On: Corinne Bailey Rae

Cape Town International Jazz Festival headliner, Corinne Bailey Rae, speaks to Helen Herimbi about writing grown-up love songs A few days after her 39th birthday, Corinne Bailey Rae hops onto the phone to tell me how she celebrated. “I went out on Sunday actually with a really big group of friends,” she shares. “We went to this vegetarian restaurant in Leeds. It was a big party. And so on Monday, I just chilled and went for a walk and it was just before this crazy snow happened. It was nice to be able to get that.” The British singer-songwriter-producer is, of course, not just ringing me up to catch up about birthdays. She will be one of the headliners of the 19th annual Cape Town International Jazz Festival, taking place at the Cape Town ICC on March 23 and 24. Other acts that will perform over those two days include Louis Moholo-Moholo Presents 5 Okes and 1 Doll, Mulatu Astatke, Incognito, R+R=NOW, Amanda Black, Jordan Rakei, as well as Blinky Bill and Sibot’s Afrofunk Spaceship, among others. Rae was last in South Africa to perform at a 46664 concert in 2007. With a multi-award-winning eponymous debut album (2006), The Sea (2010), The Love EP (2011) and The Heart Speaks In Whispers (2016) under her belt, Rae is looking forward to sharing her life’s work. “I wanted to do a sort of retrospective, really, of all my music to date,” Rae tells me. “It’s been a really long time since I was in South Africa and I want to play some of my old songs to catch up with people who have been supporting me from the start. And then I want to take people on a journey to where I am now.” Rae’s latest album introduces us to a more mature artist. My favourite song on The Heart Speaks In Whispers is a guitar-driven slow jam that intersects between hope and melancholy: Hey, I Won’t Break Your Heart. “With all of that record, so much of it came in images,” she explains. “I have this idea of this person standing Read More …

On: Bra Herbie Tsoaeli

Ahead of Voice’s performance at The 4th Movement, Helen Herimbi talks to band member Herbie Tsoaeli Bra Herbie, as veteran jazz musician, Herbie Tsoaeli is affectionately called, also answers to another name: uMalume. This is also the name of a popular song from the bassist’s debut solo album, African Time, which was released in 2012. I am set to meet Bra Herbie on a windy afternoon. When I ask a waiter if he’s seen Bra Herbie, he looks confused. And then Bra Herbie appears from the escalators and the waiter exclaims: “Oh! uMalume? He was here earlier.” I wonder if he is referring to the song or merely calling the older gentleman that out of respect. There’s no time to find out. Bra Herbie is already in front of us. We’re meeting ahead of the reunion of his band, Voice, at the fourth birthday of popular jazz club, The Orbit in Johannesburg. With two albums released, Voice, which had a residency at Bassline – when it was still in Melville in the early naughties – is made up of Bra Herbie, Andile Yenana, Marcus Wyatt, Sidney Mnisi and Morabo Morajele. They will share the stage with the likes of Steve Dyer’s Mantswe a Marabi, Tlale Makhene as well as Sibongile Khumalo. The six day-long festival is called The 4th Movement and many of the acts who have performed at The Orbit will be present. We settle at a small table on the balcony and Bra Herbie tells me: “My most memorable time spent at The Orbit was when I was sharing the bill with Bra Louis Moholo – whom we learnt all this music from. All those greats – you remember The Blue Notes, Mongezi Feza and Chris McGregor – people who went into exile in the 60s such as the likes of Bra Hugh. But that group was just on another trip, musically.” Bra Herbie tells me the African Time music has been guided by a force greater than him. He has even coined the phrase “jazz moya” to explain the spiritual side of creating music. “I remember I Read More …

On: Pearl Thusi

Ahead of the release of her new film, Pearl Thusi takes Helen Herimbi along for a ride A long number fills up the top of my cellphone screen. The words “New York (NY)” appear below the number and above the words “Would like to FaceTime…” When I answer, a fresh-faced Pearl Thusi appears and she says: “Babe, look at my eyes,” as she zooms the phone into her face. The actress and TV presenter who now lives between the US and South Africa explains that she’s had a long day. She flew into Joburg from the US to attend the Catching Feelings film premiere, then flew to Durban. As we speak, she’s actually driving to the airport to catch a flight back to Jozi where she will shoot a morning-to-night campaign the next day. Thusi is a busy woman but when I do manage to chat with her, she’s funny and insightful. She is proud of Catching Feelings – where she is the leading lady starring opposite writer and director Kagiso Lediga – which opens in South African cinemas tomorrow. She places her phone in what seems to be a cup holder in the car so I am looking up at her while she drives, and I ask her how the premiere was. “It was great, the film is great and there is a lot of me in it because I am very similar to my character in certain ways,” she says. “But there are certain things (my character does) that I am not stressed about – like break-ups. “I’m a single mom, I don’t have time to cry about trash. My mom is dead, my gran is dead… I’ve cried for people dying, but me choosing to separate with someone is not a life or death matter, so it’s not worth my tears.” “I try to make my tears very expensive,” she laughs. “I don’t like being that way. But I’ve been forcing myself to be strong for my daughter, for myself and just to survive. But yeah, it was a very warm reception, to answer your question.” “I Read More …

On: Oskido

Ahead of appearing at the inaugural Red Bull Music Festival, Oskido talks to Helen Herimbi about kicking down closed doors Oskido puts his hand up just as the waiter is about to turn around. “No,” the kwaito and house music pioneer says. “No bread.” He’s just come from a general check-up at a medical centre in an affluent Jozi suburb, and he’s trying to follow his doctor’s orders. The fresh face underneath the red cap he’s sporting makes it clear that he’s been following his doctor’s orders for a while. Perhaps it’s a combination of his youthful energy that allows him to keep up with the rappers on his radio show – as well as the slew of producers that want to run with the baton he’s passed on after taking South African house music to Miami and beyond. Or maybe it’s his zest for creating and mentoring even after co-founding the iconic label, Kalawa Jazmee. Whatever it is, Oskido is the face of the new 50. It’s no wonder his new album is called 50 Degrees. On the album, Pepereza (featuring Dr Moruti and McKenzie) presents a bossa nova feel, while Ngci is given a soulful touch by M.Que’s sultry vocals and Ma Orange (featuring Candy, Nokwazi, Bhizer and Western Boyz) is undeniably gqom. “For me, all of it was to say: ‘Let me check what’s happening in the music industry,’ ” Oskido tells me once our apple and ginger juices have been placed on the small table in front of us.” “I just decided that, in terms of sound, all of these sounds mean something different to me. Especially the soulful stuff, I felt like there isn’t a lot of soul and people are forgetting about it, and that’s why I did a song like Ngci.” “When you look at the gqom sound, that’s what’s happening right now. I just wanted to show people that I am still here, and I can do these things. Even the latino feel in Pepereza and the down tempo stuff – that’s big – and I grew up on down tempo stuff. Read More …

On: Zoocci Coke Dope

Zoocci Coke Dope talks to Helen Herimbi about ‘Morning Star’ and making moves through music His braids curl up the sides of his head and he rarely touches his signature snapback cap to tuck them behind his ears. Two thin gold chains hang down his chest and his pensive look is omnipresent throughout our conversation. Aside from him drinking a berry smoothie – berry, fam! – everything about Zoocci Coke Dope is consistent with the image he’s been projecting to the general public since he first burst onto the mainstream scene around two years ago. The 23-year-old who was born Andile Sibabalwe is so serious about being a producer and vocalist who is a force to be reckoned with, that it borders on impatient. “I feel like I spent a lot of time outside of where it’s really happening in the industry and, at this point, I feel like my peers are already way ahead of me,” Zoocci Coke Dope confesses between slurps of his smoothie. “So I feel like I have a lot of catching up to do.” “The people I look up to started way young,” he continues. “But I spent about three years of my life working from eight in the morning to 4am the next day, every day. Just trying to get better and trying to do good work.” In that time, he was the producer behind Blaklez’s radio-friendly, Freedom or Fame. Zoocci also went on to produce and feature on songs like DJ Speedsta’s I Don’t Know and Just To Flex, Flavours as well as Pablo, all by fellow Vth Season signee, Big Star. Most recently, the Pretoria-raised artist has released his own EP, Morning Star. The title track presents a duality that Zoocci calls a split personality. “With people I know, I’m very energetic and like ‘I want to take over the world,’ ” says Zoocci. “But I also have a side where I am a reserved introvert. With decision-making, there’s always been a conflict between those two personalities.” That’s why the track is two of his own voices wrestling with words about how Read More …

On: Kay Faith

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 Read More …

On: Yugen Blakrok

As the world marvels at Yugen Blakrok’s appearance on the Black Panther soundtrack, Helen Herimbi sits down with the Mzansi MC The last quarter of 2017 was a reaping season for Yugen Blakrok. Now the Eastern Cape-born, Johannesburg-based rapper who is signed to prolific independent hip hop label, Iapetus Records, finally gets the shine she deserves. In the last three months of that year, she embarked on yet another European tour – where her 2013 debut album, Return of the Astro-Goth sells better and is shown more love than in SA – which saw her stay in Berlin for a while, then hit places like Zurich, Basel, parts of Austria and more. It was while preparing to leave Berlin that she got a message that would catapult her into the kind of attention that has Billboard magazine calling her talent “undeniable” and more. I meet Yugen Blakrok at an eatery, and we settle into the nook of a restaurant that has Ponte prominently winking at her past the floor to ceiling windows. She tells me: “It was a random Sunday night and we were moving out of this Berlin apartment, and it was just stressful trying to put our stuff and merchandise in certain places. Then I get contacted by someone from TDE (Top Dawg Entertainment, the American label that signed Kendrick Lamar, SZA and more) like: ‘Hey, there’s this project we’d like to involve you in.’ So I said: ‘Cool, let me know more about it. I don’t have a lot of time right now but send me your idea.’ And then I see who it is…” Yugen Blakrok is grinning from ear to ear. “I was like: ‘Oh damn!’” Damn is right. That top secret project became the Black Panther soundtrack, which is curated and produced by Kendrick Lamar. It was released a week before the highly anticipated Black Panther film hits South African cinemas tomorrow. When Yugen Blakrok was tapped to appear on a choppy, militant beat that is now known as Opps – which features Lamar as well as Vince Staples alongside Yugen Blakrok – our Read More …

On: Blinky Bill

It’s a hot Jozi day and the rescheduled date for my Skype conversation with Blinky Bill. The reason I was unable to chat with him days before was because my neighbourhood had experienced power cuts. When I finally see his face on my screen – his hair has become these long dreads since I last saw him in person – the musician tells me he also didn’t have electricity that week. But even so, we find a way to connect Johannesburg and Nairobi. As the most popular face of Kenya’s alternative group, Just A Band, the man who was born Bill Sellanga has continued to push the envelope. The producer, vocalist and DJ went solo and put out his 2016 EP, We Cut Keys While You Wait, which was accompanied by afrofuturistic visuals. But, it’s his upcoming pun-laden debut album, Everyone’s Just Winging It and Other Fly Tales, that’s got most people excited. “I’m working on my new album, so it’s only fair that I do a couple of new songs off it at Little Gig,” he tells me about performing at the 24-hour festival that takes place in Cape Town next weekend. He’ll also be in the Mother City for a few shows, and I ask him if he’s worried about the road to Day Zero. “I’ve seen that it’s a bit of a disaster,” Blinky Bill chuckles. “How did it get to that situation? This is like an episode of Black Mirror! Now, I have to carry wet wipes. I’m sure we’ll figure it out. I’ve survived harsh environments before, so this water situation is not something that gives me sleepless nights.” With their debut album Scratch To Reveal, Just A Band became the poster child of black, alternative East African music. The trio put out their second album, 82, which spawned the viral video for Ha-He and allowed Kenyan popular culture to flourish with the return, through their music, of a character called Makmende. One would argue that Blinky Bill and his friends still have more success in them. But he tells me: “I feel like it’s Read More …

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 …