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: 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 …

Flowers for Ms Cosmo

By now, you know what i(m)bali is all about. This week’s episode sees us attempt to get to know hip hop DJ and radio personality, Ms Cosmo, a little better. She speaks to me about taking her career into her own hands. She also exclusively tells me about how Gigi LaMayne was meant to be on her first single and she lets me in on how she really feels about people who question whether she actually makes the beats of her songs or not. If you enjoy i(m)bali, please tell a friend.

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 …

How my first artist date went

I’ll be honest, I’ve had a very sad start to my week. I actually didn’t even feel like writing this post (and I still don’t have an artist date for this week, but I trust the Universe’s timing) but in my initial The Artist’s Way post, I said I would try to give some feedback. So I hope you can find strength in me to persevere when you don’t feel like doing the things you committed to doing. So, yeah, last week was my first The Artist’s Way week and the idea for my first artist date came pretty quickly. [Sidebar: An artist date is a solo activity strictly for the pleasure of your artist child. It needn’t cost money or be “artsy” it has to be time with yourself spent doing what you want – see why you should go buy the book?] I don’t quite know what sparked the idea. I think I asked the Universe what I should treat myself to and this answer came: go to the library. So I did. Let me explain to those who don’t have time to go and read the initial post. The point of me re-doing The Artist’s Way is to equip myself with the confidence and tools to pursue my dream of being the best interviewer of musicians I know. I do a lot of background explanation in my blog posts – I’m a fiction writer and chatterbox and a middle child so if you lend me your ear (eyes) I will explain til I can’t anymore – so I had to explain that. Anyway. The Johannesburg City Library is a three minute walk from my work. I took the trip on my lunch break. It’s easy to forget how revitalising direct sunlight is when you’re staring at a computer with the aircon constantly at White Walker level so I appreciated the stroll. The artist date was just meant to be about looking through some music criticism books but I decided I wanted to actually sign up for membership so I can take out books when I feel like Read More …

Introducing i(m)bali

First it’s name was Archives. I had even thought about how I was going to make the h in Archives the hdot logo. But then I asked the Universe to give me another name if Archives was not it. It came to me in the shower. And I am obedient to the call of the Universe. So here we are: i(m)bali. Quick backtrack: I have spoken to A LOT of musicians throughout the years. Often, 1000 words (or less) in an article does not do their stories justice. Especially if there is a gig or a specific album to be dissected in the article. And South African artists don’t always get to tell their stories in detail. Sometimes we only find out the genius or complexity of an artist at their memorial service. So this year, I am digging into my archives to give you details about South African music history straight from the mouths of the people who lived it. Ibali is a story. Imbali is a flower. My intention is to be the vessel for these artists’ stories and in doing so, give them their flowers while they can smell them. Th first episode tracks Thebe’s journey from wanting to be a sound engineer to being one of the most beloved kwaito artists of all time. Tell a friend if you enjoy it.

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 …