On: DJ Lag

Before DJ Lag brings gqom to this year’s MTN Bushfire Festival, Helen Herimbi caught up with the producer/DJ DJ Lag is in the middle of the second part of his world tour. He’s already been to Russia, China, France, South Korea and, last week, he treated his home turf to sets in Johannesburg and Cape Town. Later this month, he’s headed to Belgium, Sweden and Greece, but even with all that travel, he still seems excited about playing the annual MTN Bushfire Festival in Swaziland. “It’s going to be my first time at Bushfire,” he tells me. “I’ve performed in Swaziland before, but never at a festival that’s this big, so I’m excited. I’m also going to be dropping my new EP next month so the people at Bushfire will get to hear all of my new tracks.” The 12th edition of this festival will see Lag share a line-up with the likes of Flavia Coehlo, Salif Keita, Staceyann Chin, Yemi Alade, Albert Frost, Dear Ribane and more. But for Lag, it’s all about the people getting to hear his music first-hand. The DJ, who created his moniker from his initials, Lwazi Asanda Gwala, has named his upcoming EP Stampede because he says it mirrors the music industry. Since matric, Lag has been sought after to perform all over the world. “No one could believe that I was still in school when my first (self-titled) EP came out,” he laughs, pleased with himself. That EP featured several club hits like Ice Drop. The video for Ice Drop has plenty of pretty aerial shots of his hood in Clermont, KwaZulu-Natal. It is shot as an ode to the place he was raised in as he becomes a citizen of the world. “Ice Drop is a video that shows everything that happens in Clermont,” he tells me. But what is an Ice Drop? Lag has a penchant for curiously titling his songs, like 16th Step. He laughs when I bring this up. “There is a sample I used to make Ice Drop, which is called ice drop,” he explains. “Then with 16th Read More …

Opinion: SA Music x Liquor

AKA sits dead centre. He keeps his shades on, but it seems he has a clear vision for his life. The self-proclaimed pop star and co-owner of the Beam Group is under the spotlight that specific evening because he’s just announced his own flavoured vodka, in partnership with Cruz. That’s just a slice of the watermelon, though. The big deal is that he will earn money from each bottle sold. He is flanked by David de Mardt, the managing director of Blue Sky Brands, as well as AKA’s business partner, Prince Costinyo. But he looks behind De Mardt, into the audience gathered to look for Da L.E.S. Once the North God has been located, AKA says: “I have to send a shout-out to him for also giving me that understanding that it’s more than just music. Not everything is about the music. As a brand, as somebody pushing the lifestyle, as somebody pushing the culture, this Cruz Watermelon really is for all of us.” It’s a touching moment. The bromance has been around forever. But part of what AKA says makes me a little uneasy. Not everything is about the music? Ouch. I get what Mega is saying. It’s the same reason why the rest of us non-creatives throw some money into retirement plans every month. But it sounds dismissive of the art that puts many in positions to negotiate with brands. During this announcement, AKA was proud that he actually had equity and wasn’t merely asked to design a bottle (ha!) or sent overseas to appear to be doing something significant (shots fired). AKA says the De Mardt family “allowed us to take the lead and take their brand and run with it and give them the ideas and inspiration. So today is a very special day because even the deal we did the first time was ground-breaking and very special, (but) this is ground-breaking on a whole new level.” “I think me and Diddy (are) probably the only people getting money by the bottle, baby,” he exclaims, then laughs. “That just speaks to us as Beam Group in Read More …

Shallow water

Anxiety is a bitch. At the beginning of this month, my Dude was sprawled across our sofa couch as sun rays licked and lulled him into sleep while he pretended he was really concentrating on this stupid movie he insisted we watch. His eyelashes curved up as salutation. When I was much younger, I used to religiously read Demetria L Lucas’ blog. On the day of the bad movie, I’d just stopped going down a rabbit hole of really old posts from her blog. I stopped because of this line: “TV is like the water in Cape Town. Cold. Is swimming where I am settling or is it sensible?” It jumped out at me and placed a cold hand around my throat. I looked at Dude but he was asleep. See, the night before, I’d had this long dream about auditioning to present a music TV show. The dream had a myriad of famous people as cast and I woke up before I could find out the most important thing: did I get the job? And the line from Demetria’s (we’re on a first name basis in my head, you know) blog snatched the air out of my throat because when you know the next step is bringing your brand of music journalism to television but there are too many obstacles, you wonder if the Universe got your calling mixed up with someone else’s. A bit of context: Demetria was recounting a tale told by someone who was not having luck in her career until she went “where the water is warm.” That means instead of doing what is expected and failing, she took matters into her own hands and became a creator. Then she was successful. Demetria was interested in pursuing television but the obstacles in her way kept making her think maybe the water is warmer where she was then: writing. But she had already received massive success in the writing world so was she settling? I haven’t been even slightly as successful as Demetria. Her path is hers. But I do tend to wonder if it’s the Read More …

On: Ebro

One of three faces of Beats 1, Ebro Darden speaks to Helen Herimbi about radio, rap and relating to the world It’s silly, but I am still expecting it. The Black Beats headphones with a gold ‘b’ on each side and the African continent outlined in gold on them. Maybe slung around his neck. Or even on his ears. But when I answer Ebro Darden’s FaceTime call, he’s wearing his signature fitted cap and his lush salt-and-pepper beard matches his accented A Bathing Ape jacket. No headphones. No worries, though. He’s probably keeping them safe since the only people in the world who have this particular pair of exclusive custom headphones are him and British boxer Anthony Joshua. “There was one pair made for him,” Ebro tells me. “It was a special pair made for him. I saw them, and I was like: ‘yo! I need those!’ So they made me a pair. But they didn’t make more. Hopefully, there are conversations taking place to make more because there are major things happening on the African continent.” Over the past few years, Ebro, as he is simply known, has made a name for himself as the perpetually grumpy guy that the breakfast show on prolific New York radio station, Hot 97, is named after. But three years ago, he managed to become known worldwide, and not just by hip-hop heads, when he was announced as one of three faces of Beats 1 Radio. Ebro, along with Julie Adenuga and Zane Lowe, became a part of a trio that spearheaded the cool that Apple was looking to sell through taking traditional radio formats and flipping them on their heads through streaming. “I felt like it was home right away because there was no precedent for it,” he tells me. “It was whatever we made it. It’s our team, and it felt comfortable right away. We continue to stay hyper focused on our role within the ecosystem of Apple Music –which is to bring context to and find the music and communicate around the world to different areas. What’s become more evident Read More …

On: Arsenic

Ahead of the release of ‘Hidden Formulas Vol 5: Project Indigo’, producer Arsenic speaks to Helen Herimbi Arsenic is exactly where I expect to find him: in the studio. He sits in a low chair and a mic stand, computers, monitors and other sound paraphernalia envelope him. Like a music hug. Ahead of the Cape Town producer’s newest project, Hidden Formulas Vol 5: Project Indigo, Arsenic tells me what it took for him to get here. But first, what in the world is a smoortjie? He laughs when I ask and points to his t-shirt. The words “Kaapstad Smoortjies” are emblazoned on his chest. “It’s a mixture of onions, tomatoes and other food,” he attempts to explain. “I don’t know what the English version of it is but this shirt is from a show I did with Jitsvinger.” Arsenic began producing in 2001 and has since worked closely with the likes of Jitsvinger, as well as the people’s champ, YoungstaCPT. His beats have been the soundscape for some of the most lyrically dexterous artists to come out of the Western Cape and the art of collaboration is something this boom bap lover who was known as the Jazzy Mongrel takes seriously. “With Jitsvinger and Youngsta, I heard them and thought my beats would go nicely with them,” he tells me. “It all started from being a fan of theirs first. With my newer collaborations, I sit down with the artists and speak to them and see where their headspace is so that can influence the beat as well.” Earlier this year, Arsenic released his first single in three years: Hidden Formula. The track features Mvula Drae on the raps and, while it is not a departure from Arsenic’s style, it has a certain jovial quality to it. It even feels funkier. “Definitely,” he exclaims in agreement. “I think most of what I do has that boom bap, funk, soul, jazzy influence to it. Strangely enough, that beat was made in 2015 because the mixtape idea is something I had before I got sick.” “I had actually done another song with Read More …

I’m on Peak Time!

This is a piece of my vision board. My vision board – my wishlist to the Universe even when I’m not sure how to work to achieve what’s on the list – has been up on my wall since the beginning of the year. As you see in the picture, there is a Red Bull Radio studio environment in the mix. That’s what I put out to the Universe. I wanted to become the first African with their own show on Red Bull Radio. Yesterday, I was a guest on Peak Time, a popular Red Bull Radio show. And I was talking about my favourite thing: South African music. To me, my vision board wish has been realised in a way. And I am so, so grateful. I speak about the power of the vision board all the time. If you’ve been waiting for it, here’s your sign. Just start your own vision board. Create it today. Yes, we’ve just started the second quarter of the year but that just means you’re right on time to start something new. Create it. Put it where you can see it every day – mine is where I moisturise my body so I have long enough to look at it and I often say what’s on it out loud. The Universe has got you. Sure, I’m not the first African with their own Red Bull Radio show yet. But, if it’s meant for me, there’s still time to achieve that milestone.

Paid in full-ish

I just spent what feels like 10 minutes – although it was probably shorter than that – scrolling through Facebook. I found out that Masta Ace has a Tiny Desk Concert out. Good job, NPR! I mean, just two days ago, my Dude and I were in a convenience store and saw the American soft drink and I yelled: “somebody gon’ slice him and send him to Dr Peppa!” But that’s not what I was looking for. What I couldn’t find was this post – I forgot who uploaded it – where someone was complaining that South African artists don’t deserve what they charge to perform. This person was saying these artists charge according to the lifestyle they want to live. I can’t remember the rest but I assume he meant that they charge what they want and not what they deserve. It made me think: that’s a ludicrous thing to say. Here’s the thing: most (not all, relax) of the big names became big names because of their performance skills. Remember how people came after Babes and her lacklustre performances at some stage? A big song on the radio doesn’t guarantee a banging performance. Just as minimal radio airplay doesn’t mean a performance will be bad. With that said, why shouldn’t they charge according to what they want? In a business (key word), no one aims to pay more than what the other party is willing to be paid. People will shortchange you – and often – whenever they can. So, yes, negotiate according to the lifestyle you want and beyond. I look at it like this: firstly, what Big Artist A negotiates now, sets the bar for those who are coming up after him. They set the market value. Then you can stop complaining that our artists die as paupers if they are financially savvy. Secondly, performing live is skilled labour. It’s not a favour. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying applaud a bad performer or one who is a serial bore. I’m saying: if they showed up and were entertaining, you can’t be mad that they Read More …

On: Masego

Before a private show in Jozi, American traphousejazz artist, Masego talks to Helen Herimbi A gilded saxophone hangs from a chain and rests on his chest. Fresh off a highly anticipated performance at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival – and before treating Joburgers to a private show – Masego is basking in his shine. But unlike his bling (do people still use that word?), the Virginia-raised artist who was born Micah Davis refuses to rest. When I sit down with the artist who took on the Setswana name, Masego, as his alias, he tells me he’s got a studio session with AKA planned for that evening. As told through Twitter, the pending Supa Mega collab came about after Masego shazamed all the songs he liked in Cape Town clubs and they turned out to be AKA songs. “I don’t want to be easy and say it was All Eyes On Me,” Masego says as he fishes his phone out of his pocket to look for the song that compelled him to want to collaborate. “Ah,” he exclaims as he finds the songs. “Sweet Fire was the one that made me go ‘wow!’ I heard that and 10 Fingers back to back. Rhythm and melody got me and how the people react to his songs. When they came on, people got up. So we’re supposed to have a session tonight and we’re going to see what happens.” That night, he also takes to the Universal Music Group stage to perform a new song where he croons about how he’s going to “call you lady, lady”. Then, he performs a slew of songs ranging from Wifeable as well as Girls That Dance (with Medasin) to Tadow (with FKJ) and his latest, Queen Tings. On that last song, he name-drops Kenya’s Lupita Nyongo, Zimbabwe’s Danai Gurira and a list of American actresses. I call him out on the fact that his South African dedication doesn’t even include Nomzamo Mbatha or Thuso Mbedu. “People ask me about that,” he admits. “But it’s about the essence. Think about it like this: what started Tadow Read More …

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 …