First Look Friday: Introducing The Talented, Peaceful Ultimo — MUNDU
It goes without arguing that Kendrick Lamar is the spark that has ignited the rebellious and creative youths around the world. Tupac Shakur's prophecy came true in the eyes of many hip-hop historians when the 28-year-old Compton MC released his good kid, m.A.A.d city album and launched a thousand ships.
As the influence of Mr. Duckworth continues to impact the new year, we are ecstatic to introduce you to another standout, cut from the cloth of excellence, in the form of 20-year-old Michael Kiggundhu. Better known around these parts as MUNDU, the South London singer-songwriter caught our attention after expertly flipping K-Dot's standout interlude, "Chapter Six" for his own alt-R&B effort known as "The Stoop".
Hitting the scene with an ambitious cut on your first time out says a lot about the type of artist one aspires to be, and MUNDU is looking to be more than just a name on a year-end list. Armed with a vision and a sound that invokes peace and love through tweeters worldwide, MUNDU, who has been developing his craft since the age of 15, has sonically detailed his encounters with women, depression and life for the listener's enjoyment.
Now, the imaginative creative is beginning the 2016 with an appetite for peaceful revolution. As he and his "Stillers," a group of fans who have adopted his tranquil and intimate ways, merge and blend — MUNDU's unique appeal and sound are worth listening to. With cemented plays on BBC 1Xtra, RoundHouse Radio and Break London, this Ugandan ultimo is eager to engross listeners with his heartfelt story and passionate play-style.
As this week's First Look Friday interviewee, we here at OKP sit down with MUNDU to talk about his musical influences, the best experiences he's had as a growing artist and what he's learned about himself while being in the cutthroat world of the music industry.
>>>But first, listen to "By Our Home," a never-before-heard MUNDU cut on Pg. 2...
>>>Now, we encourage you to enjoy our exclusive chat with South London's own on Pg. 3...
Okayplayer: To music snobs the world over, you are relatively new on this side of the pond. What is it that Londoners are seeing and hearing that the world has yet to discover?
MUNDU: I think our perspective on things is naturally unique to where we’re from and obviously because it’s where we’re from, the world is yet to get it. So, naturally everything that we do, be it our take on hip-hop or R&B or any other genre that started in America and made its way to the rest of the world, our take on it is instantly different because we experience things differently than you guys. The politics here is different than the politics in America. The educational system is different to that in America.
We just have different things to say and different trends and slang, even though a lot of the trends we have are very similar to that in America. Those things that make us unique find its way into our music, our fashion, our visual art and yeah, it comes out in the way we grow up. The way that one experiences London—whether you’re from the nicer side or you’re from an area like mine that’s not so nice—is full of differences and that is what people in the U.S. are starting to discover.
OKP: For those who have a strong passion for music, it seems that they hone their skills and practice their craft. Who are some of your most cherished influences in music and why?
M: In terms of influences, man, I listen to everyone from Eazy-E to N.W.A. to Snoop [Dogg] to Pharrell Williams to Pink Floyd. I was a big West Coast rap fan growing up. I am still a big Jimi Hendrix fan, too. Today, I listen to a lot of SZA, Janelle Monae and a lot of Coldplay. It may all sound very cliche, but I listen to a lot of music and it takes me through a bunch of phases. I had a heavy metal phase. I had a dubstep phase. I had a heavy drum and bass phase, an EDM phase and even a strong grime phase.
I try to understand people whose perspectives I see a bit of myself in. A lot of times, the artists that I’m influenced by use certain sounds or express themselves in ways that might take a while to understand, but other times they might do a song that you can connect with instantly. Whether it’s Pharrell’s “Frontin’” or SZA’s “Babylon,” or Janelle’s “Tightrope,” you can tell that the work comes very natural to them and it catches on instantly. At the same time, someone like who I just mentioned is also making songs like “Mushroom & Roses,” which might take you a bit longer to process.
So, I am greatly influenced by those who showcase versatility, a strong lack of fear, a great openness and a smart way when it comes to experimenting with different sounds, tempos and concepts. I take those beats and concepts with respect to my influences and I mold it in a way that brings out my own perspective.
OKP: Such an evidence of that perspective is a song like “The Stoop,” which borrows heavily from Kendrick Lamar and KING. It has placed you on the radar of music snobs who have a heavy presence in the music industry. Can you talk about how life was for you while growing up as an artist from South London? How did you react to your first bit of press?
M: Thanks, bruv, that’s dope of you to say that. To answer the question about press, my whole thing with music is that I wanted to create simply because I saw a song differently than how it was presented. I would watch MTV Base or some other music channel, and there would be so many songs where I thought, “Yo, that song sounds awesome but if I had a chance to be in that studio session, I would do this part differently.”
In my head, I would change around parts that I felt would’ve made the song better. I started saying that so much that I thought to make my own music that I think are 100% with no room for someone to change anything! Even though I’m a lot more open to hearing people’s opinions on my music and experimenting more, I still have a bit of that in me where what I make right now is on point.
When I get a publication or a radio station or a website behind me that plays my song, it is as confusing as it is amazing. I’m making these songs that I truly, really love and want to hear, and all of a sudden people from other places around the world like it too. What freaks me out the most is when people add my music to their playlists, or make my songs into their ringtones or use it as their study music — for that I’m forever grateful to them, the websites, the publications and radio. It is all really dope.
It is exciting and it gets to me in a good way to see people choose to make my music a regular part of their life, which I feel is amazing to me. I know what I’m like when it comes to playlists. It is the first thing I go to before anything else when I put my headphones in. It’s a regular part of my day, so being in someone else’s playlist halfway across the world is something that I’m forever grateful for and I definitely hope that I can maintain and grow that feeling.
OKP: And how about what life was like growing up in South London? Can you walk us through that journey?
M: Yes, yes, growing up in South London, well, I never really looked at it being a boundary. I always felt that my place within music was universal. A worldwide thing that anyone can understand in some way or another. In my own household, I loved parts of the Ugandan music my mum would play. I loved parts of the Garage and Dancehall that my uncle would play when he came over. I absolutely loved the hip-hop and R&B that came out and personally would dive into anything that came out. I would dig into the classic organ and choir Gospel stuff that my dad played while riding with him in the car.
So, I never looked at where I was at as a boundary because I loved all these things from music living mainly in other parts of the world. I never looked at myself as being an artist from South London, and while I am proud of where I’m from, to me, music is music, man. If it is good music then it will transcend and it will go past its borders. It will go past London. It will go past the United Kingdom. It will go to different parts of the world, so that’s how I look at life and my music and that’s how I’ll continue to do so.
OKP: Can you also talk about the importance of the music industry scene in London and where you see it evolving in the next five years?
M: I think the music industry in London is definitely growing. We’re becoming a lot more accepting of newer sounds—in particular with R&B. I feel as though R&B was very stagnant for a while and there wasn’t really anything happening on a major scale. Now, there are a lot more artists bubbling and growing in the game who are big now, which means there’s a lot more happening now in R&B than there was a few years ago.
Do I know if that’s linked to the resurgence of Grime? I can’t tell you, but whatever the reason, there just seems to be a lot of things brewing nowadays. You have successes like NAO, Rukhsana Merrise, Lianne La Havas and a lot more who have been grinding it out for years and had continuous milestones that have led up to this moment where they’re just all around dope and doing it in their own way. They so deserve it, too, by the way!
I feel like people are easing into their niche and are running with it at full steam. I’d personally love to see a desire to break out and touch the planet as a whole, but I fear that there is growing comfortability in staying in England forever. If you can make your name here, really, you can make an impact on music as a whole, which is not a bad thing. We’ve seen it before but I just haven’t seen an openly vocal desire to globally make an impact. There are people that end up doing it just off the strength of their music, but no one has come out and said word-for-word, “I want to make music that hits people globally.”
I feel like that’s why I am here. I want to make music that doesn’t just live in London, but melodies and songs that crosses all boundaries and territories. I don’t just make it to live in my laptop in Stockwell because I have a message and a sound that, if it gets into the hands of the people around the world, it can really change things both inside and outside of music.
>>>Read how Kid Cudi and Kanye West helped MUNDU through depression on Pg. 4...
OKP: In music, you’re being billed as an alternative R&B singer-songwriter, so how does Qrush fit into your growing discography and narrative? What has been your best experience so far as a developing artist?
M: So Qrush, for those that don’t know, was my first EP that I released this year in June. It came after a one year break from music and during that time I did a lot of soul searching. I dealt with lifelong mental health things that I didn’t want to confront prior to that break. I went in trying to understand myself better and get to a place of peace. So, Qrush is the product of that time and it acts as the introduction to who MUNDU is as a person and as a musician.
A lot of the sounds and the energies that you get from that project are energies that I carry inside as a person. There are moments on that EP that make you feel like gravity doesn’t exist for however long you’re listening to it. At the same time, there are a lot of turn-up moments. There are times where I mix in the two, such as on “Ice Moon,” and it shows who I am as a person. You might meet me on a Wednesday where I’m the most relaxed person in the room and forget I’m even there; then you might meet me the Thursday after and I want to throw a reckless party and ride scooters all day.
Qrush enabled me to be honest with myself, introduce me to the world and my unique way of thinking. It was spelt with a ‘Q’ instead of the normal spelling because the EP forced me to deal with my battles with an anti-psychotic medication that I was prescribed called Quetiapine. Long story short, I wanted to talk about my love-hate relationship with the medication and name it after the drug I was taking, but there was way too many syllables in the word [laughs]! I’m not very open with what I go through and the problems that I face, but on this project I really decided that I wanted to do music forever. The best way to do that would be to be as transparent as possible.
For me, the best experience as a developing artist has been just the energy that goes into creating, man. Singing to people at shows and opens mics; making the music and having people really appreciate it made me want to get behind those feelings and do it as well as I can. The ability to connect with new people, in whatever random way, and touching them with my music is one of the best experiences and it will be one of those things that I’ll continue to treasure more than anything.
OKP: You spent your formative years in the church creating Christian rap and hip-hop, yes? What has been the connection that you feel to your newer work versus your previous efforts?
M: I’d have to say that my desire to experience has to be something that I have never, ever wanted to lose. I never want to get to a point where I’m tired of trying new things and seeing music as well as life in different ways. I don’t ever think we should be content with art. Art should be forever changing, just as technology is forever changing. So, I aim to have constant creative change in my life and music, ever since I was doing my Christian rap.
My love for chords and harmonies is something that will never die. In every song, I am always thinking of what chord progression can do that will make people react, melt or change. How can I arrange these harmonies to make people think or f**k. It’s one thing to hear a three-part set of harmonies, but it is another thing when someone can manipulate that to sound new or add four more weird ones and do crazy stuff like that. Using chords and harmonies and bringing them out in a way that’s never been heard before is something runs through all the work that I’ve done to date.
OKP: As you’ve mentioned earlier, you’ve dealt with issues such as depression, drugs and women, which seem like subjects that all go hand-in-hand. What are some things that you’ve learned about yourself that come out in your music?
M: I’m always on the ball and always ready to go, whether anyone is around me or not. I realized that I’m the type of person where if I confirm that I’m going to do something in my head, whether you want it to happen or not, it’s going to happen. So, you either jump on board for the ride or you just see it happen from the sidelines. That’s my whole mantra and not even in a disrespectful way.
These things are just confirmed in my mind and my heart. I understand what I’m building. A day will come where I’ve sold out the 02 Arena, the Barclays Center, the TD Garden. A day will come where I’ve sold out Philips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia. I have built up all the plans and steps to get there, all the yearly goals, the yearly budgets and things it takes to get there.
Now, you, whoever you may be, can get behind, which I’ll forever appreciate, or you can watch it from the sidelines. No matter what it is going to happen. It is inevitable. This message of peace will be spread to the world and I’ll work tirelessly—both in and out of music—to make sure that that happens. Mental health from the eyes of a new kid in music isn’t addressed enough, but I do believe it is getting better. Stuff like schizophrenia and suicide were considered too taboo, especially in the black community, but now we have more artists talking about their experiences.
I personally clung onto people like Kid Cudi who was always very vocal about the stuff he went through. I feel like artists right now, including myself, are kind of like the kids of Kid Cudi. A lot of people around my age look up to him as a role model. When he said, “Hello, I am your big brother,” there was an element of sincerity and I really believed that. Being someone that has felt schizophrenic, who has experienced bipolar disorder, had a failed suicide attempt and dealt with depression for most of my life — music and the artists who reflect that truth find hope in those songs and lyrics.
Think about Kendrick Lamar with “u,” where he was being very open about having experiences with depression. Or even with Wale, where he talks about his battles with anxiety and stuff like that — it is refreshing to see artists comfortable enough to talk about their issues and helps in was that you could never imagine.
OKP: When did you lose your songwriting virginity? Can you talk about the first song you wrote and what it was about?
M: [Laughs] In all honesty, I have a really bad memory about the first song I wrote but it was something I put together in Year Three at school. Pretty much bang in the middle of primary school where I was in this group called “BBB,” which stood for “Big Bad Boys.” We really wanted to be like Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs and The Notorious B.I.G., but I was a lot more serious with it. I was drawing album covers, making tracklists, writing up credits and liner notes, copyright info and all of that stuff.
I had to have been like nine or 10-years-old. As far as the song goes, I can’t even remember any of the words, but it was a rap and it was just really bad! [Laughs] All I remember thinking is that I’m going to write that song, and then I’m going to blow up and do songs with Lil’ Romeo, get signed to Cash Money Records and be friends with Lil’ Wayne! Looking back though, it formed the beginnings of me wanting to put words together and make concepts that say something.
OKP: How can your music continue to speak truth to power in an age where people are so quickly digesting sounds and disposing of artists in a nanosecond?
M: Honestly, I think by me just naturally experiencing life, man. One thing that I admire most about Kanye West is that with each project, he shows us a new phase in his life. We are witnessing a new moment every time we listen to him. From his beginning with College Dropout to his bouts with depression in 808s & Heartbreaks to growth as a husband and adult with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy — Kanye gives us glimpses into his life with every album.
SWISH seems like it will be the vanguard period of his life, proving to be massive art piece that represents his most creative moments. You put his albums together and you see that all these moments and phases are very different from one another. There may be some similarities between them that link them together, but to me, there is nothing like being as honest as one can be in their music. In my music, I’m not talking about anything that I haven’t experienced.
As long as I am experiencing life fully and being transparent with my music, there will always be a lane for me to be heard. And you’re right, music is being digested every second, which makes longevity important when you can create it. An album will be out for only a month and people will call it a classic. Artists are being labeled legends within a calendar year. To me, that never makes sense. People like Stevie Wonder, like Jimi Hendrix, like Bob Marley are legends.
Putting those people in the same category as a rapper or a singer that’s been out for a year is disrespectful to music as a whole. Music, and even life, is being digested in a matter of weeks and people are coming up with whole belief systems in a matter of days. As long as I’m completely honest there will always be a lane for my music to be digested over time with longevity that cannot be bought and marketed.
>>>Read about MUNDU's overall message to the OKP reader on Pg. 5...
OKP: Collaboration is uniquely a key to the success of certain creative individuals who wish to change the game. Who would you want to work with in the new year and why?
M: While I’m not too sure about who in particular I would work wit, as in names and stuff like that, I’m all about being around people and experiencing things that my soul is in accordance with. This is true in both music and life. So, I couldn’t work with an artist solely based on their popularity or the size of their platforms. I only want to work with people whose music and creations I really like, identify with and that fit my soul.
If it doesn’t resonate with me and my gut, then you could be the biggest artist in the world and I’ll have to politely make my way out. I’ll never put my soul at risk to step up a level. In 2016, I’m just looking forward to working with people, artists that I can vibe with and those who make music that I actually vibe with. It’s not necessarily about the size of your audience, but how you impact your audience and if who I am as a person and as a musician works well with what that individual is doing.
OKP: What is your overall message that you’re trying to present in your music, MUNDU?
M: Peace and love, man. That’s all I really want to get across. And when I say peace and love, I don’t just mean shouting that three times at the end of a show, or putting a peace symbol as the cover art of an album — I really mean peace and love. Music is a way for me to partake in movements that really work to bring about peace in the world. Even though it sounds really far-fetched and sounds like I want to be a hippie, the box that we fit in when we fight for peace is expansive now thanks to the internet.
There’s a term that I use for people who support what I’m doing — I call them the “Stillers”. I call them that because they represent a group of people that are able to remain still in a world where bullshit is happening around the clock. I was watching a Russell Simmons interview from back in the day where he was talking about meditating. He said how you feel is how the world really moves. So, when you’re meditating and it almost feels like you’re floating in the air, I believe that’s how the world actually feels.
The “Stillers” are people that are very active in spreading peace and love to as many people as possible in a world that’s telling you to do otherwise. I am a “Stiller,” and whoever enjoys my music and wants to get behind it, that is what you are and we are wear that with pride. It is something that grows with me as I mature as a musician and is very synonymous with what I’m doing. If you come to a show, everyone in that room is family because we all want the same thing — concerts are really just big family reunions — which is why I love them. I tell people in the concerts to turn up with the people that they may not have come with you, as well as their friends. It’s your job as the audience to make sure your friends are all working towards the same thing, which is to actively spreading peace and love to as many people as possible every day.
That’s what music has brought to me and my life when I needed it, so that is what I’m using music to bring back to the world.
OKP: “The Stoop” is a really fantastic example of your brand of music. Can you break down the song’s inspiration, the creation of the song and its lyrics?
M: For those that don’t know, the production behind “The Stoop” was very simple. I took a song called “Chapter Six,” which is an interlude from Kendrick Lamar’s Section.80 album, and the main song “Hey” from the group KING. I took that because I love both versions. I then slowed it down a bunch, put some chords over it and cooked it up to become what it became. If I was to show you the file, it’s literally like six tracks at most, and I find it crazy that that’s the song that’s getting my name out there!
Honestly, it’s like the simplest song ever but for me personally, it hits my soul in a way that the most complex song could never do. There’s also something about slowed down music that allows you to feel the energy of the song more which is why I listen to a lot of Chopped-N-Screwed music, too. I can’t really pinpoint why it works, but it just does. In terms of the writing, I penned it while on a plane to Boston in May last year and I wasn’t really thinking about what I was writing.
I opened the notepad on my iPhone and just started typing. Within a master of like 30-minutes, it was all there in plain view. I recorded it when I got back home. I then made it an exclusive for a London DJ named Nikita Chauhan from Roundhouse Radio, who has been really supporting me for a while now, and she put it up as part of her Soul Diaries series on SoundCloud. It got a lot of love at that time, but we eventually had to take it down due to copyright infringement.
I was looking through my folders randomly one day and remember I still had it, so I re-uploaded it because the way it felt was still really potent and I wanted people to hear it. SoundCloud decided to leave it up, probably thinking “this guy is just going to keep putting the song up so let’s just leave him be,” and after that a bunch of websites began picking it up. I’m just really grateful that sites like Okayplayer and Saint Heron ran with it and that it continues to get a lot of love.
“The Stoop” talks about my constant desire to escape, even though I know I have priorities waiting for me at home. It’s my nature to run away and see as much of the world as I can despite bills that need to be paid [laughs]. It was a very introspective song that was very true to me and I’m happy that people connect with it just as much as I do. The music and sound matches the energy that you feel in “The Stoop,” added in with my love of chords and harmonies, which are elements that I carry all the way through in my music. So, if you vibe with “The Stoop,” then you’re a “Stiller,” man! What’s up!
OKP: How do you see yourself changing the music industry for the better versus all of the bad stuff you hear, read and see?
M: Going back to what I said before… I see myself as being as honest as I can be in this industry. I’m very grateful for the fact that a lot of music is becoming more honest nowadays. It’s no secret that there was a point in time where people were actively lying to their listeners and selling fake lifestyles, but a lot of music at the forefront nowadays is very honest. I see myself being 100% with people inside the industry. I see myself continuing to bring that sound that enables you to escape in whatever way you do as an individual.
If you do it through partying, I have music for that. If you escape through cleaning the house with music in the background, I have music for that, too. Add to that the love and the peace in the music, and I feel like I’ll be able to bring across some of that work and feel that artists like Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley did when they were here. Not to say that I’m the new Jimi Hendrix or the new Bob Marley, but a lot of the ideals that they held true are ones that I do too. I feel as though I’m walking down a path that they prepared for me while they were creating music for people to enjoy.
I just hope that I can continue to spread what they were trying to spread, but in my own voice and in my own unique way. It should be a very exciting journey. Whether I am at the forefront of this whole peace movement thing or just an agent of change, I want to make sure it reaches as many people as possible, which is why I’m adamant on performing in the biggest places in the world. The more people that are willing to come to see you, the more people are willingly to support the movement. They are more apt to hear what you have to say and the ideals of a “Stiller” are mainly what I have to say.
OKP: While you were coming up with your EP Qrush — can you share any interesting stories dealing with the creation of the album?
M: [Laughs] I don’t have any really interesting stories from that album, really, I mean. Qrush was created in a bedroom on a laptop, which is pretty much breaking down right now! I didn’t have a crazy process. I designed all of the artwork and I put SZA on the cover because that still shot of her just looked really awesome. It was from the “Babylon” video, I believe… I can’t really remember. But, to the Okayplayer audience that’s reading this, take a look at the Qrush cover and then look at a bunch of SZA videos and comment on which video it’s from so I can sleep easy at night [laughs]!
That’s really as interesting as that album process got. I just really wanted to make sure the sounds were a good introduction to who I am. I placed a lot of atmospheric sounds on there, meshed with modern trap sounds and hard-hitting drums and that gives you a pretty good idea of how I am as a person.
OKP: If the reader’s learned one thing from this First Look Friday chat with you — what would it be and in what octave would it sound like?
M: I would say that the reader should learn that I’m a “Stiller” now, a “Stiller” before and that I’ll be forever a “Stiller”. I’m going to spread this message of peace and love to as many people in the world, while turning up while I do it as well. If I had to say what octave all that would be then it would probably start in a low octave, mainly because that’s how my voice is right now, but then it would go up really high to the point where you can’t even hear what’s being said.
>>>Check out MUNDU's 2016 tour dates across Londontown!