“Roomies” is a fresh and captivating drama-comedy series that made its debut on 1Magic (DSTV CH103) on May 4th. The mastermind behind this delightful creation is none other than Sihle Mthembu, a versatile writer, podcaster, filmmaker, and co-author of “Born To Kwaito: Reflections on the Kwaito Generation.” This series brilliantly uncovers the humor inherent in the pursuit of both seemingly practical and wildly ambitious life goals, such as marriage, health, lifelong friendships, and a fulfilling career.
Enter NORMVL Sound, the music and record label division of the NORMVL entity founded by the renowned hip-hop artist and producer, ByLwansta. While ByLwansta has a storied history of producing his own music, his independent label took on the exhilarating task of crafting the score for this exciting new dramady. ByLwansta himself expressed his enthusiasm, stating, “The opportunity to work on music beyond my own is already exciting, but when the brief arrived, outlining how they admired what we’ve done and wanted a fresh take on it – a direction we hadn’t ventured into before – my excitement soared!” In addition to their work on “Roomies,” 2023 also marks an exciting milestone for the label as they embark on the production of a new ByLwansta project set to grace the world in 2024.
We had a chat with ByLwansta to get his selection process and inspirations for Roomies music.
Can you tell us about the role that music plays in setting the overall tone and mood of the of series/films?
[ByLwansta at NORMVL SOUND]: So in my various attempts at teaching myself music theory, one of the lessons I learned was how major and minor chords represented different moods, namely happy and sad. I naturally gravitated towards minor chords, aka sad chords, which might explain my love for Lana Del Rey’s music, it’s very cinematic, the string ensembles in Ultraviolence create such a cinematic texture to accompany (NB keyword) her sad girl musings. So in the context of series & films, the music contextualizes the scene and it landing appropriately. It steers the tonal themes but from the back of the boat. The opening sequence of Silence of the Lambs does a great job at emotionally preparing you for what’s to come.
How did you approach the process of selecting music for the series Roomies?
[ByLwansta at NORMVL SOUND]: A brief was presented, it had keywords for moods, tones and who the client was trying to reach and appeal to. What we did at NORMVL Sound was do some research based on that and we submitted some demos we composed for the title sequence. It was a brand new experience, creating non-ByLwansta music for change.
What criteria do you consider when choosing songs to enhance specific scenes or moments in the series?
[ByLwansta at NORMVL SOUND]: So that particular decision belongs to the editor and producers, based on how they’d like the scene to translate and be enhanced. We were sent a timeline with notes per scene and timestamp based on what the producers felt was needed, and we interpreted that and presented. They were very specific, which is great.
Can you share any memorable examples of a scene where the music selection played a crucial role in elevating the storytelling or enhancing the viewer’s experience?
[ByLwansta at NORMVL SOUND]: So I’ll speak to an example outside of Roomies. Everyone knows (I hope) what’s about to happen when you hear the strings suddenly go “ba-dum…baaaa-dum…ba-dum-ba-dum-ba-dum!”. There’s usually a jump scare, or a really stark, cold moment that it leads up to. You’re either on edge leading up to it, or you’ve half-covered your eyes behind a blanket or your hands when you hear that. That “ba-dum” is so well-known, it’s even become a parody of itself.
How do you strike a balance between using popular tracks and introducing lesser-known songs in the show?
[ByLwansta at NORMVL SOUND]: So in the context of creating the music for Roomies, it’s all brand new, original music, and brief specific, mood specific, so less reliant on existing popular tracks, but rather their essence. In this case, the client went with amapiano as far as the title sequence, something they felt captures the essence of this particular paradigm, something youth-facing. A lot of the references were that.
Are there any specific genres or styles of music that you gravitated towards for this series?
[ByLwansta at NORMVL SOUND]: The client presented specific genres, but predominantly Amapiano, but we recently began tapping into old school hip hop and trap soul textures for the various leading characters and how the series wants to position them. We received a brief per character and some sound suggestions. It was really interesting, again, how important the music is in selling these ideas and perceptions around the characters.
Do you collaborate with the show’s creators or directors to align the music selection with the narrative and character development?
[ByLwansta at NORMVL SOUND]: Yes, definitely. The briefs were very specific, they mainly described feelings and moods, so that allowed a lot of room for us to interpret that as best as we could.
What kind of impact do you hope the music has on the viewers’ overall perception and enjoyment of the series?
[ByLwansta at NORMVL SOUND]: Music in this context plays an incredibly significant supporting role, so I personally hope that whatever the writers intended to communicate doesn’t get missed, and that the music only sheds light on those key messages.
Are there any challenges or constraints you face when it comes to licensing and acquiring the rights to use certain songs in the show?
[ByLwansta at NORMVL SOUND]: None, because at NORMVL Sound (our record label division), we compose the original music and by virtue of that, the copyrights are owned by us. Every contributing creative in these sessions is credited appropriately in the paperwork and splitsheets that we submit to the relevant associations like SAMRO, SAMPRA, CAPASSO and etc.
Finally, what advice would you give to aspiring music compilers or supervisors who aspire to work on TV series and enhance storytelling through music?
[ByLwansta at NORMVL SOUND]: There are some really incredible independent record labels and music production houses in our local industry and community, the likes of Kimosabe Productions, StayCozy Records, NORMVL Sound, and sometimes these generic libraries that a lot of compilers and music supervisors tend to default to (due to budget constraints) don’t really have that very specific texture that firstly has that significant cultural relevance by virtue of it being composed ORIGINALLY by musicians who contribute to our cultural landscape already, and secondly they don’t have that very specific (and not generic) touch that could be unique to that particular show. You won’t find Hans Zimmer in a royalty-free music library that 100 other series’ haven’t used already. We’re creating scores for people’s daily lives already, what’s a series or a film to us? Hit us up.