“Happy feet = knockin beats.” Skinny Pelembe has sent me a chronological list detailing how he normally makes a track. First things first? The right slippers. The process, he explains, goes like this:
Program the beat, set it on loop and go to sleep.
Wake up, join the dots instrumentally.
Back on loop, catch a vibe for the vocals.
Mix, master, show to the band.
Realize that the version we play live as a band is way better than my version.
Try to accept the above, move on. Repeat."
Following the release of his debut EP Seven Year Curse (streaming below) on his Skinny’s Own imprint, we premiere the visual for the EP’s title track. Put together by Skinny himself, the video is a dreamy snapshot of the past year, an ode to the people who helped put Seven Year Curse together. Clips of traveling, dancing, performing, and smiling faces are pieced together in a colorful montage indicative of the free-spirited groove heard across the EP.
Born in Johannesburg, South Africa and raised in Doncaster in the North of England, Skinny Pelembe has put together a record built for hazy summer evenings. Dreamy guitar riffs, wistful vocal melodies, and lush textures are commonplace on an EP often inspired by his own dreams. “I was talking to a lady once about Eric Fromm [late German psychoanalyst and philosopher] and she told me to keep a dream journal,” he explains. “I suppose your unconscious and your subconscious are the most unfiltered and honest expression of thought. Most of the time, that’s a good place to start.”
“Baby Laxmi” was written following the birth of his baby niece. A pure and honest reflection of his emotion, the instrumental track feels self-assured, bright with life in the buoyant production and twinkling keys. Life also serves as inspiration on a more reflective and contemplative level too. Skinny Pelembe’s father sadly passed away, and he’s found that his lyrical direction has shifted amidst his grieving process, as songwriting has become an outlet, a way in which he can process his emotions and loss.
Skinny's father was a keen country music fan and his mother, whose family are from Mozambique, influenced the Afro-soul inspired landscapes in his music. His brothers helped shape his sound too. “They’re 10 years older and big hip-hop heads” he says, “they used to do some breakin’ too, so from day dot I wanted to be Redman with pop ‘n’ lock skills!” But it was when he started his first band that his musical outlook really widened. The manager at Higher Rhythm Studio in Doncaster introduced him to the likes of Gil Scott-Heron, Andrew Weatherall, LKJ in Dub, Masters At Work, The House of Love, and Funkadelic.
Since then, Skinny Pelembe has wanted to create a unique sound that’s inspired by everything but sounds like nothing. “I want to take a little bit from all of those musical worlds and make music that sounds unique,” he says. Of his biggest musical influences, he names Fela Kuti, Neil Young, Madlib and Can, before explaining that he’s been working his way through Bossa Nova guitar tutorials in a bid to conquer the art of rhythmic Brazilian guitar. “I’m in a massive Jorge Ben Jor phase at the moment, I think I’m gonna have to go full Daniel Day Lewis and relocate to Rio!”
Skinny Pelembe is part of an initiative set up by the teams behind Gilles Peterson Worldwide and Brownswood Music and funded by Arts Council England, called Future Bubblers. Their work provides a platform for talented musicians with a focus on supporting those creating outside of London. Each year nine or ten applicants are selected for the program and are given a carefully selected industry mentor to help them kick start their journey.
The project helped develop Skinny’s confidence, which was was instrumental in putting out Seven Year Curse. He says that the process was “a proper kick up the arse,” as Future Bubblers helped him do all the things he might been too shy to do before, from pressing the EP to getting it out in the shops. “They’re just awesome, tireless people with great vibes to bounce off” he says of the team he worked with. Having met such inspiring people, Skinny explains, “I went off on this mission, trying to impress. I wanted to blow some wigs back!”
With the release of Seven Year Curse behind him, Skinny Pelembe—who has been based in London for the last three years—has moved back to the North of England to focus on his next project. With his rich vocals, surreal yet personal lyrics, and hazy, psychedelic production, the future is bright for Skinny Pelembe. Listen to the full Seven Year Curse EP below.