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Teebs: Better Living Through 'Beat Music'

Mtendere Mandowa, also known as Teebs, is an electronic artist from Los Angeles. Though he rarely works with musical instruments himself, he takes other people's recordings, loads them onto his laptop and manipulates the sounds. He adds layer after layer, beat upon beat, until he's left with a chaotic collage of sound.

Born in New York, Mandowa was raised by parents from Malawi and Barbados. As a child, he says, he listened to a lot of calypso, which influenced his music's aesthetic.

"Calypso is more fast-paced," he says, "but this happy nature, being on an island, it related right back into the music that I was making."

This type of music has often been described as "beat music" -- a style that originated in Los Angeles with producers such as Flying Lotus.

"It kind of stems from hip-hop, or people doing production for rappers," he says. "But as time went on -- and more kids had equipment to make their own things but not the proper vocals to fit their music -- they started filling in the gaps."

A number of things can fill these gaps, he says -- some conventional, others not so much. As Mandowa listens to the song "Double Fifths" with Weekend All Things Considered host Guy Raz, he points out the elements that go into each of his productions.

"You're hearing a harp, shakers, recorded drum taps ... and change falling," he says. "I have a machine called an SP 404 -- it's a little sampler with a built-in mic, and I record everything into there and keep re-affecting it there and then into a computer. I've used tape peeling off something and the door-slamming of a microwave before."

An Intense Time

Creating Ardour was not without its share of challenges for the 23-year-old producer. His father died in the middle of the project, at which point he returned home and stopped making music.

"That was a really intense time; it was last year. Actually, my brother ... was really sick at the time also, and he got taken away to be hospitalized because it was getting too out of control for my mother," Mandowa says. "So it was a crazy time when he left, and then my dad passed away, and it was just kind of like a whole shutdown, so I moved back home immediately after that, and I just wasn't making any more music. So there was a four- or five-month break period. Then I randomly bought some equipment, a little flute and wind chimes, and then I made a song on the record called 'Burner,' and I think from then on, things were a little bit different."

Mandowa's father had never listened to his son's music before getting sick. But during his fight with cancer, the elder Mandowa was able to connect with his son and learn what he'd been working on.

"At first, he didn't really know too much," he says. "He died of cancer, and when he was getting more sick and in bed, he had more time. We actually spoke more. I was showing him songs, and he did start to really appreciate it. It was really amazing. He slowed down, and I had more time to be around him, and we kind of understood each other a bit more."

They connected over one song in particular.

"The 'While You Doooo' song was the one he mentioned," Mandowa says. "I was playing him a lot of tunes -- not just my stuff, but a lot of relaxing songs. He didn't even know it was mine, and he thought that was a really beautiful song. And he just kind of stopped the tape. I told him I was the one who made it. It was a really crazy moment."

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NPR Staff