One thing we missed during the stringent lockdowns in the last 20 months or so was live music and the vibrancy of a festival. One of these festivals was Basha Uhuru Creative Uprising, where one always walks away having discovered new music or a new artist.
Bonga Kwana was one of those talents that many discovered at this year’s Basha, which again was hosted at Constitution Hill in Braamfontein, Johannesburg. Bonga Kwana was one of the night’s last performers at together with her band and she owned the stage. She gave so much of herself, not only vocally but also in her dance moves.
“I was a dancer, I always loved dancing…I just love entertaining people,” says the former ballerina. She says her love for music began in high school where she was part of the choir and a couple of jazz ensembles. “When I started performing with live bands, I was like ‘hell yea I like this,'” Kwana speaking of her school days which was around 2014 and 2015 when she matriculated. “I earned my tripes since high school.”
Bonga Kwana is an alumni of the Bridges for Music, an NPO which has for years now hosted tours and workshops in disadvantaged communities alongside internationally recognised artists like Ed Sheeran and Black Coffee.
Bonga Kwana quips that she is a Nando’s baby because she is a beneficiary of the food chain’s collaboration with Bridges for Music in educating young artists on the business side as well as the creative. “In 2019 I made the decision to join the Bridges for Music Academy. In the first month of joining, just shortly after joining there was an opportunity to be part of the Nando’s music exchange which was in London in 2019.”
Her performance at Basha showed that she is a student of the arts and has she learnt a thing or two while in London.
That performance was just a week before she released her debut project, New Faces to Old Problems on November 5th. Her single Ndifuna Wena featuring Ntsika of The Soil has been getting some airplay.
In light of how the Coronavirus has gripped most of the globe, it’s more than understandable why people are being bullied by panic, anxiety and a legit sense of unease when they think of the ramifications of this outbreak. But Back To The City festival founder and organiser Osmic Menoe sees the glass half-full, despite being forced to postpone the annual Freedom Day festival to October this year.
“We had already bought [plane] tickets for the international artists, we had paid the security companies. We do our wristbands in China, so that was already paid for. There’s a project we’ve been working on, we’ve printed CDs and vinyl’s in America…there’s a sizable amount of money already that’s been spent, but the beauty about it is that none of it is a loss because all we just had to do was shift things you know, because these are suppliers we’ve always been working with,” Osmic tells Tha Bravado.
“All we had to do, was to say ‘look, just shift delivery to a later date. Security companies we’ve already paid you, instead of rendering the services in April, you now rendering the services in October’ and another blessing in disguise is that, six month later is another festival-it’s another Back to The City for 2021, so it also enabled us to renegotiate certain contracts and certain deals…and a month later [after October] is the Hip Hop Awards. That also assists in terms of renegotiating things. Yes, there’s money that’s been lost but at the same time, shit happens man.”
Ritual Media, which Osmic owns is behind BTTC, the South African Hip Hop Awards and the South African Hip Hop Museum. Drudgery is probably not the word to describe the work Ritual Media staff will go through, but they’ll be breaking their sweat in the next 12 months, looking at the proximity of their projects.
For over a decade thousands of youth have religiously gathered in Johannesburg’s Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown, to celebrate Freedom Day through Hip Hop. In what was supposed to be the 14th installment of the Back to The City International Hip Hop festival in a few weeks, will now take place on October 10th.
“Obviously we looked at the month of September, we thought there’s Heritage day which is the 24th possibly a lot of people will be doing stuff then. We obviously looked at June and we thought to ourselves chances are, the lockdown might either still be in effect or coming to an end. So for us, seven months away from the said date made a little bit more sense, because number one we’re able to spread messages about our new change and number two, we’re able to make sure that we’re in a safe zone.” October 10th also happens to be World Mental Heal Day.
The festival’s purpose is to celebrate Hip-Hop and youth culture through an afternoon/evening of live performances, graffiti and exhibitions with the aim of bringing the youth back to the city, in Joburg. The show features artists representing different corners of South African Hip Hop. This unique youth event is a first of its kind in South Africa. The showcase is always full of activities such as a mini educational Summit, live performances, skateboarding, BMXing, live graffiti art, merchandising and exhibitions, all under the bridge at the corners of Henry Nxumalo and Bree streets.
This year’s BTTC was understood to be the penultimate after Osmic announced that end of the festival’s run a few years ago. There was incontestable conviction about the festival not ever happening, with fans even being sold end of day ticket packages until a beverage broke the thirst. “Hennessy is now our official naming partner, hence the festival is called Hennessy Back To The City International Hip Hop festival. We’re joined at the hip for the next coming three years. For the fact that we’ve got someone [Hennessy] who believes in culture and whose been in culture for so long. It’s also something very new for them to partner with something that’s very large scale, you it’s an exclusive brand. It just goes to show how much they believe in African Hip Hop”
Miles Davis once said time isn’t the main thing, but the only thing and had it not been for time, the band T.U.G wouldn’t have been unveiled. With a name like Time Unveils God, the significance and respect of time to this ensemble is apparent.
“I feel like time is the thing that connects us. Time connects the people who’ve come before, the future and us. It puts it in a line, and if you understand that line you pretty much understand the godliness about existence,” says Tony Dangler.
Made up of five black men; T.U.G is a Hip Hop collective with two emcees on vocals, Darkie Umnt’Omnyama and Tony Dangler with three masked fellas playing drums, acoustic and bass guitars. The three instrumentalist are unidentified, but elected to take up abbreviations from the band’s name, for the purpose of this interview. T plays the bass, U acoustic and G is the drummer.
“The important thing about time is that, we must work and make music for the people, heal them and carry on working,” bassist T, tells me.
“To me mfwethu, time is everything ya bo. Because everything happens in time. Time is lifetime. God is lifetime, there’s no start and there’s no ending,” adds G.
My photographer and I are welcomed by the scent of impepho, dank blunt and kindred spirits-I couldn’t help but embrace the calmness in T.U.G’s working space in Zondi, Soweto. I interview the band crammed on a couch, like TV-watching siblings. The masks bring a tad bit of awkwardness to the setting, as I struggle to make eye contact with the three players of the band.
“It’s the unveiling part-we’re unveiling what’s not unveiled in a way. In essence regarding music, it shouldn’t be about the guys in the background. With Hip Hop, it’s just the rapper and the beat, so we try to represent that,” says U, who is the co-founder of T.U.G.
“The mystery is kinda interesting as well. It leaves more room for people to think, ‘oh okay, I hear the raps, but what’s going on?’ and you end up not paying attention to us,” the guitarist adds.
Lebohang ‘Page’ More, Sun Xa Experiment’s manager, is the other co-founder. “We thought we should have two guys who aren’t the same, and luckily Tony is from PMB and uDarkie is from Jabulani and it made sense.”
It’s Hip Hop in that these kats rap, but more spiritual in the manner in which they present their art. Their music talks to identity and all round knowledge of self as an African child. According to Page, they had planned to have a beat-maker before assembling the band. “We were pissed [about not having the beat-maker] and ended up going with the band. So it’s an idea that came to all of us differently, maybe I spoke about it, but everyone contributed enough and equally to what it is today.”
T.U.G’s abode is also the Digging Thoughts headquarters and home to Zen Groove Project and the well-known Sun Xa Experiment. I’m uncertain if it was the carpeted floors, the graffiti-laden wall behind me, and the number of joints being passed around or simply the people who gave me a distinct feel of serenity and one that inspires creativity.
Being privy to the band’s rehearsals displayed how they benefit from working here, in this space. “It give us a lot of creative freedom, ya bo. Everyone plays a role in expressing themselves and creating ideas; he [pointing at Darkie] doesn’t necessarily play instruments, but he’ll come to me with a hymn and say to me ‘yo, I hear this melody in my head..’ so the creative process just keeps going,” says U. Darkie Umnt’Omnyama adds “Eintlik die dang e deep. It’s the thing you’re feeling-we can talk about it, but can’t explain it. What brought us together here is what we feel,” he says.
Darkie is more of an enigma than the masks covering the band- his dry humour has everyone in stitches when he answers questions and seems to assume the father-figure role in the group. But he and Tony Dangler complement each other pretty well, despite their unique differences which set them far apart. Like Q.Tip and Phife Dawg. While Tony is the animated rambunctious character with a fine twang, uDarkie Umnt’Omnyama is the reserved rapper who has the grit that can only be found in rappers from the hood-but both delivering rhymes with equal intensity and honesty, remaining in the pocket.
Darkie predominantly spits in vernac, while Tony raps in English but both are able to switch. Tony is known from Hip Hop clique Revivolution, which he’s still a member of. “Ain’t nun change man. A few of them niggers [from Revivo] were like ‘yo, what’s happening’ and some of them were like ‘ayt, it’s cool’. Illy pulls through some time to check out what’s happening and also, I guess it’s just a matter of time dawg. Some niggers have time to come through, some don’t. But everyone’s happy. Even Inferno’s back on his band business…it’s good that, that energy is vibrating out.”
T.U.G has only been together since late last year, but have performed at different places to gauge people’s reaction to their sound. They were at Smoking Dragon last year and will be at the Roving Bantu Kitchen in Brixton this Thursday. “So far yonke into e grand ya bo, I don’t recall us ever boring people; they can hear and understand what we’re about,” Darkie tells me.
They’ve also performed at Beverly Hills High school. “You hear that name and think ‘yoh, Beverly Hills’. It’s a school in the Vaal. We performed in front of those naughty kids, which felt like performing at a prison. But they responded well to our sound.”
“There’s a case where we performed for abantu abadala and e message e yaba thinta. We’ve also performed for drunk people and the message also went through. So the contrast of the audience is there,” Tony says.
Their association to Sun Xa puts them at an advantage, of gracing certain stages they wouldn’t have, had they been some random stand-alone band. They performed at one of Durban’s most sophisticated Jazz bars, The Chairman. But they are now carving out their own audiences, to distinguish themselves from Sun Xa, organically though they say.
Paraphrasing one of their songs, Heal Your Soul, Darkie says he wants people to walk away healed by their songs. “Kufanele aphole, phakathi na nga phandle. Whether someone has a headache or a sore finger, they should find healing and be good. This music doesn’t incite any violence or hatred, it makes the black person feel good.”
You’d be forgiven for thinking Captain Planet was about to be summoned at the launch of Petite Noir’s screening of visuals from his La Maison Noir album.
Inspired by each song on the album, the visuals tell Noir’s story through the four elements; Earth, Water, Air and Fire. The album, together with the short film come out this Friday. The launch took place in Rosebank at the Keys Gallery last Thursday evening.
One of the songs Beach, which he features Danny Brown and Nkubi Nkubi premiered by Zane Lowe on Beats 1 radio. “Beach‘ is a song about being reborn and how it took for me to fall to rise back up. In life we are constantly reborn. Every stage of our lives, from being a baby to adulthood,” said Noir.
Noir’s first single, Blame Fire was released a few months ago. The chant-inspired Blame Fire is the opening track on the film which sees Noir going through rebirth in the fire.
Set in the desert, the visuals take you through somewhat of a pilgrimage with Noir- with each track bringing you closer to where he is in life right now, from the burning and destroying to the healing waters and rising above all adversity.
“We hope that it sparks something in you that just raises the vibrations and the consciousness and helps us to keep going,” said Creative Director Rochelle RhaRha Nembhard.
Manthe Ribane handles all the choreography in the film. “Team work always makes everything work and this was such a dream, to be part of this iconic movement and thank you so much for having me on board- this is a beginning of a new birth, so I hope we feel re-birthed and recharged to take on the next step,” said Ribane at the launch.
There were a number of artists a famous faces in attendance, the likes of Okmalumkoolkat, brothers Loyiso and Lazola Gola, producer Vez and the BLK JKS’s Mpumelelo Mcata.
THE air filled with the smell of dank blunt, omnipresent quarts of Black Label and Boom bap sounds racing out the speakers, a graffiti portrait of Ben Sharpa was the backdrop of the stage, and the DJ scratched on classic Hip Hop joints, when each speaker came forward-could’ve sworn it was one of those old school Hip Hop sessions at Ben Sharpa’s memorial service last night in Newtown, Johannesburg.
Hosted at the Stop Sign Art gallery, the service served its purpose in how it captured and celebrated who the man was. Whilst also reuniting old friends. Kgotso ‘Ben Sharpa’ Semela passed away last week due to complications from diabetes.
“The funny thing is, I knew him as Cilo, his baby nickname. Then he was Kaptin, I wasn’t there. The only thing I knew about Ben Sharpa was in the media. I knew him as Cilo when we were like 18, 19 year olds,” says comedian and foodie Tshepo Mogale. Mogale was Sharpa’s roommate at the University of Cape Town where they met around 1996.
Mogale was fortunate enough to see Sharpa just a day before his passing. “I hadn’t seen him in over 15 years. Then I got a call that he’s in hospital…I was so apprehensive to go see him- if last time I saw you was good times, then I hear you’re in a fucked up situation, it could be kinda awkward. But one of my boys said I should go and I went and the look in the guy’s face man, it’s one of those priceless moments ever.”
They spent at least two hours together reminiscing about old times. Mogale was one of the speakers at the service, whose speech was quite emotional. “I learnt so much from him. I just couldn’t say it in front of his mother up there, but he taught me how to untie a bra with one hand. He was like an encyclopaedia who knew everything and had rhymes for days.”
Osmic was still in Grade 7 when he first saw Sharpa performing at Le Club. “I looked up to him as a kid and I was like ‘oh shit, so this is how it’s done.’ I think we all saw Ben Sharpa the same way I probably saw him. We had nothing but respect for him and I think that’s what this is, people coming to say ‘big up’. Any parent would be super happy that their son is celebrated in this manner,” the Back To the City founder says.
After the formal ceremony had wrapped up, Breeze Yoko who was the night’s master of ceremonies went outside with a cordless mic asking fellas to jump on the beat and drop some bars. The cypher went on for hours. Speaking after the formal ceremony, Sharpa’s mother got on the mic while kats were free styling to say that she’s grateful to those who came and to see who his son was and how he lived, despite the fact that Hip Hop doesn’t sufficiently reward rappers- he loved what he did.
Those in attendance included Hymphatic Thabs, former Hype magazine editor Mizi Mtshali, skater Wandile Msomi, actress Renate Stuurman with her partner Krook’d tha Warmonga and a number of other Hip Hop heads.
Co-founder of BTC Dominique Soma, was also present but rushed out to a gig soon as the formal service was done. “Ben Sharpa deserved to get this reception. I haven’t seen these people in years, I feel like it’s a bit of a time warp…kinda taking me back to another time of my life. Very nostalgic.”
Comedian, writer and film director Kagiso Lediga says he was touched and moved by the whole service. Like Mogale, he too met Sharpa in Cape Town during their varsity days. With Hegemony playing in the background, Lediga says “I wanted to come and pay my respects. He was a very wise guy, who always spoke in concepts like his sister was saying. If he spoke about his passing, would he imagine we’d be all here like this…for me this is quite special, seeing all these faces, people I haven’t seen in a long time.”
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