artist

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11min3711

They are at the bottom of the food chain, but black women are the most resilient and beautiful beings. They are a perfect muse for artists because of their supple synchrony of belle and vigour.

“Celebration of great black women remains an inspiration in my work. Telling the history of these powerful African heroines is my source of inspiration,” artist Kehla Chepape Makgato says.

He has done a lot of work in his 20 years as an artist and says the common thread in all the work is the celebration of pigmented females.

His current and eighth solo exhibition, Chronicles From Makotopong which is showing at the RK Contemporary art gallery in the Western Cape’s Riebeek Kasteel, pays homage to the village he grew up in. It’s abstract portraiture of some women in that village. If you’re black, you’ll instantly connect with the work, as some women are portrayed in doeks and faskotis (traditional apron made from Shweshwe fabric) which is common for black females.

Veronica Zondeni ‘Mother Of Azania’ Sobukwe, Mixed Media, 2018
“What’s special about this show, is definitely a celebration of the village that made me the person and the artist I have become. It is more of a celebration than anything else,” Makgato tells me.

The exhibition opened on May 27th and will run until next Wednesday.

Earlier this year he had a two month residency at a US gallery. The idea was spawned through his visit to artist workshop, the Zygote Press in Cleveland Ohio, where he made his presentation to the staff there. This, he organised with Meg Harris Stanton of Harris Stanton Gallery, that represents him in America.

“I exhibited mixed media collages and Monotype prints. Prof. Zakes Mda visited me especially in Cleveland, so that he gets to see my show and that we continue to work on our future two-man show. This is one of the greatest highlights of my residency,” a proud Makgato says.  The reception to his work was amazing in the US.
Mother Azania Monotype 2018

Although he’s been a practicing artist for two decades, he only became pro 10 years ago although his résumé is the envy of many artists. In 2015 he collaborated with the distinguished William Kentridge on a project. He was one of two Mzansi delegates to the 2012 Africa Utopia Youth Arts, Cultural and Olympia Festivals of the World at the Southbank Centre in London. He has won a studio art bursary from the African Arts Trust to be a resident artist at the Assemblage Studios from June 2014 to May 2015. South African great, David Koloane was his mentor.

“What I have taken from these giants is humility, dedication and passion to the talent. Those are important qualities I took from them. They have many things in common and that is love for books and a thoroughly inquisitive minds.”

Currently, some of his work can be viewed in Grenoble France, the United Kingdom, Museum of Contemporary African Art in Washington DC and other private collections.

Azanian Portrait, Monotype 2018

Makgato works across three mediums; printmaking, painting, drawing and collage. “Printmaking is a traditional medium of art that is now graphic design.” he says “However printmaking has different techniques and processes that result in hand printed limited edition of prints done using press machine, sometimes collaborating with a studio technician or master printer. My approach to art is life, my everyday social, emotional and spiritual make up.”

Born in Johannesburg and raised in Makotopong village, outside Polokwane in Limpopo, Makgato was introduced to art at a very young age.

“I remember back in primary school when I was doing sub B, my teacher who was also an artist; instead of punishing one boy who made noise in class as a form of reprimand, he surprisingly made this boy pose for him as a model for drawing. The exactness of the boy on that piece of paper he shared with us after drawing him, which left me fascinated and that is how I got introduced to the arts.”

He has a professional three year certification, which is practically a Diploma when you look at it.

“Education is the most important engine that drives one’s career, however, hard work and dedication to one’s career is the walk that makes one achieve anything when the engine, say of education, fails or delay. Thoroughly journeys you to the destination of success. Education from academic institutions alone cannot deliver you a successful career, especially in the arts. Most of what we learn at institutions are basic skills and theory around the practicality of career. The work is our hands and passion, not academic institutions of learning, especially in the arts.”
Mother of al wisdom, Mixed media

A philanthropist at heart, Makgato from time-to-time is in townships and rural areas teaching kids art and shares literature with them.

“I have managed to inspire and mentor people who share the same passion for the arts and literature. My ever so busy schedule, when doesn’t permit my meeting with these beautiful children, my colleagues continue with this mission in my absentia.”
Chepape wearing the Chepapeism shirt

He has a passion of taking the arts to rural areas because kids there are often neglected. He started a socio-artistic movement called Chepapesim which “seeks to take ownership of our narratives and solve problems or difficulties we face as a new generation of art practitioners when it comes to funding. It’s an art merchandise that will gradually fund all arts and literacy educational developments in rural areas.”

“When you buy a #Chepapeism T-shirt, sweater/hoodie you automatically support the art programs for the youth who can’t access art education because they live far from cities because half percentage of the proceeds goes to funding such programs instead of waiting for external funds that is hard to access.”
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8min1360

It’s true that when music hits you, you feel no pain. Bob Marely’s lyrics reverberate more when I hear new music from an unfamiliar artist.

So there I was on the internet doing what I usually do, giving into YouTube’s suggestions. This time I came across US artist Anti-Lilly. The music hit hard enough for him to be sitting on the balcony in the afternoon at his home in Houston with his cats, answering my questions about his music and everything else.

It was the intro to this 25 year-old’s second mixtape with producer Phoniks titled It’s Nice Outside that got me. The subtlety at which the keys are being played shows how Phoniks skilfully manipulated the sample to set the scene for Anti-Lilly’s vulnerability and sensitivity throughout the album.

“I use my music as a way to get everything off of my chest… I’ve only ever been comfortable venting to my microphone…”- Anti-Lilly

“Phoniks is a musical scientist period. I can’t take much credit for my musical input on the production. He’s like my muse that allows me to best channel my emotions and brings out the best in every track,” says the rapper.

Phoniks truly epitomizes the producer title because he created the music and made sure it captured and complimented Anti-Lilly’s feel on each song. “One thing he does all of the time is he will send me a skeleton of the beat. I sent it back and he’d remix it or add another element to compliment my verses and hooks. We love to go back and forth and that really helps grow the sound,” says the Don’t Sleep Records artist.

30 seconds in and you can tell this isn’t the kind of album that will inspire self-confidence like a Kanye West album would. But it’s about self-introspection, healing, forgiveness and starting afresh. Simultaneously leaving you hopeful and optimistic about life outside of where you might currently find yourself through his genuineness and uncomplicated thoughtful lyrics.

Anti-Lilly, whose real name is Drake Lilly, released the sophomore project late 2017 after his 2014 debut Stories From The Brass Section tape. The space between the projects saw Anti-Lilly go through lapses of depression that drove him into isolation. From a tedious job to being betrayed by one of his best friends who impregnated his girlfriend and also temptations from the streets were some of the things which prompted creation of the project. But listening to the album I thought perhaps this might be too personal to put out.

“I use my music as a way to get everything off of my chest. I personally struggle when it comes to communication with my loved ones. I’ve only ever been comfortable venting to my microphone so I think that’s how my vulnerability is so easy to pick up on.”

Artists can get ostracised for baring their souls in their art, a case in point is Lauryn Hill after she released her MTV Unplugged No.2.0 – and this was before the ubiquity of social media. “My favourite artists are those who aren’t afraid to bare emotions. When you think about that Unplugged joint which dropped over a decade ago, it’s seen as a timeless classic. The reason why is because the subject matter and pure honesty.”

“I’ve never really thought I was giving away too much on my songs because I didn’t have another avenue to get my thoughts out.”

In the Nobody’s Perfect video the rapper has brush in hand, working on a painting around other beautiful works in a flat. He laughs off the assumption that the work in the room is his. “I’m a very amateur painter. I have a few skills but the paintings came from my director’s wife. My girl is really talented at canvas art too. As far as other avenues, I read, exercise, and watch a ton of movies,” he says.

He’s been holding a job at a customer call centre for the past six years. With a company supportive of his music career, Anti-Lilly is looking forward to his first European tour next month.

The album has touched many people, hence he thinks the The Insomnia Tour will help him connect with a growing overseas audience. “It’s been crazy to get emails and messages from folks who listen to what we create. It humbles me for someone to explain to me how much my music touched them or provided inspiration.”

“I won’t get deep with peoples stories they have shared out of respect, but it only inspires me to continue to do what’s gotten me here.”

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10min2090

Like those sport prodigies who play and gain experience at different age levels until they eventually get to the senior stage, rapper and graphic designer ByLwansta is changing the game by playing it his way.

Not a lot of rappers can say that they design their own cover artwork, direct and edit their own music videos.  Maybe it’s because he’s a bit of a nerd. In 2016 he wrote his final graphic design research paper on The Significance of Visual Communication on the Consumption of Music in the Digital age.

“I’m constantly trying to improve the ByLwansta design man, like Tony Stark with his suits in every movie he’s appeared in,” says the 22 year-old.

He moved from home in Kokstad to Durban in 2014 to pursue a three year Bachelor of Arts in Graphic Design degree. It was in that year which ByLwansta released his mixtape, NORMVL which he independently packaged hard copies of and pushed himself. The project was nominated in the 2014 SA Hip Hop Awards Mixtape of the Year category and also received nominations in Durban’s Original Material Awards in the same year for Lyricist of the year, Mixtape of the year and Best Sleeve design.

ByLwansta isn’t the ‘lyrical-miracle’ kind of rapper who’ll out-rap you at the drop of a beat. But it’s his orthodox flow, sincere storytelling, animation, pensiveness and musicality make his music stick. That his music is inspired by genuine emotions, sad chords, his girlfriend and frustration is an indicator of the kind of artist he is. When he’s on stage it’s just a blend of all the above mentioned adjectives delivered with charisma.

The existence of an artist such as ByLwansta in South Africa is a really a result of counter-culture to what’s prevalent on radio today. “…the word result suggests something more involuntary, which is how I would describe the existence of an artist of my kind. I’m not entirely intentional when I approach creating music and design when it comes to intended outcomes.”

“I vaguely have an intended outcome when I release work, because my creativity thrives on spontaneity, or maybe I do and it’s just based of how I’m responding to the song, which can be considered either bad or good, but it helps maintain authenticity ‘cause if I like it that’s the ‘go ahead’.”

Two years after the debut project ByLwansta, whose real name is Lwandile Nkanyuza, released Your Absolutely Right EP which received a warmer reception. The EP shows the rapper’s growth lyrically and more sonically, together with his brand.

It saw him making the HYPE magazine freshmen cover last year and he spent 10 days in Berlin, Germany as one of the ten recipients of the Goethe Talents Scholarship 2017. While there he also got to perform of the popular YouTube channel COLORS.

“In Berlin, you know, nobody knew who I was, nobody really had any expectations of me that I could disappoint, except those ground level ones that racism comes from, I was unashamed man. I felt unjudged, and that’s before I even rapped anything to them, it was a different kind of special there. People were curious about what would come out my mouth, they’d never met me before, they had little to no references, they trusted me with their time, and in exchange, I gave them my story, and they ate it up.”

As his brand progressively grows, ByLwansta has to learn to delegate duties to trusted individuals as he can’t be hands-on on everything around his brand, admirable as it may be. The NORMVL cover which shows him in his room where he created his two projects, displays how hands-on he is with his brand and music.

“Yeah this is a tough one, I’ve imagined what might happen when the brand gets to that point. It is slowly but surely, and I know this because I’m being thrown into situations where trust is becoming a huge part of my journey, where it’s no longer my gut and I, but someone else who has showed me they can add value to what I’m trying to do from a perspective that’s outside of my creative sphere.”

“A lot of my being hands-on has had a lot to do with not having funds and thriving creatively on spontaneity, so this meant that I could create at any time I wanted, as inspiration hit, as an idea popped up. I was super impulsive with that, and I could only get away with it because it was just me, there wasn’t anyone I had to wait for to get off work, out of class or to wake up. I was off work, out of class and wide awake, so I’d just do it. And also we don’t believe in the same things, I didn’t need to run anything past anyone.”

A young brother to Kimosabe, ByLwansta thinks his sibling still has an influence on him despite having grown to become his own artist. “When I truly reflect on my journey and trains of thought, I see a lot of his foot prints where I haven’t walked yet, or next to where I’ve just walked, it’s always a bit of a shock when I realize all this.”

About playing his game with the big boys and whether he’s made it he says “Yes, because I’m at the tennis championship now, and no because they’re all playing soccer.”


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