Umlilo explores grief in her avant-garde debut album “Mpumi”
Genderbending South African queer artist Umlilo – aka Kwaai Diva – has unveiled her long-anticipated debut album, Mpumi.
Released by Future Kwaai Records, the 12-track LP is a collaboration with Berlin-based electronic music producer, Akrobat (Tobias Purfurst).
Mpumi is named after Umlilo’s late mother and explores the stages of grief over futuristic and avant-garde electronic beats with songs written in English, Xhosa and Zulu.
It was recently launched at the Legrand Queer Art Experience, which Umlilo co-founded with The Fam, Brainbow Creatives and Llewellyn Mnguni.
“In 2019, I lost my mother and uncle within the same month and it shook my entire existence. Grief has become a huge part of my story as a black trans woman living in South Africa,” says Umlilo.
“It seems that every year, we are mourning the death of our loved ones whether caused by hate crimes or other circumstances. This album was my way of trying to find meaning and healing in these traumatic events that have had a huge impact on my life.”
Recorded and written all over the world including the USA, Germany and South Africa, Umlilo began processing the trauma of grief by creating music with Akrobat and Jumping Backslash.
The songs outline the seven stages of grief including shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, reconstruction and acceptance in a thought-provoking and deeply personal manner.
The musician explored songs in her home languages and mixed Zulu and Xhosa with English to create a unique and genre-defying album.
Mpumi combines elements of afro-soul, hip-hop, darkwave, techno, electronica, traditional songwriting and cinematic soundscapes that push the boundaries of contemporary music.
“It took me a very long time to accept that both my parents were no longer here and that I have a responsibility to not only live authentically but also to reflect the suffering in our lives and represent my queer and trans community, which is often erased, abused, underrated, under-appreciated and extremely overlooked,” says Umlilo.
The album’s lead singles, Qhakuva and Bhuti have already garnered critical acclaim. Qhakuva is a Xhosa tongue-twister released with a dystopian “augmented reality” music video collaboration with renowned visual artist Francios Knoetze. It was featured as part of the Goethe Institute’s Archive of Forgetfulness exhibition and coffee table book of the same name.
The second single, Bhuti, was released as Africa’s first queer virtual reality 3D animation music video, which went on to be nominated for a Fakugezi Award in 2022.
Umlilo’s vision for Mpumi was to create a piece of art that is not only entertaining but also thought-provoking. The album’s themes of loss and rebirth are universal, and she hopes her music will resonate with listeners around the world.
“Mpumi pays homage to my mother, to her strength, courage, love and resilience. It is a project that is personal, political, vulnerable and gutsy. Akrobat and I really pushed ourselves to the edges of music-making and it feels cathartic to be able to share this experience with the world,” says Umlilo.
Mpumi is available on all major streaming platforms here.
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