Alchemy Festival

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8min1970

A self-confessed foodie, SiR unfortunately did not get to experience true local cuisine, but fed the souls of many who came out on Friday night to see him perform at the Alchemy festival.

“I love to eat, so anywhere I go I always try to find the best food. Plus I smoke big trees, so anytime someone has some (when it’s safe) I partake,” says SiR speaking to Tha Bravado.

Due to his short stay in the country, he couldn’t really explore some of the country’s best food, admitting that he was subjected to some Porto Rican food the night before.

In a crimson room that would make a great makeshift Death Row recording studio, I sit with the singer, producer from Inglewood just before his performance, with his bodyguards stationed at the entrance.

SiR in conversation with Tha Bravado. Photo by Siphiwe ‘Spijo’Manana

He arrived in the country Thursday and was out Saturday. This being his first visit on the continent, like most tourists who come from distant lands where African people aren’t in the majority, SiR was pleasantly surprised by the ubiquity of black dominance. “It’s really good to see black people in power, working together with white people,” he said.

He’s signed under Top Dawg Entertainment, which is also home to Kendrick Lamar, Shoolboy Q, SZA and other stars. Ab-Soul and the latter have in the past spoken about their frustration with album delays at TDE, but SiR says he isn’t concerned by that. “Everything happens in its proper time. I’m patient. And I trust my team, we don’t have to rush what we do.”

His music is smooth as wine and quenches the soul’s thirst like glass of cold water, on a hot summer’s day. It’s mind bending that he initially rejected getting into music having grown up in a home where everyone is gifted in the art. His mother is a former backing vocalist for Michael Jackson, Yolanda Adams and Tina Turner and his brothers, Daniel and Davion Farris are songwriters who’ve been in the game for a minute. “I definitely had an appreciation for music early on. Growing up in the church taught me a lot about music, musicians and I’ve always had a place in my heart for Hip Hop,” he says.

SiR doing his thing at the Alchemy Festival. Photo by Siphiwe Manana

His appreciation for Hip Hop is evident in the music he makes, no better than the song Jay-Z from his debut album Seven Sundays. “I was in studio with the fellas and wanted to tell that story that way. I’m from Inglewood California and when I talk about ‘head down Bird, make a left on Third…’ I’m talking about actual street names of where I’m from,” he says. During his performance on Friday night, he sang Jay-Z over Jigga’s Girls Girls Girls which had the audience tripping. It fit like glove in hand.

His introduction to the music was through sound engineering, but he worked on his song writing on the side, which led to him writing for some of the best musicians like Jill Scott and Tyrese. “I was very unsure of myself when I first started writing, but I had great mentors guiding me and I worked hard to overcome my insecurities,” he says.

He jumped on stage Friday night, with a show of humility greeting the eager screaming fans in Nguni, “Sawubona” he said.  Wearing an oversized top with stripes,that looked like a rugby jersey, with a Chinese collar, he looked comfortable enthralling the audience with his array of soulful joints. The backdrop was the cover of his album, November which brought much needed visuals on the simple stage.

Giving people what they came from. Photo by Siphiwe ‘Spijo’Manana

There were chants of ‘we want more’ at the end of his hour long set, after he performed the two leading singles from November, D’Evils and Summer In November. It was intimate while simultaneously being a jump. A telling sign of the kind of music he makes, which can be dubbed new age R&B in how it fuses sweet harmonies and melodies with thumping 808s. “I just know my sound is true to me. I’m still evolving as an artist as well. Who knows what my music will sound like in 10 years.”

You’d swear he was about to be knighted at the end of his set, kneeling in gratitude to the audience for giving him their time.

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What simply began as a place where DJs could dictate the playlist, without the meddling of club owners, Kool Out has become a fully functioning movement and a tastemaker in its ten years of existence, without losing its essence.

Thing about tastemakers is that wherever they find themselves, they inevitably build a legion of followers because everything they do sticks like wax on a hairy back. Koolin In The City Concept Parties epitomise that in how they’ve changed the status quo of the spaces they’ve occupied. Speaking to Kool Out Creative Director DJ Akio Kawahito about their decade celebration, one grows a sense of awe for their organisational skills and the consistency they’ve upheld in nearly 400 shows.

“We were the biggest and most influential Hip Hop collective in the city, but we were still struggling to pay rent…”

In 2008, Hip Hop in Cape Town wasn’t blazing the trail as it had in the past, contributing to the paucity of an abode for the Hip Hop community in the city. “I remember going on Long Street and there wasn’t a single spot that really catered to the Hip Hop market,” says Akio. Eventually they managed to get a place to host their weekly Hip Hop events at a club, The Waiting Room. But because Hip Hop had no place at the so called white venue, they were offered the odd Wednesday nights. “This is crazy to think, because in 2018, The Waiting Room has become one of the most diverse venues in Cape Town and is synonymous with Hip Hop.”

Within six months, the club’s Wednesday night numbers were better than their weekend’s numbers.

The original Kool Out clique comprised of host MPRVS from LA while Falko, Just Be and Akio himself were the DJs. “MPRVS moved back to LA, Falko left to start another event called Classics and Just Be was basically bounced from the crew. A local rapper name Mingus took over hosting duties and Raiko became the second DJ.”

“Back in 2011, Braamfontein was nothing…Now that area is synonymous with Hip Hop and young black culture”

After three years, Kool Out had reached the ceiling in Cape Town with their parties. “We were the biggest and most influential Hip Hop collective in the city, but we were still struggling to pay rent. At this point, we had starting doing some international shows in Durban and Johannesburg so we were experiencing the other markets,” Akio says.

More than that, Akio says a rude awakening from a brand rep they were trying to build a business relationship with, triggered the move from eKapa. “He told me straight up, that Kool Out was a black party and the purchasing power of that demographic was low and not a target of the brand. He said if we did the exact same numbers and our crowd was coloured or white, we’d be killing it. If we wanted to truly make an impact and grow, we needed to move to Joburg.”

They found space at Kitcheners when they got to Joburg in 2011, but now this was before Braamfontein became a haven of the cool kids and their woke selves. And like they did in Cape Town, they created a pathway in the wilderness that the city was, at the time.

“A lot of people were territorial and didn’t want to support a party from Cape Town. One of the ways we broke into the scene was by putting Kitcheners on the map. Back in 2011, Braamfontein was nothing. There was literally one venue and one street light.”

“We again did an extensive venue search and decided on Kitcheners because it fit our requirements and more importantly, there wasn’t a single Hip Hop promoter doing events there. The owner was very much against Hip Hop, but eventually the parties kept getting bigger and bigger and other promoters within the genre starting copying us. Now that area is synonymous with Hip Hop and young black culture,” says Akio.

He says what makes them unique from other parties is their aspect of musicality. “We place DJs and their styles in specific time slots that match the vibe of the event. For example, on our rooftop, if you come early you won’t hear the DJ playing trap bangers at 4pm. We’ll have someone playing beats and chilled vibes progressing as the day turns into night. You’ll almost never hear the same song twice at a Kool Out.”

“I also think in terms of venues, we always choose a place that is an experience. We almost never use the same spot that is associated with another party.”

Kool Out is a Hip Hop party, but Akio appreciates other genres of music thus he created the Alchemy Festival avoiding to confuse the ardent Hip Hop heads who religiously attend the Koolin In The City Concept Parties. Organizing such an event had always been a dream of his. The three-day festival celebrates Neo-Soul, Funk, and Jazz among other styles of music. “There wasn’t really anyone else creating an inclusive scene for beats, future soul, etc… so we decided to create our own platform.”

The first one took place last year where Tom Misch and Mick Jenkins performed. While Anderson. Paak performed at their Cape Town event last year too, which is their biggest attended show to date.

It’ll be exactly three years ago on Saturday, when 27 year-old patron Lawrence Ledimo from the Vaal, tragically died after falling from seven flights of stairs, at the Koolin In The City Concept Parties in Joburg. Reason was celebrating his birthday on the night, but immediately after the tragedy, the event was shut down and venue cleared within 40 minutes. “It definitely stopped the momentum we were gaining at the time, but we don’t even care about that.”

“It was more of a moment of reflection to see our roles in people’s lives and how for the time that someone is at our event, they are trusting us with their well-being. We want to be as loyal to our guests as they are to us.”

Three day festival Basha Uhuru takes place this weekend from Thursday and it’s also happening in Joburg. Akio says he wasn’t aware of Basha when they planned for this Friday’s celebrations at Good Luck Bar in, Newtown. “Their [music] event is Saturday so it doesn’t really affect us. Also, we feel that the industry is big enough now to cater to two big events on any given night. There isn’t anyone in the game that we feel we are in competition with.”

HERE ARE 10 INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT KOOL OUT:

1.      Kool Out has brought out more international hip hop artists to South Africa than any other promoter. (Mobb Deep, Talib Kweli, Blu and Exile, Ras Kass, Mick Jenkins, just to name a few)

2.      Kool Out was the first promoter to bring Hip Hop to The Waiting Room and Kitcheners

3.      Kool Out Lounge (the original event) has been hosted in 5 cities in 3 countries.

4.      Kool Out events continue to keep the DJ culture alive by having DJs that play on turntables.

5.      The Anderson .Paak show in Cape Town was their highest attended event.

6.       The Alchemy Music Festival was Africa’s first urban producer based music festival

7.      Outside of their own events, Kool Out consults for some of South Africa’s biggest corporate brands and music events.

8.      Kool Out won the “King of Gauteng” award at the South African Hip Hop Awards in 2017.

9.      The Kool Out rooftop has hosted international artists such Skyzoo and Cappadonna (Wu-Tang)

10.  Koolin in the City rooftop event, happens the last Sunday of every month in downtown Johannesburg


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