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Gemini Major: Next stop, London

DJ Edu Presenter of This Is Africa on BBC World Service

Benn Gilbert Kamoto AKA Gemini Major is a Malawian music producer and singer-songwriter who is full of ambition. He’s just released his second album, entitled Island Water – a reference to the islands of Lake Malawi.Quote Message: When I think of Malawi, I always think about the islands. When you’re at Lake Malawi you forget about everything else. It’s one of the most lovely places you can be in. It’s huge. It’s almost like an ocean which gives you a very island feel.”

When I think of Malawi, I always think about the islands. When you’re at Lake Malawi you forget about everything else. It’s one of the most lovely places you can be in. It’s huge. It’s almost like an ocean which gives you a very island feel.”

The album itself has a melodic soulful vibe, which Gemini Major thinks was helped by the coronavirus lockdown.Quote Message: I’ve always been a very soulful guy, and being in South Africa in the industry I was in, I never really showcased that. When lockdown happened, I got a lot more time to myself, and I got in touch with my soul again. It’s specifically designed to move your body and soul.”

I’ve always been a very soulful guy, and being in South Africa in the industry I was in, I never really showcased that. When lockdown happened, I got a lot more time to myself, and I got in touch with my soul again. It’s specifically designed to move your body and soul.”

After graduating in IT he moved to Durban, South Africa in 2009 to pursue his dream of a career in music. He produced for several artists performing different genres, from hip-hop and dancehall to R&B. In 2013 he moved to Johannesburg. At a video shoot for a song that he’d produced, he met one of South Africa’s most successful rappers and producers, Cassper Nyovest. He was then signed to Nyovest’s Family Tree Record label. He produced Nasty C’s hit single Juice Back, which really launched them both.Quote Message: His career blew up and my career as a producer also blew up with that first song we ever made together. So from then on it’s been from this big guy to the next big guy. I make relationships easily you know? That’s been one of the things that has helped me navigate the South African industry.”

His career blew up and my career as a producer also blew up with that first song we ever made together. So from then on it’s been from this big guy to the next big guy. I make relationships easily you know? That’s been one of the things that has helped me navigate the South African industry.”

Despite the fact that he’s still based in South Africa, he says his Malawian roots are always present in his music.Quote Message: “I always put one, two, three words in Chichewa. When they hear that, especially when I collaborate with other international artists, just to hear Chichewa they’re just so happy about it. And just the sound that I make is very, very heavily tied to Malawi.”

“I always put one, two, three words in Chichewa. When they hear that, especially when I collaborate with other international artists, just to hear Chichewa they’re just so happy about it. And just the sound that I make is very, very heavily tied to Malawi.”

Gemini returns to Malawi regularly and performs to enthusiastic audiences. In Malawi he says the feeling among the fans is one of pride – of having him as “their boy doing amazing things”.

In 2015 Gemini was first nominated as producer of the year at the South African hip-hop awards along with some of the country’s greats.Quote Message: “I really could not believe it. I really didn’t think I was on that level yet. But the people around me that submitted that believed. When that happened I realised how far I could get with this. That inspired me. Since then it’s just been about doing bigger and better.”

“I really could not believe it. I really didn’t think I was on that level yet. But the people around me that submitted that believed. When that happened I realised how far I could get with this. That inspired me. Since then it’s just been about doing bigger and better.”

Gemini’s introduction to production had humble beginnings after his cousin started making beats.Quote Message: But I wasn’t interested. I thought he was just making noise, and I thought what is this guy doing?”

But I wasn’t interested. I thought he was just making noise, and I thought what is this guy doing?”

That was until he saw his cousin’s friend making a beat and then recording a song which ended up becoming a big hit in Malawi. From then on, Gemini became intrigued and started playing around with that same project.Quote Message: I started learning. The minute I realised I could create, that’s when I fell in love with it and since then it’s been my thing”.

I started learning. The minute I realised I could create, that’s when I fell in love with it and since then it’s been my thing”.

His favourite track on the new album is Ooh La La, on which he collaborates with rising Nigerian singer Ayra Starr.Quote Message: “I was working on Island Water so I just DM’d her to say: ‘Yo I’m really enjoying your sound and I hope we can work together.’ She said: ‘Sure, send me a couple of records.’ So I did, and she was in love with Ooh La La.”

“I was working on Island Water so I just DM’d her to say: ‘Yo I’m really enjoying your sound and I hope we can work together.’ She said: ‘Sure, send me a couple of records.’ So I did, and she was in love with Ooh La La.”

On another track entitled Ewele, he sings about how tough 2020 was with the coronavirus pandemic.Quote Message: I’m talking about how 2020 was draining on everyone, financially, mentally, it was too much. We lost a lot of people. There was so much chaos. It was just me speaking from my perspective and saying that look, with the years to come, there’s no more wasting time. We’re about to go get it.”

I’m talking about how 2020 was draining on everyone, financially, mentally, it was too much. We lost a lot of people. There was so much chaos. It was just me speaking from my perspective and saying that look, with the years to come, there’s no more wasting time. We’re about to go get it.”

Although Gemini has built his reputation in South Africa he has ambitions of connecting with the rest of the world and is planning to go to London.Quote Message: South Africa is just one of my stops. I started there, yes. But the journey doesn’t end there. With the kind of music I’m making now, it feels like London is at the centre of it all. I’m as brave as they come and I know how hard it’s going to be to achieve what I’ve achieved in South Africa, and for me to even let that go and say I want to be in the main frame. I see Wizkid and Burna Boy playing the O2, and I want to be in the centre of all of that.”

South Africa is just one of my stops. I started there, yes. But the journey doesn’t end there. With the kind of music I’m making now, it feels like London is at the centre of it all. I’m as brave as they come and I know how hard it’s going to be to achieve what I’ve achieved in South Africa, and for me to even let that go and say I want to be in the main frame. I see Wizkid and Burna Boy playing the O2, and I want to be in the centre of all of that.”

To hear the full interview with Gemini Major and tracks from his album Island Water, listen to This is Africa on BBC World Service radio and partner stations across Africa, and online here.

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