THE BLOG

The Idea

02/11/2014 19:21 GMT | Updated 02/01/2015 10:59 GMT

If I'm honest, the idea of making this album was an afterthought. I spent eight months working on Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom. Mandela was really into his music and part of my research was to understand what he liked. What I probably didn't realise at the time was just how much there was to discover. In the course of that journey, I felt like I discovered the roots of South African music.

And there was so much to discover! South Africa has over 60 different tribes, and each has its own style of musical expression and its own unique style. Mandela's tribe, the Xhosa, has a soprano-style vocal approach with beautiful folky melodies. I found that fascinating.

But it was just as inspiring to hear how the country's musical tradition had influenced contemporary music too. If you go to Joburg on a Friday night, you could walk into almost any bar and discover an incredible house band doing a mix of traditional songs and covers.

The house scene is particularly vibrant with some of the best producers I've ever heard in my life. I was particularly drawn to what I discovered was Kwaito house, which blends African rhythms with EDM sounds. In fact, South Africa has probably the most thriving, healthy house scene in the world.

At one stage, it was Chicago, then it was New York, then London, or London and New York at the same time. Paris had a proper thriving house scene at one stage. But right now it's South Africa: Cape Town; Durban; Johannesburg. It's basically good time party music, but there's a darkness in there too that reflects a lot of the issues that the country is grappling with.

Addressing social issues has always been a key element of South African music and the current generation is continuing that approach.

I had a laptop and a keyboard set-up at the apartment that I was staying in, so whenever I had some free time I'd experiment with ideas inspired by everything I heard. And I vowed to myself that one day I'd come back to South Africa to really try to learn more.

About a year later, I was with my Dad who was very ill. I showed him the film, and I told him about how inspired I was by the music. And he said, "You've always loved music, so you should go back to South Africa and do it." A little later he passed away. At the funeral, my uncle was DJing and he played all of these amazing songs that my dad loved. I just said to myself, "Man, I'm going to do it."

A few days later, I called a lot of musicians who I thought would be interested and we all met up to talk about the idea. Shaun Escoffrey, George the Poet, Remi Rabaka, Mr Hudson, even Frank Ocean was there - and most of them ended up coming to South Africa as well. Two weeks after I'd first decided to commit to it, we were on a plane to South Africa where we'd spend the next three or four weeks working on the album... To be continued...

Idris Elba Presents Mi Mandela is released on 27th November. Pre-order it here - http://smarturl.it/miMandela