Tiya Inity – An Extraordinaire Producer in our midst

Tiya Inity – An Extraordinaire Producer in our midst

I love Reggae music, I am probably thee number one fan of reggae music.

Tiya Inity is the Resident Producer at Baak A Yaad Entertainment based in Yeoville, Johannesburg. He also produces Riddims under his Lawilawi label and has worked with quite a variety of Artists from Lilongwe to Soweto, mostly up and coming artists that he not only produces for but also imparts some technical knowledge that they can take with. His quiet demeanor has a calming effect and his attuned listening ear makes him a producer that most would like to work and be associated with.

I met with him at 3 Miles Studios situated at the far end of Yeoville, away from the hustle and bustle of everyday Yeoville life and we started chatting about the reggae industry and its politics. One immediately gets a sense that Tiya does not just Love Reggae but he probably sleeps, eats and breathes a special kind of reggae air only reserved for him. And I quote, I love Reggae music, I am probably thee number one fan of reggae music. A chance meeting with Junior Manning, Bob Morgan, Selekta Banton and Sugar Dread from Jamaica who had come to Malawi to open a radio station was the stepping stone for Tiya’s journey into the music world and Rastafari. As a teenager he was also inspired by the likes of Shabba Ranks, Buju Banton, Paramount aka Elder Gray owner of Baak A Yaad Entertainment who happened to be staying in the same neighbourhood as him in Lilongwe and was part of a band. We were privileged to have those people close to us; we got a chance to read books about Rastafari and learnt more about the history of the music that we loved. Also having Elder Gray living in the same neighbourhood as us was inspiring, we got to see them rehearse or perform, everything was just falling into place. Living with the Jamaicans also empowered us, I was able to meet Michael “Ibo” Cooper who was a member of the band Inner Circle and founding member of the reggae band Third World, Realising that everyone wanted to be a musician and not behind the scene, Tiya took it upon himself to take the challenge of learning the ropes of being a Producer.

“I took the challenge because I didn’t want to be in the band anymore. It was terrible, I didn’t know what to do, the studio was there, everything was working but I only knew how to play music from the player to the speakers through the mixer”

Tiya Inity was born Tiyanjane Chalamwendo in Lilongwe, Malawi on 12 April, 1978, the forth in a family of eight. He is a music producer, writer, arranger, music and sound lecture-cum artist. He attended Lilongwe Primary School and Chipasula Secondary. His family relocated to Blantyre when his father was transferred due to work. He completed his schooling at Kaphuka Private High school in Blantyre. He furthered his studies where he acquired an Advanced Computer Diploma. He would later obtain a certificate in Sound Engineering, Diploma in Sound Technology and currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Audio Technology. He has since worked with international reggae artists like Jah Mason, Queen Ifrika, Etana, Turbulence, Sizzla, Andy Robinson, Bushman, Lutan Fyah and others. Locally the likes of Jah Link, Blaq Supreme, Jahnett Tafari, Mad Koolia, Empress Pro, Melanin, Zama Sunshine, Nolha, Black Dillinger, Vudu, Gal Star, Reign Afrika, gospel artist Mahadi and others. ( Both in studio and/or live performances)

Tiya Inity

When the Jamaicans left Malawi due to political interferences. They were cultivating marijuana and we were not aware of their dealings, we knew they cultivated but we weren’t aware of the scale of their production.” Tiya and his crew were left with nothing to do; he went back to Lilongwe where he met Humphries Kantazi, a brethren who was also a fan of the guitar. Humphries agreed to teach him the ins and out of the guitar. Unbeknownst to Tiya, he was grooming him for an “interview” with a band called Rock Shandy which happened to be in search of a Rhythm Guitarist. It was only upon their arrival at the venue that he realised that it was a set up all along, he explains:He taught me about 20 reggae songs and all the while I was just happy that he was generous with his time. One day he told me to dress nicely and when we got there, I found two other guys who were also being interviewed. When my turn came the members were amazed that I knew chords to the songs that they were playing, so I made it into the band.” He stayed two years with the band and during that time Rock Shandy bought a studio and he was eager to get his hands dirty, he would frequent the studio even on his off days just to observe what was happening behind the scenes. He would hit a snag every time he inquired about a certain thing but his knowledge about computers and having learnt a few things from Ibo Cooper came in handy. He pieced things together as he went along and when the producer left their studios, Tiya decided to take the bull by its horns and took over the Grass Roots Studios with the mentorship of Tionge Chikusa of MC Studios which was the biggest studio at that time.

Driven by the sheer will to make it, he produced his first song with the band called “Kelita” that would later be play listed on radio stations, I remember I had some friends who were staying in another part of the country, they called to tell me they heard my name being mentioned on the radio and were surprised that I was now a producer. I got encouraged and wanted to do more, of course it wasn’t that famous but to me it felt like I had made it.

Seeing his potential, Tionge Chikusa recruited him to his studio and with nothing to lose Tiya left Rock Shandy.
I wanted a new challenge; I was still young so I went to work with him. Whilst working there, I stayed two years without proper sleep. I would have 3 sessions every day, one morning, one afternoon and one at night till midnight, and to wake up to find the person who booked for the morning session already there waiting. I ended up sleeping at the studio, sometimes instead of going for lunch I would rush to town to get new clothes come back and repeat the process, that studio was very busy, we produced a whole lot of albums, that’s where a lot of people came to know of what I do because some of the songs became famous and occupied the top 10/5/1 spots on the charts.
Whilst his career was slowly taking off, his passion for reggae music was still burning and he longed for the day that he would be able to work with reggae music only. When Dominic Ndende and Ian Kazanga from England who had relocated back to Malawi contacted him to start a recording company ‘DOM DASH’ he jumped at the opportunity and they started a studio. “I was excited because no one was going to dictate to us, I was going to do what I wanted to do, Reggae music.’’

When Tiya left Rock Shandy he had set a stepping stone for himself with “Salad Riddim” (2001). A riddim considered as one of the Dancehall Pioneers in Malawi, was suggested to him by his younger Brother Fayah Fenasi who also featured on the it. The producer had this to say about his once famous brother, “He is very good also but you know fame and stuff, if we start talking about that…I’ve seen my brother’s career collapse because of fame, his career took off very quickly and he became famous and that fame killed his career. I heard he is a now a pastor. We don’t get along because of some of the things he did back then but he was the one who introduced the concept of doing Riddims. Salad Riddim featured 24 artists and did well it “changed the face of Reggae in Malawi.

He went on to start a Band called Shattas Band with the help of Elder Jedde I tafari a Kasambaan Artist from Malawi but currently based in South Africa. He introduced him to the bassist who also contributed the pianist. The band backed all the artists during the Launch of the Salad Riddim, It was the first time people seeing a band play a Riddim live.”

Tiya Inity

While he was busy with that, a vacancy was made available at the State-Owned Malawi Broadcasting Cooperation. He worked there as commercial producer. The opportunity meant that he now had access to Radio DJs and Producers, he utilised it and got some of the tracks he produced to be play listed. “I am very happy that most of the artists that I worked with back then are now successful. After 5 years he resigned from MBC and with the help of Jedde I Tafari, Tiya came to South Africa to record a few projects with Elder Gray. What he thought was going to be an in and out job ended up being a permanent thing, Elder Grey wanted me to work on some projects, he told me about Jeremiah Fyah Ises, Momo Dread, Black Dillinger, Skeleton Blazer, Mad Koolia, but he never mentioned Bongo Riot. The first project that I worked on was Jeremiah Fyah Ises, but the first single I did was Fyah Ises and General Plago. It was Dancehall and the song called ‘Nuff a Dem.We also recorded with Bongo Riot but the record was never released, I don’t have enough info as to why it was never released, I’m happy though that the Fyah Ises project (Impilo Kantanga) came out and people liked it, it was also nominated for Best Reggae Album at the SAMAs. I don’t know how they are promoting it like I said I like staying in my lane.”

Whilst recording the projects they had issues with the then Shattas Band, and urgently needed a band, and Baak A Yaad band was born.Shattas Band was the original band that was playing for Baak a Yaad Entertainment but they ended up disappointing, they drank too much alcohol and when it was time for a show instead of concentrating on the show, they would start with alcohol first before they performed. They ended up messing up things.

 

The road to success has seemingly been easier and the stars aligning for him to get to where he needs to be, Tiya tells me though that the problem with the industry is that there’s no money, when I ask if this pertains to the music industry as a whole, he says, No, not in reggae as such but I’ve come to realise that the way the shows are organised i.e If a Reggae Artist comes to SA, we don’t see the same pomp and ceremony like when these other artists come here, like adverts, billboards and interviews. An artist can come here without conducting an interview with the media houses, yes sometimes on the day of the show you will be told that Anthony B is here. I grew up loving Anthony B and you tell me on the day of the show! Those are the things that I find makes it hard for the industry to grow. We have people who can make things happen but I don’t know what’s happening or who’s blocking things, I don’t understand but I see the light at the end of the tunnel.

 

Tiya Inity has worked with more artists than he can remember, in Reggae and other genres. His unique ear has made him a favourite with a lot of upcoming artists and his teaching skills also allow him the freedom to be “The Teacher” as he is also known. I ask what happens if he and an artist don’t see eye to eye in terms of how the song should sound and to that he says, I don’t know maybe it’s growth, I used to have those problems but now I don’t. Even you if you have never sang a song in your life and you can’t produce one song with me you should stop singing, don’t even dream of singing anymore. Trust me, the Riddims that we do also taught me to have patience as I work a lot with upcoming artists so I am used to that, every time we are in the studio I am always trying to teach them how to do things simpler, how they should put their lines, the tricks and the gimmicks, how they should play with time, how to project the voice, how they should do this and that, every time they record with me, they get something new. I don’t just take their money. No, I don’t do like that, whatever the case we will reach an agreement. I promise you there’s nothing difficult about it, we took time to perfect this thing. Whereas people take time and spend sleepless nights clubbing, we spend sleepless nights perfecting our skills.

Tiya
Photo: Tiya Inity FB

SoulSista: How do you reach an agreement?
An artist is always the master. I respect my clients, if you pay me to record a song for you and I feel that it should be an RnB song and you feel it should be reggae I always do as you want but I will first advice youand then tell you how I feel about it. I listen to a lot of voices every day, I listen to new songs every day, I produce new Riddims every day, so it’s all about experience and with that experience I have come to develop the kind of talking that is good to convince people in the process. I’m happy that three quarters of my clients listen. I also don’t just convince them, I also listen to them because I need to be careful with whatever decision that I make because it will be final and it will stay there forever, I cannot just take any decision. I have to be fast in my thinking and make a perfect decision although some you might regret later but at least at that time you were confident about it. If they don’t agree we leave it but if they do then we go ahead, but I love it when they agree with the producer because like myself as I told you that I am also an artist sometimes I have to record my songs, I have to do video shoots and I have producers. I listen to them; I don’t even argue, I just want them to explain to me what is happening and if I buy it then we have deal!

SoulSista: Are you an easy client as an artist?
(laughs) you know it’s hard, it’s tricky. There are those situations where I think like a producer and not as an artist, I also end up coming up with ideas but I’m happy because, like I said most of the times we end up agreeing on how things should go. We may disagree but we end up meeting each other half way and that’s what matters, maybe it’s growth I don’t know but that’s the good part.

SoulSista: You mentioned that you listen to a lot of songs, new artists, don’t you get tired like an example, yesterday you were working on 30 songs and today it’s 30 more. Doesn’t it drain you mentally?
To be honest, I don’t understand myself when it comes to beat making, I don’t know how come this song doesn’t sound like the previous one, how come I am able to create 5 Riddims a day, how come this melody doesn’t sound like that one. I’ve been in the studio from 1998, I have produced a lot of songs and they don’t sound the same. If I do something for a while and it becomes familiar in my ears, I stop and create something else. Sometimes I sit in the studio without knowing what to do next I just start a melody and as I build it, it takes any form. So, I don’t get tired at all. I enjoy it especially when I’m working with new artists on a project, even if it’s same old artist and there is progress. What I enjoy most is seeing the artist improving, what I hate is seeing an artist getting stuck in the same place, Example: having a problem with Ls and Rs, I understand that we as black people the English language is not our mother tongue, no disrespect to the IsiZulus speaking people, they don’t use Rs and when they sing English songs, they use L instead of R, it’s a big problem. So, if you point out this to them it becomes a big deal. We want clean music. Yes, faults are there that’s why we say every song is a demo and someone can do it better, but we should do it to our best. As a producer that’s my fight.

SoulSista: your problem is what, they need to try harder?
They should just sing in their own languages, if they want to sing in English they should sing in proper English, not African English whereby they don’t care about Ls and Rs, because the audience we are sending the music to, cares about that, they care. If you put Correction as collection, those are two different things, you are just confusing the listener. If you want to sing a song in English just use proper English. Also, as a producer you need to know a lot of vocabulary, a lot of proverbs, a lot of this and that, you should be open to anything. I listen to a lot of music, AmaPiano, House, Rhumba, yes I love reggae music that’s my first love but I am also learning from other genres and steal a few tricks and fuse them with reggae to make something unique. As we grow, we also need to be creative. The same way I’m recording now shouldn’t be the same in six months time.

SoulSista: And your take about reggae not being played on mainstream radio stations?
I always hear people saying they were shouting at SABC for not playing reggae music, and I say NO, you don’t shout at them you go and talk to them in a civil manner, because it’s their stations and they have the freedom to play whatever they want. You can’t force them to play reggae, after all the content of Reggae is sensitive, it’s not something that they can play easily, and we also need to understand those things. While I was with MBC sometimes they would play an advert and it would cause so much confusion. That’s where you realise that people are listening. I remember that there was an Inyanga (Sangoma) who put an advert that they can cure AIDS, the Boss approved it but the backlash we received after that was huge, but I understood where my boss was coming from, he said “if he says he can cure then we can’t argue with him” he had brought evidence, even after it happened a lot of people came and said that they had been cured. He was forced to bring those people to Parliament. Radio is very sensitive and us Rasta yes we should “Fyah burn” but need to commercialise it first. After they like it then we can Fyah burn dem. They must remember we are not only trying to reach Rastas only or reggae lovers only; we want to reach Music lovers. Everyone who loves music should have passion for reggae music too. How can we achieve that? By giving them music that is not against anyone, music that is promoting everyone, music that includes everyone, music that talks about everyone as one not singling out a group of people like most Rastas do. It’s like they want to put themselves in their own class, it’s nice to be classic but at the same time it’s good to be within, let’s be within. Reggae music is not all about Rastafari it can be about anything and everyone. Let’s accommodate them with the message. You can have a nice beat but if the message is all about “Selassie I Selassie I Rastafari…” it’s nice to say that but when you mention Rastafari to some people they switch off completely because they don’t believe in Selassie I. It’s the same way if someone tells others about Jesus Christ, we should avoid those things.

SoulSista: When a song flops who should we blame? The producer, composer, engineer or the artist?
(laughs) Firstly, we need to know why the song flopped, that’s the question. A song can flop in many ways, it might be that the producer did not produce it well but I think it’s not fair to blame the producer because before you take it for mixing, mastering, video shoots and so on didn’t you notice that the producer made a mistake! That’s my biggest question, so most of the times the producer is not to blame (laughs) but it’s those people that took the music further. Secondly, let me summarise it like this; it’s the artists themselves, most artists prefer fame more than progress. They only want to be known. If 5-6 people say “hey your music is nice” that’s the end of it. They don’t care about progress as long as everyone is complimenting them. For that reason, they underrate many things. They can’t do proper shows because they feel like they are stars. They start behaving like superstars and that kills music. I have seen a lot of artists with nice music but the way they present their music to the people they don’t do it justice, they don’t value it. Thirdly, it’s the promoters. They need to be serious in their promotion. We cannot say a Reggae album or a Reggae song has been released and you only hear it on YFM, and you don’t hear it on any SABC Radios. I don’t think those people are not willing to play those songs, there must be something, and maybe it’s us Rastas and our mentality. If I was a promoter, they would get tired of me and they would start playing reggae, even if they let me down a hundred times I would still go there with my new songs and push it in their faces. I would never get tired until they play it. I feel like something must be done cause this radio stations are willing to play the music, trust me they are willing; We need to go there and make friendships and not Fyah burn dem. It also starts with Rastas, they need to take their hands off reggae. They need to understand that Reggae musicians are just artists they have nothing to do with Rasta. You see most of them are orthodox. The orthodox is not Rasta but when play reggae they don’t mention Rastafari because they know that the message of Reggae goes with those things. So, we also have to reach that level where we should play reggae for everyone. Reggae is powerful music with powerful message but powerful message is not all about criticizing it’s also about unity.

SoulSista: So final answer artist is to blame and not the producer?
If the producer has a problem the album will not go out, nothing will be released. If you are releasing it then it means that you are ok with the production. Unless if the producer is also the promoter because you know nowadays people multi task and will just impose that thing on people.

SoulSista: You founded Lawilawi Entertainment to produce Ridims after leaving the National Broadcaster, can you expand on Lawilawi Riddims.
Lawilawi means Flames of fire produced by a bonfire not a small fire. That’s the name I gave to my Riddims because I think I produce hot Riddims. That name will stay forever even when I am gone. Rather than naming my Riddims “Tiya Inity Riddims” I chose that. When I transcend my name will also die but someone can take over the name LawilawiRiddims.

SoulSista: Your top 5, top 10 Riddims that you produced?
My Riddims! (laughs) that’s the hardest question you have asked me.

SoulSista: you’ve never thought about it though?
It’s too hard, I am trying to think but I am failing. I never thought it would be so hard to answer it. Ok I don’t have a favourite I love all of them. In fact when I work I make sure that everything that I touch I love it, if I don’t then I leave it. Let me say that one of the Riddims that has more artists than I have ever seen produced is Speak the truth Riddim. Some of the songs I don’t know some of the artists who recorded them but on the final released Riddim there were 20 artists on it. We also have another Riddim called Women Power Riddim. It’s not out as yet we planning to release it in August to coincide with Women’s Month, we have about 22 Ladies from different countries voicing on it.

Tiyanjane Chalamwendo
Photo: Tiya Inity Facebook

SoulSista: Last words?
Tiya: My wish is to see Mzansi Reggae united. I’ve been trying and I’ve been let down by a couple of artists. I’m not bitter, you can kick me and I’ll still come to you until you listen to what I want to say, I don’t care how many times I get disappointed I’ll keep trying to reach out. I like the way Maximum Stylez work, I would love to work with them at one point, they look organised and I like what they do. If many were like that things would have been far in terms of Reggae because if you look at other genres, they are organised and its only reggae that’s in tatters. We can’t expect something good to come out of something that is not organised. Like you were saying earlier that someone once asked you if we have reggae artists in South Africa; someone asked me who is the top reggae artist in SA apart from Lucky Dube. He said they used to know Senzo Mthethwa, Harley and the Rasta family, Angola Maseko and when those artists disappeared it’s like they took reggae music with them. When you tell people that we have artists like Black Dillinger, Skeleton Blazer and Fyah Ises, they don’t know them. They don’t even know who Bongo Riot unless you mention that he is from the group Gangs of Instrumental. I still say the problem lies with promoters; they are not pushing the music the way it is supposed to. All the other genres are making money but reggae! Why! Cause they are not promoting it. Trust me if one artist here can win an artist of the year award or one song to blow up the way Jerusalem did then we can safely say we have arrived. Like if Jeremiah Fyah Ises can do a song like that, he can turn around reggae. It doesn’t matter who it is but as long as that song is reggae, that will be the turning point of the genre.

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