On: Mx Blouse

Experimental artist Mx Blouse speaks to Helen Herimbi about bending genres at will “I remember that I didn’t like playing with the kids outside,” Mx Blouse says before they burst into laughter. They’re reminiscing about being a bougie kid growing up between Richard’s Bay and Melmoth in Kwa-Zulu Natal. “I remember playing tyres with the boys on the street, but then I’d get bored and I would go and play with the girls and I’d get bored there as well,” they remember. “Then, while staying with my paternal grandmother, I would share a room with my older cousin and I would take abonopoppie, my sister’s dolls and line them up and then I would teach them.” Here, Mx Blouse raises both arms as if conducting a class, then continues: “I don’t know what I was teaching them, but they had to shut up and listen.” Fast forward to two years ago, at the popular Kitcheners Bar in Johannesburg and instead of dolls, Mx Blouse was conducting a room of music lovers, commanding them to pay attention. “I went to Thailand and Vietnam for two months,” Mx Blouse recalls. “And the whole time I was there, I was thinking: ‘when I get back home, I really don’t want to do anything I don’t want to do. I want to do something that will fulfil me and something I can do for the rest of my life.” In a small town called Pai in Thailand, they just started writing to beats and put out a ditty called WTF (Squared) on Soundcloud. While in Vietnam a few weeks later, they were asked to perform that song at Kitcheners. “I remember just standing in front of the audience and I was just like: wow, it feels like I’m on mushrooms or something,” Mx Blouse smiles. “It was an incredible high and it just felt right.” Mx Blouse, whose real name is Sandiso Ngubane, hasn’t looked back since. The 30-year-old who describes themselves as an experimental artist put out a boombap-inspired EP called Believe the Bloom. The EP opens with Only Words Are Perfect, which Read More …

On: AKA

After hearing his new album Helen Herimbi quizzes AKA about love, liquor and lyrics A day after AKA returns home from Cannes, France, he’s hooked up to an IV at Reviv wellness centre in Johannesburg. He’s there for some rejuvenation after travelling and before he releases his third solo album, Touch My Blood, this Friday. He’s also adamant about telling me his view of the backlash he received after releasing a single called Beyoncé a few weeks ago. With lines like even made the f**k*ng news on that Mozambique trip and waited two years just to see you with your weave off , the public assumption is that the song is about AKA’s ex, TV personality, Bonang Matheba. After the song dropped, some corners of social media began calling AKA’s expression through song bitter. “I would just like to say I am not the first person to make a song about a relationship or about a girl,” he tells me then shrugs. “I would also like to say if you guys didn’t know, or assume you know who the song is about, then you wouldn’t give a f**k.” Well, alright. Touch My Blood has 16 tracks produced by the likes of Tweezy, Makwa6eats, Buks, Anatii, Tazzy and Nigeria’s Kiddominant along with AKA and Master A Flat. Not all of the tracks are about that relationship. In fact, the themes that jump out are: a nostalgia about soccer, heavy discussions about presidents, a bit of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Bheki Cele and a whole lot of drinking. “We speak about soccer all the time,” says the 30-year-old artist whose real name is Kiernan Forbes. “In fact, while making this album, we would watch old soccer YouTube videos – like Jogo Bonito, old Ronaldo – just to get inspired. We even made a song that didn’t make the album and the sample came from soccer.” Some of the results include paying homage to Bennie McCarthy’s classic Shibobo verse on Fela, featuring Kiddominant. This is also a song that sees AKA try out his best pidgin flow. There’s even what feels like a Read More …

On: K.O

As a part of his music evolution, K.O talks to Helen Herimbi about being one man with a ‘Two Piece’ A few days before K.O debuts his new EP, Two Piece, on a commercial radio station, we are sitting outside on a patio. It’s a little chilly but he, dressed in a trench coat and a drawstring collar sweater, has brought the heat. An extra table, on which he can place the speaker so he can play me Two Piece, is brought out. But the rapper can’t help himself. He quickly gets up out of his chair, picks the table up, and turns it around, so the lines on that table are in the same direction as the ones on the table we were sitting at. “Sorry,” he says, although unapologetic. “It’s that OCD,” he smiles. A penchant to take control of not only decor but his destiny led to the artist whose real name is Ntokozo Mdluli being labelled the Skhanda General when he ushered in a sound that would shape some hood hip hop along with his then-crew, Cashtime Life. Now, just over half a year since he released his second solo album, Skhanda Republic 2 (SR2), the man who is now known as the Skhanda Gawd, took matters into his own hands once again and decided to drop a two-track EP. “My plan was to drop a single outside of SR2,” he tells me. “I haven’t been out of the studio since I put out SR2. I had recorded this one record with AKA, and I was going to follow that up with another single a month or two later, depending on how the first track did. Both records were going to feature someone.” He played Fire Emoji, featuring AKA, for his label, Sony. Then he also played them a song called Waya Waya, featuring Cassper Nyovest. “The label felt since we’re going into the last half of the year, fans would want to hear something more up-tempo from me and suggested that the Cassper record might be that song,” says K.O. “Instead of me opting to Read More …

On: Priddy Ugly

Following his polarising debut album, ‘E.G.Y.P.T’, Priddy Ugly blows off some steam with Helen Herimbi The metal skull Priddy Ugly holds in his hand has a crown on it. He twists the crown over and over and the smile on skull crusher does not fade. When the rapper – whose real name is Ricardo Moloi – released his 2016 mixtape, You Don’t Know Me Yet, he was the heir apparent to the hip hop throne. On the deluxe of You Don’t Know Me Yet, the fiercely independent artist put on a song called Tlala, where he defiantly rapped: Sign a deal for what? For you to cut my money in half? And then, in 2017, he signed to Ambitiouz Entertainment. Ek soek a bietjie stickie then we get this money – Bietjie Priddy Ugly’s debut album, E.G.Y.P.T was released through Ambitiouz Entertainment this year. Throughout the 15-track offering, he lets us in on his family dynamics, his pursuit of success and of course, there is a lot of flexing about his wordplay and about women. Peppered between these topics is a recurring theme of self-medicating to ward off figurative and literal headaches. On 02Hero, featuring Shane Eagle, Priddy Ugly raps: I’m medicated but dedicated to better greatness. I broach the subject of this common thread throughout the music and Priddy Ugly says: “Yes, it refers to weed. But also, 2017 was a very tough year for me healthwise. Migraines, not drinking water, I could go through a week and only sleep twice. I had just joined the label and just put this pressure on myself to finish the album. There was just a lot happening with my family as well. That didn’t make it easy for me to be in a work state of mind.” His father’s voice rings through the start of Ambition II and on that phone call, he implores Priddy Ugly to not let anything negatively affect him. On the cool, kwaito-tinged Smogolo, Priddy Ugly raps about how his gran is dying for a visit and how he needs to save her. Then she appears on the Read More …

On: Julie Adenuga

As Beats 1 turns 3 this month, Helen Herimbi speaks to Julie Adenuga about music, Manthe and social media When Julie Adenuga hops on the phone, I am unprepared for how much she sounds just like she does on the radio. The Beats 1 DJ, who is known for being a champion of grime, West African stars, bald-headed girls across the globe, and shedding light on burgeoning acts through her UK Represent segment, speaks fast and laughs a lot. On the eve of the 24-hour online radio, streamed through Apple Music, celebrating three years since its inception, the Nigerian-British DJ had just come back from Nigeria, where her brothers Skepta and JME had hosted the Boy Better Know homecoming event. A week later, Skepta was performing in Johannesburg, but Adenuga did not make the trip. “I didn’t know they were going to South Africa until I got home and I was very sad about that,” she says in her signature fast speech. “Everyone has told me that South Africa is amazing and I’m annoyed I haven’t been there yet.” But that doesn’t mean she hasn’t been keeping up with artists in Mzansi. “Manthe Ribane,” Adenuga quickly says when I ask her who she likes. “She’s probably the first South African artist I met, and she blew me away. I haven’t met anyone like her since. I have sat and watched her videos for hours.” Adenuga is passionate about music. After dropping out of university, she worked at an Apple iStore and subsequently talked her way into hosting a show on the then pirate radio station, Rinse FM, in 2010. She moved up to hosting drive time, and in 2015, she was head-hunted to stand alongside America’s Ebro Darden and New Zealand’s Zane Lowe to be the faces of the new streaming station, Beats 1. She tells me about the hiring process. “I have a screenshot on my phone actually,” she says. “It’s of a random message from a guy called Warren. He’d sent it through my contact page on a website that I’d built. The message said something like: ‘Hi, Read More …

On: Mr Eazi

Nigerian musician Mr Eazi speaks to Helen Herimbi about Banku Music, his blueprint and being shibobo-ed Mr Eazi is hard to pin down. The day we were supposed to meet, the Nigerian star, who now lives in London, was happily stuck in Cape Town where he was shooting a video for Property featuring MiCasa’s Mo-T. He’s also come to South Africa to lay down a verse for Shekhinah’s Suited remix and also to sign a licensing deal with the Universal Music Group Africa in Johannesburg. But he did it all at his own pace. From his apartment in London, the artist who was born Oluwatosin Oluwole Ajibade 26 years ago, seems to have just woken up and we finally get to talk. “Sipho in South Africa and Larry in Lagos made this (deal) happen,” he says, name dropping the heads of the company in South and West Africa, respectively. “There is so much to do in Africa, and it’s so good to have a team in Africa to do the groundwork for me while I do what I do globally. It was also important to know the team would work with my blueprint and drive my exact vision.” Mr Eazi sits topless, barely glancing at the Skype camera, and he occasionally plays with his ombre dreads as he answers the questions. The fidgeting is understandable. He has to be at sound check for a show in 20 minutes. This singer broke onto the scene with About To Blow in 2013. Then he did. A few music awards, Apple Music’s Up Next feature and the attention of Wizkid later, Mr Eazi is well-known. It was his second offering, Life is Eazi Vol 1: Accra to Lagos (in 2017), that truly showed what his signature genre (and name of label) Banku Music was all about. It also showcased his mnemonic: zaggadat! I read that this word that he made up means beautiful and spiritual and when I mention that, Mr Eazi almost spits out his water while laughing. “Zaggadat came from listening to Beanie Man,” he explains. “He always used to say Read More …

On: Shekhinah

With an impressive debut album to her name, Shekhinah talks to Helen Herimbi about lyrics and being the leading lady at the Samas She’s sipping on a cup of White Dragon tea, but it’s been a long time since Shekhinah had to breathe fire through song or in real life. Right now, she’s basking in the honour of bagging the most nominations at the 24th annual South African Music Awards (Samas). The singer-songwriter-producer is nominated in the best female artist, best produced album, best pop album, best album, record of the year (for Suited) and best newcomer categories. Shekhinah’s debut album, Rose Gold, deserves all these mentions. “Yeaaah,” she draws the word out in that signature whisper-talk of hers. “I’m really excited – not for the title of being the most nominated at the awards – but just for the fact that when you’ve worked hard for something, you feel like yes to this category and that one and that one.” “The one that trumps everything on that list is best album,” she nods quickly then smiles. “Literally. For me, it’s about having the best album across all genres, period. It’s more affirming to me.” In 2016, Shekhinah was opening the Samas ceremony in Durban, her home town, alongside Sketchy Bongo and Kyle Deutsch, with their breakthrough single, Back to the Beach. This year, she will be showcasing her solo work. Over 12 tracks that meander from soul singing to pop lyrics and melodies that borrow from rap, Shekhinah presents a new sound (as she sings in The Sound featuring Asali) on Rose Gold. I notice that the iPhone she casually glances at during our interview has a rose-gold cover. “I wish I was that organised and co-ordinated,” she laughs in response. The one thing she is meticulous about is taking her time to tell her truth on this album. From Power to She (featuring Rouge) to fan-favourite Different (featuring Mariechan), Rosegold carries an underlying message of independence. Shekhinah knows she’s an acquired taste and isn’t afraid to pursue her most authentic self in spite of how others may feel Read More …

On: Zaytoven

Trap music architect Zaytoven talks to Helen Herimbi about building beats and becoming his own artist When Zaytoven tells me he is “glad to be home” in Atlanta, there is an unmistakable smile in his voice. Fresh off pre-promo for his debut album, Trap Holizay, which comes out on May 25, the producer who is largely known as the architect of the trap sub-genre as we know it, is back in the place that started it all. We link up because Red Bull has just released a documentary on the rise of his career as a part of The Note music series. The Note: Zaytoven can be streamed on Red Bull’s Facebook and YouTube. “I’ve been working with Red Bull on a few things,” he tells me. “There was this concert that me and Gucci did with Red Bull, too. They asked me about doing The Note, and I rock with them so much, I was open to do it.” What is central to the doccie is Zaytoven’s Christian faith and how he is able to be around and make music for artists who aren’t the most religious and not be moved to act out of character. In fact, it has become something of an urban legend that the producer, who was born Xavier Lamar Dotson 38 years ago, makes sure he always makes it to his church’s Sunday service to play the keyboard, no matter where in the world he was that weekend. “Well,” he says and then bursts into laughter. “I try my best to not miss Sunday service, but sometimes, I can’t make it back because I am too far out of town.” Zaytoven became a bishop of the beats at a young age. His parents allowed him to bring all sorts of characters into the home studio for sessions. From Young Jeezy to Nicki Minaj, some of today’s biggest stars started out in his room. His big break came when he produced Icy for Gucci Mane in 2005. The track featured Jeezy and Boo of Boo & Gotti. “Me and Gucci were friends who would be Read More …

On: ByLwansta

Already a force to be reckoned with online, ByLwansta is one to watch IRL too, writes Helen Herimbi “My name is ByLwansta,” he says once he’s stepped onto the small stoep of a stage at Kitcheners, a bar in Johannesburg. “We knowwwwwwwwwwww,” the crowd roars in unison. The bar is small, but inside that room, bodies brush against bodies as they go bos over the headliner: A self-made star who hails from Kokstad and hasn’t let living in Durban define whether or not he gets to be a voice of his generation. Just 22 years old, this rapper, producer and graphic designer’s name is actually Lwandile Nkanyuza. But whether you’ve been rocking with him since his Sahha-nominated Normvl (2013) or from when he showed up on the cult Berlin performance show, Colors, you never forget to say the By – which denotes his DIY approach to his art – in front of the Lwansta. His performance of Lindiwe on that Colors show loops on a screen behind him and once, during his set, he catches himself looking at himself in some meta way that I’m too lazy to decipher and he smiles: “We’ll get back to that guy.” By the time he gets to perform Lindiwe, he doesn’t have to rap a word. The audience is belting out rhymes at the top of their lungs. A few weeks later, from his home in Durban, ByLwansta exclaims: “I have never, ever, been in a place where I did not have to rap a single line from Lindiwe.” Back at Kitcheners, I see the songs I only know from the net come to life and it’s goosebump-inducing to watch young people in their element like this. Whether it’s on Dominic’s Interlude – which is heartbreak weaved over a sample of Corinne Bailey Rae’s Trouble Sleeping or whether it’s the catchy Normvl Still, the atmosphere is jubilant. I hear ByLwansta’s manager, Olwethu, fan out: “Finally, finally!” The start of Grey – a song ByLwansta tells the audience that he never performs in front of his girlfriend because “this is the hardest song I’ve Read More …

On: Mashabela

Multi-talented comedian Mashabela Galane is tickled by the fact that his latest kwaito album was nominated for a Sama, writes Helen Herimbi “I’m like Jomo Sono,” Mashabela Galane tells me as soon as he sits down. “I do everything.” One of the most successful stand-up comedians in the country is nonchalant about the statement, but that’s about as far as that goes. We’re meeting up because he cracked a nod at the 24th annual South African Music Awards (Samas). I’m surprised that his last album, Bona That Rural Dream, is nominated in the Best Kwaito category, but Mashabela – as he is simply known – well, Mashabela is bemused. I start our conversation by saying most people don’t think of him when they think of kwaito. “Me neither,” he giggles. “I didn’t know, seriously. I was surprised when they nominated me. I thought it was a joke because I do jokes, you know. But I have an album, it’s 14 tracks, so I qualify to actually submit for that category. I’m under the Universal Music record label, so they told me that they’d listened to my album and wanted to submit it to the Samas,” he continues. “I was like: ‘The Samas? If they can’t be won by the likes of Cassper (Nyovest), then who am I?’ I said they should submit and they went quiet for a long time. Then I saw an invitation to the nominees’ announcement.” He shakes his head and then grins. “And you could tell that people were surprised to see my name. When the announcer was announcing the likes of Chomee, people were like ‘wow, wow,’ but when it came to my name, it was just toe,” he puts a finger on his lips. Mashabela’s album is up against Highly Flavoured, by Busiswa, So fa Silahlane, by Team Mosha, Do Mo Squats, by Chomee, and Ska Ba Hemisa, by Trendsetters. I remember seeing Busiswa tweet that this category should actually be renamed in order to accommodate sub-genres such as amapiano, gqom and others. While Bona That Rural Dream is not Mashabela’s first album, it’s Read More …