Music

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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.

LADY WITH KEYS: Thandi Ntuli. Photo by Khulisile Nkushubana
LADY WITH KEYS: Thandi Ntuli. Photo by Khulisile Nkushubana

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.

BIKO' DREAM:
Biko’s dream in full effect. Photo by Khulisile Nkushubana

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.

BLOWIN': Sthembiso performing at The State Theatre with Thandi Ntuli. Photo by Khulisile Nkushubana
BLOWIN’: Sthembiso performing at The State Theatre with Thandi Ntuli. Photo by Khulisile Nkushubana

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.

POLITICALLY CHARGED: KK performing at The State Theatre. Photo by Khulisile Nkushubana
POLITICALLY CHARGED: KK performing at The State Theatre. Photo by Khulisile Nkushubana

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.

BIKO' DREAM:
Izingane zikaBiko: IPhupho L’ka Biko Uthixo at the end of their performance. Photo by Khulisile Nkushubana.

“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.

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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 FATHER'S SON: Artist Fatheroursons. Photo by Tshepo Errol Msimango
HIS FATHER’S SON: Artist Fatheroursons. Photo by Tshepo Errol Msimango

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”

ON THAT BEACH: Fatheroursons. Photo by Tshepo Errol Msimango
AN ALL STAR?: Fatheroursons on that beach. Photo by Tshepo Errol Msimango

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.

NATURE BOY: Fatheroursons. Photo supplied
NATURE BOY: Fatheroursons a man in touch with self. Photo supplied

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.

NEVER INA HAYWIRE: Fatheroursons. Photo by Zanoxolo Mthiyane
NEVER INA HAYWIRE: Fatheroursons. Photo by Zanoxolo Mthiyane

“…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.

Fatheroursons Child EP Cover. By Fatheroursons
Fatheroursons Child EP Cover. By Fatheroursons

You can stream the EP Here

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10min14310

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

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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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