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 …

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 …

On: Kojey Radical

Kojey Radical is determined to let more than just his voice soar, writes Helen Herimbi Kojey Radical is in bed. In his defence, 10am UK time and 10am Mzansi time are not the same, so he thought we’d be catching up later. Even under his duvet, the British poet-MC and visual artist is in high spirits. Above him is what initially looks like a clock, but it’s actually a painting of a character in blackface, with a Basquiat-esque crown floating above it and the word CHANGE painted in red. “Yeah, it was based on Irony of a Negro Policeman,” Kojey Radical says in a groggy voice deeper than what is already his signature on songs. “But then I flipped it to, like, some Obama.” On Friday, he’s headlining an event in Joburg presented by We Heart Beat in collaboration with Feel Good Series. The event will feature DJs as well as an exclusive screening of his short film, New Generation, which is hosted by Creative Nestlings in partnership with the British Council’s Connect ZA. The film, which is directed by a collective called The Rest, as well as Kojey Radical, brings to life the songs that formed a compilation called New Gen which has a tracklist that includes the likes of Ray BLK, Jevon, WSTRN and others in burgeoning black British music. Which is why I find it curious that there is a scene where a R50 note with Dibs’ smiling face on it is placed near pounds. “My ties to South Africa kind of snuck up on me,” he tells me. “I didn’t know I had ties ‘til I started to develop the music. Two of the people in my team are South African. I think the decision to include the rand came from them.” “But we always try to call back to Africa in some of our work. For us, details like that are for the watchers. I’ve always wanted to create around the influence I’d take from South Africa, but I always felt like it was difficult to do that without being in South Africa. I felt Read More …

On: Blitz The Ambassador

If consistency had an ambassador, Samuel Bazawule would be it. Known to you as Blitz The Ambassador, the Ghanaian-American rapper, producer and now film-maker has kept his nose to the grindstone since Stereotype in 2009. This year, his consistent resilience in an industry that rewards the typical has paid off. For nine months after shooting his latest, intelligent, magic realism film, The Burial of Kojo, Blitz sought sponsorship or financial partners to come on board in the post-production phase. The lack of one forthcoming led to a crowdfunding campaign that saw the likes of Ava DuVernay and Jesse Williams become Blitz’s biggest backers. But Blitz isn’t one to toot his own horn. When I finally get to speak with him over Skype, the chat seems like a welcome break from the never-ending cycle of work. He tells me about what it means to be performing at the inaugural Afropunk Joburg festival this weekend. “It’s a huge honour,” Blitz starts, “being that it’s the first one on the continent and being that I’m from Ghana, so it’s pretty significant because there’s a good number of African artists represented at Afropunk this year. It’s very special that it’s coming to South Africa.” Blitz is no stranger to Mzansi. In fact, one of his most well-known songs is off his fourth album, Diasporadical. On a track called Heaven, Blitz features Stogie T – who is credited as Tumi Molekane, the rapper we grew to know and love. Blitz laughs when I mention the name change. “Yeah, that transition was interesting because we didn’t know how to credit him,” Blitz says. “But I got permission much earlier and the work went to press much earlier than his official name change. For Diasporadical, I was trying as much as possible to connect as many African and African diaspora voices on the album. And so, Tumi was one of the logical ones for me. I’ve been a fan of his work since the Tumi and the Volume days.” “Also,” he continues, “we’d cross paths a lot in different countries when he was touring in Europe and Read More …

On: Jocelyn Cooper

Ahead of the inaugural Afropunk Joburg, co-owner Jocelyn Cooper spoke to Helen Herimbi about politics, pap, POC and publishing It’s 3.46pm and Jocelyn Cooper is famished. For someone who is widely known as a foodie – her Twitter bio even says: “business lady, partner, friend and great cook” – I am surprised this will be her first meal of the day. But her hunger to get the very first Afropunk Joburg started without a hitch is much greater. The 14-year-old worldwide movement aimed at celebrating the talents (musical, culinary, style-wise) of people of colour began in New York but has already made its way to Atlanta, London and Paris. At Constitution Hill this weekend, it makes its debut on the African continent. It will feature acts like BLK JKS vs King Tha, Solange, Petite Noir, Laura Mvula, Blitz The Ambassador, Nakhane Toure, Spoek Mathambo, The Brother Moves On, Anderson .Paak and The Free Radicals and more. “Celebrations is what I call them,” Cooper tells me as she digs into her Shwarma & Co chicken with her hands while she waits for a plastic fork to be brought to her. “Because they are celebrations of the community. That’s what Afropunk is. We have 40 million people that we reach online every week. It’s a celebration of our people, our culture, our music, our style, politics, activism – all of that.” Activism was woven into the fabric of Cooper’s life from an early age. Her parents were so politically involved that, in the 1960s, they brought a lawsuit to the government that challenged the district lines in Bedford-Stuyvesant and made it possible for Shirley Chisholm to be the first black woman elected to congress. Afropunk has certain rules: no racism, no sexism, no homophobia, no ageism, no fat-phobia, no able-ism, no hatefulness etc. And those are mounted at every event. “It was about creating a safe space for everybody,” Cooper says. “Some of that comes from my parents but it’s also from (Afropunk co-owner) Matthew Morgan, my partner. The political part and community piece of what we do is very much inspired Read More …

On: Solo & The BETR Gang

After an exclusive listen to their upcoming album, Helen Herimbi sits down with Solo and BETR Gang With no ho ho hos in tow, Solo and BETR Gang are still giving you a Christmas gift. I’m sorry, I had to. But back to the lecture at hand. On December 25, Tour Dates will be released to the world. Following the stellar We Need A Title, an album by BETR Gang members, Solo and Buks, this year, Solo brings the rest of the gang to the fore with an album whose title is both punchline and prophecy. A couple of weeks before its release, I got to hear Tour Dates and the sonically layered offering expertly brings some of the most mainstream musos effortlessly into the orbit of the galaxy that all of BETR Gang has created in a universe that doesn’t take well to anything different. Too Neil deGrasse Tyson for you? Let’s move along. Made up of producers, Al da 3rd, Subrocc, Solid The Gifted, Th&o as well as the aforementioned rappers, the whole sqwaa aims to take the music that makes up this album on tour and they structured each song with a tour stop in mind. When I met Solo and Solid The Gifted, they broke down the idea. “The whole idea of it was there was this very dope concept that would lead us to a tour,” Solo told me. “It stems from us saying we’re going to structure the music and the artwork and the track-list in the same way that you would release dates if you’re going on tour.” As such, each song gets a destination – in this case, the hometown of the featured artist – written in brackets next to the title. A haunting Moon Over The Jungle, featuring KO, gets Mpumalanga (MP) next to it. Cape Town (CPT) is represented on the sublime The Light featuring YoungstaCPT. “We had a wish list of artists we wrote down as we were making the project,” said Solid The Gifted, who produced The Light. “We knew we wanted YoungstaCPT on and the mood of Read More …

On: Frank Casino

With a film about his journey under his belt, Frank Casino tells Helen Herimbi about the ride We waited, hey. It was like watching icebergs melt. Or waiting for Joe Budden to say something nice about a rapper born in the ‘90s. We waited a long time to see From Frank: A Story By Kulture. But what’s a few hours to a kid who has been waiting his whole life to get his moment in the sun? To his credit, the rapper was actually at Agog Gallery an hour or two before the actual screening. So he was also waiting, just like us. Except maybe some of the influencers who were invited to be the first in the world to see the short film that is directed by trailblazer, Zandile Tisani, didn’t actually know he was there. Cut to a dark room. The screening is about to begin. Jay Kayembe, from Kulture, is explaining how Frank Casino is the first South African rapper to be given this much creative control by Castle Lite since Kanye West was here. Remember that cube AKA came out on when he opened for Ye? The word is that was actually meant for Kanye, but he didn’t end up using it. Cubes seem to be a thing for the adult beverage brand because, for his concert, Casino had quite a few that elevated him and his rap friends as they performed. Some of this is captured in the film. But back to that dark room. Kayembe is talking. Two girls are in front of me. One has a long weave cascading down her shoulders and a pink drink in a wine glass. The other also has a pink drink, but wears some zigzaggy skirt – you know, the stuff that’s made for the ‘gram. They are yapping on about something that isn’t what we’re here to do and are abruptly returned to our world when the film starts. Casino is in the centre of the screen. He is pensive, waiting to be told when the cameras are rolling. “Is that him?” Weave Girl asks. Zigzag Read More …