IN honouring Denzel Washington at the 47th AFI Lifetime Achievement Award Gala Tribute this year, actor Mahershala Ali said “…your influence, your reach transcends race without ever denying it…” Fitting words for a thespian who’ll go down as one of the best to ever do it. Rapsody’s latest album EVE, and her other previous work in fact, displays how much this black female’s art transcends gender, without denying it.
Something rappers who are female tend to get tripped by is the novelty of females in the rap game. You find sisters only rapping about being females who rap, which more often than not, comes off as a homily- not music. Like how the typical “underground” rapper would bog you down with how the mainstream is being manipulated by a secret society and that the biggest artists are actually aliens in human form-all of this without telling you their story and making actual music. But Rapsody has mastered the art of music making and storytelling. When listening to her music, what’s between her legs isn’t relevant and you’re there listening to a dope ass kat. But her sex is unquestionably significant to everything and very much unmissable.
Poignantly titled EVE, Rapsody’s third album is more special because she titled each of the songs with names of powerful black women. From Cleo (the character from the movie Set It Off played by Queen Latifah), Oprah Winfrey to Nina Simone. She paid homage to these women and all others in the globe in the best way she could.
Till this day I think her previous album Laila’s Wisdom is universally underrated. I couldn’t fathom her returning so quickly, with something so rich in sound, lyrics, and concept. Plainly put, I didn’t think home girl could top Laila’s Wisdom.
Ibtihaj is named after Ibtihaj Muhammad, who was the first Muslim woman to wear a hijab while representing the US at the Olympics where she took silver in fencing. Rapsody gives nods to strong female emcees that came before her on the song, like Lady of Rage and Roxanne Shante- and taking a leaf from their book, she shows her bravado and says ain’t an emcee on this earth that make me feel afraid. GZA’s verse has that nice old school feel, thanks to his flow…with D’Angelo vocals complementing both rappers.
There must be something about Rapsody’s chakras because whoever she features, the genuine chemistry is always palpable. Whether it’s Sojourner with J.Cole, Oprah with Leileki47 or even Iman featuring J.I.D and SiR. In an interview with Sway, she said she wanted Cardi B to be on the track Whoopi. The bouncy beat produced by Khrysis would’ve suited Cardi’s energy. Rapsody’s beat and collaboration selection is like that of a producer; she’s quite decisive in that space.
The opening keys to Hatshepsut took me to church and even when the beat comes on, the warmth of the song remains. It would be wrong to say Rapsody got chowed on this joint because of all the love in the song, but hearing Queen Latifah rap is hella refreshing and inspiring. Her verse was on some Big Sis’ tip not only for Rapsody, but the youth.
Even living single we connected by the tribe Was raised by a Queen, know how to be one And love one and raise a King When he’s older I’ll describe how to love ’em Queens come in all shapes and colors Though we sit on thrones we don’t look down on each other I learned how to rule from my mother and my aunties Got the blood of the Asante I could be Cleo or Ghandi to protect mine It’s peace of mind, word to Jersey I’m a giant, a Queen’s pride stronger than the lions Connected by alliance, sisterhood The day you try to test me, look homie I wish you would Open doors for the ladies as a Queen like I should That’s why I’m Queen Latifah in every village, every hood And I’m good, and every city worldwide And why I been reigning for the last twenty five So all hail the Queens and the next ones to arrive Came out of Jersey with naughty dudes and hella drive Just another day above ground working my thighs, we runnin’ it Member the days me and ‘Pac, we had some fun with this When I would bust you dead in your eye, that’s called humblin’ Been holding the torch, I don’t fumble it I’m a child of God versus son of men, tellin’ ’em
I enjoyed Rapsody’s heartfelt letter to black folk, especially us black men on the track Afeni. It’s a timely song looking at the issue of Gender Based Violence in South Africa right now. The emcee drops knowledge about how men should learn to treat all women with the respect and love they would their mothers and sisters.
EVE cements her name as one of the best to ever do it. If we’re talking top emcees in the game right now in the mainstream, Rapsody’s name should be mentioned with the Coles and the Kendricks.
Who would have thought that something so good as South African jazz would be born from the dark days of apartheid?
Well the likes of ntate Hugh Masekela, ntate Abdullah Ibrahim, and mama Dolly Rathebe, and mama Miriam Makeba, didn’t let what the apartheid government and its oppressing laws silent their voices.
One can’t begin to tell the story of Jazz icons or its history without going back to the past, a place which most of us are comfortable with it being erased from our minds.
Jazz music in South Africa came at a time when the then government was really making life difficult for many black, coloured, and Indian citizens. It was a nightmare for artists to freely express their minds and talk about how things were in South Africa. There were oppressive laws that made it hard for omama Dorothy Masuka and obaba Jonas Gwangwa to paint pictures of what was happening in the townships.
I had the privilege to meet ntate Sipho ‘Hotsix’ Mabuse where he spoke at the Democracy Works Foundation discussion that was held at the Constitution Hill about the impact Jazz music had in people’s lives.
Many musicians during those years sang songs that portrayed apartheid in bad light, which seek to highlight black people’s hard and traumatic experiences under that government, something which the then regime didn’t want to happen.
Some of these artists like mama Makeba spoke out against the evil acts that were done against people of colour, especially black South Africans, including police brutality, racial segregation and unfair policies that kept many black people under oppression.
“Musicians, visual, performing, spoken word artists used their talents to weaken and topple the apartheid government in South Africa but the government wouldn’t back down easily,” Mabuse said.
Harsh punishment like banning of their work would be made possible by the officials, who would later banish some of these artists who were not willing to keep their mouths shut.
They didn’t fear persecution and prosecution, even if it meant having their homes petrol-bombed or being killed.
Mabuse said throughout his music life, all he wanted was to change people’s lives through music, which he and the old school school generation managed to do so well.
PASSING ON THE BATON
Ntate Masekela, who was affectionately known as Bra Hugh, collaborated with many young South African musicians, including a track with Thandiswa Mazwai, which speaks about violence perpetrated on non-South Africans by locals, a topic that is currently grabbing news headlines in the country.
Bra Hugh believed in mentoring young people and we can see young musicians like Bokani Dyer, Mandla Mlangeni, the late Lulu Dikana, Nomfundo Xaluva following in the footsteps of those who came before them. The baton has surely been passed on as we are seeing more and more young musicians like Zoë Modiga, Langa Mavuso, Ami Faku and Kesivan Naidoo contributing to new school Jazz that IS sometimes referred to as Afro soul or Afro-Jazz.
Even though we are fighting new battles as a country, old ones like racism and crime are still making us turn against each instead of being unified as tata Mandela wanted.
JAZZ LIVES ON
Through initiatives like the annual Standard Bank Joy of Jazz, which starts tomorrow, Jazz artists and producers have been supported for the past 21 years, many of them are gaining international recognition just by performing at the stage.
New notable voices in the jazz scene are given a platform to showcase their talents at the Showcase Stage.
The Showcase stage has been unearthing new and raw talent for the past few years, while the On the Road to the official Joy of Jazz Festival also looks at shinning the spotlight on new jazz artists like the Karabo Mohlala Quartet, Thabang Tabane Quartet, Zano, aus’ Tebza, Sobantwana and Nelisiwe.
Some of these artists have been in the music scene for years now, but it would be the first time for them to perform at the festival. This would introduce them to new audiences, who would be traveling from countries overseas to attend the event.
“Unfortunately no females entered the Beat Maker of the Year Beat Battle and this is something we are going to address in 2020 and get more females interested in taking part.” said Beat Makers Market founder Enzo.
The absence of females at the Beat Maker of the Year Beat Battle was a glaring gap in the contest. “I know there are some ladies who are interested in the art of beat making and we just need to make sure they come out and participate,” Enzo said.
Cyrus Beatz was the eventual winner of Beat Maker of the Year in the battle. “I came here for a win and I believed that you know what, I’m gonna take it. Last year I was in Durban with the same mentality, but then…this time was different because I’m going through personal stuff, so in the process nje of going through the stress I only prepared three days ago.”
On a sombre spring afternoon in Johannesburg after “xenophobic” attacks gripped the city that week, the Beat Makers Market took place at the Good Luck Bar in Newtown. The ambiance of the event was hassle-free and communal, satisfying to both ear and eye enough to please the production geek and the average music lover. With more sponsorship this year, growth of the Beat Makers Market is visible, since being found in 2017.
“…I think this year, in our third year we’re definitely heading towards the right direction. We’re growing, people understand the concept you know what I mean, even the vibe is dope you can feel it as you walk in, there’s this aura in the air that beat makers are out here to share, celebrate and inspire each other through beats,” said Enzo speaking to Tha Bravado after the end of the Beat Battle.
One of the dope features of this year’s program had patrons vibing like zombies with headphones on, in the Silent Disco. There were three DJs simultaneously playing their sets, but with no sound outlet in the form of a speaker, but a limited number of headphones were dished out to attendees. “We had about 80 to 100 headphones and you could basically choose your own DJ. Our tag line is ‘Beat Makers Market where music and technology meet’ and today we were trying to show people that, that music and technology meet-somebody walked in and asked ‘where’s the music?’ and started seeing people dancing, and was like ‘ooooh!’.”
While that was happening, YFM’s DJ Sabby hosted the legendary King Don Father Mandla Spriki of Kalawa Jazmee together with Tweezy on the main-stage in the Power Beats Panel discussion.
Enzo defended the judges’ objective stand, regardless of how rowdy the audience became in the Beat Battle, at times seemingly swaying their ultimate decisions. “The judges we had have made experience of judging competitions so they knew what they were doing and who they felt to be beat maker of the year.”
Battlekat, Rashid Kay and Nyambz had the responsibility of adjudicating on who the beat maker of the year would be. The criteria was broken down into categories such as creativity, technical ability (the mixing and mastering), diversity as well as crowd reaction.
“You might have a beat that has four elements, but those four elements might just be captivating for the crowd. Do you reward the guy that was technically more superior or the guy that has the crowd? You know with Bobby McFerrin’s Don’t Worry Be Happy, it’s just him and that was a very big song. I think it’s solely debated on crowd reaction, but the bad thing about that is that sometime you don’t have a neutral crowd, but that’s why we’re here to balance it out,” Nyambz said.
The night’s performers were forced to do their thang in front of a handful of people, after an exodus post the beat maker’s battle. “Moving forward, the Beat Makers Battles will be structured in a way that involves breaks between, with performances.”
HE coyly strides to stage with a notebook in hand, scribed on the pad’s cover is a quote of Psalm 46:10. He walks as though attempting to hide himself from the eager intimate audience that’s gathered to see him perform. Scrawny and with a scruffy nerdy look, he gets behind the mic and belts out Molweni, the excitement that was in the audience just moments ago bursts- and the guy was merely greeting us. Right there and then, I see that Mandisi Dyantyis is a conduit of this music.
“For me, it’s umm…very surreal, I can never get used to that concept. It’s not just Joburg, we went to Grahamstown for instance, the reception as just amazing. And I kid you not, when we start playing this project, just as a matter of playing the music you know, I felt bad that I was not playing the music, some of the the songs are old and I had gone into theatre, writing for theatre. But I love it [the audience’s reaction],” Dyantyis tells me.
Mandisi is one of the most slept on talents in South Africa, and we have plenty of those la e Mzansi, today. His album Somandla was released nearly a year ago, but the SAMA nominated project has slowly grown on South Africans. “I do feel that way, but I’m sorta enjoying it because I have people who’ve known me for a very long time and every day you get someone who says ‘I was put on your music by this person or I was at this house and I heard you music’. So for me that’s the natural progression of something that’s for everyone. People catch on it at their own time, for instance the album has been out from October last year and still today, you have people who are saying ‘why didn’t I know this’ and for me that’s amazing. Because also, you must understand that this is all done by us- we don’t have a PR team doing things….we haven’t been on TV and radio stations don’t play us. It’s understandable but I like it,” he says without grain of despondency in his tone.
Dyantyis performed at the Sophiatown The Mix in Johannesburg last month to onlookers of probably no more than a 100. His show had the spiritual and musical astuteness you’d find at a Nduduzo Makhathini gig. This without denying himself and his audience the indulgence of a fun evening of love through song and childlike vulnerability- the stuff of Ringo Madlingozi or a Vusi Nova. His show had two sessions, which catered for the jazz enthusiast and one for the singer along fanatic-a balance he flexed on his album.
“The song is a story whether personal or not, and every time I tell them [the stories] I need to be honest in the way I tell the story. I can never short change the story because that’s what people have connected with. Even with Olwethu, a song that doesn’t have words but people cry when they listen to it- these are people who don’t necessarily listen to wordless music.”
“Some of the songs at the top of the show require that sort of sensitivity you know. I never kinda plan it, but I was telling someone that I think I wana get through those songs because they mess me up. But also, you have to be cognisant of the fact that you don’t necessarily have all jazz people, they can wait for their songs. But that’s what we are as a people, we don’t have one side in us, we all have different sides.”
Dyantyis’ control of the stage allows him to take his audience on an emotional and spiritual trip, at times oblivious to the audience itself. Far from the fella that looked shy before opening his mouth or playing his trumpet. It’s palpable that when he sings about love, patrons blush together with him and immediately become contemplative in the somber section of the show- Of course it helps that his fans are sitting with bottles of wine adjacent. But Dyantyis is in charge, without being bossy.
“That’s why people, when they come out of the show, they go ‘Mandisi we cried, we laughed, we fell in love and our hearts were broke’ in the same evening and for me that’s always a good compliment. In that whole evening, people feel like they’re in a traditional ceremony, they feel like they’re in church in all of these spaces in one evening- and people are like, ‘how are you able to do this?’ but aren’t we all like that…don’t you wake up from a night of clubbing and go to church? We need to embrace what we are, we are a full people.”
Dyantyis jets off to Australia in a few weeks and then he’ll spend eight weeks in the United Sates. “Writing music for theatre and doing musical direction for theatre takes up most of my time. The band hasn’t started touring abroad yet, I’m taking other [theatre] shows abroad. A lot of people from overseas have come, saying they haven’t heard something like this in a while so, all those invites are starting to come and next year looks promising.”
He played some of his unknown ditties on the night and says they might or might not be part of his next album, whenever that project comes out. “I think in the same way Somandla decided when it wanted to be recorded, the next album will be the same. Until then I’ll keep on playing and playing. But in terms of recording, I’ll wait.”
He will wait, for Dyantyis knows and understands that Somandla is God.
The industry is a dirty place man. Not the Moonchild Sanelly gyrating her assets on stage, pleasing kinda-dirty. But I mean the witnessing of someone getting robbed in the streets of Joburg, in broad daylight, ice-cold kinda dirty.
That’s why having an experienced and genuine individual, who has your best interest at heart is a miracle in this entertainment industry. This Sunday, Dumza Maswana hosts his Celebrating African Song show, at the Joburg Theatre. Last year the Molo singer held a similar show at The Orbit Jazz Club, where he unleashed a teenage boy wonder in Vuyolomzi Solundwana. This year he’ll share the stage with 15 year-old Likhey Booi, who Maswana is mentoring.
“I am very passionate about young talent. When I started in the industry I never had a person who was already in the industry to help me take my first steps. No one was willing to share their platform. I believe young artists need a mentor who can help them develop the inner and outer resources essential for staying true to the joy of creating,” says Maswana.
“Whether they ultimately become artists or not, the experience of working seriously with a mentor can be valuable. I always refer them to other artists or producers in the industry who can give them something different to what I can offer.”
Celebrating African Song had sold-out shows in the Eastern Cape in the past three months, at venues such as the East London Guild Theatre and the Port Elizabeth Opera House. “I was accompanied by my industry friends Ntsika, Max Hoba, and Eastern Cape based artists Ohayv Ahbir and the two that are also performing here in Joburg, Likhey Booi and Odwa Nokwali. I never expected such reception, love, energy, especially in PE, where the theatre was much bigger. I also did two nights at the National Arts Festival, and both nights were a success.”
Ntsika, Jessica Mbangeni and Mbu Soul are the other artists on the bill for this Sunday.
Maswana went to Canada at the Sing! Festival, travelling with the Mzansi Ensemble earlier this year. While there Maswana says he “…had the opportunity of collaborating with a Canadian musician and producer Aaron Davis. I really hope I’ll do more with him, we had a very limited studio time- we only had three hours.”
The baritone and bass singer is raising funds for post-production of his live DVD on Click N Donate, which he says has cost him close to 400K. “It’s such a beautiful production. I pray for this campaign to be a success, also hoping for sponsorships. I’ve already spent close to R400K, the remaining amount is just a quarter. I really urge my supporters to show up and help,” says Maswana.
The money generated from Celebrating African Song shows isn’t plentiful to cover post-production costs of the DVD which was recorded a year ago . “In most cases the money I make from these shows is just enough to pay the band and petrol, literally. But whatever change we make will go to the DVD.” He plans to release the live DVD in November this year.
Should you want to donate to Maswana’s cause, click here.