By Corey D Smith
Music has several functions in the day-to-day dealings of people. It can serve as one’s tempo, a person’s peace in troubled times, and even their very heartbeat. For many Black people, this experience is one that rings true. For Neo Mokoatle of Durban, South Africa, music is the air he breathes.
Neo, who is the second oldest of four-siblings, recalls the days when he and his brother would run home after school and listen to the radio, jamming out while completing their homework.
“We would listen for hours, imitating the sounds we heard, just passing the time,” he says. Neo remembers beat-boxing while his brother spit (rhymed) and making magic in their shared room. Neo’s passion for music amplified and after completing high-school, he traveled to Cape Town to study audio production.
“University gave me technical skills, but the music was always in me,” Neo says as he changes the levels to a track he has been working on during our conversation. He is working from home today, very relaxed in his bedroom, completely isolated from the rest of the family. Neo calls this his “downtime” even though he is still hard at work.
“Most people in South Africa are consumed with either American hip-hop or African house music… my sound tends to be overlooked,” Neo says. “People always think I’m crazy for these beats, but they love my production quality.” He is in a lane of his own.Soft tones of soprano piano, mixed with deep electric beats fill the air, a mezzo alto voice sings a melody. I close my eyes and am warped into an otherworldly experience. Each sound ringing out to me, as if it were made to fit my ears.
The entire weekend was spent listening to beats and swapping music. Discovering the fact that music is the connecting force, which allows many worlds to become one. Alternative R&B, neo-soul, new age hip-hop, even old skool tunes are all a part of the many phases of Black life.
“I know that this is what I was called to do, that’s why I pursue it like my life depends on it, because it actually does,” he says.
This connection that I found to Neo through music, is one that he longs to feel with others. After only four years of producing, he knows he has some way to go before he is a household name, and that is what continues to propel him forward.
“It’s like we grew up the same, only in two separate places. That’s why I love music so deeply,” he says. He eventually gets a call from his co-producer and I slip out of the room, energised and ready to bump some tunes.