It was in May of 2016 that then SABC Chief Operations Officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng, temerariously declared that all the national broadcaster’s radio stations playlists will be dominated by home-grown ditties. The infamous 90% local music quota.
Motsoeneng was like the uncle who in his inebriated state at a family gathering, announced that the whole family should come to his house the following weekend for another get-together where there would be an ubiquity of food and beverages, without discussing it with his frugal wife.
The redundant radio station managers who never seem to sheath their appetite for payola, being the stingy wife in the analogy.
Although the move evinced Motsoeneng’s strange benign for artists, he never thought through the execution of such a catalytic move. In an interview with Nicky B on Kaya FM’s World Show around the same time, Nakhane Touré said one of the problems with the ratio is that listeners won’t be introduced to new music by radio stations. “Instead of hearing one Mafikizolo song a day, we’ll now hear two or three,” said Touré. Of course the Fog singer was making a mere example (he did say he loves the dance duo) but his point was clearer than a pair of new specs.
Of the countless utterances we’ve had to endure from Motsoeneng, I’m pondering particularly on this very one during the Covid-19 lockdown, because I’ve been immersed in South African music of different kinds for the last few weeks and I imagine how South Africa would be sounding like, had Motsoeneng’s wish been carefully granted.
To be more specific, it’s the Siya Makuzeni Sextet album, Out Of This World that has had me imagining a world where South Africans are exposed to their finest talent.
Siya Mukuzeni is an insanely talented artist who delivers her craft with ingenuity, ubuntu, vigour and in what looks seamlessness. The trombonist who also belts out notes has been in the industry for over 15 years now, playing in some of the biggest bands with fine musicians on world stages. She was part of Carlo Mombelli’s Prisoners of Strange ensemble between 2002 and 2011. She was also in the Blue Notes Tribute Ochestra where she played with the likes of Marcus Wyatt, Johnny Dyani and Chris McGregor. Together with another unique ensemble of equally talented artists, collectively known as Spaza, she released an album of the same name a year ago.
With the Siya Makuzeni Sextet, she put together some of her favourite musicians who she enjoys to play with to create a body of work that I believe more South Africans need to hear. The sextet comprises of Thandi Ntuli on piano, Ayanda Sikade on the drums, the trumpet being blown by Sakhile Simani, Sisonke Xoti playing the saxophone and Benjamin Japhta on bass.
There’s often the juxtaposition to bassist Esperanza Spalding because they both are female, sing and play an instrument. They’ll always be comparisons of females, especially in an industry without women in the forefront. Although the groove in their music is undeniable, Siya’s got the juice. That unfiltered African juice form the wells of the Eastern Cape.
Like on the title track, Out Of This World which teems with traditional Xhosa music from the first second, this while embracing modern sounds. Her voice is undeniably infectious as Stevie Wonder’s or Thandiswa Mazwai’s. The song New Age is a reiteration of a sought-out truth, while landing somewhat as a lament. Say Sibusile Xaba’s Uyahlupha. The joint has swing and it serves its purpose.
The seven track album has a fair balance for the padentic jazz ear that prefers songs without vocals, only the sound of instruments dancing. Another one composed by Makuzeni on the album, a Brazen Dream is a good introduction to Jazz for someone new to the abyss that is the genre.
I’m a sucker for great vocals accompanied by some dope show-don’t-tell typa lyrics which take the role of a travel tour guide, when listening to the music. Imagine a congregation singing Moya Oyingcwele in unison, truly in the spirit. It slaps umoya.
I feel the Holy Spirit’s presence each time I listen to this song-I’m overwhelmed with questions of how this song was conceived. With churches being open now, I believe choir conductors/worship leaders should introduce Moya Oyingcwele emasontweni, if they haven’t.
Out Of This World is just one of many great projects by a South African artist. People need to hear more of this and many other albums. To enjoy them, while simultaneously putting some randelas in the artists’ pockets. True “proudly South African” shit.
Chris Rock once juxtaposed complimenting André 3000’s artistic calibre, to showering a beautiful women with bouquets for her exquisiteness. At times it seems as though artists such as 3 Stacks, Kwani Experience, Sade and even Frank Ocean play hard to get with their cult-like followers, who are subjected to waiting aeons for any release.
“Don’t play hard to get, but play hard to forget.” This corny line by Drake aids my understanding as to why the great aforementioned artists are lauded. It’s not the excitement of dangerously flirting with the possibility of losing ardent fans, nor playing hard to get but artists who don’t fickle to industry pressure have this in common- they respect time and the muscle of art.
“…they’ve been asking for it [a solo project] since our first Las Day Fam album in 2008. So a huge expectation is certainly out there,” rap artist LandmarQ tells me. Over a decade later LDF has released two albums, Eternal Effect (2012) and Dissent (2017). The clique won the Best Group award in the now defunct Hype magazine Hip Hop awards in 2010, got a SAMA nomination at the 2013 South African Music Awards (SAMA) and won Best Gospel Rap at the SABC’s Crown Gospel awards in 2011.
But still, dololo a LandmarQ project. With no disrespect to Bonafide and Baggz, it’s an open secret that listeners fervently anticipate the LandmarQ verse on each LDF track. He has the sort of presence on a track, a mere punchline or clever wordplay can’t match. It’s not only in what LandmarQ says, or how he says it but shit sounds sick because it come from him- he has natural artistic integrity.
“It was inevitable that a time for a solo would come. I just never had a timeline/deadline for it. I also wanted it to be organic when it happens. I wanted it to be inspired and come from a good place. I believe creativity can’t be forced or pressured. It should be an outpouring of a natural process,” says LandmarQ.
Be that as it may, some artists shun going solo because of their discomfort of being the centre of attention preferring to “hide” within a group- there’s a plethora of reasons why some performers won’t pursue a solo career. “I am not uncomfortable about it. I just believe that there is a time and place for everything. In any show, the spot light moves to where it needs to, for the purpose of shining and highlighting the main performance act for that particular moment. So I’m happy to have the spotlight when it’s my time to perform.”
“IF THE MEDIA SAYS THERE’S A GENRE OF HIP HOP CALLED CHRISTIAN RAP, I’M NOT PART OF THAT GENRE. SIMILAR TO THE UNDERGROUND RAPPER TITLE…”- LandmarQ
Having pondered on it and even getting the nod from his LDF brothers, the spotlight is stationed on LandmarQ with the release of his debut solo project Envy and Avarice, a seven track mixtape which is first of a trilogy of mixtapes set to drop this year, inspired by the Seven Deadly Sins.
He says the decision to release was taken in 2019 “I met and consulted with several producers to craft a sound for the album. I also made several beats for the project but then decided an album might not be entirely a good idea especially considering that I haven’t put out music before as a solo artist. So therefore a different approach was required.”
He took the old school route, hopping on other people’s instrumentals which he tweaked a bit. “So the producer in me still found expression on this project albeit a little less than usual. However the route to follow the traditional mixtape method was crucial for me to do because it’s important that music lovers and fans alike get to experience LandmarQ on a wide variety of instruments/beats. The key thing however was creating a sizeable body of work.”
The reason he chose the Seven Deadly Sins as the concept for his series of mixtapes, is to bring awareness to the condition of society in general, and specifically the condition of the Hip Hop culture. J. Cole did something similar last year with the Kids On Drugs album, focusing on narcotics. A concept about Greed, Envy, Pride, Gluttony, Sloth, Lust and Wrath directly questions the behaviour of the inner self.
“We are all confronted with varying degrees of extremes of the Se7en (remember the movie by this title with Brad Pitt, Kevin Spacey and Morgan Freeman?) in our society at large and in Hip Hop. And the hip hop community is a lovely case in point i.e. tension between old and new cats, underground and commercial, this sound and that sound etc. And its manifestation in hip-hop is most notable because hip-hop as a form of expression is definitely brash/boisterous.”
The rap artist who hails from Tembisa comes from a group pigeonholed to Christian rap and with a solo project tackling a heavy topic such as the 7 Deadly Sins, there’s a likelihood of being trapped in that box as the preachy rapper. “I am not making a Christian statement with this mixtape series. I am making a statement on humanity, in the world at large and in hip hop culture,” LandmarQ says adamantly.
“The Seven Deadly Sins is not a Christian concept. After all, the seven deadly sins aren’t even mentioned in the Bible. Its origins are nebulous and likely trace back to before Hellenistic Greece. Historically, and especially in the Philosophical disciplines, the 7 Deadly Sins have been society’s way of trying to formulate a universal theory of the pitfalls that human beings face.”
But LandmarQ isn’t oblivious to how the simple-minded might perceive his choice of topic to be conservative and limiting especially because the media has dubbed him a ‘Christian rapper’. “That isn’t how I would describe myself. If the media says there’s a genre of Hip Hop called Christian rap, I’m not part of that genre. Similar to the ‘Underground Rapper’ title. I wouldn’t describe myself as an underground rapper.”
He continues “In Hip Hop we rap about our way of life. And because I am a Christian, I have and will continue to touch on Christian themes from time to time. But that’s no different than any rappers that incorporate their reality in their music. Chuck D of Public Enemy said rappers are like journalists. I’m a rapper’s rapper and have rapped alongside the best rappers in the country and have been featured on numerous songs that aren’t Christian and aren’t underground. And my message is universal. If you love Hip Hop that stands for something, I’m your guy. I however am a rounded human being. Sometimes my music is about having fun with wordplay, with different flows and metaphors.”
The project is out today. Listen and download it here
Bob Marley, Nelson Mandela, Miriam Makeba and Michael Jackson are all deceased; well of course this is a position held by those who dare not frolic in the arena of conspiracy theories. But yes, their bodies were left lifeless soon as the Grim Reaper came for collections. God knows what happens on the “other side”… but what we do know is that when some people die, their demise amplifies their legacy. Nipsey Hussle was one of those.
The rapper was shot multiple times in the parking lot of his store in South Los Angeles a year ago today. I recall coming back from a Sunday event after midnight, and learning of Nipsey’s passing through social media thinking that someone’s playing a sick April fool’s joke. But I woke up that Monday morning and realised it was for real, for real.
The subsequent days, weeks and months saw an outpour of deep condolences and tributes to Nipsey from different parts of the world I hadn’t even imagined listened to him. Even our very own DJ Sbu, the self-appointed representer of the African Hip Hop community, was in Crenshaw to pay his respects. There was an obvious knee-jerk reaction to Nipsey’s passing.
According to Business Insider, Nipsey’s music sold like amagwinya and a hot cup of coffee in the wee hours midwinter. Over 2,000 copies of his CDs were bought the day he died, followed by 9K copies on the Monday and 4,000 on the Tuesday. By Wednesday, his album Victory Lap was sitting comfortably at number one on iTunes with his 2011 mixtape, Crenshaw in fifth spot. He became a two-time Grammy Award winner in January this year, in the 62nd edition of the ceremony.
Nipsey was always deliberate about his passion for making his hood, LA a safer and all-round better place for everyone who lives there. Since his passing, some of the rival cliques in the hood have had peace talks, while there are young men who’ve formed a book club, The Marathon Book Club, which shares and discusses manuscripts which the rapper endorsed.
The alleged killer, Eric Holder Jr. is behind bars awaiting trial. Superstar filmmaker Ava DuVernay is said to be in discussions with Netflix to produce a doccie on the life of Nispey.
There are similarities between 2PAC and Nipsey, but the most startling is that they were both shot and that they had an incessant drive to fight for the betterment of the lives of black people, in black communities…which keeps their memories alive, long after pushing daises.
While most might associate Mamelodi with old infamous lyrics Banyana/Majita ‘a Mamelodi ‘arata di Social. It is safer and more enriching to quote MoAfrika Mokgathi Mvubu when she said “Re bana ba Tshwane fela ga re tshwane” which encapsulates the rich diversity of this township.
A week ago I attended Mamelodi’s first ever book market which consisted of poets and published authors. Founded by 11 young people who are writers, publishers and readers. The book market was almost postponed but as one of the founders Phindile Nqana said “We can’t fail to start.”
Among the attendees was Mamelodi legend, author of Evasive State and Mamelodi: Reflection of a Lifetime, Ntate Aubrey Magase. He shared with us a very brief history of the township and Pretoria at large. Published author MoAfrika spoke of the importance of editing your work and not losing the essence of what you were writing about when someone else edits your work.
Godfrey Mnisi the Founder of Afro Zwanaka, a literature house in Soshanguve, had two of his books on display at the Market stalls. “One of my books, Cosmology of Success talks about dreams under the moon, must compliment Dreams under the sun, which loosely translated means ‘what you dream at night must be complimented by actions during the days'” he says.
“It’s beautiful that black people are writing themselves into existence, the challenge is that we don’t know how or where to sell our books or advertise them. The culture of buying books in the townships needs to be emphasized by having a consistent number of book markets being hosted in townships. There is no doubt, my people are writing …we need to start buying books and actually read them. We’ve already started, we can only go up from here” says Godfrey.
While strolling around the stalls I met Khutjo and Kgothatso Swafo, an interesting team of siblings from Soshanguve. The pair run a stall called Parks & Read. They go to public parks where most children in the townships play at and gather them around, introduce themselves and share books, stories and take turns in reading to them. “We rotate around Soshanguve at the moment; we visit one park 10 times before moving to the next one. We love working with kids and what better way to do it while helping them advance their reading skills, we read books of all South African languages” Khutjo says. Their business is only a year old.
Our Townships are truly fortunate to have spaces such as Mo’s Coffee Shop as an art friendly space and gives Mamelodi residence a platform to showcase their talents. The coffee shop will host the up-coming market next month.
It was English South African writer Sheila Fugard who in 1991 said “The Writing scene in South Africa is quite extraordinary. A flood of raw material by a population which was silenced for so long, a really necessary outlet. Poetry, workshops, theatre and short stories abound but no novels.”
The infatuation this generation has with spirituality is unlike anything we’ve seen before. Be it heeding the calling yok’thwasa, the obsession with astrology or numerology- the youngins need their chakras activated. So it’s more imperative to have spiritually astute artists like Sibusile Xaba now, than any other time. Much like in the 1960s and ’70s when the world was politically charged; the role of a Fela Kuthi and a Bob Marley was quite significant during that period.
“Ku balulekile to connect with the Creator. For me that’s the ultimate. Even ukuthwasa and the vibe that’s in the air right now, it’s a sign that people are trying to find themselves,” says Xaba.
For him, people are tracing back steps of who they are, beyond religion, faith or belief but to a time when spirituality was the way of living. “…it’s before things were documented or before the human race was separated into nations, there was a way of living which didn’t necessarily have a set process of connecting to the Creator. There wasn’t a need to go to church and connect with a middle man, be it Jesus Christ or Muhammad or anyone, to get closer to Umdali. We were one with the Creator. The disconnection and confusion came about when the mind was activated; that you must believe or have faith in something, and no longer your will. It’s now a process justified by names that mould it,” the artist from KwaZulu-Natal says.
Xaba is pleased with this generation’s insistence on connecting to the Creator and believes this will help remove divisions brought by tribes, nations and race. “The Zulu nation will say they are the greatest in the South, in Mali they’ll also says they are the greatest, in Egypt, in Ethiopia they’ll say the same thing…so there’s something amiss here…and even when you come to spirituality, you find that some people think they are superior or more gifted than others but the Creator gave us all gifts and they’re all the same. You have the gift to heal self because you’re connected to the Creator. Whether it’s telepathy, prophesy all those things. Now they just have words, but before it was the way,” the artists says.
Alone in a Braamfontein bookstore, The Commune, Sibusile Xaba and I sit post his intimate performance at The Forge just a few minutes ago. The performance was to promote his new album Ngiwu Shwabada which was released the day before, on Valentine’s Day.
He looks a normal civilian now with his locks down, wearing chino pants and a simple black T-shirt and a pair of sneakers- as oppose to minutes ago on stage when he had ankle shakers above his mbatata sandals, with his lower body covered only by cloth and had a dashiki on, dreads tied back, with guitar in hand. It’s akin to seeing Superman without his suite and cape, uClark Kent nje. But there’s a difference. Sibusile Xaba doesn’t have a moniker to hide behind and despite the apparel, he remains Sibusile Xaba with the same message as that fella on stage. His underlying message? 1Luv.
“…let’s practice uku thandana, uku bambana, ukuxhasana, it’ll go a long way. I know you’re thinking ‘ai lo mjita udlala isiginci, maku nguye ngabo one love, one love…but no, it’s the power we have inside, we have forgotten what we have within and if we were to take that out, the world would transform,” says Xaba, calmly sharing his philosophy with the audience between his performance.
The one love phrase is a simple one, but it’s the ultimate truth in that we’re all creation made by the Creator- it is truth that he stands on, which helps cut through bullshit that polarizes humanity. Despite the assortment of energies in his audience, the effect of Sibusile’s music is the same, it’s calming. “Ah we’re just messengers mfowethu, it’s not us, and we’re just here to share what we hear, with a pure heart,” he humbly says. Sibusile shared the stage with Naftali, who he says contributed to his current album.
It’s puzzling that he only has two projects, the first one being Open Letter to Adoniah which came to him through dreams. “It was just so natural and so peaceful you know…eDNA yayo didn’t have any negativity, so I just welcomed it.”
He speaks casually about how music from his previous album came about. “Kodwa why is it a thing, because we dream always. I think for creatives that happens a lot, even for you as a writer I’m sure things happen subliminally or things might feel like déjà vu or a vision. For me it was quite normal, the only thing I didn’t understand was that it happened izintsuku z’landelana.”
Ngiwu Shwabada is a continuation of the same modus operandi. “I was telling usista daar ku Jazzuary ukuthi now that I practice this [receiving music through dreams] I get different dreams saying different things and it’s not like now yonke into eng’zwayo ngi zoyenza ingoma, you understand. Le ye ngoma iyazisho. It’s like someone whispers into my ear.”
He tells me he’s delved deeper in this project, than he did with the 2017 Open Letter to Adoniah. “I understand ukuthi you have to connect to the universe and listen. By being still you can listen and hear things that the polluted ear wouldn’t necessarily hear.”
The sophomore 12 track album was recorded last year in Paris, France. It’s a beautiful body of work that takes one to so many places, all at once. The last track on the album is an 18 minute collaboration with Shabaka Hutchings, titled Phefumla. Sibusile’s scatting on the track is like a conversation between him and Hutchings’s saxophone. There’s also a song paying homage to his mentor, Madala Kunene on the album. “Ai mfwethu I was so scared to play that song,” he tells me cracking in laughter. “..I played it for him and he’s like ‘hai, yaz mina ang’yizwa le ngoma’ and he’s so honest about it,” says Xaba, of Kunene’s response to Tribute to Bafo.
Sibusile is part of a growing community of black creatives who share ideas, who seem to be conscious of those who came before them and who understand the importance of unity among black creatives, from all around the world. The likes of Thandi Ntuli, Shabaka and the Ancestors, Thabang Tabane, Musa Mashiane, Nduduzo Makhatini and plenty others. “There’s a serious community of Africans across the globe and it’s beautiful bra wami. Kats are so united man, stretching themselves, working together and sharing contacts. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than being selfish and keeping everything to yourself. It’s powerful.”