BY HELEN HERIMBI
When we meet on a sunny day in Jozi, Durban’s Thelumusa “Tellaman” Owen is dressed down in an army fatigue shirt. But he’s not warring with anyone. Instead, through his Mind vs Heart mixtape and the slew of songs on which he’s featured – most of which are doing the rounds on radio – Tellaman is establishing himself as a lover, not a fighter.
The mixtape is all about love. Love for women. Love for money. Love for the game. It traverses what the kids are now calling trap-soul as well as straight R&B and dance music. Except, even when he interpolates the vocal stylings of what’s hot in the States, he’s still singing a lot of it in Zulu. This is just an extension of what he started when he signed to an iconic dance music label back in 2013.
Through Soul Candi, Tellaman got to curate an entire CD in the Soul Candi Sessions 16 compilation, which was released in October 2014. He tells me: “I was signed to Soul Candi only for one year. It was one of my ways to learn new things. I’d never signed an artist contract before. I did one project with them.
“I produced and wrote and basically did everything on my Soul Candi Sessions 16 disc. I only had three features: Okmalumkoolkat, Skye Wanda and Lastee. I had production from the likes of Pascal Morais and John Miller.”
Of this experience, Tellaman says: “I learnt a lot. I left because I felt like we’d done everything we’d set out to do. I also like different sounds and I’m not one to stick to one genre or style of music. Soul Candi is a house label. I do house, but I do more than that.”
For most people, their first encounter with Tellaman is through his hit single, Drinks and Music, featuring Okmalumkoolkat. It was a feel-good house number about not having a care in the world as long as there’s a drink in his cup and this song on the radio.
Two years later, Tellaman released Mind vs Heart. He says he called the mixtape that because: “I wanted to give my fans an experience. It’s either you’re hip hop or R&B or house in this country. We’ve never had a musician who can bridge the gap between these worlds. I just wanted to do something different. That’s why the project is titled Mind vs Heart.
“You find yourself thinking about what people like and that’s versus what you (as an artist) like,” he continues, “so you have to find a balance between the two. As you grow as an individual, you may start to grow as a businessperson. You need to calculate your moves to get paid. It’s all about learning as you go.”
Tellaman is also learning the rules of the road to success. He already writes for himself and others. Through his Select Play collective, which includes Lastee, Beast and Crowned Yung (all of whom are featured on Mind vs Heart), Tellaman is in charge of how he wants to sound.
Now, he is also managed by Free World Music that manages Rowlene and Nasty C. The latter has been a frequent collaborator with Tellaman. In March, they released a syrupy-sweet song called Nomakanjani. This was followed by a song called Uno – on which they attempt to convince girls that they are The One – and just last week, a new song called Come Over from the pair was released. This is in addition to the three songs featuring Tellaman on Nasty C’s stellar debut, Bad Hair.
Tellaman says: “We just keep on making music because we like making music together. Even people say there’s a certain chemistry between us. Whatever comes out, just comes out.”
The 25-year-old who can be heard on the radio-charting DJ Speedsta single called Mayo, is aligning himself with other young, but major players. But he’s also trying to carve a lane for himself. On Mayo, he sings about not dabbing, but doing the Madiba dance instead. On Mind vs Heart, he actually has a song called Madiba Dance where he sings about Tata’s jive, his face on money and more. So I ask Tellaman what his obsession with Dibs is about.
“I just love Mandela and what he stood for,” he explains. “He did things that a lot of us wouldn’t have done in his time. He made a better place for so many people. That’s dope. I can’t see how I, as an individual, cannot appreciate that.”
Mind vs Heart might have only been released last month, but Tellaman is already onto the next. He says: “I’m just going to drop a few singles and a few videos before the year ends. I’m not working on an album yet. We’ll see.”
Follow Tellaman on social media and download Mind vs Heart online.