With the US being dominated by Caucasians in numbers, it’s no wonder black Americans feel safe and at home when they’re on the African continent.
“In America, especially now with Trump, there are certain spaces that are very uncomfortable to be in as a black man. One, you never know how certain people feel and then two, because you know now how certain people feel. Before you’d assume it was racism…”says US rapper Javier Starks.
Starks spoke to Tha Bravado while in the country for the O.R Tambo music project titled Voices On OR. It is a collaborative double-disc album between South African and USA artists and some politicians, paying homage to the life of the late former ANC president.
Starks was in the country for a week, together with talented musician Miles Mosley who is also part of the project. They have been in studio throughout the week, but a bit sad for first time visitor Starks, because he hasn’t had the opportunity to experience South Africa and all its multifaceted beauty.
“There’s a pain in my heart, it’s like ahhhhh….it would’ve been nice to see Soweto, would’ve been nice to see other things. But I am very grateful just to be here-not a single moment in the studio has felt like ‘oh man, we still here’ every minute has been real. From the moment that I landed here, I felt very welcomed you know,” he says.
Unlike stable mate Mosley, who is on three tracks on the album, Starks is featured once on Voices On OR. “The lyrics I wrote for the song I wrote back home. While I was writing I did a lot of research on Tambo and God, this dude is a champion.” The track is titled Promise Land.
The double album is musically directed by renowned singer Gloria Bosman while seasoned saxophonist McCoy Mrubata is tasked with the role of producing. Among others, the project will include Jonathan Butler, Tsepo Tshola, Mandisa Dlanga, Jabu Magubane, Herbie Tsoaeli and Steve Dyer. Performances in the recording will be characterized by interpretations of musical themes based on events around Tambo’s life. It’s due for release in October this year.
A fairly new artist in the industry, but has been fortunate to be surrounded by great musician such as Mosely and Robert Glasper. “More than anything else, being around people like Miles and all these kats who are really talented, I really get to learn a lot. It really broadens my perspective in how I approach music, in how I see music because these guys aren’t just masters of their genre, which emcees and rappers tend to be you know,” says Starks.
Starks met Glasper in 2012, just a year after the latter released his critically acclaimed Black Radio album. The two met at an event, DC Loves Dilla, which celebrates the work of late virtuoso producer J.Dilla. Unzipping his hoodie, Starks shows me his t-shit with a Dilla illustration on it, he tells me that performed three songs from Dilla’s countless produced joints at the event, which Glasper was also billed to perform at.
“I did Busta Rhymes’s Woo-hah because Dill did a remix of it, I did Common’s Payback is a Grandmother and Common’s The Light. After I was done with my set, I hear this guy playing the piano and I was like ‘damn, this guy’s really good’ and I went up to him after his set and told him he was really dope…we sat there and watched the Slum Village set from backstage together, and went out to dinner with those guys [Glasper and his band].”
The two have built a solid relationship since and whenever Glasper is in town the two link up. In 2015 during Grammy weekend, Glasper invited Stark to a meet and greet that he was attending. “I flew myself to Cali, I didn’t have a place to stay and told myself I’m gonna sleep in the car-I’m gonna make it work and I’ll be there regardless. I got there, and found out it was a concert. I’m standing outside the line, I’m like this ain’t no meet and greet. I got inside and I was in the front row and 20-30 into his set, he’s [Glasper] like ‘eyo Javier, come kick some rhymes’. I had his number and we would chat and he knew I was there, but we never talked about me rhyming. It was so spur of the moment. When he said come kick some rhymes, that’s when I learnt I’m about to rap,” says Stark.
True to their bond, Glasper offered Starks his hotel room, since he’s was leaving town for another gig.
He is s socially conscious emcee who is very economical with the words because he doesn’t curse on any of his records. “I can perform at your local club, I can perform at a school library, I can perform at a church and I can perform anywhere you know. That’s the beauty of being curse free and keeping your music uplifting and real –people can relate to that. You think about the stuff that most people rap about, it has its time and place- but most people can’t relate to shooting people or doing drugs, driving fancy cars and spending dollars. My goal is to show people that it works, not just because I say so, but look at my Instagram I’m everywhere because it works.”
How does one begin to commemorate a giant such as the late Veronica Sobukwe?
A woman whose contribution and selfless sacrifices have been erased and hidden from the public eye, so much so that we know her only as a wife rather than the strong, resilient and fighting activist that she truly was.
Born on July 27 in 1972, Zondeni Veronica Mathe was born in Hlobane (now known as Kwa-Zulu natal).
Her contribution to the liberation struggle began in her youth, where she was at the forefront of championing a labour dispute between nurses and hospital management. At the time she was a trainee nurse at the hospital and due to this strike she was expelled from Lovedale College, the (Fort-hare) ANCYL deployed Veronica to go and deliver a letter to Walter Sisulu informing him of the unhappy nurses and their cries. It was at this time that she and Robert Sobukwe, built a close bond, and in June of 1954 Veronica became Zondeni Veronica Sobukwe as she and Robert Sobukwe got married.
From the days of her youth, it is evident that Veronica cared about people more than she cared about herself. She continued to be the backbone and strength of the community, as she selflessly served and gave hope to the hopeless black community. Like many other unsung heroines, she carried the burden of a fatherless community on her back, she was the embodiment of courage to the women whose husbands were in prison or dead somewhere in South Africa.
Whilst being the strength of the community, she was raising her children, alone as her husband was in prison on Robben Island.
She was consistent in fighting a white-racist apartheid regime, and evidently so when she would challenge the government under the leadership of Voster and his collective, demanding the release of her husband and other prisoners. She wrote endless letters to the offices of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice, her letters were not only rejected they were ignored. She fought to keep the name and legacy of Robert Sobukwe alive.
During the TRC in 1997, she again challenged the apartheid regime, questioning the death of her husband. She believed that the government had poisoned his food and as a result caused his untimely passing. She was determined to fight for her husband.
It is heart-breaking that the names of great women such as Veronica, Albertina Sisulu, and Winnie Mandela are erased, that the history books in schools mention them as wives and mothers-that their immense contribution the liberation movement and the liberation of South Africa is downplayed.
Mma Sobukwe never turned a blind eye on the needs of the black people, and selflessly ensured that she did what she could to ensure that they were met.
Today we see her images flooding social media and the media at large, because the society we live in recognizes people when they’ve passed on. If only people could take time to truly get to understand her immense role in the struggle and fall in love with her downplayed legacy. If only young people could take upon the heavy baton she has now left behind.
Mma Sobukwe had to live in the time where she witnessed the freedom she fought for being tainted. Where young people are imprisoned and deprived of an education for fighting for equal and free education, where young girls live in fear of men in their own country and where children still live in fatherless and motherless households.
Mma Sobukwe has been consistently isolated and neglected, from the time her husband was imprisoned, to the time he was announced dead all the way to when she was announced dead, on August 15 2018 at the age of 91.
The Baton passed over (A letter to Veronica Mathe)
Oh Mama Azania, Imbi Lendawo, when you die they flood your images on social media but they failed to celebrate you when you were alive, they let your contribution and existence fade into thin air They ignored your sacrifices They feared the legacy you were to leave behind, the baton you would pass over to another generation of women
Your life teaches us to be women of courage, of fortitude, of resilience and of strength, to fight fire with fire, to fight fearless. uQinisile mbokodo
Mama Lendawo Imbi, you lived in a time where you witnessed the freedom you fought for bought at the price of gender based violence, and wrapped in patriarchy. Mama you witnessed the freedom of your people tainted by corruption and self-seeking leaders Mama you witnessed the black nation dying, the young people imprisoned for fighting for their educational rights, whilst rapists and criminals roam free. They failed to put in words your immense contribution The baton young women carry in their hands is heavy, but we will fight patriarchy, mama we will tackle, and champion gender based violence, we will expropriate the land.
May you stir up in us your courage, strength, selfless, compassionate and caring nature, to conquer, to challenge and to shake this world We will not weep for you, we will ensure your feared legacy continues to shake tectonic plates, we will ensure the history books don’t forget your name. Qhawekazi, siyaku bonga.- Boitumelo Thage
Me: I see you as a renaissance man. I mean, you do everything.
Him: (In his hoarse voice,he bursts into laughter nearly falling off his chair)
He is Abdul Milazi. A former reporter and editor, now an avid full time painter and an eccentric life coach.
I’m at his Randburg home to sit with the man. He is quite an extraordinary individual in that he was at the helm of South Africa’s biggest tabloid print publication, the Sunday World when its sales rocketed from 138 000 copies a week to 200 000 in less than two years. While his artistic inclination is second to none- he published a book of his poetry collection in 2015 and creates music on a daily at his home and performs around Joburg regularly-and does this without inner conflict, looking at the hats he wears.
“…that’s the beauty of African languages, they are richer than Western languages. The only other languages I’ve come across that are as rich, are Arabic, Latin American languages…abo English and what what are too shallow.”
“Bongi, mina I never have conflict. You can give me any task, if I don’t understand it I’ll ask you to fill me in, and then I’ll give you the best of what you want. I use to joke with people and say the subject is irrelevant, you could give me Framer’s Weekly [to be editor] and I’ll give you the best Farmer’s Weekly ever,” says Milazi.
He fell in-love with art at a young age, like any other kid beginning with simple drawings. But growing up, he’s struggled with what the Western world defined as art. The West’s insistence on not giving credit to African Cultural artists when they do work steeped in African traditions, on things such as ukhamba.
“Most of the time, they are never recognized by the West. They’ll say ‘it’s clay pot or whatever’ but when they do pottery, they call it art…it’s the same thing. How is it, that one is not [art] and this one is. That’s a struggle I’ve had all my life,” says Milazi.
“It kinda worries me, when people are left behind when I move because when I move, I want us to move together so we can celebrate together…”
When he was 16 years-old, he use to visit his English teacher who was also painter. She introduced him to painting and the young Milazi used to hound her with questions about this hypocritical stance that the West has on African art. “[Black] people use to draw on rocks, using simplistic drawings to tell stories…art is an expression, it doesn’t matter what medium. It’s an expression. Why do people isolate other expressions?”
He says we’ll only witness true expression once artists stop excluding certain people from expressing themselves. “Even the ladies who do amacansi or ama duvet…how do you then isolate that, and say ‘no, that is not art’”
His paintings are laden all over his abode. I was welcomed by a gripping landscape painting he did of Joburg City as I walked into the house. The paintings are simple but all have a different feel to it-there’s work I would buy but also work that my mother would also gravitate towards.
The paintings have been a mainstay at the Zoo Lake’s Art At The Zoo, since he first started exhibiting work last November. “The same white people who’ve been buying there, say [to me] ‘you’ve brought something different…it’s modern and not this old arty farty work’”
He admits that he also started out painting in that dull style- landscapes, portraits, etc. “Until I got bored because all I’m doing is photocopying and there are photocopying machines, right? So if I want a landscape, I can bring a camera and shoot it. Mina I want to paint emotions uyabo, make people happy. If you see all of them [my paintings] you won’t find morbid ones. When you get my painting, and you put it up your wall, it should make you happy when you enter your home. I wana do pieces that will make people’s home feel home-it’s your escape from all the crap outside.”
Milazi’s work-be it the painting, music, poetry, or his life coaching- is primarily inspired by people and their stories. “Some stories make me wana cry. But I don’t wana paint sadness, I wana take the positives. If you tell me your family is not treating you right, but tell me you’re still carrying on…Mina I take the still carrying on part, not the cutting down. I capture your strength. It’ll emphasize your resilience.”
He’s had an illustrious career as a journalist, but fell into it by default. “I asked my English teacher, where will I do the most writing, she said Journalism-I said that’s where I’ll go. But I never romanticised journalism-but I ended up in it. I just wanted to write books. But I wanted to write books as early as 10 years-old.”
At that young age, he was an ardent reader of comics. From there, he grew into reading novels, going to book exchange shops, where he would get a load of books by trading with the store the stuff he’d already read.
His first gig as a journalist came right after he completed his matric, at the South Coast Herald in January 1987. “Because I was black, they thought I was applying to be a messenger. And I told them that no, I want to be a reporter- I think the editor was amused because I had been writing for school magazines and newspapers,” says Milazi. He adds that, those publications in the schools he went to were brainchildren of his.
Currently, he writes a column for Ilanga Newspaper. “I’m actually having loads of fun. It’s forcing me to go back and reacquaint myself with the language [isiZulu]. After writing three columns, I was laughing to myself ngoba ngathi ng’se high school futhi. It’s beautiful…that’s the beauty of African languages, they are richer than Western languages. The only other languages I’ve come across that are as rich, are Arabic, Latin American languages…abo English and what what are too shallow.”
His career has seen him in newsrooms such as the Financial Mail, Business Day, The Star, The Sunday Times and The Times.
He is one of those confident individuals who aren’t shy to tell you about their achievements, but without making you inferior. While sharing his success stories which include horrid times, he will, in a slick way make sure you also benefit from it, in whatever manner.
It’s his life coaching coming into effect.
“I’ve helped colleagues I started out with, to keep focus…without knowing it was life coaching. Ku mina, I still love to see all of us succeeding. It kinda worries me, when people are left behind when I move because when I move, I want us to move together so we can celebrate together-if it’s only me moving, it poses a question to me ‘Am I a good friend’ ,” he calmly utters the rhetorical question.
He began his life coaching studies while at the Witness Newspaper in 2012 and got his certificate in 2013. “As a life coach, I help you. I don’t decide things for you. I give you clarity on things you want and together we work towards achieving those things. But every decision will be made by you, not by me.”
Necessity is the mother of invention and it because of the necessity of a good guitarist when performing his poetry, that he ended up teaching himself to play. “Most session musicians are drug addicts and are unreliable- they would dump me on the day of the fucken show. So I said to myself, ‘let me learn how to play one instrument’. I bought an acoustic guitar, bought a book and taught myself how to play. ”
A month after purchasing the book, he composed his first track with three chords. “Now, I’ve taught people how to play…”
His music is all over Soundcloud now and he’s worked with a number of young artists. Before I left his home, Milazi jammed some of his tracks on his guitar that he named Maruapula. The music serenaded the bottle of whisky we had that afternoon so smoothly.
THERE’S something sacred about being welcomed into the working space of an artist. It’s where they immerse themselves in their creative catharsis. It’s akin to being received in someone’s home.
It’s in the evening of Nelson Mandela day and the faceless Suzie on the GPS of my phone has led me to the suburbs of Waterkloof. This is where PG13 has worked on their debut project, He’kaya. Upon hearing the title of the EP, my Nguni brain, thought it fitting that I come to their abode in Pretoria, to have a listen to the project right where it was recorded.
But He’kaya is Swahili, meaning legend. The four track EP will be launched this Saturday at Tembisa Lifestyle where the band was formed late 2015. “It’s where it started. The reason we chose Swahili, is because it’s the oldest African language,” says poet Angela Mthembu.
“Legends as in folktale and ‘legends’ as in legendary human beings. Our journey has been blessed by those who came before us, that’s why we always do To The Ones Who Came Before Us first[when performing live],”Mthembu says. The track is also known as Dlozi and is on the EP.
Paying homage is a serious thing for them. So much that they open their performances with ToThe Ones Who Came Before Us, and if not sung well, there are irreversible consequences. “It’s really important that, that song goes well. But if it doesn’t, we’ll play a great set but everyone’s mood [in the band] will change,” says drummer Steven Bosman. Mthembu chips in to say “…You guys won’t hear it. But certain weird things happen when that song goes wrong- either Wanda bursts an amp or I forget my lyrics in the next piece. ”
The song is their prayer, to those above and below them. And they have strong belief that if they aren’t earnest about the music and being on that stage, a bad set is guaranteed.
For their launch party they would like to pay homage to the late Phillip Tabane and Moses Taiwa Molelekwa, vicariously through the descendants of these icons. “The idea is to collaborate with the offspring of legends that have shaped our music. So Thabang Tabane and Zoe Molelekwa- we’re hoping Zoe will be in Joburg on the 18th so he can come have a jam with us,” an excited Mthembu tells me.
PG13 includes vocalists Thando Msiza and Bongiwe Nkobi, Harry Thibedi and Zelizwe Mthembu on guitars with Wandisile Boyce on bass. The clique started out as three females- Mthembu, Nkobi and Towela Tembo- and has morphed into what we know today as the band. The PG represents Parental Guidance, but the 13 has a strong significant modest element to it. “13 is the beginning of teenhood and that’s the element where you as a child need the most guidance from your parents. It represents innocence. But it also represents us entering into this world and we’re starting to learn what it means to be a human verses what it means to be a child or an adult,” Mthembu says.
The band has performed on a decent number of stages which include the Smoking Dragon New Year’s Eve music festival, The Dawn, U the Space, Tembisa Street Food Market, Afrikan Freedom Station and Soweto Arts and Craft to mention a few. On He’kaya are songs their ardent followers have heard them perform on these various platforms. “The people who’ve followed us from the beginning, actually most these songs are relatively new to them because they knew us with Jack and Jill. Moving from a band that just had guitar to a full seven piece band, the sound shifts altogether- so even if you say ‘I’ve heard these songs’ you get a different flavour and taste from them,”Mthembu says. The tracks were recorded sporadically over a period of months,close to a year and were mixed and mastered by Bosman and Jamie Van Niekerk.
Speaking as Ndoda serenades our conversation in the background, Bosman says “With this track, the guitars were recorded last year, the drums were recorded this afternoon and six months back was two vocals. So it’s been little steps trying to mould a song.”
The version of Ndoda on the EP that we’re listening to in their studio is a tad different to an older version they recorded a while ago. On the older version Mthembu’s poetry comes off as lambasting all men, but her tone on the He’kaya version is a softer and a more conversational tone with the male species. Her poetry comfortably falls on Nkobi’s warm backing vocals in the backdrop. While in her verse, Nkobi charges boys to heed the call to be the men that are needed. But her vocal dexterity tones down this charge, sounding like it’s your mother singing you into your manhood asking to wake up and be idnoda! Bosman’s drumming is sharp, punctual and in sync with the vocals.
I wouldn’t have guessed they recorded in the process in which they did, had I not asked because it sounds as though they were all in studio at the same time. A mark of good sound engineering and says a lot about their chemistry as a clique. “The challenge as well has been, not knowing what someone else is doing, which was also exciting. Because a few members will pitch up and be like ‘what! I didn’t know the song was gonna sound like this’ one day I wasn’t here for the vocals, and I never thought our vocalists would do something like that, that they came up with a completely different concept for the chorus and completely changed the song,” says Bosman. He quips that, Monday nights in a tiny smoky room is chemistry. “It’s like a new perspective, every day with different ears-if you do it all together at one point, everybody hears the same thing. When it’s changing, you start to get some cooler stuff,” adds engineer Van Niekerk.
“The chemistry moves from the physical…like I gel with Steven and I start to like, gel with Steven’s drum. So when I hear Steven’s drum in my ears, that’s the chemistry that’s transferred,” Mthembu says.
If done wrong, the cocktail of music and poetry in a band can go south pretty quickly. A group that mastered this was Kwani Experience, so good was the blend that is wasn’t evident to the ear-the music just captured you.
PG13 also has that busyness. The chemistry, especially between Nkobi, Msiza and Mthembu makes the whole set digestible. On Jack and Jill Nkobi and Msiza beautifully go back and forth on vocals, requiring you to pay close attention. Their music doesn’t only borrow from Jazz and African music elements, but also has unmissable rock sounds.
Jack and Jill came out on Women’s day as their first single and is available on Soundcloud. The band has a tour planned after the He’kaya launch in Tembisa. “We’re doing three provinces-KZN, which is the longest leg of the tour, we’re gonna play about six venues there. A festival in Rustenburg and about two shows in Joburg,”Mthembu says. The tour is named After Skul is Afta Skul: He’Kaya.
PEOPLE are erratic. A high school teacher that told Moribego Madubanya that she wouldn’t be able to crack it in the media industry, has now become one of her fans.
“She posted on my Facebook page saying that she’s proud of me when I got nominated at the radio awards. I felt like commenting, saying ‘but you remember what you told me…’ but I didn’t, I just said thank you. That for me means I can do anything if I put my mind to and that I should never ever listen to someone tell me that I can’t do anything,” says Madubanya.
Popularly known as Ribi…Madubanya is growing her name as one the country’s dedicated young female radio content producers. In just months of her joining Alex FM, Madubanya was nominated in the National Community Radio Week Awards in two categories, The Best Talk Show and Best documentary show. “That was a huge deal for me. It meant I was on the right track. A few months after that, I got nominated at the Liberty awards, for Best content producer,” she says.
Having arrived in Gauteng in 2014 to pursue her media interests, the 23 year-old did her three year course at Boston Media House where she got her Diploma. “At the same time, I was working for a local newspaper, Greater Alex. After I graduated I decided to do radio.”
She says she’ll never stop writing, as it is her first love- she still writes on her blog every Thursday. But she jumped at the opportunity to join Alex FM when, while working for a business magazine that didn’t stretch her creatively. “At the business magazine I felt like, I wasn’t allowed to be as creative as I want to be. I wanted something more challenging. So I came to Alex FM…I actually had been trying to come to Alex FM for a couple of times,” she says, bursting into laughter.
Thanks to an article she wrote on Greater Alex, which was read on air by 702 broadcaster John Robbie, when 702 had a partnership with the community radio station that saw Robbie co-host his show with the Alex FM breakfast show. “He read my article on Alex FM and 702 simultaneously, that’s when Alex FM management started taking me serious.”
With no radio experience to her name, Madubanya was thrown into the deep when management put her in the drive time show to produce that coveted slot. “There was no producer for that show and management said ‘here’s a vacancy let’s see what you can do’ and in less than a year I had three award nominations.”
Management was impressed by the young lady from Botlokwa in Limpopo. Now that she’s solidified her name as content producer, she’s getting familiar with being in front of the mic and camera. “I do go on air, once in a while as a stand-in. It’s something I’m definitely looking into, for the future…I’ll be more on air and in front of the camera as time goes,” she says.
She has also worked as a line producer for musical film, Go Getta. “I want to be a media mogul. I come from Botlokwa and not a many people from there are in the media industry.”
Madubanya recalls a time when she was in high school, during the holidays when she had a recorder with her and wanted to interview some of the kids in the village on the device but was barred from doing so by her late grandmother. “I feel like when you’re from the village, you’re kinda forced to shrink yourself and not be a big dreamer. She said I can’t use the recorder there because people will think I’m trying to be better than them. ”
Reluctantly, she tucked the recorder away. “I felt like I had to be apologetic about my dreams. I feel that’s wrong.” With the work she’s doing now, she’s laying the foundation for other kids where she comes from and also reaffirming their dreams.
As the country celebrates women’s month, Madubanya believes women are still being seen as sexual objects-she gets asked questions like ‘who did you sleep with’ whenever award nominations come her way. “In every industry, there’s still patriarchy.”