best welsh albums of 2017

The Songs That Shaped My Life | Rufus Mufasa

In the first of new series, we ask some of Wales’ top creative figures to build a playlist of the most important songs and artists of their life. We kick off with Rufus Mufasa, musician and poet, whose debut album, Fur Coats from the Lion’s Den, was unleashed on December 1st from Dope Biscuits Records.

My musical journey started at The Gospel Hall Sunday School. My Auntie Poo, one of the ladies that ran the Sunday School, would pick up my sister and me from my father’s house, in a light blue Lada as old as her. My sister hated it, but I loved it; it was filled with stories and songs, songs I’d turn in to Calypso and Reggae remixes, inspired by my step father’s music collection, including Harry Belafonte, my first love! I didn’t realise I was training to be a literary activist at the time.

I am from a large family; my Nanna had seven children! I’m thankful for her DNA. She must have been a fiercely strong woman. I can never get to the bottom of the laundry basket; and when I do someone wets the bed, or an illness hits the house hard, but I can just put things in the washing machine, whereas she did not have that option. When my tumble drier died once and I remember calling my mother, practically in tears, and that was before I even had children, (but in my defence, I did have two dogs). How did my Nanna manage, scrubbing by hand and line-drying everything?

When Nanna’s children flew the nest, they left behind their record collections, which I’d find, years later. The collection included musicals, and what I’d describe as post-war music that spoke of waiting for love, tying yellow ribbons around old oak trees, and cowboy music, probably my Uncle Danny’s as he never wore anything other than cowboy boots – he owned that look! I’d make my Nanna and her partner, Edgar, sit and watch my shows, belting out my renditions, my favourite being Diana Ross and the Supremes. And my Nanna loved me singing Elvis songs, her favourite being “Always on my Mind”. She’d sing along with me sometimes, or at the kitchen sink, scrubbing clothes clean, half a Woodbine in her mouth, smoke filled kitchen, denying that she was smoking, nicotine marked lips saying otherwise, closing the door, half laughing saying “Bugger off will ‘ew”, and back to singing at the smoky sink.

I also visited conferences at a Bible College near where I lived, and was introduced to missionaries from all over the world. I was mystified by their songs and music, sound and soul. I feel that this was at the forefront of my learning, maybe I didn’t realise this so much at the time, but I understand clearly now, the wealth of knowledge and art they were passing on.

My sister and I are total opposites, but we both loved Dr Dre and Eminem and would fight to the death for ownership of the CD’s. My sister was also a massive Tina Turner fan, and because of this I know the words to all her songs and secretly she became my teacher.

I remember discovering Alanis Morissette, mitched school and caught the bus to Swansea to buy a copy of Jagged Little Pill from HMV, praying that I wouldn’t get asked for ID, in my fluorescent green adidas jacket, which I thought was the bomb, hiding my dark green school uniform. I played the album over and over, sang the words with conviction, but it took me years to understand fully what she was taking about. Even now, if I’ve had a crap day, involving sexism, which still throws me off guard, I belt out “Right Through You”, and I feel so much better.

Another song I sang throughout my childhood, you know, the one where your mother throws you on stage to perform, on holidays, or any other possible situation, was “Stand by Me”. I remember grown men approaching me in floods of tears on several occasions after singing that song. When I was much younger, men would cry, especially with Welsh songs, like “Calon Lan”, and I’d often get money for calling people on New Year’s Eve to sing… I don’t know how that worked?

I got well into hip hop in my early teens, I loved both Tupac and Biggie and was a massive Helter Skelter fan, but never lost my Calypso and reggae influences. I fell in love with Jill Scott, and I suppose that relationship cemented the poetry that would evolve in my own practice. I love Jill Scott’s unapologetic womanhood, her vibe, her soul and sass. My favourite Jill Scott track has got to be “Getting in the Way of what I’m Feeling”. I also adore “One is the Magic Number”. I rediscovered Jazz through Amy Winehouse, and could totally identify with her sound, and how hip hop had influenced her work. Choosing a favourite is hard… but I’ll go with “No Good…” and “What Is It About Me?”, but I can sing every track.

But I suppose my new musical journey started in the Winter of 2012… I’d bumped my car, was feeling run down and sorry for myself. I was meant to meet with a friend I’d met through a friend. I’d cancelled days before, because of the car incident, and moments before cancelling a second time, I had a word with myself, put on some war paint, got in my car and drove to Cardiff. I was on my way to meet Jamey P. My friend had linked us up, saying, “You’ve got to meet this guy, he’s a bit odd, but he’s an amazing producer, his beats are sick.” Our friend had said to Jamey P, “You’ve got to meet this girl, she’s amazing, a bit bonkers, but you’ve got to get her on a track”.

I arrived in Roath, parked my car badly, still had a head full of rollers, still in shock from my car bump, still alive and outside the house. Jamey P greeted me, at the Big Blue House, like he’d been waiting his whole life for this moment, like he already knew everything about me, like nothing else mattered, and he kissed me, exactly like in the movies! Part of me was like “Wow! That just happened?” The other part of me was like (in my head) “That’s a bit cheeky, to think you can kiss me when we’ve only just met”. Inside the house I met Sindy T, introduced to me as the Rapping Gimp, and we watched his Big Gimpin’ videos on YouTube. Next up was Task Force, My Last Trip, where I first met Chester P.

Some people would have run for the hills, but I suppose I was already running from them, and I am so glad I stayed. Chester P has been a huge part of my musical journey, as has Jamey P, and Jamey and I have been blessed with two beautiful daughters, Molly and Alice. We have just released an album, my first solo album, Fur Coats From The Lion’s Den, and this is as much his album as it is mine. His excellence is evident on every track and he broke his back helping me make this happen.

Our daughters have been drenched in music and poetry since the womb. During my first pregnancy I toured furiously with my hip hop crew, Dope Biscuits. Festivals, squats, even when I was the size of a house we still gigged, sang, danced. My daughter Molly was so used to loud noise and music that when we first got her home she freaked out because it was so silent. During my pregnancy, exposed to an abundance of music, Molly’s favourite was Ella Fitzgerald. She’d bop about inside me, I can still feel it when I revisit Ella Fitzgerald, and Ella is Molly’s middle name.

I remember my first dance with Molly. She was tiny, days old. We’d had a freak heatwave, we’d had a tough labour, and I just held her, so close, just us, free from visitors, and I played Alicia Keys’ “A Woman’s Worth”, cried and sang. I promised her there and then that I’d make the world better, that women deserve better, and I’ll make changes.

Alice and I have regular The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill sessions and I blast out the album, both of us dance, and Jamey schools us on where the original samples in the body of work came from.

The whole family is involved with the music making in our home. We spend days sampling music, finding treasures of sound… we once found this song called “Tramp Star” by Brian Pilman, and it is Molly’s favourite. She knew all the words after only hearing it twice and sings and acts out the story with such conviction. It is a story about a prostitute and Molly loves it and always dances like she owns the swinging sixties, like she was there, and Jamey says that she reminds him so much of his grandmother, who’d dance on Saturday afternoons to similar music. Molly is also a massive Four Owls fan, so we have lots of that going on, and Alice loves it all, she was born to dance, and to do Iron Man Challenges. Alice is already desperate to make beats and always favours the drums.

I’m a massive Nina Simone fan, for her music and activism. She believes that it is an artists’ duty to talk about the times, to shake things up. She also believes that spending time with children is an investment, that bread cast upon the water comes back, and I truly try to uphold this in all that I do. Her music is potent in iconic music, samples were even used in JayZ’s new album 4:44.

My hip hop album of the year, (in fact, genre aside, this is my album of the year), and is such an inspiration, has got to be Joe Dirt’s Barrydockalypse. He uses exquisite lyricism to discuss contemporary moral issues, to comment on the crisis we are in, with stunning beats, and not a misogynistic bar in sight! This album is an important contribution to Welsh literature! Barrydockalypse and artist Marion Cheung’s exhibition Lost Connections, became important influences in my album’s body of work, as well as my theatre writing, and I collaborated with another artist, Amelia Unity Thomas, and we created Landmarks, and showcased it at Made in Roath festival, and are hoping to tour this summer. My site-specific exploration with Unity also laced the direction of the album, and her support and nurture gave me the drive to complete the project and launch it successfully.

Jamey isn’t a fan, but I have enjoyed Beyoncé’s Lemonade, my favourite track being Daddy Lessons, another track I play when I need courage, and I sing it to my girls in the kitchen, when I need a break from their music.

I have visited Finland twice in the last two years. The first time headlining the Helsinki Literature Festival and the second time I performed at Ruisrock Festival. I became obsessed with Finnish words beginning with K, the Kiasma Contemporary Art Museum, and an artist named Olavi Virta. I’m currently working on a poetry collection in response to my time in Finland. One poem starts, “Olavi Virta was born in a sauna, that much I know is true…”

Exploring Olavi Virta and his music was special. It reunited me with my Uncle Gwyn, who must have played his music when I was a child, or maybe it sparked a genetic memory, I’m not sure, but I love Olavi Virta and I think he brought out the folk flare in my work, and curiosity for experimental trilingual poetry.