bit more about who you are, where you come from and how you got into the music industry…

Steve: I’m a Jozi-born singer song-writer, lived here my entire life. I do a bit of folk, and afro-centric grooves. That’s my style, it’s a blend of the two.

How I got into the music industry… since I was a laaitie, I always had a fascination with music. I then went off to Grahamstown, now Makhanda, to study music. I played drums for a while and then decided that I wanted to take to the front of the stage. I started writing music from a groove perspective – using my drum knowledge to incorporate into a bit of song writing. I then tried to develop my singing skills and guitar playing to the point where we are today. Where I sing and write songs for a living.

TLM: So where does the Umculo come from?

Steve: My actual name is Steve Haiden and my stage name is Steve Umculo which means ‘music’ in Zulu and Xhosa. I was living in Spain for a year (where the entire project was born). Ironially when I lived there I was listening to a lot more Afro-centric music, because I was missing home. That’s when I started writing these types of Grooves. I started writing songs based on Kwaito music etc, and I just found that I resonated with the style a lot better, than the folk stuff that I was concentrating on before that. Steve Umculo is my attempt at a cultural blend, between Western and African cultures.

TLM: The lockdown has impacted industries across the board, and the world. How has it impacted the music industry and your career, personally?

Steve: It’s been very interesting to watch, from a sort of insider and outsider perspective, because you are feeling everything at the same time while watching all of this unfold on social media. So for me personally, as much as all musicians and all small businesses have found income streams just cut… It was a case of once the national disaster was announced, I’m assuming all musicians just got calls from booking agents saying all gigs have been cancelled. That’s our primary source of income – playing live shows.

There’s an entire movement now, trying to get royalties from streaming, there’s a YouTube movement to try and monetise that. But to be honest Live Music will continue to be the main stream of income – royalties, unless you are Ed Sheeran, is very difficult to make a sustainable living from. The biggest impact has been the main income stream cut off.

Me personally, I’m just playing a zero sum game – It’s a case of I’m trying not to spend while I’m not earning. But I know there are musicians out there who have massive overheads, massive debt, and now they can literally not earn a wage which is devastating – it will crumble a lot of artists unfortunately.

TLM: The actors union SAGA went to government and freelance actors can now apply for a grant for any income that they can prove they have lost since the lockdown. Is there something like that out there for musicians?

Steve: There is funding from the department of arts and culture where artists can apply and prove that you have lost income from April to June, they will reimburse you for whatever losses you have taken on. There are initiatives out there, very cool initiatives, both governmental and private, that are attempting to sustain artists who are losing income during this period.

It’s a pretty interesting movement to see now, particularly because it’s never been dealt with until there’s been a massive problem like this. People have always just been hustling, hustling, trying to figure out exactly what they are worth, what their time is worth in the arts field. But now that we can literally not make any money, they are trying to help us out.

I don’t know if you saw the page by Kerry Ann Allerston from Mix FM, Artist Support SA https://www.facebook.com/Artist-Support-SA-104225507880082/ where people can go and just donate money to artists. There’s a bunch more initiatives like that in the music industry now. It’s so fascinating to see because that would never have happened, had we not had this pandemic. It’s good to see this humanitarian movement – we need to help our fellow humans, so how do we do that?

TLM: You can’t do live gigs right now… so what are you doing with your time at home?

Steve: I’ve been working on an album for about a year. And going into 2020 I said to myself in order to get the most exposure for this album, I’m going to play 150 gigs. I was actually doing pretty well. And then this little thing called Corona Virus happened… lol – so that goal has now gone out of the window, there is no was I’m going to do 150 gigs before the ned of the year.

Now I’m using these 3 weeks, to sit down and really, really focus on my album. I’ve also just signed with a record label in France, so I’m communicating with them a lot about how we’re going to release this thing, when is the right time, what the strategy after the Lockdown is. There’s this ongoing communication about how best to strategize the release of the album.

Then there’s also things like social media pages, content that I’ve been working on, I’ve just released a song called Lemonade Stand that I’m working on a music video for. So there’s stuff to do, but unfortunately none of that is going to generate income right now. As an artist you kind of have to view this as a time of investment – that’s the best we can do right now.

TLM: What is the one thing that you would like to have achieved by the end of Lockdown.

Steve: The one thing is to have the album demos ready. To have a very good blueprint of my album. Taking the album out of Lockdown into a studio and then releasing it. Have the sound mapped and then have a very good strategy of how to release it afterwards. And then once this Lockdown is over, gigging as much as possible. But I think there’s going to be a big scramble from artists and booking agents, festivals to get as many dates as possible. So basically, just to keep communication up, work on the album, and once Lockdown is over hit the ground running again.

TLM: During Lockdown and especially after Lockdown, the world won’t be the same again. So in Steve Umculo’s world… how would you like the public to better support local musicians?

Steve: This is actually a conversation I’ve had with my booking agent, what the strategy is going forward. At the end of this we’re going to hit a pretty hardcore global recession. Probably the biggest one we’ve seen since 2008. And the harsh reality is that while artists and musicians, entrepreneurs, freelancers, and all the rest won’t have money, it’s also going to hit the corporate sector pretty big. So in a perfect world would love for people to come out and support live music. That’s always been my prerogative, because it’s A, our bread and butter, and B also the thing that brings me the most joy. To see live artists. But you can’t have this expectation of people all of a sudden spending money on live performances, because not many people are going to have disposable income coming out of this.

So I suppose to get the ball rolling again, it’s a case of support where you can. Even if it’s like a share on social media, even if it’s going to a free show, whatever the case is. We can still use our time to better help our fellow human beings. While we won’t necessarily have money coming out of this we can still use what we do have at our disposal. Whether time or our social media capabilities, we can generate some form of income coming out of this and this is going to come from the general public supporting art. That’s my romantic notion but hopefully something people can engage with.

TLM: What piece of advice, hope or encouragement can you give to your fellow artists and entrepreneurs.

Steve: With the disclaimer that I too am going through an existential crisis right now, the one thing that I think is just so important, for artists everywhere and for entrepreneurs, freelancers, is just to keep working. Don’t feel lethargic, don’t feel apathetic, don’t feel like this is the end of the world. Because once this is all over, and the clogs start ticking again (the entertainment industry and small business is probably the last clogs that will start ticking again), but they will eventually carry on moving. We can’t just drop what we’re doing and pursue another route – that’s not how economy works. Everybody keeps doing what they are good at, what they love, what they are passionate about, and eventually we will recover. So please please, please, to everybody who is listening out there, even if it’s just one guy, JUST CARRY ON WORKING.

To listen to Steve’s happy pandemic song 😉, Lose the Lockdown Blues, click on the video above.