On: Swizz Beatz

American superproducer and creative, Swizz Beatz, speaks to Helen Herimbi about Ruff Ryders and rallying around South African artists Swizz Beatz is tired. With interviews running about two hours behind schedule, I am not surprised. The One Man Band Man star whose production has defined entire eras of American hip hop has had a lot to say. Having partnered with major brands like Reebok and now, the Bacardi house to bring more light to musicians and artists, we also had a lot to ask him. He was in Johannesburg ahead of a headlining performance at the Bacardi Holiday Club in Mpumalanga and when I finally catch up with him long after the sun has bid us farewell, he’s over sitting at a large table in a boardroom at a super luxe hotel. We settle on a small couch in the corner of the room and I notice the temple of his dark sunglasses has the signature gold Basquiat crown on it. Of course. Naturally, the first place to start the interview is: his partnership with Bacardi to host his No Commission art fair that cuts out the middle man and all proceeds of the art goes directly to the artists. “A lot of brands say they’re for the people, they’re for the culture,” says Swizz Beatz. “So let’s be about it, let’s do it.” “The cool part about what No Commission did is that it has put a lot of cool people in front of Bacardi that…it probably would have been very hard to get those people in front of them. But I’m cool with it because it’s fusing and fuelling the artist. I couldn’t be a part of a partnership that’s paying artists to hold drinks (in ads). You shouldn’t have to trick people, there should be a cause. I create that (link) directly for them globally. I’m moving stealthily.” Over the years, Swizz Beatz, whose real name is Kasseem Dean, has been collecting art from all over the world. “I don’t sell any of my art but the value that I’ve accumulated in my portflio from art versus Read More …

On: Sir David Attenborough

EXCLUSIVE: Sir David Attenborough spoke to Helen Herimbi about ‘Blue Planet II’, ahead of its African TV debut this weekend A few members of the media from all around the world are sitting in a room at the BFI IMAX in London, waiting for Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, to arrive to a royal world premiere of Blue Planet II. But I am more excited that I’ll get to sit down with the series presenter, naturalist and broadcast icon, Sir David Attenborough. When Attenborough walks into the room, it’s like we’re all kids again. He picks up a heavy book about the series, Blue Planet II: A New World of Hidden Depths – for which he wrote the foreword – then, with tongue firmly in cheek, he says: “Do you think perhaps they will give me one of these?” That’s pretty much the core of his presence. Attenborough is aware that he has all ears and so, he makes interactions memorable. In 2001, the world saw the first multi-award-winning Blue Planet series – which uncovers the wonders of the oceans. It was the most-watched natural history programme in the UK for 15 years running. It was narrated by Attenborough, who also writes the script. It took the BBC Natural History Unit four years to complete a follow-up. Blue Planet II is an astonishingly up-close look at creatures I didn’t know existed. This season has seven episodes that run just under an hour and it’s wonderful to see how Mzansi plays a role in what really feels like a film. There are expeditions to the Eastern Cape to check on the Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin, as well as visits to the Wild Coast and even kelp forests of the Cape. Expect to learn more about the Common octopus, Pyjama shark, Sevengill shark, Cape fur seal, Bamboo kelp and Split fan kelp. After the screening, the series’ executive producer, James Honeyborne, is sitting next to Attenborough. I remark that the first time their paths crossed was about 20 years ago on the BBC’s Wildlife on One – of which Honeyborne was the Read More …

On: Heavy K

As he prepares his fourth album, Heavy K talks to Helen Herimbi about how straddling the line between tragedy and triumph became his comfort zone AS A single polarising figure in dance music, Mkhululi “Heavy K” Siqula lives in two worlds at once. When he walks into the restaurant, he swaggers in with a confidence that belies his softspoken nature. He wears Riky Rick’s Cotton Club Records trucker cap and many beaded necklaces around the collar of his golf shirt. On his right wrist, four beaded bands nestle closely together. On his left, he wears a gaudy gold watch and two gigantic gilded rings on his forefinger and ring finger. It’s like he’s trying to merge the flashy with the grounded, like he’s just trying to be himself in public. And with a banging brand new single, Siphum’ elokshin, under his belt, this father of two boys is finally ready to show the world how he became that way. Siphum’ elokshin, which features the powerful voice of Mondli Ngcobo, with a tinge of auto tune here, is about rising above trying circumstances by virtue of one being from the township. “Growing up in PE is one of the things I am grateful for,” he tells me once he’s taken a seat. It’s the typical upbringing where violence and crime are rife in the neighbourhood. In an attempt to protect him from reality, his mother would often pretend she is taking a break from eating meat whenever he would ask her why his and the plates of his father and brother have a small piece and hers has none at all. But things changed when he turned 16. “My brother sent me to go ask for some movies on a USB stick,” Heavy K recalls, “and then I met this producer called Kwesta. I instantly fell in love with music. Even though I had plans to be a scientist, the music was always calling me.” Life changed “The law of attraction was important to me because I used to dream so much back in those days,” he continues. “Everything that I Read More …

On: Sun-El Musician

Akanamali may have quickly shot up the charts, but its creator, Sun-El Musician, is no overnight sensation, writes Helen Herimbi By the time Sanele “Sun-El Musician” Sithole had a smash single with his name as the artist on it, it had been 10 years since he first fell in love with producing music. In 2017, he collaborated with singer-songwriter, Samthing Soweto, for a collosal anthem that became a serious contender for song of the year. The song was Akanamali. But how did he get to that point? Hailing from Rosetta in the Midlands of KwaZulu-Natal, Sun-El’s father instilled in him a love for music ranging from mbaqanga to disco. But over time, he became more interested in sports. “In high school, I was a soccer and cricket captain throughout the years,” Sun-El told me over drinks in Johannesburg, where he now lives. “When people see me today they say: ‘Oh, I thought you were going to grow up to be a cricketer or a professional soccer player.’ I always wanted to do something with my life but I just didn’t see myself sitting at a desk forever. In 2007, I went to the University of KwaZulu-Natal and enrolled in a bridging course that would allow me to study something in the sciences. But I lost interest as time went on and failed my first year.” He continues: “I was just passionate about computers. And then I stumbled across music production so I was like: ‘Wait, hold on, I get to use computers and still enjoy something I love?’ So I stayed at my gran’s house for two years just making beats.” By then, both his parents had passed on and Sun-El says: “It was tough, as I was starting to find myself as a young man, but my gran helped in any way she could.  What helped Sun-El find his way was the rhythm. That first year at varsity, Sun-El recalls: “I went to a bash at UKZN and DJ Tira was on the decks. I danced the whole night, so I was like: ‘How can I DJ and make Read More …

Flowers for Ms Cosmo

By now, you know what i(m)bali is all about. This week’s episode sees us attempt to get to know hip hop DJ and radio personality, Ms Cosmo, a little better. She speaks to me about taking her career into her own hands. She also exclusively tells me about how Gigi LaMayne was meant to be on her first single and she lets me in on how she really feels about people who question whether she actually makes the beats of her songs or not. If you enjoy i(m)bali, please tell a friend.

On: Yvonne Chaka Chaka

With 32 years in the music industry and as a multiaward-winning ambassador, it’s hard to look away from Yvonne Chaka Chaka, writes Helen Herimbi Six. That is the number of times my lunch with Yvonne Chaka Chaka is interrupted. We’re sitting in a quaint corner at a restaurant on the Diamond Walk side of Sandton and behind this national treasure, who has just released her new album, Keep Looking At Me, is a towering Christmas tree next to a blazing fireplace. We don’t need it, though – Chaka Chaka is warm enough. That’s the manner with which she handles each interruption. Waiter after waiter after manager and more want to make sure they have paid attention to the Princess of Africa. But she has this effect on kids, too. Before the second interruption, Chaka Chaka is telling me about an incident she remembers. “The other day I was walking eDube (in Soweto) to go and buy amagwinya (fat cakes) – I love amagwinya,” Chaka Chaka puts her hand on her chest. “So there were these kids on the street who see me and my friend walking and they start …” At this point, Chaka Chaka starts whistling gleefully. “They’re whistling I’m In Love With A DJ,” she continues. “They must have been about 12 or 13 years old. I told them: you don’t know that song! That’s a song for your fathers,” she laughs. “They were teasing me, trying to show me: ‘We know you, magogo.’ But it was funny.” Then: “Hi, papa,” Chaka Chaka shifts her focus but the smile is still the same as she greets yet another waiter. We finally order and I notice something about Chaka Chaka that I hadn’t before. She seems in genuinely high spirits. ARTISTIC ACTIVIST Perhaps it’s the new album, maybe she is just full of festive cheer, but it felt like a reinvention of self, like she’s having as much fun now as she was when she first started with the smash hit, I’m In Love With A DJ, in 1985. The singer-songwiter and UN goodwill ambassador has gone back to Read More …

How my first artist date went

I’ll be honest, I’ve had a very sad start to my week. I actually didn’t even feel like writing this post (and I still don’t have an artist date for this week, but I trust the Universe’s timing) but in my initial The Artist’s Way post, I said I would try to give some feedback. So I hope you can find strength in me to persevere when you don’t feel like doing the things you committed to doing. So, yeah, last week was my first The Artist’s Way week and the idea for my first artist date came pretty quickly. [Sidebar: An artist date is a solo activity strictly for the pleasure of your artist child. It needn’t cost money or be “artsy” it has to be time with yourself spent doing what you want – see why you should go buy the book?] I don’t quite know what sparked the idea. I think I asked the Universe what I should treat myself to and this answer came: go to the library. So I did. Let me explain to those who don’t have time to go and read the initial post. The point of me re-doing The Artist’s Way is to equip myself with the confidence and tools to pursue my dream of being the best interviewer of musicians I know. I do a lot of background explanation in my blog posts – I’m a fiction writer and chatterbox and a middle child so if you lend me your ear (eyes) I will explain til I can’t anymore – so I had to explain that. Anyway. The Johannesburg City Library is a three minute walk from my work. I took the trip on my lunch break. It’s easy to forget how revitalising direct sunlight is when you’re staring at a computer with the aircon constantly at White Walker level so I appreciated the stroll. The artist date was just meant to be about looking through some music criticism books but I decided I wanted to actually sign up for membership so I can take out books when I feel like Read More …

Introducing i(m)bali

First it’s name was Archives. I had even thought about how I was going to make the h in Archives the hdot logo. But then I asked the Universe to give me another name if Archives was not it. It came to me in the shower. And I am obedient to the call of the Universe. So here we are: i(m)bali. Quick backtrack: I have spoken to A LOT of musicians throughout the years. Often, 1000 words (or less) in an article does not do their stories justice. Especially if there is a gig or a specific album to be dissected in the article. And South African artists don’t always get to tell their stories in detail. Sometimes we only find out the genius or complexity of an artist at their memorial service. So this year, I am digging into my archives to give you details about South African music history straight from the mouths of the people who lived it. Ibali is a story. Imbali is a flower. My intention is to be the vessel for these artists’ stories and in doing so, give them their flowers while they can smell them. Th first episode tracks Thebe’s journey from wanting to be a sound engineer to being one of the most beloved kwaito artists of all time. Tell a friend if you enjoy it.

A LITTLE TENDERNESS

My favourite thing in the world used to be talking to musicians… about music. This marks the 12th year since my byline first appeared in print and I’ll admit: my favourite thing in the world is still talking to musicians…about music. But I didn’t always know that that was what it was. I used to think my favourite thing was writing. After a few years of what seemed like writing articles only my editor read, my love for writing began to wane. And every year my imposter syndrome (a blog post for another day) intensified. Eventually, I didn’t think I was a real writer. Then last year came. I got to take what would usually die on the page and breathe life into it on a different platform. I realise, only now – on the first day of 2018 – that I was being hard on myself. That I am a writer. Or maybe not. But one thing is for sure: I am happiest when speaking to musicians about music. And if they are happy talking to me then that’s enough for me. This year, I aim to become a great interviewer – who happens to write, present, produce, heck, whatever. That’s why I’m doing The Artist’s Way again. Yes, I said again. When I first did it, it changed my life so much I think I bought five copies for friends and even acquaintances who just seemed like blocked artists. Now that I have an idea of the direction I’m going in, I know I need help getting my toolbox together. I need Julia Cameron to help me try a little tenderness towards my artist child, my closet egomaniac, my inner imposter. I’m going to attempt to blog about my artist dates – seriously, go get the book – and to share what is likely to be 12 weeks of extreme highs and lows. But through all that, I aim to come out on the other side a phenomenal interviewer who makes musicians feel like they haven’t wasted their time talking to me about music. I have to bet Read More …