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 …

On: DJ Bionic

Hip Hop His-story: As told to Helen Herimbi, SAHHA Honourary Award recipient, DJ Bionic, sheds light on his musical journey I was born in Pretoria and raised, up until about 12 years old, in this township in the East Rand called Eden Park. I was 10 or 11 years old, when I saw some guy DJing at my school. It was just the coolest thing ever. I loved loud music and, before that, I had no concept of what was behind or controlled the music. Seeing someone select was powerful. A year or two later, I would trash my parents’ records and hi-fi practicing and then I hustled a turntable and a mixer from a friend’s house. Back then, house music was big and I learnt how to play and beatmatch with house. It was a good distraction. DO BELIEVE THE HYPE I was named DJ Hype by Zweli Badela, rest in peace. He was in a band called Database with Tumi (Molekane, aka Stogie T). Before then, all my friends at school knew me as Mellow Man. In the early days, we just copied whatever was hot in the States or in the UK. So Mellow Man was a name I copied from a hypeman called Mellow Man Ace, who did toasting in the UK. My first pro-DJ gig came at 14 years old at this club called Q’s on Market Street in downtown Jozi. It was a daytime club for teenagers. Like a matinee on Saturdays. That’s where I met DJ Blaze, Amu, Tumi, Zweli and Isaac Chokwe. When Hype Williams blew up, because my surname is Williams, Zweli just kind of adopted the Hype Williams thing and would call me Hype. Then it stuck. We all met at Q’s in Hillbrow and it was a room where most of the programme was hip hop and R&B. On another floor was house music. As a kid, I played and did everything. I used to rap. Ha! I used to breakdance, all of that. I’d DJ on the house floor then go hang out with Blaze and these rap Read More …

On: Wale

EXCLUSIVE: Wale speaks to Helen Herimbi about joining Kwesta to capture the platinum ‘Spirit’ of collaboration Olubowale Akintimehin sounds a little under the weather. The Nigerian-American rapper who you may simply know as Wale is speaking to me on the phone from Maryland in America and he sounds like he has a frog in his throat. “It’s actually really cold here,” he tells me after a cough that stopped him mid-sentence. He’s telling me about how excited he is to be making his way to Johannesburg this weekend to perform a few shows with Kwesta, presented by Heineken. He is adamant that the cold won’t stand in his way: “I’ll definitely be there. I can’t miss that experience.” By now, you’ve heard the chart-topping Spirit, by Kwesta, featuring Wale. While it has been compared to the song of 2016, Ngud, Spirit is one of Kwesta’s most successful singles. It went platinum in just a month. Wale chalks this feat up to keeping the tune authentically African. He tells me: “In my opinion, I always want to take it back the African roots. We’re both African, some good artists with a nice fanbase. All of that together can be (something that creates) platinum.” The pair of artists first started speaking when Maybach Music Group associate, Luyanda “Lu” Mgengwane, connected them. “The dialogue was born on the phone and it came from my guy Lu,” says Wale. “They sent the Spirit record over. We went back and forth, Kwesta sent me some notes and then I went into the studio and that was it. We definitely started with a nice conversation and with (me)checking out his music.” Kwesta elaborates on the notes he gave Wale: “I’ve always been a big fan of Wale and how he writes and his approach is very poetic. “Yes, I had a few notes for him. It was literally just to break down what the song is about word for word so the back and forth was really so he understood what we were talking about.” “The message of the song is simple. It’s a very aspirational Read More …

On: Thabsie

Before her first solo show, Thabsie lets Helen Herimbi in on what it took to make her album, Songs About You Everyone nurses a broken heart differently. In movies, women are often shown crawling into bed with a tub of ice cream and having a good cry. In real life, singersongwriter Thabsie wrote songs. The artist, whose real name is Bathabise Biyela, and I land up at a Mexican restaurant on a warm Jozi day to unpack the pain that became her debut album, Songs About You, three years later. “When I was writing these songs, I didn’t know I was making the album,” she says in what I learnt was her fast-paced signature. “I was just making songs because I was going through heartbreak. All those songs were kind of about one person. But as time went by, I started writing about my experiences with other people, so the album is more or less about two-and-a-half people,” she giggles. “They are mainly about the person who broke my heart and that in-between space before I was with the person I am with now. That’s reflected in the happier songs. Wait, African Queen (featuring JR) is probably the only happy song on the album.” Thabsie’s referring to the bougie afropop song that sees her coyly saying her new man wants to take her to Ghana in order to introduce her to his mama. It’s a cute ditty that makes you feel good as you sing along while Thabsie name-drops Tiwa (Savage) and others. “With African Queen,(rapper) JR was not there,” she says. “I was at the Durban July and was sitting in the car. I was so stressed because that weekend we had like 60 000 gigs. I just needed a moment to woosah. And I was also stressed because I had less than a month to complete my album.” “I felt like I didn’t have that song that was just going to be…” Thabsie mimics an explosion with her hands. “Then I remembered a friend of mine had sent me some beats a few months ago. I thought: ‘Let Read More …

On: Mpho Sebina

Mpho Sebina is sitting in the corner. She’s got a journal next to her plate of food. “Don’t eat the couscous,” she fake-whispers to me. We laugh and I order a mango crusher instead. I ask the Botswana-bred singer if she’s been jotting down some songs in her notebook and she nods. She reaches into her bag and whips out a smaller journal with butterflies drawn on it. It’s the perfect starting point for our conversation about her debut EP, Neo. Black Butterfly is one of the fan (and radio) favourites from the offering. “I’ve been studying myself and I realised that I really like beautiful things,” she smiles. “I appreciate beauty especially in nature. I always thought the butterfly is so beautiful. That’s where it all started from. And also, my musical influences. There was a time I went through a Mariah Carey phase and she went through a butterfly phase. I love what butterflies represent. That they go from one place and go through a transition that isn’t an easy or pretty journey. You start somewhere and the end result is awesome.” On the song, she asks the black butterfly questions like where it is going to and what it’s going to do. “When I wrote Black Butterfly, I was talking to myself” she explains. “It was more a self-reflection thing. I’m on this journey and I don’t know what I’m doing, I definitely don’t know where I’m going and I don’t know what lies ahead. I had just quit my job so… what am I doing?!” Initially, Sebina just started putting mash-ups of cover songs and popular neo-soul beats onto Soundcloud. Imagine Boom Shaka meets Erykah Badu. Then go and listen to Sebina’s sound-cloud page. Sebina then left the advertising industry to pursue her career in music full-time. But her cocoon couldn’t protect her from the devastation of losing the hard drive that contained the original music that was to be her debut project. “I remember that day so well. I was here in Joburg and I was couch-surfing and I was staying at a friend’s house Read More …

On: Nadia Nakai

With the release of her new single, Nadia Nakai makes the transition from emcee to entrepreneur, writes Helen Herimbi “I feel like I have chicken grease on my lips,” she says through a smile. Nadia Nakai has one arm around Kwesta and another holds up the peace sign. We’re on location at MTV Base’s Touch Base shoot, where a variety of artists are waiting to get in front of the camera, when Nakai takes the rare break to pose for a pic with Da King of African Rap. The camera flashes a few times and she asks the photographer if she can see the pictures. “I look gorgeous,” she squeals before she makes her way back to the catering table for another chicken wing and to field requests to sit with interviewers from BET, Maftown Heights and MTV’s The People vs Patriarchy. Even with a camera and a fancy phone zoomed in on her in a room where she’s surrounded by violins and cellos, Nakai brings a sass to the sophistication. And in all instances, she makes it a point to mention her new single, Naaa Meaan, featuring Cassper Nyovest, which is currently number 1 on YFM’s Top 40 chart. ‘Dropped a milli’ Nakai delivers a catchy chorus for Naaa Meaan, where she not-so-subtly flexes about levelling up. Dropped a milli on my bus and my Audi, she raps. The flex signifies where Nakai is in the evolution of her career. We first caught a glimpse of this Nakai on Top Shayela, off Nyovest’s Thuto album, where she rapped: Just copped an Audi and I took it to the top/Aint never took a loan, I’m a boss. We step outside the shoot and Nakai and I settle into the back of her latest vehicular purchase and, without getting too deep into her pockets, she puts her entrepreneur hat firmly on her tresses. “I mainly wanted a bus because my team was expanding, one. And two, I wanted to sell merchandise out of the boot. Also when the album is out, I want to be able to promote the album with Read More …