In Conversation with Aus Tebza

In music spaces and the music world there are artists and virtuosos who more often than not find a way to stand out. Not because they are the loudest in the space but simply because they are outstanding musicians. They are the people you dream of working with because their work tells a million stories of grace and precision. They are both enchanting individuals and exceptional collaborators.

One such artist is leading female bassist, music director and vocalist Tebogo Sedumedi, popularly known as Aus Tebza, who has returned with a brand new single titled Mmangwane. The sweet-toned songstress is no stranger to the scene having released two albums and graced many stages. Being committed to the preservation of African music and storytelling, Aus Tebza weaves her own experiences into the fabric of the traditional 6/8 rhythmic pattern to deliver her signature musical experience that we have come to know and love her for.

We had the privilege of chatting to Aus Tebza about her journey with music, her previous albums, the new single and of course future plans for the year. The conversation unfolded as documented below:

Your surname is Sedumedi, and as far as I know that means belief or religion. Do you ever take a step back and consider the influence your last name and effectively your bloodline has had on the person you are and the music you create?

Oh wow…are you sure this is the first question? (laughs). What a question! I have never looked at my last name from that perspective before and I think that is because I have never really paid attention to what it means. But now that you are asking me this question, I am beginning to realize just how incredible that connection is. Maybe this is what has carried me through all these years. Belief has always been with me, it has been me, and it has been the one thing I hold on to no matter how difficult things get.

And come to think of it, my surname gave me that identity of belief, not only in music but in who I am and what I stand for. I believe in the inherent goodness of people so much so that I am the kind of person that gives people second, third and even forth chances. I believe in positivity and inspiration which comes through in my music. I also believe in the power of words, and I think we should all be mindful of how we use them, especially in music.

When, where and how did music find you?

Music has always been my thing. I used to sing along to records from the tender age of two. And even before that I was responsive to music. My mother would tell stories of how they would put a radio next to me as an infant to stop me from crying and it worked like a charm every single time. When I was slightly older, I would dance to any record that came on, even if it was at a shopping complex.

In fact, people used to think I grew up in a musical family and I did not. I grew up in a very quiet, church-loving family but with no musician in sight, except for me. So, it was quite the phenomena to my parents and everyone really when I took this path because no one could figure out where my love and passion for music stemmed from, but they know for a fact that it has always been in me.

Loving music and being a musician are different things, how did you know that your love for music was beyond just consumption – that you were meant to create music?

You know there comes a time where you must look into yourself and figure yourself out. You have to make sense to yourself first before you can make sense to anyone else. There are things that you will hear, things you will see and things that will happen that will only make sense to you. There are fundamentals that will ground you and you alone. And from those, you will start to define your identity and make sense of yourself to yourself. You will then be able to say with clarity that this is who I am, and this is what I stand for. Music was my foundation. It made sense to me and helped me make sense of everything else in the world.

I believe music found me before God gave me to my parents, it is the very fiber of my being. It is a gift that God gave me and I believe that I have and continue to embrace it well. I don’t do music just for myself, I try to inspire other and impact knowledge to as many people as I can. I cannot imagine myself doing anything else. I have never been anything other than a musician.

If you were singing along to records from the age of 2 and probably humming along way before that, it means you have always been a vocalist. But many of us know you more as a bassist, so when and how did you take up the bass?

It was so unplanned (laughs). I was always a vocalist and I loved singing. Growing up I was a lead singer in a local band in Mafikeng but then I wanted more. I started writing my own music and I got tired of having to ask someone somewhere to come and play an instrument for me to make sense of my music. So, I decided it was time for me to learn how to play an instrument so that I could work on ideas by myself without having to wait for someone to come and help me.

As for why the bass, I wanted to start a band and we had everyone except a bassist. No one in the band could play the bass so I decided I would play bass so that the band could be complete. I wish there was an elaborate story about how I was inspired by a great musician to play bass but really it was out of necessity and then I grew to love it.

Over the years though I have come to realize that this is not just about my craft and my love for music, I am also carrying other women with me on this journey. It’s no longer just about what I was to achieve as Aus Tebza, it’s also about showing young girls and women what it possible within this industry. I have come to accept and appreciate that my story and my journey act as a blueprint and I hope that the one thing I am able to remind others of is that the magic starts within you. Oftentimes we want to connect and get motivation from tangible things that are outside ourselves, but you should focus on connecting with yourself and learning to trust yourself, that’s how you get longevity.

When an opportunity presents itself for you to express yourself and your craft, take it! Go out there and put your best foot forward. Don’t do it for praise or accolades because those won’t always come. Do it because that’s who you are, and you want to be true to your gifts and talents. If I did music solely for the accolades, I would have given up on the craft a long time ago. It hasn’t been an easy journey, primarily because there is no blueprint. I had to carve out my own path and I will continue to do so because I believe in what I do. Music is who I am. Music is life to me and there’s still so much work to be done.

One thing you are consistent with is taking your time with projects. You have recently released Mmangwane which comes two years after Motheo, and before Motheo you had last released in 2016/17. Why is it important for you to take your time with each project?

 When I make music, it is because I want to communicate a message to someone. I am not passing time or just looking to have a sizable catalogue. I am intentional about the songs I write and put out there because I believe words have power and so I have to be intentional about the messages I put out in song. I believe I have an assignment when it comes to music, and I have to honour that with each song. I make songs that help us reflect on a lot of things and some of the music I make takes time to hit home and I’m happy to give it that time.

Mmangwane has an incredible bassline and emotive lyrics, it’s a sad song done so well. Take us through the process of writing and recording this song. How were you feeling, what were you thinking?

When I wrote Mmangwane I was going through a phase of longing and missing a particular individual in my life. The song is a sonic representation of that state of longing that I was in, and I hope that through the song people will be encouraged to press on even through difficult phases of their lives. It’s easy to think you are the only one to have ever gone through a rough patch when you are in it, but the reality is you are not the only and you can make it through that situation.

I remember when I played Mmangwane with my band for the first time, I cried. The song overtook me, and I was overwhelmed with emotion, but that moment also confirmed for me that this song should go out and I must allow it to do what it needs to do. I didn’t struggle with penning down this song. In fact, it just came to me. It started with the bassline, and I would sing it repeatedly until naturally the lyrics formed. In a way I would say that I let the song lead and I hope that people will be able to connect with themselves and the moment through this song.

Your first album Make a Difference was a utopia, you spoke about the ideal world filled with love and faith. And then almost you realized that it was too advanced for us to comprehend at the time, you came back for us and started building that utopia up from the very foundation with Motheo. Mmangwane on the other hand sounds like a bridge between the two albums because it has the feel of Motheo and the yearning of Make a Difference. Was this intentional and by design?

Oh, my goodness! Yes! It’s exactly that. I can’t believe someone gets it without me having to explain it. When I was promoting my first album someone said to me that my music is beautiful but way ahead of its time, but I shouldn’t worry because the audience will catchup. A few years later an American lady came up to me after a show and she was so emotional as she told me how my music had moved her. That showed me that my music is universal and that affirmed me in that it showed me that if I am honest in my music then that honesty and authenticity will bind my audiences and I together. Music finds its way to make sense to every one of us even when you don’t understand the lyrics, the melody allows you feel everything you need to know.

Make a Difference is the image I have of life and what I find important in life. I talk about God, life, love, hope and making a difference in this life. That’s why I chose the green colour scheme for the album, I wanted it to represent life. Motheo on the other hand is the story of me going back to the beginning, back to an era that was instrumental in the path I took in music, my career and who I am. Motheo means foundation and the songs and sounds you hear in the album are my musical foundation. Some of the songs on the album were written way before I started playing bass, so they are more than twenty years old but this album was the appointed time for this songs to go out there and enjoyed by one and all.

I cannot let you go without asking what we can expect from Aus Tebza this year?

Well…you can expect a body of work from me. I am working on a project but I’m not sure if it will be an EP or a full length album, time will tell. What I am sure about is that it will be released some time this year so you can keep an eye out for it.