Pow! Negro: The next generation of Australian hip hop

“It’s important not to lose sight of your inner emotions and feelings…it’s important to express yourself as purely as you can.”

When Nelson Mondlane, MC of Fremantle’s Pow! Negro, moved into his share house last year, the first thing he did was pull out his music and turn up the record player. “I love Kamasi Washington and I’d recently got Epic on vinyl when I moved into the house, so I’d been smashing that all day – I’m not sure what my housemates thought,” he laughs. So imagine his surprise when he found himself on the same bill as Washington and a handful of his other musical heroes.

“Womadelaide 2018 – I don’t know if I’ve been this excited to play a festival before. The lineup is so legit,” Mondlane says. “Thundercat is probably one of my favourite artists ever – he’s one of those musicians, I can put him on and feel so good. It doesn't matter what mood I’m in – he’s phenomenal.

“Nai Palm is also there, Remi, and Sampa The Great,” he adds. “Peanut Butter Wolf I love, and Stones Throw is our favourite record company of all time, so the whole band is really excited to see him and Thievery Corporation and Tank and The Bangas – it’s too good.”

Mondlane may be humble, but the six-piece that merge elements of jazz, hip hop and psychedelic have come a long way since taking out WA’s The Big Splash award in 2016. They’ve gone on to win a slew of titles including 2017’s National Live Music Awards, WA Live Act of the Year, and more. 

Since their west coast domination, Pow! Negro have been handpicked to open for some of the country’s biggest names, most recently Midnight Oil. Mondlane says they’ve also been taken under the wing of Aussie hip hop’s finest, Remi and Sampa The Great. “From the conversations we’ve had with Sampa she’s incredibly focused, devoted to her art and very strong, and Remi’s the same. I feel like Remi has maybe gone through some hard trials and tribulations but has come out the other side, and he always talks about how music has helped.

“We also talk about navigating our way in the industry – there’s a mainstream way and then there’s a grass roots approach. Remi and Sampa seem to be very much about truth, as corny as that might sound – they always say you have got to come from a place of honesty. It’s important not to lose sight of your inner emotions and feelings, and no matter how you think other people will take that, it’s important to express yourself as purely as you can,” Mondlane says.

"One of the most important things I've learnt is it’s better to hold back sometimes when I'm performing. That's something I've struggled with, thinking I have to give 100 percent every song. I've realised it's a lot more impactful if there's a rise and fall in the way my vocals are delivered and within the set."

Their 2017 EP Jasmine & Licorice was somewhat of a DIY-effort after they chose to scrap what they’d recorded in a professional studio and start again in a makeshift studio out the back of bassist Toby and guitarist Lachlan’s share house. “The reason we made the studio was because the first time we recorded we weren’t happy with it. It was too hard to convey what we wanted, so we thought we’d do it ourselves. It was a good learning curve for us.

“Everyone learnt so much and it made it a much more intimate affair. My favourite artists, and the people who are really killing it, are people like Kendrick Lamar – he makes amazing pop music but there’s always an intent, it’s not just throwaway music.

“But at the end of the day we’re in the entertainment industry, and I don’t know if debauchery is the right word, but it can get pretty crazy. I think personally for longevity the approach has to be very thoughtful,” Mondlane says. “I’m not just here to party all the time, I’m here to bring the party and for it to continue as long as possible. I’m working on being monk-like,” he jokes, “but everyone’s different.”

Pow! Negro will perform at WOMADelaide, coming to Botanic Park from Friday March 9 until Monday March 12. They’ll headline Northcote Social Club on Saturday March 10, with Allysha Joy and Kuzich. b