When it comes to engineering their songs, artists are right to put their hope in Kay Faith, writes Helen Herimbi

This is a big moment for Karien Barnard’s mother. We’re inside the gargantuan SABC Radio building and Barnard – who goes by the alias Kay Faith – is a little in her feelings. There is a lull between her and Radio Sonder Grense DJ, Christelle van Tonder as they walk through the RSG corridor.

“My mom loves this station,” Kay Faith’s deep voice envelopes the lull. “It’s her favourite and I never ever thought that one day, I’d be walking through her corridors.”

And while Kay Faith’s mom had to listen to her daughter’s interview on the radio, making her mom proud through her favourite platform is a goal achieved for Kay Faith. Kay Faith is a Knysna-bred fine artist who serendipitously became South African hip hop’s most visible audio engineer who happens to be a woman.

She has had the likes of Nasty C and YoungstaCPT – who spits “I’m oKay because I have Faith in my engineer” on Kay Faith’s album, In Good Faith – in her studio.

After listening to her fluently explain her world to Christelle in Afrikaans, it’s a nice change to be able to sit down with the engineer, producer and songwriter and chat in a language we both understand. It’s then that I notice “In Good Faith” tattooed on her collarbone.

“The album cover art was done and it was titled long before I’d recorded the song, In Good Faith,” she tells me. “My manager and I had sat down to discuss what to call the album and he said ‘In Good Faith,’ and I laughed so much. I thought it was cheesy. But the more I thought about it, the more it grew on me. As I started finalising the songs, the more I realised it actually fit. It’s more than just a project to me. It’s actually how I live my life. I do things in good faith.”

It seems Kay Faith also has a lot of faith in YoungstaCPT as the poster child for the Wes Kaap is featured twice on her album.

“That’s because the song, Highnote and the outro were going to be one long song,” Kay Faith explains. “The mood between the two songs was too nice. YoungstaCPT was going to be the closing emcee, then the song was going to fade and then come back as a freestyle. I pushed my album deadline out twice so I thought I might not get YoungstaCPT in studio because he was touring.”

“I called him and he told me he was in Hillbrow so I asked him to send me a voice note of a freestyle for the outro. That clip you hear there? He sent that to me as a voice note. All the ambiance you hear in the background? That’s Hillbrow!”

In January, Kay Faith was named Apple Music’s New Artist Spotlight recipient. This means that her album was prioritised and her story was shared on the streaming service’s landing page so more eyeballs saw her – whether they wanted to or not – than ever before.

She told me: “The whole Apple Music thing was quite eye-opening in a few ways but mostly because this is my first body of work as a producer ever. I’m not even that known in South Africa yet and this international company decided I was good enough to be put on their platform.”

“As any creative will tell you, you go through self-doubt and moments were you think you’re the best and that really made me go: ‘Hmm, maaaaybe I am a force to be reckoned with if Apple gives me a thumbs up.’ It was a definite confidence booster to be the first female producer featured.”

The last time Kay Faith was in Joburg, she was intent on shooting a music video for Waya Waya, her song featuring Oh Gooch and Ginger Trill, but the Verse of The Year winner was nowhere to be found. So she used that time and her efforts to shoot a video for Asifunu Lala featuring Phresh Clique instead.

On her debut album, which is a lush bed of hip hop beats for the likes of Dope St Jude, Patty Monroe, Bigstar and the aforementioned YoungstaCPT among others, there is a track that stands out as different. Asifunu Lala has a nostalgic kwaito tinge to it and the girls from Phresh Clique employ a nu-kwaito rhyme style that early Dirty Paraffin would be proud of.

“There’s a tambourine clap over a shaker,” Kay Faith laughs when I bring up the kwaito element. “Asifunu Lala was actually an old beat that I did for a Congolese artist,” she shares. Kay Faith proceeds to mimic the beat.

“So I made a whole beat like that and I went back to him and he flaked on me. He said: ‘I’ll pay you next month.’ And I said: ‘I’ll hold on to the beat until you can pay me.’”

She’s still holding on to it.

“One day, I was just sitting and I listened to it and thought some elements of the beat are actually nice so I deleted all the drums except the hey chants,” she continues. “I beat-box things to myself because that works faster for me than having to draw things in. So I started beat-boxing this kwaito beat and thought it could be interesting. In two hours it was done!”

Kay Faith, who also has the legendary Ready D scratching on the outro, is on her way to becoming a force to be reckoned with and if most of how she got here was just through good faith, imagine how much she can achieve deliberately.