One thing we missed during the stringent lockdowns in the last 20 months or so was live music and the vibrancy of a festival. One of these festivals was Basha Uhuru Creative Uprising, where one always walks away having discovered new music or a new artist.
Bonga Kwana was one of those talents that many discovered at this year’s Basha, which again was hosted at Constitution Hill in Braamfontein, Johannesburg. Bonga Kwana was one of the night’s last performers at together with her band and she owned the stage. She gave so much of herself, not only vocally but also in her dance moves.
“I was a dancer, I always loved dancing…I just love entertaining people,” says the former ballerina. She says her love for music began in high school where she was part of the choir and a couple of jazz ensembles. “When I started performing with live bands, I was like ‘hell yea I like this,'” Kwana speaking of her school days which was around 2014 and 2015 when she matriculated. “I earned my tripes since high school.”
Bonga Kwana is an alumni of the Bridges for Music, an NPO which has for years now hosted tours and workshops in disadvantaged communities alongside internationally recognised artists like Ed Sheeran and Black Coffee.
Bonga Kwana quips that she is a Nando’s baby because she is a beneficiary of the food chain’s collaboration with Bridges for Music in educating young artists on the business side as well as the creative. “In 2019 I made the decision to join the Bridges for Music Academy. In the first month of joining, just shortly after joining there was an opportunity to be part of the Nando’s music exchange which was in London in 2019.”
Her performance at Basha showed that she is a student of the arts and has she learnt a thing or two while in London.
That performance was just a week before she released her debut project, New Faces to Old Problems on November 5th. Her single Ndifuna Wena featuring Ntsika of The Soil has been getting some airplay.
Awards and elections have this in common; not everyone who contests walks away victorious. But leading up to any elections or award season, one can make forecasts looking at the landscape.
That the ANC was going to lose its grip on a number of metros in the November 1 Local Government elections was predictable as Priddy Ugly’s Soil album being nominated in a slew of categories at this year’s South African Hip Hop Awards (SAHHA). Yet only the former became a reality as Priddy was surprisingly recognized in just one category in the nominations announced this week.
“Too many good albums were submitted and didn’t make the cut. If we’re looking for five albums, it becomes a numbers game and others will automatically fall short,” said Creative Director of the SAHHA Rashid Kay. He was responding to the absence of the Soil in the album of the year category. 25K’s Pheli Makaveli, Logan by Emtee, Costa Titch’s Made in Africa, B4Now by Blxckie and Big Zulu’s Ichwane Lenyoka are the shortlisted albums of the year.
The 10-track Soil is a good body of work that Priddy Ugly released in July, together with some absorbing visuals to help narrate his story. That this album wasn’t nominated is unfathomable- more so because local Hip Hop has been starved of a consistent album in the commercial space, where temporally hot singles and Amapiano are the order of the day.
“In a case of a tie, we then look at factual numbers from Radio Monitor for airplay, and Capasso for streams and digital sales. It’s not only Priddy Ugly’s album that didn’t make the cut, like Kwesta’s album, Yanga Chief’s album, Zakwe and Duncan’s album, and other dope dope albums that fell short with numbers,” said Rashid.
Priddy’s solitary nomination came in the form of Lyricist of The Year alongside LandmarQue, PdotO, YoungstaCPT and A-Reece. Similar to Priddy, none of LandmarQue’s EPs were nominated in the Mixtape of The Year category, yet he got the nod for his pen game. “You must realise that every category has a different criteria. With Lyricist of the Year, numbers don’t count but it’s strictly about lyricism, your pen game has to be on point,” Rashid said.
That these awards have been hosted consistently in the last decade is commendable. In celebrating its 10 anniversary, they’ve introduced the Artist of The Decade category where 16 Hip Hop acts were selected, which include AKA, Gigi Lamayne, Cassper Nyovest and K.O among others. “We’re looking for consistency, impact, and achievements within the past 10 years. You don’t necessarily have to have been in the game for 10 years but who fits that criteria in the past decade.”
Another new category is Best International Act where Drake and Ye were nominated together with the UK’s Little Simz, Sarkodie from Ghana and Botswana’s William Last KRM. It doesn’t make sense as to why you’d want to nominate artists from the Western world when they already have such global dominance. It would’ve been refreshing to shine the spotlight on Hip Hop on the continent to help grow the camaraderie among African Hip Hop heads if they limited the nominees to African acts. “If we wanted an African award, we were gonna call it “Best African Act,” was Rashid’s response.
Amapiano’s unquestionable domination has prompted questions about the strength of SA Hip Hop. “The “SA Hip Hop is Dead” narrative usually comes from people who are not part of the culture and don’t know the difference between Rap and Hip Hop,” said Rashid. “Hip Hop has never relied on a song or an individual to be “alive”. The SAHHAs have been around for 10 years and they are not here to prove any point.”
This year’s awards are themed The Manifesto, as to coincide with the country’s current political climate. The awards will be streamed live on the third next month and be televised the following day on SABC 1.
Songwriters are a special bunch, they have this divine skill of finding inspiration in some of life’s most complex moments. Their ingenuity would have them take on an odd topic like an oedipal relationship and turn that into a beautiful top-charting ditty that throngs connect with. But is there a direct link between the songwriter’s personality and the songs they write?
Artists with a narcissistic character are closed lyric writers. Meaning that they’re more introspective in their music, focusing on self rather than talking to the greater public. While the opposite of that could be writers who are genuine empathetic human beings, who view themselves as conduits relaying a message which most of the time has little to do with them, but a lot with the people who hear the music and their plights.
On one of his sit-downs with Zane Lowe, Kanye West once said “…go listen to all my music, it’s the codes of self-esteem, it’s the codes of who you are. If you’re a Kanye West fan, you’re not a fan of me you’re a fan of yourself. You will believe in yourself. I’m just the expresso, I’m just a shot in the morning to get you going, to make you believe you can overcome that situation that you’re dealing with all the time.” There probably isn’t a more self-absorbed artist of our generation as Mr. West, yet his discography evinces that narcissists have a role to play.
“I believe personality is a lot of what informs the kind of songs you write,” says singer songwriter Zoë Modiga. “Your personality encompasses the qualities that make you the unique person you are. What you are is what holds value to you, what you think, how you see yourself and the world around you.” Modiga comes-off as a compassionate individual which is further emphasized by her music. Inganekwane, her 2020 critically acclaimed sophomore album remains etched on the souls of her fans and those who knew her not, prior to Inganekwane. In the same way James Brown’s message on Say It Loud, I’m Black & I’m Proud cannot not be misunderstood, so is Modiga’s message on Abantu which is on the album.
The track is a candid conversation she has with Bantu people- touching on black on black violence, self-image and poverty but yet leaves one encouraged. “I subscribe more to the idea that I am a vessel for messages to pass through and impact people first. With this being said, being a vessel doesn’t remove you from making music that moves you, it is just an acknowledgment that as much as you have the genius of creating, you know that the creation in and of itself comes from a force bigger than yourself. My music isn’t for me first but the messaging is something that speaks to me on a personal level and something I am proud to stand behind,” Modiga says.
“Yes there is a link between songwriter’s personality and the songs they write, but only to an extent because things like creativity come into play,” singer songwriter Sibusile Xaba says. Xaba who is a folk music singer, began his career as part of a Hip Hop group with childhood friends says song writing can be complex in itself. “When I started, I use to write rhymes with the gents and [in our music] we spoke about things we hoped would happen. We even wrote for other people. You do this by observing the person you’re writing for, their tone and their personality.”
For his 2017 debut album, Open Letters to Adoniah, Xaba famously said the music came to him through dreams. “But why is it a thing, because we dream always. I think for creatives that happens a lot, even for you as a writer I’m sure things happen subliminally or things might feel like déjà vu or a vision. For me it was quite normal, the only thing I didn’t understand was that it happened in consecutive days.”
“What I’m thinking I put down. The way I see those thoughts, it’s voices. Like other beings conveying codes or messages that need to be translated or shared with our people.”
“My role is to just pass the code man. How I feel or how a person reacts, I’m beyond that. It’s not about me, it’s about these codes that need come out at this time and now and I believe in the frequency. You’ll hear by how people react whether it’s positive or negative,” says Xaba.
Of her writing process Modiga says “I usually do not remember my creative process because it feels like a trance most times however, the times I do remember involves me writing down words and then music to it or composing a musical sequence that I then write words to,” she says. “In a communal writing session it works a little different. We decide what we wish to write up and take it from there however it flows out of us. There aren’t any rules and there are many ways to build on a song. As long as we are open to that, anything is possible.”
Xaba touches on Modiga’s last point on the music being communal, speaking about how generations before us approached music writing, particularly amahubo (hymns).
“Hymns were communal, there was never one composer because everybody joined in on the hymn. In the fields where our grandparents worked, they sang together. As much as we’re talking about this [songwriters and their personalities] in today’s context, we need to inform our people of its origin. When you belt out a hymn, energy automatically vibrates and taps into other frequencies in the body by singing or humming”
The era where teens would jot the lyrics of some of their favourite songs in scrapbooks seems to have gone by, but being one of those girl who grew up scribbling artists’ lines Modiga gave a nod to that by releasing Inganekwane together with a booklet that has credits, lyrics and translations of the songs written. “That was my way of trying to bring back that culture of appreciating lyrics,” she says.
The State Theatre in Pretoria was the venue for the inaugural Kulture Blues Festival and one would easily assume this to be an Africa month celebration, looking at the line-up.
“That was pure coincidence,” says the event’s producer Kulani Nkuna. “That was simply the day that was available for us. But we are Pan African in outlook and ideology.”
The unrivalled Thandi Ntuli headlined the two-day festival which began on Friday night with an intimate performance by the pianist. While Saturday saw Makhafula Vilakazi and Iphupho L’ka Biko on stage.
Together with her band, Ntuli serenaded the sizeable audience inside Malambo Theatre with her gentle voice. She could’ve sang the whole night and we wouldn’t have cared for time. She has the astuteness of a Thelonious Monk on keys, while her voice has the gentleness of a Spha Mdlalose.
It’s a sad truth, but it is a rarity to have such artists playing together in a prominent space such as The State Theatre, unless the country’s commemorating a holiday day like Youth day or Africa month. There’s a paucity of spaces that accommodate the not-so generic artist. “Some of the content is not palatable to white sensibilities, so most veer away from these artists and their content,” Nkuna says. He pitched the idea of the festival to the State Theatre a while back and fortunately they opened their doors.
The festival’s name was inspired by a Putumayo compilation album titled African Blues. “That album was essentially the blues but in an African context and in our African languages. The Kulture part was taken from the name of our platform Culture Review and an attempt to pay homage to our particular type of sound,” Nkuna tells me. This will be an annual festival.
There’s a palpable inquisitiveness and a longing for African spirituality and a steady growth in Pan Africanism, particularly with this generation. The art scene hasn’t been an exception. Artists are creating works that are inspired by the aforementioned elements.
Iphupho L’ka Biko is one ensemble that creates music that revives the spirit. The band was on stage Saturday evening after Vilakazi’s performance. While the smell of dank weed ushers you at Hip Hop shows. The aroma of impepho burning filled the auditorium during Iphupho L’ka Biko’s performance.
“The art scene is beaming with artists who make music that speak to the dire conditions of black people in this country live in. Art is a critical mirror that speaks to the brutality meted to black bodies by the state and by whiteness,” Nkuna says.
Iphupho L’ka Biko performed their hit Uthixo Ukhona and they also played songs which commemorate lost black lives including that of American Sandra Bland. An ode to Chris Hani titled Thembisile is so moving, it should be heard by all South African school kids to help give them insight about our past. But IPhupho’s performance felt all over the place at times. They should shelve the afro-beat inspired section of their set; it’s a paradigm shift from the more jazz and protest sound they have. But Iphupho L’ka Biko surprisingly had a bigger audience than Ntuli’s the previous night. This is probably due to the fact that the band had performed at Black Labone on Thursday night.
“the artists performed at an exceptional level, and the audience were really in tune with the performers on stage,” says Nkuna post the event. Nkuna’s still unsure of the exact number of attendees of the festival as he still awaits for a ticket sales report from webtickets.
This COVID pandemic has done wonders for the South African music industry. Obviously Nathi Mthethwa and his ilk have ruthlessly filled their pockets with Madiba notes meant for the arts in this god forsaken country of ours, but that is no surprise. Gangsters will be gangsters.
What I think has improved is the level of creativity in our music. While celebrity musicians have been making all kinds of reality TV shows in order to sustain their seemingly glamourous lifestyles, the ‘up and coming’ are pursing new and game-changing sounds, instead of chasing a big cheque with an easily forgettable club banger. New Joburg based musician Fatheroursons is one artist trying to father new dope sounds.
His debut EP titled Child, is a self-aware daddy complex project which swings between remorse, inconsideration and neglect.
In the opening track Bluewaters, the young man affirms his need for absolution as a sinner. “…bluewaters…cleanse my skin, I have sinned…our farther…our farther true forgiveness comes within…bluewaters…how far is it to fall?…but through it all you know yourself “
On the closing track Stupid bitch, Fathoursons chastises some poor soul for not knowing their position in his life. “…drink some water, your blood is thickening, close your eyes and start listening, don’t make me say it more than once, you little stupid bitch…you are a bitch I am a monster….keep pretending you know shit, the truth is you don’t know shit….you little stupid bitch”
The tension between these two antonymous perspectives existing within one entity is a condition which haunts the Bantu male to no end. Fatheroursons explores this curious tension in his debut project. He poetically recognizes the monster he sees in the mirror as a product of circumstance who ironically perpetuates a karmic cycle of pain. He is both the villain and the victim in his story. He just can’t help himself.
Fatheroursons operates on top of low tempo percussive grooves which are filled with all sorts of delicious pads. He has a minimalistic approach to his music and I am generally not a fan of such an approach to sound but the length of the project negates any such inclinations. While his writing slaps harder than your momma after you lost her change on your way back from the store. A case in point is the fourth track on the five track EP, titled Don’t call me.
“…Don’t call my phone, I don’t want to hear it, the thought of you makes me nervous, don’t call my phone, we’ve been here before, that shit used to work on me, it don’t work no more, don’t call my phone…” The level of relatability I have with the above words is beyond my powers of expression.
The Child EP is a fire introductory project for Fatheroursons. It forced a serious bout of self-examination even though it won’t stop me from smashing the thirsty hun in my DM’s who clearly got daddy issues by the ton. It is what it is.