Fruity Loops is a series about Africa's beatmakers. Too often they remain unknown, sometime even uncredited, despite their crucial role in shaping the sounds of an entire continent. Why "Fruity Loops"? Because more often than not, FruityLoops (or FL Studio) is the software of choice to create rhythms and sequence songs.
Walking the length of the streets in Maseru, capital city of Lesotho, you can’t fail to hear the mix of house and traditional music pumping from store-front speakers from mid-morning until the late afternoon when the working folk make their daily journey back to their homes. Nowhere is this more evident than in the city’s up-town area, where the streets are lined with shops selling everything from imported clothes to fresh produce - also likely to be imported. The taxis, a combination of the standard fifteen-seaters and what have come to be known colloquially as "four plus ones", add to the bustle, shoving their way through crowded roads with loud music serving as the soundtrack to their presumed self-importance.
But Maseru has another unacknowledged side that glows politely beneath the radar, the hip hop scene. Homegrown hip hop has been in existence here since the early nineties, but none of the acts have “made it” beyond our borders. And locally, rap acts only started getting widespread recognition in the last 3 to 5 years. Reading about the alternative music scenes in other African countries, it is hard to not draw comparisons and almost impossible to not see parallels with what is happening at home. Anything that is neither gospel nor traditional music quickly gets relegated to the background; even the ubiquitous house music played on the radio and blaring from those store-front speakers is by South African producers – Black Coffee, DJ Cleo, Culoe de Song, etc. Nonetheless, the hip hop scene survives.
I became actively involved as a rapper in Lesotho hip hop scene towards the end of the nineties. This brought me into contact with a lot of rappers and producers, and a whole host of “characters.” The primary tool of production, as I recall, was the Melody Assistant software package. It was nifty enough to fit on 3.5-inch floppy drives (this was before Flash drives became the mobile storage medium of choice), and its intuitive interface and relative ease-of-use endeared it to many. Melody Assistant's only downside, however, was its drum library. There was neither punch nor life in the kicks, no snares that crackled, nothing!
Fruity Loops 3 was, along with EJay, the first piece of software that enabled local hip hop producers to experiment with a different set of drum sounds. Those who had been utilising Melody Assistant would often layer the melodies they had composed over the drumsets of either of the two programs, oftentimes with brilliant results. It was round about this time that I met Cymtom (Moeti Moleko), a Maseru-based producer and beatmaker whose firm grounding in traditional boom-bap aesthetics has endeared him to purists and new-age audiences alike.
"I started out making beats in 2003, that was the first time I came across Fruity Loops 3", says Cymtom, now a married man earning a steady income – not through his music, but through a nine-to-five, a trend not uncommon in Lesotho. Hardly any of the producers on the scene rely primarily on music to eke out a living, and the same thing applies to rappers.
Cymtom's interest in making beats developed when he was at university. This was where he linked up with likeminded beatmakers and rappers to form a collective known as Artform, who then went on to release a series of instrumentals (beat tapes), which they would then share with their peers. This was around 2006: Facebook was just gaining footing, file-sharing had been around for a while, and Flash drives had gone down in price (while increasing in storage capacity) since their introduction in the early 2000s. File-sharing and cheap Flash drives meant that, even on a small scale, anyone could now get their music heard by a relatively sizeable audience, which then enabled them to measure their impact relative to the immediate community.
Cymtom's unapologetically boom-bap style got more refined with time. As he browsed more online producer platforms and got tips from kindred spirits on forums, his drums got more layered, his snares became punchier, and his basslines sunk into deeper, muddier territory.
When working with potential collaborators, Cymtom informs me that it is important for him to have a firm understanding of the artist’s background. "If you need beats from me, I need to listen to your stuff, to try and customize whatever I've done to suit your style" he says.
Of late, Cymtom has been expanding his musical horizons, experimenting with sounds that border on RnB/Soul sensibilities, while also crafting kwaito-influenced beats on the side. His current projects include work with a dizzying array of artists from around Lesotho, including a joint project with rapper Core Wreckah, production credits on the D2amajoe album, and his crew Artform's mixtape later on in the year.
For all the projects he is involved in, Cymtom is mindful of helping out other artists who do not have access to recording facilities. He often provides artists with free studio time, and is constantly on the lookout for emerging talent. And while he may fuse other types of software (especially Reason for its vast audio library), the ease of sequencing in Fruity Loops (not FL Studio) makes is his primary tool of choice.
You can find Cymptom on Facebook, Reverbnation and Twitter.