My accidental week with Vinnie Mak

This article was written by Snethemba Chiya

There are no accidents, they say. While I was having a casual chat with my editor last week and we were just talking about all things music and sharing playlists, I told him about a new album from an artist we both like. I asked him to listen to one of the tracks on the album and he came back and said: “Destiny doesn’t roll a dice”. That’s a lyric from the song I had suggested he listens to.

The next morning I was introduced to Vinnie Mak and given an opportunity to explore his artistry and I suspect destiny had something to do with it.

In a bizarre turn of events, what was meant to be a touch and go moment played out differently than I had anticipated.

Saturday morning I was jamming to Vinnie’s 2017 single titled Ek’seni, featuring Gamiland, a mid-tempo house track with a catchy whistle tune and raspy vocals that reminded me of the legendary Nana Coyote from Stimela. I was immediately sold, so I reached out to Vinnie and asked that we do a piece on him, get to know the man behind the music. We set up a call for Sunday Morning.

Vinnie must be a late sleeper like me because I wasn’t able to get hold of him till after midday. Finally he picks up my call around 1pm.

He is chilling with his crew in Emdantsane. There is some background noise of people chatting, laughing and some music. I can tell that he is at his safe space.

Vinnie is an 80’s kid like myself. He was born in Brakpan, Gauteng and was raised by his grandmother in East London, Eastern Cape.

He identifies as an inner city kid who experienced culture through art and music.

His first love for music was through Jazz but he has since evolved into an enigmatic music connoisseur and his style now incorporates Funk, Soul, Hip-hop and blues.

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“As a kid, I collected music and unknowingly used it as therapy on myself, every now and then I use music as an escape,” Vinnie explains.

On Monday evening, I probe Vinnie further about his latest projects. He shares some links and I get to hear more of what he is capable of.

In 2020 he released two EPs titled Colours in the dark and Don’t touch the radio. These EPs are a multifaceted melting pot of genres and I spend Tuesday meditating to his music.

Vinnie explains on a voice note he sends to me on Wednesday afternoon while he gets a haircut how these projects came about.

Colours in the dark is of importance because there is a message behind it. A message about self-sustenance and the interconnectedness of the inner city kids. It’s about using what you have to survive and trade with it.”

You can hear more about this on Vinnie’s short documentary of the same title available on YouTube.

“On Don’t touch the radio, I was just trying to escape the politics of what I am really about and so I used Hip-hop and other styles to blow off some steam,” Vinnie elaborates.

My favourites are Black Wolverine, a funky Acid Jazz tune that reminded me of Jamiroquai as well as Get Back which sounds like a slowed down Trap-hop version of Ek’seni.

Vinnie is part of Altblkcontinua, an organisation that is home and gives support to local independent black alternative music artists. Many of you will know Msaki is also from Altblkcontinua.

“Being black and alternative in today’s music scene is a struggle as we go against most musical norms and narratives. We are often isolated in mainstream media and we find support amongst each other and therefore an organisation like Altblackcontinua is of tremendous value to us and has helped us to reach an audience we would have not been able to on our own.”

Vinnie’s music, sound and ideals are a breath of fresh air. By the end of the week I am a completely new person. I had been schooled in music and culture and forced to unlearn many stereotypes. It’s a rude awakening. I feel like Neo being yanked out of the Matrix. But destiny doesn’t roll a dice, and so I surrender to the call of new sounds.

Be sure to watch this space for when Vinnie Mak’s upcoming debut album drops, he is South Africa’s hidden gem and I cannot wait for the rest of the country to finally catch on.

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