Music

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OF ALL the periods in Hip Hop’s few decades of existence, there still hasn’t been an era that heads sentimentally connect and long for, like the ’90s era.

This nostalgic feeling is driven by the reverence in lyricism, the holy sampling, the endearing Boom Bap sound and the purity of the genre right before the immorality of the new millennium. It’s for this reason that even in this current Trap era, there are still emcees who uphold the above-mentioned 90s era “principles”. Simphiwe ‘Sim’ Mabuya is such emcee.

This is by no means a suggestion that his 12 track album Perceptions should be relegate to the 90s. Nah. The project is refreshing, particularly because it came out just this year.

IN THA STREETS: Simphiwe 'Sim' Mabuya. Photo supplied
IN THA STREETS: Simphiwe ‘Sim’ Mabuya. Photo supplied

The 90s Hip Hop head enthusiast inside me listened to the album in one sitting and appreciated it. Mabuya’s music is like something you’ve heard before, but always wanted to hear again. His storytelling is amplified by lived experiences, his vulnerability and the wisdom that comes with those lived experiences. He makes grown-ass black man music.

The emcee from kwaZakhele, eVuku in Port Elizabeth has a Drama background having studied at the University of Cape Town. “My drama/theatre background has always played a huge role in influencing my music. The stylistic writing, the vivid storytelling, the bringing of emotion / mood to the music and of course the poetry.”

“The project took me about 8 years or so to put together. Meaning the writing of the songs, a few songs I’ve had to rewrite, followed by a fun but long process of beat selection. Its authenticity mostly stems from real experiences, direct and indirect, reflections of my (and my society) daily experience plus stories living and growing up ekasi under difficult and horrific circumstances.”

In just 3:44 he managed to package some of these horrific circumstances, like being stabbed in the eye, to the rays of sunshine in his life, the birth of his daughter for example, in the beautifully laid Ngasekhaya. “I intentionally chose a variety of producers for the project to be diverse without losing that Jazzy, Boom Bap Hip Hop feel,” says Mabuya.

The album’s producers include Adon Geel, Bulelala Ngodwane, Xolani Duai Skosana, Planet Earth and Christian Monashe.

“Pain, joy, loss, daily struggles, achievements, conversations with self, traveling, reading …and a longing for a meaningful and empowering piece of music,” Mabuya tells me of what inspired this body of work.

A REBEL WITH A PURPOSE: Simphiwe Sim Mabuya. Photo supplied
A REBEL WITH A CAUSE WITHOUT A PAUSE: Simphiwe Sim Mabuya. Photo supplied

Unlike a Costa Titch album, Perceptions isn’t bombarded with features of other emcees-there’s no confusion about whose album this is, his voice is rightfully consistently present on this work. Mabuya only had one emcee on this project, with a few vocalists negotiating some of the choruses and hooks.

“I felt I needed to show my pen capabilities, above all …share a chunk of who I am, thus the album title Perceptions. Also I find it challenging to work with energies that aren’t on the same musical / spiritual plane as I am: pen game is critical, authenticity/ originality are key and a positive working energy,” says Mabuya. His first offering was 2007 Social Poetics, which he says was discontinued due to poor production quality.

On the song Tata he openly talks about the hurt brought by his Popps’ absence in his life. The joint is so real, he shares with listeners that the only thing his dad ever bought him was a belt. It’s one of those essential songs in the crevices of the album which will never be bumped on radio and probably won’t be a fan favourite nor a music video shot for it. The song highlights father-son daddy issues on a similar level that HHP’s Danger on the uRata Mang album did for teenage pregnancy.

Perceptions was released in August this year and Mabuya’s work has been received well by listeners. “Frankly, the project has been doing great, gradually gaining meaningful traction within a space of just three months of its release. I’ve been receiving great comments or feedback from everyone that has taken time to listen to the project and am truly thankful and humbled by the response so far.”

THA STORYTELLER: Simphiwe Sim Mabuya. Photo supplied
THA STORYTELLER: Simphiwe Sim Mabuya. Photo supplied

So well that his music has been used on popular television drama series Gomora. “I had sent the music to a friend, she loved it and thought the album would be great for Gomora. She requested I forward five songs I felt would be proper for the show and I did so. A number of days later I was requested to send the entire album, I guess the show’s producers loved the project. I was blown away by the response I must admit, it proved that we, Home Grown Concept, had done a stellar job. So…yeah, it’s quite exciting and dreamy that the music will be heard from the award winning TV show,” a thrilled Mabuya tells me.

The album can streamed here on Spotify and here on Apple Music. You can also stream it on YouTube.

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The first time I heard songs from William Ello’s debut mixtape, fittingly titled Kasi Norms, I heard the hood calling out to me in an unfamiliar voice of sophistication and subtlety.  The Kasi is a loud space where there are no traditional modes of behavior due to its relative infancy.

Johannesburg is a petulant teenager when it is measured against its middle aged counterparts. Cities like Cairo, Berlin, London, New York or Hong Kong, have been around for centuries. They have endured through plagues, war and famine, developing unique personalities as generations of Homo sapiens are born and buried within their ever expanding artificial boundaries.  Johannesburg is only a 120 years old, thus its ghettos are dusty neglected toddlers, whose nappies are full of shit because their mother is out hustling in the streets looking for a blesser with a weave she bought with her SASSA card. Consequentially Mzansi ghettos do not know how to act, they do not know how to behave. Mzansi ghettos do not possess a fully formed culture.

Culture is pragmatically defined as the way societies and communities do things. The manner in which they approach daily living that best expresses their sense of a collective identity. Culture, amongst other things, can be broken down into traditions. Traditions can be broken down into customs. Customs are broken down into norms. Norms are how emerging communities are identified and Kasi norms are a thing to be hold.

Given the fact that South Africa is one of the most economically unequal societies in the world, scrappiness is an essential quality for those who are disadvantaged in the fast paced rat race that is modern day urban living. William Ello explores this idea in his opening track of the project, titled Gereza. In between war like drums and luscious chords infused with a churchy vibe, he inspires his congregation towards self-sufficiency and independence.

…As’lali lana siphilile(we don’t sleep here, we are alive), Busy…Ubsuku bonke(the whole night), busy…Sek’puma ilanga(the sun is coming up), umutu uyagereza eh(a person hustles)…

In the hook he makes it clear that he sees nothing but a bright future for the kasi even though he is surrounded by depravation and despair.

We gon’ rise…Homie my heart full of hustle…Stay on the grind…We gon’ shine…Bright like the light from God’s candle…Tell no lie!…We gon’ ride…All the way to the top they ain’t gon’ stop us..These are the vibes…We alive…All my people gon make it I know…

HOOD ADVENTURE: William standing adjacent the kasi's popular mode of transport. Photo supplied
HOOD ADVENTURE: William standing adjacent the kasi’s popular mode of transport. Photo supplied

This is pathetically naïve in my not so humble and objective opinion. But I get the cocky pessimism smacked out of mouth, every time I blaze this joint. It slaps like your mama after she’s been nagging your lazy ass to do the dishes for four hours straight and then she catches you glued to the TV screen, watching re-runs of Generations on a rainy Saturday morning. Ello is not a great singer by any stretch of the imagination. His vocal range is very limited and the level of his vocals gets a bit too low sometimes because I think he is conscious of his constricted vocal dexterity. The interest of his music resides in the novelty of his sonic demeanor. The Kasi perspective is often expressed through a lens of vulgarity and crassness. In contrast, Ello’s music is mild mannered and thoughtful. Every element in his beats exist for a particular purpose, which critical considering his minimalistic approach in this project.

William Ello. Photo supplied
RIDE WITH ME:William Ello. Photo supplied

The opening bassline on Never Setis is a prime example of his curious attention to detail. It vividly arouses images of 90’s South Africa when kwaito was at the peak of its popularity and the only place the urban Bantu could turn-up was in smoke filled taverns which only used beer crates as chairs. In Asi vaye the drums take on mid-tempo hypnotic sequence punctuated by a percussive bass sound which always puts me in a frenzied state of head nodding. As I lovingly embrace my dusty inner hood rat and tell him it’s ok and that there is nothing wrong with where he comes from and who he is.

Kasi Norms sounds like nothing I have ever heard before and I like it, for the most part. The one major problem I have with the project is its length. I feel thirteen songs is too long considering how experimental and chilled the songs are. I am of the firm belief that projects that sonically push boundaries should not demand so much time from their listeners. This is the primary reason that, while I love Kendrick Lamar’s To pimp a Butterfly, I hardly ever go back to it as a project because it is so taxing to my psyche. Experimental albums should be short and sweet, this is to ease the listener into new sonic terrain so that they are not exhausted by the experience but rather are left feeling excited and satisfied.

AUTHENTICALLY HOOD: William Ello. Photo supplied
AUTHENTICALLY HOOD: William Ello. Photo supplied

William Ello is definitely a talent to watch out for in the future and with the proper support, hard work and a shit load of luck. He is defiantly going to pop. Maybe?

Stream the mixtape here

Clement Gama10/29/2020
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WITHOUT a doubt the unknown musician has always had the open mic night at some odd pub, live events which are lenient on requests for abrupt performances and also radio stations which still take music from unheard-of talent.

But there’s definitely never been a better time for the gifted and undiscovered than the one we’re in right now. I bet my worn out tyres that at least five in seven people reading this, have in the last five years discovered artists they’ve never heard of on YouTube via any of these channels; COLORS, NPR Music Tiny Desk Concerts and Sofar Sounds. Combined, the aforementioned trio has over 10 million subscribers on YouTube.

South Africa is progressively growing in this space with a number of live platforms coming through the net. Sunday’s Unplugged Sessions is one of them. “We wanted to give a different perspective to how people listen to music. In an unplugged set and an unplugged location. We saw it as a platform to also showcase undiscovered talent,” Music Director, Khanyisile Dlamini tells Tha Bravado.

Totally Unplugged. Photo by Township Boy Movement
Totally Unplugged. Photo by Township Boy Movement

Founded in August, Sunday’s Unplugged Sessions has already hosted four performances. They unplug an unknown kat and share their music with world on their YouTube channel, Township Boy Movement. “The concept of sessions is to create [an] artistic hub for musicians. We have a resident band that seeks to accommodate different artists on different episodes. Each episode focuses on a specific artist, so we get to experience the artist rationale of their crafts. We select our artist based on the level of artistic abilities that will blend with the expectations of the show,” adds Xolani Nkosi, who is the Executive Director.

The band with Backdraft on the second episode of the sessions. Photo by Township Boy Movement
The band with Backdraft on the second episode of the sessions. Photo by Township Boy Movement

The band is led by the seasoned Thulani Twala, with Mfundo playing keys, Tshepo on strings and Siya on drums.

Their second episode featured rap singer Bakdraft, seemingly in someone’s yard on a lazy Sunday afternoon as the sun was setting. “We use different locations for different artist. Depending on the style and personality of the artists. We will be exploring a lot of locations,” says Dlamini, who’s affectionately known as the first lady. She is also a songstress, who performed on the first episode.

Last month on Heritage day they opted on having a session on the street corner. “Our set up is not determined by the factors that are surrounding [on] the day that we shoot. Shooting on the streets was not determined by what day we were shooting in, but maybe our heritage stems from the streets and using the street on Heritage day will reinforce where we come from as artists. We are for the streets,” says Nkosi, who is a photographer and videographer that has been working for a number of years under his Township Boy Movement company.

Sunday’s Unplugged Sessions is a brainchild of these young Tembisans, but they have ambitions of seeing these sessions miles away from the Ekurhuleni Township. “Our plan is to unplug all the cities of Mzansi. Working with talent and undiscovered talent across the country. Hopefully incorporate brands as well to part take in this great initiative,” Nkosi says.

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In the same way a great image paired with an equally potent caption does for an article, so should an artist’s live performance do for an album. It makes it more endearing and grips the audience with a deep sense of engagement. Both artist and listener have been deprived of this exchange for the most part of the year due to the pandemic, settling for the seemingly arduous virtual concerts.

Zoë Modiga’s sophomore album Inganekwane is a body of work that has left many music lovers craving to experience it live since it was released four months ago.  “I miss people buth’wami, there’s nothing like it,” says Zoë.  “I consider myself to be an empath, I really enjoy to feel people’s energy and having that fuel me, where I’m not fuelling myself because virtual performances feel like I’m fuelling myself but the audience doesn’t understand how much of an importance they actually have in creating the world,” she says.

With only a handful of us at Constitution Hill against the women’s prison, mostly made up of the crew capturing performances which are being streamed to thousands, Zoë gave a consistent performance that should’ve been experienced live by many warm bodies at the Blooming Sounds in Joburg. My eyes closed, taking in the music, the sound of her voice is as pure live as it is on record.

“With the virtual space we’re in right now, I suppose me trying to be consistent is the understanding that I know it’s an awkward place for everyone to be in, I know we all like to doll up when we go watch our favourite musicians so I think that consistency is not taking that for granted ukuthi people are gonna be in PJs, they probably don’t want to watch a show in PJs, but they’re gonna tune in anyway and that means something to me. I suppose another thing, it is the music [and] it is the passion but also the product and I feel like if you want to exist in spaces where people respect the brand as well, you need to be able to do it professionally, regardless of the circumstances that you find yourself in,” Zoë tells me after her performance.

Zoe Modiga performing at Constitution Hill, with Banda Banda behind her. Photo by Sip The Snapper
CONNECTING WITH HER PEOPLE: Zoë Modiga performing at Constitution Hill, with Banda Banda behind her. Photo by Sip The Snapper

As Stogie T gets his turn on the Blooming Sounds stage, between the historic walls of Constitution Hill I find a quiet space to talk to Zoë about her work. Inganekwane, a Nguni word for fairy-tale, is a project that’s preceded by adjectives such as ‘moving’ ‘divine’ and ‘healing’. Poignantly released at a time when black youth is enamoured with being woke and is having conversations about what it means to be black in this world- it’s the perfect soundtrack.

Stogie T at Blooming Sounds in Joburg. Photo by Sip The Snapper
SMOKING THA STAGE: DJ P-Kuttah and Stogie T at Blooming Sounds in Joburg. Photo by Sip The Snapper

“This album is about a lot of conversations that I had been having for three years after Yellow The Novel, my debut album was made and released. There’s a lot of conversations about the state of black people and what’s that like. For the longest time I felt I couldn’t express it in my language, but I began to be affirmed by my audience you know, that’s the power that my audience has and that music lovers have, is that sometimes they can cause you to move into spaces that you would not qualify yourself for. So even with the response of the album, it feels the same way. People are qualifying you. It’s such an affirming thing because for me music is a personal thing, but for me the motive I have is to move people’s souls first and foremost before I formally get recognised formally through awards and those kinds of things,” says Zoë.

Zoe having a vibe on stage at Blooming Sounds in Joburg. Photo by Sip The Snapper
KUMNANDI LA: Zoë having a vibe on stage at Blooming Sounds in Joburg. Photo by Sip The Snapper

Her music moves more than just the soul. Her performance of Intsha had the tiny audience dancing, and probably a lot more streaming viewers’ hips swaying. “It always makes me lose my breath and twerk myself into a disaster,” a panting Zoë says while on stage. “It’s a song dedicated to the youth of 1976 and it’s a song that reminds us that young people are always part of watershed moments, we always make big changes.”

As James Brown’s message on Say It Loud, I’m Black & I’m Proud cannot not be misunderstood, so is Zoë’s Abantu. It’s a candid conversation she has with Bantu people- touching on black on black violence, self-image, and poverty but yet the song is mighty reassuring. “This song is dear to my heart because it’s part of all the conversations we’ve been having. It’s a beautiful love letter because it’s a song that puts us in a place of realising that we commit so much violences [sic] amongst ourselves as black bodies and part of that is calling systems into place that have allowed us to think in this way,” she says during her performance.

Zoë doing her thing at Blooming Sounds. Photo by Sip The Snapper
IYAGIDHA INTOMBI: Zoë’s dance moves display how in-shape the artist is. Photo by Sip The Snapper

With her trademark brush-cut, rocking a leather dress and snakeskin print ankle boots Zoë looked elegant. A glimpse of her Instagram page will let you know, that she’s an aesthetically-conscious one, and is comfortable in her style.

The moving imagery from Inganekwane, that takes us back to her childhood.
QUEEN IN THA KRAAL: The moving imagery from Inganekwane, that takes us back to her childhood.

It was her vision that inspired the album cover art, helped by an amazing team of creatives in its execution. “I’m blessed to have people who believe in my visions,” she says.  The idea for her cover stems from a visit to her paternal grandmother as a 5 year-old KwaMpisi, in rural KwaZulu-Natal.  “I’d always have this moment of looking into cows for a long period of time, and she’d [grandmother] always look at me like I was crazy. That’s the power of this record that it’s allowed me to really look back into childhood, look back at what’s made me who I am, right now.”

Clement Gama09/23/2020
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THERE probably isn’t a better adjective than ‘blooming’ attached to the spring season we’re in. But the word is also apt in describing the six young, fresh and eccentric artists who’ll be performing at Constitution Hill this Saturday at Blooming Sounds.

LaliBoi, Witney, Manu WorldStar, Moonga K, Lolo Skai, and Umlilo are the six Gauteng-based artists who will be presented on the day. Blooming Sounds is put together by Institut Français d’Afrique du Sud (IFAS) the French Institute of South Africa in partnership with Total South Africa, in association with Kaya FM and is produced by Bassline.

Umlilo on stage. By Jerri Mokgofe Photography-2
Umlilo on stage. By Jerri Mokgofe Photography

“I was struck by the quality of the music sent by the applicants, and I am very proud to say that each of the six selected acts will present a highly original and powerful sound to our audiences,” said Selen Daver, the Cultural Attachée at IFAS, in a statement.

The half-dozen of artists were chosen by a jury which included Josh Georgio from the Hugh Masekela Foundation, the Bassline’s Andrew Poane, Jerome Galabert from the Sakifo Festival in Reunion Island, Kaya FM’s Katiso K. Matabola and and Daver.

LaliBoi, who is one-half of Radio 123 is vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, who collaborates with Spoek Mathambo to create a unique blend of hip-hop, jazz and traditional South African tribal music. He will be performing on the day, including Zambian-born musician Moonga K who was raised by a musical family. Umlilo is a genre and gender bending multi-disciplinary artist whose signature sound has been dubbed as ‘future kwaai’.

Lolo Skai. Photo supplied
Lolo Skai. Photo supplied

Manu WorldStar is a Johannesburg born Congolese artist who has been lauded as the breakout artist as well as ‘a must watch’ African act. Zimbabwean-born vocalist Lolo-Skai’s music is influenced by neo soul, afro pop music and poetry which she has loved from an early age, will also grace the stage. Witney, an independent vocalist, songwriter, model, actress, aspiring producer and DJ, whose powerful lyrics are carried by her eclectic voice and soul-inspired sound is part of the chosen six performers.

Moonga K. Photo supplied
Moonga K. Photo supplied

“They all have a fresh sound and seem to be really paying attention to their craft. They seem to be trying something daring and original with their music,” says jury member Georgio.

The concert will be free to the public, who can enjoy the acts from the comfort of their own homes. The broadcast will take place from the iconic Constitution Hill against the women’s prison and will kick off at 16h00 and end at 20h00.

Laliboi. Photo supplied
Laliboi. Photo supplied

Skyroom Live will be the online live-streaming portal. They showcase live performances and have been ranked 12th globally as live concert producers by iRock.

Sakifo Musik Festival will also be a part of the French team behind the event alongside IFAS and Total. This annual music festival, which has been hosted on Reunion Island since 2004. The Sakifo network is a streaming partner and will be promoting and broadcasting the concert from its Facebook page.

Witney. Photo supplied
Witney. Photo supplied

The broadcast’s primary aim is to provide as much exposure as possible for new musical talent by giving them the opportunity to perform alongside the headlining artists Zoë Modiga whose sophomore album titled Inganekwane, was released a few months ago to critical acclaim and renowned god-emcee Stogie T.

“Blooming Sounds from Joburg is not only about revealing fresh talent, it is also about creating long term opportunities for this new generation of musicians,” Daver says. “We wish to have some of these acts grow and show South African music’s diversity and modernity abroad in a few years’ time.”

Manu WorldStar. Photo supplied
Manu WorldStar. Photo supplied

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