Mi Casa have been on the scene as a group for less than a year but have already been nominated for multiple SAMA and Metro FM awards, toured with The Layabouts [UK dance trio], achieved Gold status with their debut album Mi Casa Music and spent weeks at the top of every relevant chart with their hit singles Heavenly Sent and These Streets. Nathan Kabingesi caught up with trumpeter Mo-T and vocalist J’Something to talk about not winning but winning, their meteoric rise and the inevitable comparisons with that other vocal house group.
“People were coming up to us afterwards and saying that for them Mi Casa and Drake were on par…”
The story of how the group formed is the stuff of legends. But it couldn’t have been all that easy right?
Well initially we weren’t feeling the idea of forming a group, and then when we did get into the studio, the first song we finished (That Man) wasn’t well received by the label (Soul Candi). But we knew we were onto something and just kept at it.
Tell us a bit more about the creative process in the studio, is it more structured and planned or do you just walk in, have a jam session and let the pieces fit themselves together?
It’s all collaborative and spontaneous; we all bring our ideas together and let the process unfold itself. For the album, we’d walk into studio and Duda would start playing a melody on the keys, Mo would improv something on the horn and I would freestyle over that and from that process we’d build a song. Mike, our co-producer, walked into the studio one day and, as a joke I guess, starting saying something like “let me take you back to a time when…” and that became the opening line for Give You Love.
Along with Zahar, you guys are the surprise success story of last year. What do you attribute your meteoric rise to?
You know every time we get a chance in an interview we always say thank you, ‘cause it’s literally because of the fans that we’ve become what we are. I think our music is only a part of the reason for the success we’ve had; our label Soul Candi, Musica, various music video channels, as well as radio have all played a part in giving our career the momentum it’s currently enjoying. And I think South Africa’s been waiting for a band like us to show up, so it’s also a case of right people at the right place at the right time, so being lucky is also a part of it.
With a group like yours, either your entire career becomes about the group or your individual talent is given more opportunities to shine, which is the case for you guys?
Mo – It’s all Mi Casa; Mo-T used to play with Fresh & Euphonic and some other guys, but when we started Mi Casa he had to turn down gigs because the group became our focus. So yeah, we’re all 100% committed to Mi Casa, no outside projects, we just don’t have the time.
Nominated for five Metro Awards; best video, song of the year, best newcomer and best group album. But you won none. Does that mean anything to you guys? What’s more important, the nomination, or winning?
Not winning the awards really doesn’t matter, although it would have been great to win. I (J’Something) have been dreaming about doing music all my life, and to be sitting at the awards, hearing your name being called out for the song of the year award and being in the top three; amazing. I mean we got to perform and that was great. Having guys like HHP come up to us and say how much they appreciate our music was incredible, and of all the acts that were nominated, knowing that we had only been together for about four months, and nominated in so many categories, it was just a great affirmation that we were headed in the right direction. The SAMA’s are coming up so we’re looking forward to that and hopefully picking up an award or two.
What was it like for Mi Casa opening for Drake?
Yeah man, it’s one of those nights you think back on and it’s just good memories. People were coming up to us afterwards and saying that for them Mi Casa and Drake were on par, which was great to hear. We had our full seven-piece band on stage with us which is always great ‘cause we don’t get to do that as often as we’d like. We were hanging out with Drake backstage and people were making comparisons between Joao to Drake which was funny. Great experience.
Comparisons with Liquideep, who are using their own unique blend of production and vocals to great success, are inevitable. But you guys don’t seem to have the same fan base, what separates you?
We’re best of friends with them, but when you really think about our groups and the music we make, you can’t really compare the two because we don’t do the same thing at all. We’re not DJ’s, we’re a band. I mean, eighty per cent of our album was recorded live. Live performances are more about being free and creative, switching up the arrangement on our songs, and that give and take of energy with the crowd is always great.
Anyone with eyes can tell your music is particularly popular with the ladies. Is this ever a problem for you guys?
As a b(r)and we try and stay approachable, I mean we reply to all our tweets, and if people want to come up and take pictures we oblige them because that’s how we are. But sometimes it does get a little scary. We were backstage at a show in Zeerust and we had something like ten girls backstage that mobbed Joao and it looked like they literally wanted to take a piece of him home with them. And at the same time there was a woman who managed to get into his car and started taking his clothes and screaming,“I’ve got Mi Casa”. There were women fainting at one show in Boksburg, girls in the crowd at a Vaal show bawling their eyes out, but then you go to an album signing in Cresta and it’s much more relaxed, so I guess it does depend on where you’re at.
Musically, what you’re doing is unique in the context of the genre you’re in; what are some of your musical influences?
Tortured Soul were definitely a big influence early on in the formation of our sound.
Given the success you’re enjoying locally, have you guys thought about trying for global market penetration?
We’ve had interest and remixes done by guys like Charles Webster and Abicah Soul. We’ve gotten love from The Layabouts, who also helped out with the mastering of the album, and Spirit Chaser. We actually had our first show with The Layabouts; we’d literally just decided on a name and we were off on tour with them. I remember the New Years’ Eve show we did with them; probably the best show we’ve done.
You’re performing in Mozambique in March, any plans to take this show on the road beyond Southern Africa?
Yeah, we’ve got plans to go Tanzania later this year as well as Bulgaria, Portugal, Spain, North America and Turkey. Miami (Winter Music Conference) is something we definitely plan on doing next year; our schedule for March is just too hectic to even think about going over now.
Their debut album, Mi Casa Music is available at all major music retailers.