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.”
See Pava said I should tackle Vike, I left your homie with scars, now Kriss said I should give you the strike, they gon find this body on Mars, cos RC said for the good of the sport I should put Demon’s head on a spike, bra I think the PSL started a trend, cos so far it feels like every league is trying to relegate all you freestate stars
That’s the scheme that won No Peace Bar of the year at the Hip Hop 411 Battle Rap Awards, but nice as it was, he cherishes the Battle Rapper of the Year award more. “…It means I was consistent and it means people can actually see the hard work I try put into every battle. Bar of the year is prestigious don’t get me wrong, but that is just 30 seconds out of the year,” says the North god, No Peace.
The awards are a first for Africa, the only other Battle Rap awards to have taken place in the globe were the 2014 Battlerap.com awards. “Initially when the idea to recognize and reward battle rappers who had done well throughout 2019,we had planned on giving away cash prizes, trophies and other prizes to the winners yes. Financial circumstances related to other activities we are working on that needed a urgent heavy financial injection compelled us to scrap the idea of a ceremony, prizes, trophies and redirect the finances to other activities,” says Hip Hop 411’s Kriss. The winners were modestly announced in a series of Facebook posts throughout last week by Hip Hop 411.
The awards were adjudicated by 50% fan votes and 50% by a select group of judges. They selected adjudicators “with a high battle rap I.Q and they possess an extensive knowledge of the battle rap culture not only locally but globally as well.” Time Xone, Mdu Sibanyoni, Boy Wonder and Denis Bops were the individuals bestowed with judging responsibilities. A vote from a Hip Hop 411 TV staff member would be roped in if one category was tied, but that never occurred.
Other categories included Performance of the Year which went to Linda Strat, Verse of the Year was awarded to Verbalist while Don V and Fahrenheit’s battle was the Highest Viewed Battle as well as the Battle of The Year. “Real talk, it wouldn’t have lived up to expectation if it wasn’t [Battle of the Year]. I already knew Don was gonna bring it and if I did my bit, it was an instant classic,” retorts Height.
It’s still debatable who walked away the winner in that tussle. Both emcees came proper, not short of confidence. “We put up a dope battle, very personal as far as material goes and with that look at where it took us regarding YouTube analytics, 10 000 views,” says the 1632 emcee Don. One gets the feeling that had the awards been in existence a few years ago, Don would’ve probably gotten the same awards for his battle with Kris. His battles seem to be crowd favourites that rake up big viewer numbers.
True to the nature of calling it like it is in battle rap, there was a Moemish of the Year. That award went to Cape Town spitter Rogan, who was supposed to battle Fahrenheit in the Mother City, but failed to pitch to the battle claiming a rival gang wanted to kill him. All this after his dilly-dally of demanding a bigger cash prize, which Hip Hop 411 obliged to. “The rap battle community has welcomed this new development with open arms and excitement. Even people who are usually negative towards our work because they are aligned to rival battle leagues have been positive about it. In the same breath the will always be people who feel disgruntled and unhappy because their favourite rappers were not nominated or did not win or they feel that their friends who organise battle rap events should be the ones doing the awards,” Kriss tells me.
But these awards can do a lot in raising the standard of battle rap, should they have consistent growth and find ways of rewarding kats with actual prizes and awards. Imagine a No Peace waking up every day to see his Battle Rapper of the Year gong on his TV stand. “…it will make it more competitive and will push kats to work because we all want to our work to be acknowledged, so it will definitely improve the quality of battle rap,” No Peace says. “Battle rap is already a dope close knit family as is, but knowing there’s competition at every corner makes it even better,” says Height.
Nyeleti Ndubane is black, Tsonga and female. This innate power combination has put her in a lifelong tussle for representation and equality in society, which she does unflinchingly with grace. But the untimely demise of her partner Manoko ‘Snooks’ Ramotshela in 2018 gored her with a novel sharp pain of loss.
“Snooks’ death had a profound effect on me. When we started dating, we fell madly in love and started making plans for our future together. I declared to everyone in my life that I had found my husband- I was done! So his accidental drowning knocked the wind out of me because that was not part of the plan!” Ndubane tells me.
The love they shared was mighty palpable, beautiful and rich in uniqueness. Snooks the musician, model and all round creative with Nyeleti the actress, writer and a fireball. It was reminiscent of a young Zam and Khensani Nkosi. Funky, genuine and authentically black.
They met at a house party six years ago and hit it off immediately. “To my disappointment, he told me he had a girlfriend. So as attracted as I was to him, I knew that I couldn’t pursue anything with him because I’m a big believer in the girl code so he was off-limits!” After two years the two met again and they were both available this time. “And so began our whirlwind romance filled with incredible highs and heart-breaking lows.”
Snooks drowned on December first in 2018. In her 1969 book titled On Death and Dying, American psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross introduced the five stages of grief, a sequence of emotions that terminally ill patients or someone whose lost a loved one goes through. “…I remember feeling very angry with him for dying because I felt like he left me all alone. I swam in this anger for a long time but luckily, I didn’t drown in it.”
According to Kübler-Ross, Denial comes at you before Anger but it was the other way around for Ndubane, who tried hard to push herself to being better by putting a big smile on her face and pretend as though the loss was a case of shit happens. “But that way of thinking backfired on me because what I went through was a painful trauma that completely shifted my world. It was then that I realized that being healed doesn’t mean that my pain and trauma magically disappeared. Healing for me means that I acknowledge that my pain may always exist, but I won’t let it define or break me.”
And so the real healing began, where she says there was a lot of crying, reading, art and family. “Whenever I would get consumed with the knowledge that I will never see the man I love ever again, a good cry would make me feel a little bit better. Any chance I could get during weekends or days off; I would go straight to my mother’s house for home-cooked meals and hugs,” the Soshanguvan tells me.
Sometimes you just need to hear that everything will be okay and more often than not, those words have more assurance when coming from a parent. “My mother is my best friend and biggest cheerleader, and if it wasn’t for her talking me through it and assuring me that I will heal and be okay- I don’t know where I’d be.
It also helps a great deal listening to people who’ve gone through exactly what you’re in the midst of. It serves the same purpose as group therapy- taking in people’s testimonies as encouragement that things do pass. “I read a lot during my grieving period… there were two books in particular that helped soothe my soul: Elizabeth Taylor’s autobiography, and Jackie Kennedy’s autobiography. Both of these women lost the men they loved, and reading about how they dealt with the pain and made it to the other side gave me hope that I too will be fine.”
Going through grief, as it was just three months after Snooks’ passing, Ndubane landed a part on TV series Giyani: Land Of Blood. “Being an actress of Tsonga heritage, I really wanted a role on Giyani- any role in fact! Being a part of the first Tsonga TV series to grace South African screens was a dream job for me. But when I found out exactly which role I landed- a woman who becomes a widow after her husband is murdered at the end of the first episode- I started to get scared…”
Ndubane has been acting professionally for a decade now “but I do consider it[Esther] to be my break-out role because of all the characters I’ve played, this character really connected with audiences. I get stopped by fans of the show all the time and they tell me that they really felt for Esther and what she was going through.”
But the trepidation that came with the role wasn’t because this was her biggest in term of impact, but the fact that she was going to play the character of Esther, a woman who becomes widowed on the first episode. “I was hoping to play a character that was on a completely different journey to what I was going through so that I could escape the pain and grief that was engulfing me at that point. But lo and behold! Esther ends up being on a closely identical journey to what I was going through. Sure, there were a few differences: Esther was a newly-wed, pregnant humble village woman who works on a banana farm. But our similarities overlapped greatly: we both had to deal with the sudden loss of the man we loved, and we both experienced the gut-wrenching pain of seeing the body of our loved one at the scene of his death.”
She played the part so brilliantly, you’d swear she’s a widow who resides ka Malamulele not the feisty damsel who could take on anyone on MTV‘s Lip Sync Battles performing Kendrick Lamar’s For Free. “The shoot was right in the middle of my grieving period, the pain was still raw and I feel like it enhanced my performance because I could relate to Esther’s pain on a genuine level.”
“Lauryn Hill once said: ‘As an artist, you have to live your life so that you have something substantial to share with your audience…’ This quote perfectly encapsulates my experience playing the role of Esther,” says Ndubane who is also a teacher’s assistant at the Joburg Theatre for the Duma Ndlovu Academy (DNA).
‘Language-hierarchy’ in South Africa is realer than the chaos at Eskom. If you don’t speak isiZulu, isiXhosa or Sesotho you’re an alien or less of a human being in this country. That Giyani: Land Of Blood is the first ever Xitsonga TV series is embarrassing, but it’s a start none the less. “…The existence of ‘Giyani: Land of Blood‘ on our screens is huge because it speaks to representation. Growing up, I never saw Xitsonga-speaking actresses on TV speaking our language and representing our culture. Society has always made Xitsonga people feel ostracized and ridiculed for our looks, culture and language. So to be on a show that celebrates the things that we were made to be embarrassed about for so long is simply incredible!”
Having proud, beautiful ambassadors of the all cultures is important to breaking down pillars of ignorance. “Hopefully, South Africans will begin to un-learn the insulting stereotypes and misconceptions about the Xitsonga people because the show will help to put our culture in the mainstream in the same way that Sho Madjozi is doing so beautifully.”
Ndubane is currently busy with theatre rehearsals for Alice In Wonderland which will be staged at the Peter Torien Theatre at Monte Casino in March. And also “Writing a feminist theatre piece about the plight of black women. It’s a work in progress, and my working title for the project is: ‘Black girl, you are on your own’, which is a wink to the Steve Biko quote: ‘Black man, you are on your own’.