Post-Koppi musings

Two years ago, I swore I’d never go to Oppikoppi again. Nothing bad happened. I had just been going to the festival in Limp City since I was a baby writer. I’d missed some years but overall, part of my job was attending festivals like that and I did it on and off for years. The only sucky thing about it: I hate camping. And I have anxiety about being unable to share experiences with people I love but that’s a story for another day. Fast forward to two years later, I made it to Northam for the highly melanated, archandroid orchestrated three day festival. I arrived on day two with my Day One and actually had a good time. What was a pleasant surprise is just how many women stomped those stages. I don’t know if I just didn’t notice all those years before or if, since there was less pressure on me to be hyper-observant this year, there really were more non-rock musicians and DJs who happen to be women than usual. Deniece Marz and Ang held it down on the Red Bull stage. I missed BrownPepperAnn on day one but she’s always dope. #SOZLOL played in the wee hours of the morning. A new friend I made at breakfast told me he was impressed by Goodluck – led by Juliet Harding. DJ Bob’s Jazz Club stage consistently featured women spinning and despite it being super, super loud, the space was well attended. Sho Madjozi was a major highlight – so much so I lost count of how many people were singing her songs in blissful euphoria as I walked back to our tent to get dressed for what was the coldest Koppi night I’ve ever experienced.  Melo B Jones fronted her new band while people like Tecla presented at the Ray Ban stage. There was also definitely a lethargy in the dust at Oppikoppi this year. I can’t even explain it. I’m definitely too old and too sober to wild out anymore but that’s not even where the feeling of a sluggish fest came from. I can’t Read More …

On: Unathi

Ahead of her national tour, Unathi takes Helen Herimbi through an exercise of how music helped her become courageous, correct and capable. “I tell people all the time,” Unathi says after we’ve run 1.5km and are back at the first step of the steep Westcliff Stairs. “The key to the stairs is: don’t look up. Look down because you have to take it one step at a time. If you look up, it looks like you’ll never get there, and you’ll give up.” It’s a few weeks before the Idols judge is to embark on a seven-date Brave, True and Strong Tour around the country in support of her newest album. She will perform a retrospective of her career, including songs from this new album – three of which she’ll perform with the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls choir. While Unathi has been a posterchild for consistent physical fitness, it’s clear that in the years since she released her Alive album, she has been working on her heart and on her mind too. It’s most obvious in how the Brave, True and Strong album is semi-biographical. “Mondli Ngcobo wrote 40% of my album,” the Show Me Love co-host says. “It was a beautiful experience because it meant I had to fly back and forth to Durban so I was living in two cities for nine months last year while recording this album.” What was born was 10 soul tracks with tinges of reggae and isichathamiya. They carry the common themes of love, surrender and authenticity featuring only two artists: Ngcobo on the sad ballad, Hlala Nami and rapper and Idols presenter, Proverb on Isidima, which was inspired by Zulaikha Patel. In a similar way to how Patel led the charge of authenticity to be allowed to wear the hair that comes out of her head in its natural state at school, Unathi wears her own authenticity now like a second skin. She is the most brave and most true to herself when it comes to her heart. She explains: “There were two songs Mondli wrote that were hard for Read More …

On: Nasty C

Following the release of Strings and Bling, Nasty C talks to Helen Herimbi about ceilings, scriptures and getting on stage There is a young man power-walking away from the stage. Veteran producer Alexis Faku has just told him to find a few bottles of water – and to make sure they are not too cold – for Nasty C. A keyboardist plays the first few chords of SMA, off Nasty C’s much-anticipated second album Strings and Bling. The rapper has his back to his staff and friends and keeps repeating “hell yeah, hell yeah, hell yeah,” over the music. If he’s excited, he’s not showing it. The artist, whose real name is David Junior Ngcobo, is focused on the way he sounds. He has a major performance coming up – on August 3 at Zone 6 Venue in Soweto – and it’s the first time he’ll be playing Strings and Bling in its entirety. He’ll also be doing it with a four-piece band that includes Faku, who is also the show’s musical director. “This will be my second time performing with a band,” he told me before he started rehearsal. “The first time didn’t work out so well. It was in Cape Town and we didn’t get time to rehearse at the actual venue.” He’s intent on making this time different and has put in place the necessary people to make sure it is. “Everyone is working super hard,” he says. “I heard the visuals guys are turning down other jobs to work on this and the clips they’ve sent me are f****g dope. The lighting guy is also with me on the same page. I met Alexis when we started working on this show and he knows what he’s doing.” Back at rehearsal, there is the sense that everyone is pulling together to make sure the show is a success. Colin Gayle, whose company ACA manages Nasty C, shows me the visual clips, some of which they had to shoot from scratch. Sipho Dlamini, Universal Music South Africa’s managing director, has just suggested the separates (the elements that make Read More …

On: Ben Sharpa

Friends and family of the culture-defining Ben Sharpa reminisce about the late, great rapper, writes Helen Herimbi “No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.” That phrase, from the film, Dead Poets Society, was immortalised by the late, great emcee, Ben Sharpa. As a rapper, producer and thought leader, his words over eccentric rap beats and ideas around social justice galvanised members of underground rap as much as it gained him fans across the globe. Because he gave us B.Sharpa, a seminal album, 10 years ago, he was able to change the scene and make the world realise you could be an alternative to the mainstream and still be popular. Ben Sharpa, whose real name was Kgotso Semela, had been living with Type 1 Diabetes and passed away on July 26 in Johannesburg. He was 41-years-old. He will be buried in Enerdale on Saturday morning. A memorial service, which will be open to the public, will be held on Thursday (August 2) at Stop Sign Gallery in the Nedbank Majestic Building on 141 Bree Street in Johannesburg at 6pm. The seed of ideas having the ability to change the world was planted in Sharpa at a very young age. His sister, the musician and educator, Tebs Semela, recalls: “Dad was an academic and my mother is a teacher so my parents always instilled a sense of being busy and doing as much as you can to change lives in a positive way. Kgotso took that and ran with it.” In 1979, Sharpa’s dad got the opportunity to leave Soweto to study in America. He came back for Sharpa’s mother, his older sister and Sharpa in 1980 and Tebs was born four years later. In the years that followed, having moved from St Louis to Chicago to Michigan, it was there that Sharpa developed a knack for a dice game and academia. “He topped the whole state of Michigan in English and mathematics,” says Tebs. “Those are things people don’t know. He actually played the viola and that’s how I started playing the violin. I always Read More …

On: Sho Madjozi

Ahead of her first appearance at Oppikoppi, Sho Madjozi speaks to Helen Herimbi about creativity, culture and competition A few weeks after we’ve had the following interview, I’m talking to Sho Madjozi behind the stage at the Global Citizen press conference, where Beyonce has been announced as the headliner for the concert. A girl who looks barely out of her teens interrupts our conversation to say: “I love you so much. You are my biggest inspiration.” Her arms are already around Sho Madjozi’s waist and her ponytail rests on Sho Madjozi’s chest when the girl remembers to ask: “Can I hug you?” Before Sho Madjozi has responded, the girl continues: “Okay, let me tell you my story.” Sure, the girl has no boundaries and needs to be taught about consent, but the way that Sho Madjozi embraces her reminds me that the rapper who has taken the nation by storm by simply being herself is giving others – particularly women who are younger than she is – permission to be themselves too. A few weeks before this press conference – where she makes it clear that African youth are tired of being portrayed as poor and needy and that they also deserve nice things – we are sitting in the sun at a table outside a Melville eatery. I need the sun because it’s chilly. She needs it because she’s hungover. She’s telling me: “I’ve never been to Oppi and the first time I go is as a performer and it’s in Limpopo, how lit is that?” Sporting a T-shirt featuring African barbershop-style drawings of her face in her many popular hairstyles, the Dumi Hi Phone star is in a good mood despite being “in that second part of the hangover, after you think you are fine but you’re not”. She’s just come back from a shoot with major brand that she stays mum about. A couple of weeks later, we find out that she was shooting with Trace as she is the music television channel’s new mobile ambassador. Sho Madjozi is getting paid extremely well for bringing XiTsonga tradition Read More …

On: DJ Vetkuk vs Mahoota

DJ Vetkuk vs Mahoota speak to Helen Herimbi about what it took to get to this version of their newest album, Local Everywhere Mahoota’s cellphone rests atop a physical copy of Spikiri’s new album, King Don Father. Both Mahoota and Spikiri are part of revered kwaito group Trompies, and I point at the CD and mention how good the music is. “It’s sold out now in stores,” Mahoota smiles proudly. “So it is very good.” This exchange is significant to me because it, in a moment, lays to rest the rumours that Mahoota no longer wants to be a part of Trompies since he is rarely seen with the rest of the group for interviews and appearances. It also shows there is room for everyone to be their full selves in the music industry as, right now, Mahoota, his music compadre of 17 years, DJ Vetkuk, and I are enjoying tea in the fleeting sunshine of a chilly Joburg day and talking about their new album. The pair began their DJ Vetkuk vs Mahoota compilation series in 2001 and have since released five original albums. Their latest, Local Everywhere, was released this month. It’s a double-disc of gqom, house and trap with features that range from Busiswa to Nokwazi to Black Motion, Heavy K, Sjava, Lady Zamar and, of course, Kwesta, who features on three songs including current single, Ziwa Murtu. That song was the last one that the K1 Gawd recorded and Mahoota is so impressed by his ability to think on the spot that he shows me a video on his phone of Kwesta’s creative process. Both Vetkuk and Mahoota watch the video and smile as though it’s the first time they are seeing it. In the five years since the release of their last album, Dinaledi, DJ Vetkuk vs Mahoota has recorded over 500 songs. And even the 22 tracks that did make it on to Local Everywhere underwent multiple changes before they became the versions we hear today. Take, for instance, Zimnandi featuring Heavy K, Sjava and Fire. “We went through so many things to have Read More …

On: Black Coffee

What goes on in the mind of a globetrotting DJ like Black Coffee? Helen Herimbi flew to Ibiza to find out What appears to be a white baby grand piano sits untouched in the corner of the room. The music is really outside. DJ Da Capo is on the decks and about 30 South Africans are vosho-ing and breaking it down to songs such as Masters At Work’s hit, Work. We’re at a lavish villa that Rihanna apparently stayed in and it has a spectacular view of Es Vedrà. In a few days, we’ll be witnessing DJ Black Coffee take up residency, for the second consecutive year, at a major club called Hï Ibiza. Like DJ Black Coffee, I too am in Ibiza to work. Flown by Hunter’s cider for a few days of partying in paradise – you know, where the sun only sets around 9pm – I am enjoying the views but I’m also making notes, writing articles and conducting interviews. In short: it’s not quite a vacation. So I ask the South African DJ and producer, who is now one of the biggest music names in the world, if he ever feels like it’s still work even though it’s in these beautiful conditions. Black Coffee nods emphatically and exclaims: “It is work, it is! I’m lucky to have other shows aside from my residency, but it’s been crazy. I think in May, I only have like three free days so that means I get to go somewhere to rehearse for my Saturday residency.” “I am always preparing for Saturdays. Weekly, I get to play all these songs and I can’t wait to see how they are going to sound on Saturday and how they will work with the lights and visuals. The thing about my job is that I am very fortunate to do what I really love. I’ve done a 60-hour gig before and I could do this over and over.” Travel is a big part of Black Coffee’s career. This means he gets requests from all corners of the globe – even the ones under Read More …

On: Esinako Ndabeni and Sihle Mthembu

Esinako Ndabeni and Sihle Mthembu talk to Helen Herimbi about finding the rhythm to pen their first book, Born to Kwaito In the 15 months that student and blogger Esinako Ndabeni and journalist and film-maker Sihle Mthembu have been crafting Born To Kwaito, they have only physically been in the same room twice. “We met on Twitter,” said Ndabeni, who runs Don’t Call Me K***ir, the popular blog named after the chorus of Arthur Mafokate’s 1995 song. “Sihle was starting a podcast about kwaito and wanted to have me on it. After a while, he was like: ‘yo, I haven’t read a book about kwaito so how about we do this thing?’” Six months after they agreed to be co-authors, the Pretoria-based Ndabeni and Durbanite Mthembu met for the first time at the Pretoria National Library, where they researched magazines together for the book. For this interview, the pair appear side by side on my laptop screen for a Skype chat. Ndabeni’s purple lips are a half moon pointed south and her eyebrows are furrowed as Mthembu starts to speak. He isn’t half way through his sentence when she is compelled to apologetically interrupt: “Sorry… who is playing music?!” Whitney Houston belting out Didn’t We Almost Have It All bounces around Mthembu’s half of the screen and Ndabeni is not having it. “You’re not vibing?” Mthembu asks his co-author, with a chuckle. “No,” she says. “It’s making me nervous.” I joke that Mthembu should ask the sound system controllers to play kwaito instead, but in hindsight, I realise the pair might need a break from a genre – a culture, really – that they’ve been engrossed in for over a year. They tell me about what it took to get to the point where essays that cover topics that see kwaito intersect with politics, fashion, language, film as well as portraits of kwaito architects are bound in a book that hits store shelves and online stores this week. “I wanted to write something on people who were one-hit wonders, I wanted to do something on the relationship between kwaito and Read More …

On: Muzi

Following the release of his new album, Muzi speaks to Helen Herimbi about being alternative and Africans in space His rolled-up spottie. That’s about the only thing that’s predictable about the producer, songwriter, singer who simply goes by the name of Muzi. Sometimes it’s black. Other times it’s a military green. But it is always rolled up to just above his ears and way above his eyebrows. The uniform helps to identify the 27-year-old artist who was born Muzi Mazibuko, but that’s where it ends. His music is ever changing. First, he was entrenched in the glossy trappings of mainstream rap. “I used to make beats for rappers when I was like 19-years-old,” he tells me when I sit down with him for coffee. “So I would make beats for people like JR, Psyfo, Kabelo Mabalane and others. I made that Muntu song for JR, I did work for Reason, and when Cassper performed at the Metros (Awards), and there was that Doc Shebeleza edit at the end, I made that. I made a remix for Amantombazane for Riky Rick – which he used to open his performance sets,” he says, nonchalantly. But that didn’t go very well for him. Muzi wasn’t entirely in his element. “It didn’t go well because I didn’t like the dynamic of making stuff and having to wait to get paid and stuff like that,” he admits. “So in 2013, I started doing my own stuff. I started DJing.” He still calls KwaZulu-Natal’s Empangeni township home but had moved to Jozi to make beats. “Then I found out this is where your heart can get broken,” he swings his chain when he says this. Then he went back home, worked on a solo career that led him to live in Berlin and then this March, he only officially moved back to Joburg. While drinking a grande cappuccino – which he admits is bad for him – Muzi laughs easily about the milestones in his musical journey. His signature spottie is firmly planted on his head and if our conversation is anything to go by, he’s Read More …

On: Mx Blouse

Experimental artist Mx Blouse speaks to Helen Herimbi about bending genres at will “I remember that I didn’t like playing with the kids outside,” Mx Blouse says before they burst into laughter. They’re reminiscing about being a bougie kid growing up between Richard’s Bay and Melmoth in Kwa-Zulu Natal. “I remember playing tyres with the boys on the street, but then I’d get bored and I would go and play with the girls and I’d get bored there as well,” they remember. “Then, while staying with my paternal grandmother, I would share a room with my older cousin and I would take abonopoppie, my sister’s dolls and line them up and then I would teach them.” Here, Mx Blouse raises both arms as if conducting a class, then continues: “I don’t know what I was teaching them, but they had to shut up and listen.” Fast forward to two years ago, at the popular Kitcheners Bar in Johannesburg and instead of dolls, Mx Blouse was conducting a room of music lovers, commanding them to pay attention. “I went to Thailand and Vietnam for two months,” Mx Blouse recalls. “And the whole time I was there, I was thinking: ‘when I get back home, I really don’t want to do anything I don’t want to do. I want to do something that will fulfil me and something I can do for the rest of my life.” In a small town called Pai in Thailand, they just started writing to beats and put out a ditty called WTF (Squared) on Soundcloud. While in Vietnam a few weeks later, they were asked to perform that song at Kitcheners. “I remember just standing in front of the audience and I was just like: wow, it feels like I’m on mushrooms or something,” Mx Blouse smiles. “It was an incredible high and it just felt right.” Mx Blouse, whose real name is Sandiso Ngubane, hasn’t looked back since. The 30-year-old who describes themselves as an experimental artist put out a boombap-inspired EP called Believe the Bloom. The EP opens with Only Words Are Perfect, which Read More …