Front Row with Twenty One Children
The days of "absolute Punk f*ckery" have finally descended upon us here in Johannesburg–and Twenty One Children are the (somewhat) new kids on the block taking charge. It's so exciting to be living in Jozi at a time like this because the arts & culture underground scene plays host to some of the most talented alternative musical acts I've ever witnessed, and our next interviewee is certainly another one which falls within this bracket; a very commanding upcoming musical act which I've been listening to for the past few months. Twenty One Children consists of Abdula Skink on vocals, Thulasizwe Nkosi on guitar and Jazz Nkosi on drums. (Jazz and Thula have no relation).
I'm labeling this band as the return of true Jozi Punk; within its most raw & fresh form... And the music speaks for itself! In conversation with Abdula, he describes their music palette as "Jozi skate rock"–which to me is an accurate representation of the mentality & musical ethos which Twenty One Children makes music from. It's the spirit of being a punk, in whichever form you prefer, which is embedded within their bands DNA–hence the resounding response to their music from a local audience.
What makes Twenty One Children unique to me is the balance within their music; a fine divide between lyrical ingenuity & vibrant quintessential punk rock instrumentals. Interestingly enough, their band name, 'Twenty One Children', was derived from Abdula's time working at JSA (Johannesburg School For Autism) with twenty one autistic kids in the class. This just shows you that there is a close relationship between the bands music & mental health issues, whether through their lyrics or visuals, which is something I genuinely appreciate.
A profound example of this is the song "Looney Bin" off their latest EP, 'Two Kings and a Skink', with Abdula repeatedly screaming the lyrics: "Here I am at the Looney Bin!" throughout the chorus of the song. Then you also have songs such as "Corner Knife and Bullet" which are heavily dictated by pace and momentum; alternating between slower riffs and speeding up into higher tempos with pulsating drums matched by Abdula's poetic lines spewed at varying frequencies.
So sit back and enjoy this ensuing interview with the boys over at Twenty One Children as we discuss all things concerning the band & more; the revival of punk music in Johannesburg, the response to their first EP 'Two Kings and a Skink', advice to emerging artists, future 2024 plans, and more.
Would you mind introducing yourself and including a short description of what you do?
TOC: So my name is Abdula Skink, your local Jozi punk. I organise gigs around Johannesburg, from the DIY skateparks in Soweto to the dingy corners of Melville and most recently, Braamfontein. There hasn’t been a gig in town for almost ten years too–so doing that was pretty monumental for me as an organiser and as a musician. Most importantly, I sing lead vocals for Twenty One Children.
Firstly, I'm a fan of your band! The music from the new EP—Two Kings and a Skink—sounds incredible. Raw & fresh; true Johannesburg iteration of Punk. So I guess let's take it back to the beginning... How did Twenty One Children begin? Who forms part of the band?
TOC: So being in a band–or more so–being a performer is something I’ve always wanted to do since I was younger. I just couldn’t find the right medium for that outlet. I then moved to Soweto in my final year of high school and my eyes opened. Everyone is a punk in Soweto–from the skaters to the single moms. I then met my guitarist, Thulasizwe. I heard stories about his old band TCIYF (the cum in your face) and all the crazy shit they did as a band; going to Europe, getting “Thrasher Magazine” to come to Soweto, playing at Afropunk twice! Just overall amazing things you would not hear about in Soweto. He schooled me on everything punk rock. From bands to listen to–to how to put a gig together, and so on. That's when I started doing shows; the purpose was to bring Soweto punk ideologies to Jozi youth. It got to a point where I wanted to be in a band and I would pester him to start one with me. He resisted–but eventually he agreed. Twenty One was born after that.
Image courtesy of Twenty One Children
At the time I was working at JSA (Johannesburg School For Autism) as a teachers assistant and we had twenty one autistic kids in the class–that’s how the name came about. I was also twenty one when we started the band. We would jam with just a guitar and vocals with lyrics from a notebook written the year prior by Thula at the mental institution. We would jam at the local skatepark. Openly and to the public whether they wanted to hear it or not. They would get annoyed if not impressed. We knew we needed a drummer so we went to ex-TCIYF drummer, Jazz Nkosi. It was on the 21st of February that Twenty One would have our first jam as a full lineup. Twenty One consists of Abdula Skink on vocals, Thulasizwe Nkosi on guitar and Jazz Nkosi on drums. (Jazz and Thula have no relation).
Now I wanna talk more about the EP specifically. How has the reception been towards your newer music?
TOC: People have been loving the EP–the support has been amazing. I’ve never made music before and it's cool that people keep going back to listen to it; and I mean it’s only ten minutes which is cool. When we first released it on Bandcamp–some people even bought it. Someone even made a comment that we’ve revived skate rock in Jozi. It’s left an impact which is what we wanted.
Image courtesy of Twenty One Children
I think Corner Knife and Bullet is my favourite song off the entire EP. The lyrics are simply majestical—and I think you wrote those Abdula. Please can you tell me more about the process of putting a record like this together; lyrics & all.
TOC: Life events help us write–we often say that if it’s not true, then we won’t write about it. Most of our co-written songs like “Corner Knife and Bullet” and “She Fell” (which isn’t in the EP) come from moments and conversations we have with our friends and family. Someone will say or do something really cool and then a song will be born out of it. As for the instrumental side, our guitarist will have a riff and start arranging some magic with the drummer. Some songs are sung before the instrumental is created and that’s the case with most of our songs.
How has it been performing a lot of this music live in different spots in Johannesburg? Do you guys enjoy the live performance element for your music? It certainly seems like you do!
TOC: It’s been so much fun playing in Johannesburg. Seeing all the punks from all the corners of the city shouting “Twenty One”–I love the call and response stuff at the shows. We’ve played about 20 shows this year from Soweto all the way to Linden. We treat our jam sessions like we’re performing so there isn’t much of a difference besides the people attending. I’m sure you’ve seen the videos of our rehearsals on our Instagram; it’s the same energy when we’re on stage.
Who are some of your biggest musical inspirations when it comes to your unique Twenty One Children sound?
TOC: We don’t really have any. We just do our own thing. But I would say that I love 80s and 90s punk. Bands like Bad Brains and Black Flag are definite inspirations for me as a person. I mean I’ve even got the four bars from Black Flag tattooed on me.
Is there any advice which you've picked up within your short career which you could impart to any emerging musicians attempting to make a name for themselves within the industry?
TOC: Just make something real; something everyone can relate to and believe in yourself. You’ll be okay. I’m barely a singer at all–but I’m still doing it. That’s the punk way “by any means necessary”.
What are you looking forward to most in 2024?
TOC: More shows, festivals and tour. Oh and the release of our album that was recorded at Motel Studios in Melville by Lloyd May, a South African who now resides in the US who came down specifically for this project. He’s responsible for the last two TCIYF projects. He was so hyped to hear that Thula and Jazz were still making music–so much so that he funded the whole project. Lloyd is currently mixing and mastering the album and if all goes well, it will be released in the middle of next year. TWENTY ONE!