While the majority will make noise about the high youth unemployment numbers, the ubiquity of retrenchments and the paucity of genuine commercial platforms for creatives, this time has also given black youth an opportunity to show their leadership qualities. It was US civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. who said genuine leaders do not search for consensus, but are the ones who mould consensus. Lwazi Nonyukela is doing so with his media company, Hip-Hop 411.
“I felt like our stories in underground Hip-Hop weren’t being told enough, commercial platforms are not giving emcees and creatives enough opportunities to showcase their talent and tell their stories, plus I’ve always had the passion to be a Hip-Hop entrepreneur,” the Sowetan from Orlando West tells me.
Founded four years ago, the company specialises in content creation, pre and post production of its visual and audio platforms. Their content celebrates South Africa’s pop culture, largely driven by their passion for the Hip Hop culture. Their involvement in the Hip Hop scene was recognised by the South African Hip Hop Awards “…we were nominated for the Kings Of Gauteng for The South African Hip-Hop Awards for various elements in Hip-Hop before Battle Rap, but Battle Rap brought in a new and extended market to the brand including cyphers that we do across the country,” says Nonyukela.
Ever since the demise of Scrambles4Money there have been sporadic battle leagues around the country, but none have shown the consistency and meticulousness as the Hip-Hop 411 brand. Through their efforts, the league has become the premier battle movement in South Africa, managing to build relationships with brands to sponsor their movement. “…as a brand (Hip-Hop 411) we were able to collaborate with each other by tapping into each other’s markets which brought in huge values by also monetizing our content, growing numbers on social media, and getting more traffic into our website to attract new advertisers and for the battle rappers to see themselves as future brands by utilizing the opportunities we giving them on our platform and to also grow and maintain the culture.”
“I didn’t imagine it to be the home for just Battle Rap in South Africa, but I imagined it to be the home and movement for all cultural Hip-Hop elements in Africa, extending to other continents as well,” a determined Nonyukela tells me.
The involvement of emcee Kriss Anti-B has given the Hip-Hop 411 brand more clout, especially on the battle rap front, thanks to Kriss’ personal brand growth over the last few years in the local Hip Hop scene. “Kriss has been a major boost for the battle rap division in Hip-Hop 411…. he is giving opportunities to a lot of Battle Rappers and emcees from around the country to come and showcase their talent.”
There’s a tad bit of confusion about Kriss’ exact contribution at Hip-Hop 411, with many wrongly assuming he’s the founder of the company. But he’s a content producer for Hip Hop 411 Radio and has his own show, a promoter and Nonyukela also describes him as “a creative director/partner, and a huge ambassador for the brand.”
In his parting shot, Nonyukela says “The long-term objective of the company is to expand its service offering by not just focusing on content creation but participating across all sectors of the Visual, Media and Entertainment industry. This strategy will see the company expanding to 2D and 3D cinema experience, online content creation, digital rendering, application software, co-production to local and African markets (clients) and content creation and distribution.”
With those sort of objectives laid-out, it’s not difficult to foresee a future where young black people such as himself become important role players in our industry. Maybe next time I talk to him, Hip-Hop 411 would have more employees than the 15 he already has working in his team- quelling the noise that comes with high youth unemployment numbers, the ubiquity of retrenchments and the paucity of genuine commercial platforms for creatives.
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.”
BOY do I hate being tagged on Facebook, on things which have nothing to do with me. But it’s also foolish and short sighted to sprout off in anger without gathering all the facts about what my name’s been attached with.
“We wanted to get our fans to notice that there is a gross neglect generally in how we treat those who are ours but different. We talk about liberating ourselves from oppression and prejudice while we pass on same poison to those who live among us. We want to get people more aware and involved (directly or indirectly) in fostering a more inclusive culture in our society for the ‘misfits’,” says one half of Tribal PunQ Kgomotso Matjele (Tsoness).
Fortunately, before I exploded in irritation, I had been gripped by what I read about the Able Campaign which is endorsed by music duo, Tribal PunQ. Headed by Ithuba la Bobedi together with Sawubona Music Jam, the campaign will see an event in honour of children living with disabilities next month.
“Initially we were invited as guests in an earlier pilot event on June 16 this year,” says Tsoness, who also did a motivational talk with the youth on the day. Hlengiwe Dhlamini, known as Mahogany is the other half of Tribal PunQ.
“We fell in love with this course on June 16 because it aligned with our values. We believe in building a Tribe that is inclusive and nurtures individual gifts to form a strong diversified force. We believe people have dreams and it is their birth right to live out those innate divine stories because that is what they have come to bring to the world. Our music is about that. To get people to bring their stories to life. To get people to believe in their unique role in the world. We are all here for a reason,” Tsoness says.
The Able Campaign takes place at the end of November, but Tribal PunQ encourages people to assist with things such as donating chairs, tents and even just spreading the word, leading up to November 30. While on the day of the event one can “donate your Friday and adopt a child living with disability for that day.”
Birthed early last year, Tribal PunQ are two vocalists from Soweto seeking to redefine the Tribal Punk genre to relevantly connect with the diversity of the South African socio-cultural heartbeat. Their music varies from afro-fusion, pop, rock, soul and anything fusible with poetic and theatrical elements.
“We used to be Punque Royal but changed due to parting ways with a third member we had and also feeling that Royal could be a bit more focused on leading and ruling while Tribe focuses on working with the people. We are still royal, we believe but so is all we encounter and incorporate into our circle. “Q” in the end, instead of “K” is because we are Queens,” Tsoness tells me.
They are rebels on a cause, without a pause. They understand the role they can play in society. Tribal PunQ does talks with the youth, they have donation drives for those living in the streets, orphanages and clothing for the disadvantaged.
“These have been low key and personal. We have not yet made it a Tribe thing but it fuels our music so much. We are also planning to have Safe Spaces events for women next year where women can delve into issues such as identity, beauty, worth, dreams.” They are currently working on an EP which will come out next year. While they’re on the line up for this year’s Smoking Dragons, but they admit that most of their time is taken up by their social responsibilities.
“In all honesty, our social projects towards the end of the year are important to us as we would like to ensure that during festivities, those who are usually forgotten feel included and rise into a more hopeful new year. We are performing to raise awareness and money for such causes and will have few appearances here and there but are not really scheduled.”
KASI lama kasi can never be a hood’s nickname. Everyone rightfully punts their neighbourhood as the coolest black area. But each township in South Africa has a nickname, approved by its people, which sometimes ties to the history of the place.
I was chilling with a fella this past weekend who told me he was from Vutha. You know when you’ve heard something before, but don’t know exactly know what it is. I went blank and asked where that is. “It’s Daveyton,” he said.
“Because it was the first township in Gauteng to get electricity,” he said. I thought he was bullshitting me, really. I’ve met many people who’ll talk-up their hoods, to a point of which they get frustratingly economical with the truth. But after doing some research, I found that, what he said is true.
Established in 1952, after about 151,656 people were moved from Benoni, to what we know today as Vutha or Etwatwa. It was indeed, the first black area to access ugesi.
The president of the Greater Alexandra Chamber of Commerce (Galxcoc), Mpho Motsumi last year bemoaned to the media, while taking them around the construction site of the R500-million Alex Mall in Tsutsumani Village. What got the business man cranky, was that people still call Alex, Gomorrah- ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’ a biblical reference of place linked to hell because of the prevalence of debauchery in the area. Rappers like Flabba popularised the name in recent times, but it’s been a name associated with the township for decades now. There was a time when Alex had a high crime rate, a coupled with the lawless gangsterism that was in the area-despite political movements happening there.
Some nicknames aren’t linked to the township’s past, but are just tweaked so to make the place a tad bit cooler. I’m not certain whether it was a collective agreement but, shortening hood names seems to be the winning formula in most parts of Pretoria. For Mamelodi there’s Mams, Soshanguve which is situated on the north is commonly known as Sosha, even to us who don’t call it home. While the ‘Ga’ in Ga-Rankuwa seems a waste of two precious seconds, so Rankuwa is the more efficient one for residents.
Sowetans have also opted for something similar. Calling the south western townships Sotra. While the number of townships within that area, have nicknames of their own. Guguletu in Cape Town also just switched the swag and just called it, Gugs.
In KwaZulu-Natal, KwaMashu is nicknamed Es’nqawunqawini while Clermont is known as Es’komplazi. Ekurhuleni Township Tsakane, which is a Tsonga word for happiness and joy, is nicknamed Mashona.
If Tembisa was a gang, those thugs would tattoo 1632 on their bodies. What is it? Tembisa’s postal code my friend. Insipid as a postal code is, the youth in Tembisa, particularly those in the Hip Hop community, popularised it in the mid-90s. Tembisa’s older generation and also those who aren’t in the Hip Hop community,still prefer to call it Mambisa. Other hoods that have gone with the number are Kagiso with 1754, Thokoza 1421 or Vosloorus’s 1425. I’ve found that this is a trend, also adopted by Hip Hop heads in other hoods. A random person doesn’t say they are from 1563, they simply say they are from KwaThema, or just Thema.
The common thread in all these townships, sadly is that they were formed after black people were forcefully removed from some areas, to be crammed in one place right near their modern day fields of slavery. But black people have taken what was meant to trap and prison them, and found the beauty in it.
As the country’s youth month comes to a close, Constitutional Hill in Johannesburg, will host young people as they celebrate their freedom of expression at three day festival, Basha Uhuru.
In its fifth year running, the festival is guided by the theme, Join the Movement. This is symbolic of what the youth, not only in Soweto but different parts of the country, did in June 1976 through protests against the enforcement of Afrikaans, alongside English, as a compulsory medium of instruction for key subjects in all black schools through the Bantu Education Act of 1953.
Last year’s theme was We the People. These themes, says Exhibition and Events coordinator Gaisang Sathekge, are decided on by a committee that shares ideas on these. “As a constitutional precinct, we have to ensure that these brainstorming sessions are inspired by the objectives that we stand for which are constitutionalism, human rights and democracy.”
The word ‘Basha’ means youth and ‘Uhuru’ translates to freedom. “So the festival is about providing young people with the freedom of artistic expression,” says Sathekge.
Basha Uhuru kicks off on Thursday and runs until Saturday, but Sathekge tells me planning takes place a year in advance. “…to engage stakeholders, forming partnerships and fundraising. The content curation of the festival is the most important element – ensuring that each year we offer an exciting and unique line-up of activities.”
For a second year running, DJ Kenhero will be the Artistic Director of the festival.
True to their style, this year’s line-up is made up of both established and emerging eccentric artists blazing trails in their respective art forms-from poetry, visual art and music. “South Africa has immense artistic talent; most of it is yet to be explored. We believe in developing local talent and contributing the creative economy of South Africa,” Sathekge says. The festival also celebrates food, film as well as design and fashion.
Music generally has the biggest pull at the festival with its two stages. The main one located on Constitutional Square with the nation’s highest court as the backdrop, with the second at the historical Old Fort Parade Ground. Sounds of Freedom, which has in the past drawn over 8 000 youth, will sure do the same this year with a line-up that includes PRO (Kid), Samthing Soweto, spiritual ensemble Sun Xa Experience, Empangeni singer and producer Muzi as well as Skwatta Kamp just to mention a few.
But Sathekge says their team stays informed about what’s happening in the creative scene, so as to provide the best experience of the festival in its entirety through all represented art forms. “Remaining relevant in our programming ensures that we provide meaningful content and that is what draws young people – topical issues and relevance,” she says.