In Conversation with Just 6

In the music world, award ceremonies are often platforms of affirmation and reward for artists and musicians who have done amazing work and released outstanding projects in a given timeframe. Moreover, these platforms are also platforms of recognition and critical acclaim from peers and leaders within the industry. The Grammy Awards are often reckoned to be the biggest of these platforms and mere recognition or consideration by The Grammys can easily be seen in high regard given the integrity of their panels and the extent of their critique assessments.

A Capella group, Just 6, is not only a talented and diverse ensemble, they are also one of the few South African musicians to be given a nod by The Grammys. This happens at what can be considered the early stages of the ensemble’s career as they still have so much more to give to the music world. We speak to group member, who is also composer and arranger for the group, Nkosie Hospas about the history of the group, their love and commitment to a capella, and of course the meaning of a nomination from a prestigious organization like the Grammys.

For the benefit of those who might not know Just 6, please give us a brief background on when the group was formed?

The idea of the group came about in 2011 and at the time there was only four of us. As we continued toying with the idea and trying to figure out how it would work, another member joined and shortly thereafter another. At this point it was 2012 and that’s when Just 6 fully took form.

Since you were not part of the 4 initial members, did you join the group with the mandate of being the arranger of the group or did that sort of happen as time went by?

I was the guy that had musical ideas and that’s what I was known for. So, when I joined the group, I joined as an arranger, that has been my role from the very beginning.

I imagine that having to compose and arrange for a multi-layered concept where you have six guys who are playing around with an A Capella feel across numerous genres can be challenging, how was it for you initially?

We had a number of acts or ensembles that we looked up to and whom we sort of studied as a point of reference and that made it easier for us to package this idea we had of what kind of group we would be and what we would sound like. Also, as a group we were aligned in terms of what we wanted to produce so even when I would suggest something, it was easy for the guys to align to it because it aligned to the greater vision we have for ourselves as a group.

Another factor is that we were quite young when we started out, the oldest member of the group must have been in second year of varsity so we did not have many cares or responsibilities, but we did have a lot of time and that meant we had time to play around with sounds and feel until we found something we were happy to perform to an audience. It probably took us 8 months or so to put material together that we were confident enough about to perform. And our first performance as a group was at the State Theatre in Pretoria.

Oh wow! I thought you would say that your first performance was at a pub somewhere but from the onset you guys performed on the big stage...

Hey man, when you’re destined for greatness, these are the things that happen. What’s crazy though is that we have not performed at The State Theatre since our debut performance (we need to change that). Back then there was a music academy that was running out of State Theatre and one of the guys in the group was attending this academy, and they used to host talent shows and there was this grand talent show happening towards the end of that year and that’s the one we wanted to perform at.  And when we saw the stage that we would perform on we were immediately sold. We knew there and then that that was the stage we wanted to have our debut performance on. As the story goes, we got there on the day, we started singing and the audience went crazy, and that was it. That moment set everything in motion for us, it affirmed and confirmed what we wanted to do in music together as a group.

Was there ever an urge to move away from A Cappella as the main concept of the group?

No, never! And that has a lot to do with the shared love we have as a group for acapella. Beyond that I think it is also a calling for us. It is our thing, and it is what makes us special. It fulfils us first and then it pours out to others who get to enjoy what we do and be moved by it.

Even though we do incorporate instruments from time to time, that’s more of us flexing our creativity muscle but we are very married to acapella.

As a collective, you guys have taken a conscious decision not to box yourselves into a specific genre, why did you take that route?

We see what we do as a discipline of some kind and there are different ways or styles that we can execute this discipline, and that’s the beauty of it. As an ensemble we are very diverse in that we can sing anything from Classical to Gospel to Jazz to Pop and everything in between. Sometimes we cross genre barriers within a song. So, not boxing ourselves into a specific genre allows us to explore music in general and it has opened us up to endless possibilities in terms of the music we can make and the people we can collaborate with.

Is there a difference in approach when you are preparing to perform on stage and when you’re preparing to go into studio and record a record?

There’s a big difference. When we are recording, we learn the music as we’re recording and that works best for us because it’s raw and easy to shape as opposed to having everyone learn the music beforehand and develop their own habits as it pertains to the delivery of the song. We get the blueprint down first as record and then we learn the music. At that point the song takes a life of its own as we figure out how we want to perform it, which is why the performance version of a song for us will be different in dynamics to the record.

You’ve also been Grammy nominees for the last two years, take us through that process. How did it happen? Did you make the nominated records with the intention of submitting them to the Grammy’s?

Fast forward a year or two later, we had done our Christmas themed project and we thought we should try our luck and submit our work for consideration. We reached out to Armand and asked him to assist us through the process which he was happy to do, and we got the submission through without thinking much of it. When the nominees were then announced in November 2023, we were shocked to hear our name being called out. It really took us by surprise, and I think that had a lot to do with the fact that to us, we were just trying our luck. We have no international features on the song or the EP, but it also made us feel really proud of ourselves and the music we create. This was our first solo project and there’s still many more to come. This nod from the Grammy’s has confirmed to us once again that we are on the right track and that the work we do lands the way we intended. Now we’re just figuring out how to win (laughs). We are a brand that believes in excellence and that’s what we strive towards, with every recording and with every performance.

Are there any new projects coming up soon?

Oh yes there are. We have not even begun to release our best work yet. The first quarter of this year has been busy but we are excited about releasing new music later this year and performing for the people who love our music and those who are yet to discover our music.