Interview: Christian Tiger School
Interview: Christian Tiger School
The young South African hip-hop producers on process, influence and making it in America
Cape Town, known for its sweeping mountainous coastline, vineyards and historical role in South African politics, is home to a young, vibrant music scene making an international impression. At the foot of Table Mountain, Luc Veermeer and Sebastiano Zanasi—aka Christian Tiger School—are making beats that are beginning to resonate from the bottom tip of Africa to rest of the world. After playing every major festival in South Africa and opening for the likes of A-Trak and Little Dragon, Veermeer and Zanasi came to New York to play sets across the city and collaborate with new artists. We met up with the young artists to discuss their unique style, process and the road ahead.
Can you describe your sound?
Sebastiano Zanasi: In essence it's hip-hop-based. It's where our foundation of sound comes from. Within that though we try to delve into other genres and take influence from other places and other types of music. We'll take a huge catalogue of music, pull out what we want and run with it. Then we'll take it and chop it up. You could call it psychedelic hip-hop.
Luc Veermeer: We explained it to someone once and they said, "Oh like Tiësto?" [Laughs] No, not quite. Much more hip-hop, much more chopped up, much more chilled. We're very into Madlib's work and definitely J Dilla is a huge influence, but we take a lot of direction outside hip-hop and work it in.
You're based in Cape Town, a city known musically for its unique Cape Jazz. Does this influence you?
SZ: Indirectly yes, but Cape Jazz is not really traditional jazz; it's really its own style. Cape Jazz is almost pop-based compared to American styles. It started in the Cape Malay community, an ethnic group living mostly in the Western Cape. We definitely have a jazz influence, even if it's sort of indirect.
LV: Seb and his dad, and my dad as well, are super into jazz. As a kid I was never really into it, but now I'm really open to everything. I have a deep respect for jazz in all forms. I think it's one of the most advanced types of music and for us, it's really the mindset of jazz that influences our sound. In jazz, improvising and playing off of your mates is what gives it its sound. When we're sampling or writing or playing a live set, we're always trying to feed off of each other...We really into the musical theory behind production and sort of the bigger picture of it—context is really important. I've been listening to every Red Bull Music Academy lecture I can get my hands on.
How is the music scene in New York City different than Cape Town?
SZ: It's very humbling. We've been lucky in South Africa; in the year since we made our first beats, we've played some of the largest festivals in the country. Things have moved quite quickly. In the states, you need to constantly be releasing new stuff to stay relevant. There are so many great musicians that things can get watered down. Really though, it's for the better. We've learned a lot and know where to improve for international shows.
How did you get into producing music?
SZ: Everyone in my family except my mum were classical musicians. It was easy for me to gravitate towards music. I played in some really strange bands in high school, a sort of jazz rock back. My last year of high school I started taking jazz guitar really seriously. My granddad came from Italy and played in the Italian national orchestra. He met my grandmother in Iceland, she was the only female timpanist. She was Cape Malay and went to London to attend the Royal School of Music. She was the boss lady! They played for a living and so did my dad until he opened a restaurant in Cape Town. It allows me to do this and not struggle quite as hard.
LV: My dad was a DJ. He was a disco and kind of club DJ for a long time. He's really always been on the right tip with music. I listened to kak music when I was a kid. I was and still sort of am into death metal believe it or not. I dabbled with a death metal band when I was a kid. I don't know exactly when it was, but I really started getting into hip-hop. I started making some beats on Fruity Loops and never really stopped. I'm a wide variety of shit musically, I just don't have enough hours in the day to listen to it all.
Your sound is so multi-layered. Can you tell us about your process?
LV: It really depends on if we're composing or sampling. If we're composing, we'll start by having a jam. Seb will play something on the keys and I'll try to work something out that compliments in on the synths and we just keep adding. It goes back to the jazz mindset of playing off of one another. We keep adding until it all sort of falls in.
If we're sampling, I'll chop something up and Seb will come in on guitar or keys and we'll keep chopping it. A component of the song is only set in stone if we both agree on it. It's definitely a give and take.
Can you tell us about your name, Christian Tiger School?
LV: It's random bullshit [laughs]. It's funny a lot of people think we're a Christian band. We're not satanic badasses or anything, but we're also not a Christian band.
SZ: We've gotten some funny emails. One website thanked us for doing the Lord's work and offered to send us some Christian board games to set out at our next show. We still haven't received them.
How did you meet?
SZ: We became friends over hip-hop. We were both into some really heady stuff at the time that not too many people in Cape Town were into, like Jedi Mind Tricks for example. Luc was making these really intense, aggressive hip-hop beats and we had this little rap crew. We've never had the guts to release it, it's pretty ridiculous. It's funny where we started with really hard aggressive rap and now our music is mostly instrumental and we're quite relaxed.
What's next for Christian Tiger School, besides biblical board games between sets?
SZ: We recently did a track with Bilal, who's one of our favorite artists. He's worked with everyone from J Dilla to Beyoncé to Erykah Badu. We've also worked with Queens rapper World's Fair. So we're going to be dropping an EP with those collaborations. We've also got festival season approaching in South Africa. Our mindset has changed a bit though. We're focused more on touring internationally—maybe in Japan and Australia—as well as working on new material.
Check out Christian Tiger School's SoundCloud for more tracks and keep an eye out for their upcoming EP featuring Bilal and World's Fair later this year.
Lead image by Hans Aschim, all others courtesy of Christian Tiger School