WITHOUT a doubt the unknown musician has always had the open mic night at some odd pub, live events which are lenient on requests for abrupt performances and also radio stations which still take music from unheard-of talent.
But there’s definitely never been a better time for the gifted and undiscovered than the one we’re in right now. I bet my worn out tyres that at least five in seven people reading this, have in the last five years discovered artists they’ve never heard of on YouTube via any of these channels; COLORS, NPR Music Tiny Desk Concerts and Sofar Sounds. Combined, the aforementioned trio has over 10 million subscribers on YouTube.
South Africa is progressively growing in this space with a number of live platforms coming through the net. Sunday’s Unplugged Sessions is one of them. “We wanted to give a different perspective to how people listen to music. In an unplugged set and an unplugged location. We saw it as a platform to also showcase undiscovered talent,” Music Director, Khanyisile Dlamini tells Tha Bravado.
Founded in August, Sunday’s Unplugged Sessions has already hosted four performances. They unplug an unknown kat and share their music with world on their YouTube channel, Township Boy Movement. “The concept of sessions is to create [an] artistic hub for musicians. We have a resident band that seeks to accommodate different artists on different episodes. Each episode focuses on a specific artist, so we get to experience the artist rationale of their crafts. We select our artist based on the level of artistic abilities that will blend with the expectations of the show,” adds Xolani Nkosi, who is the Executive Director.
The band is led by the seasoned Thulani Twala, with Mfundo playing keys, Tshepo on strings and Siya on drums.
Their second episode featured rap singer Bakdraft, seemingly in someone’s yard on a lazy Sunday afternoon as the sun was setting. “We use different locations for different artist. Depending on the style and personality of the artists. We will be exploring a lot of locations,” says Dlamini, who’s affectionately known as the first lady. She is also a songstress, who performed on the first episode.
Last month on Heritage day they opted on having a session on the street corner. “Our set up is not determined by the factors that are surrounding [on] the day that we shoot. Shooting on the streets was not determined by what day we were shooting in, but maybe our heritage stems from the streets and using the street on Heritage day will reinforce where we come from as artists. We are for the streets,” says Nkosi, who is a photographer and videographer that has been working for a number of years under his Township Boy Movement company.
Sunday’s Unplugged Sessions is a brainchild of these young Tembisans, but they have ambitions of seeing these sessions miles away from the Ekurhuleni Township. “Our plan is to unplug all the cities of Mzansi. Working with talent and undiscovered talent across the country. Hopefully incorporate brands as well to part take in this great initiative,” Nkosi says.
Chris Rock once juxtaposed complimenting André 3000’s artistic calibre, to showering a beautiful women with bouquets for her exquisiteness. At times it seems as though artists such as 3 Stacks, Kwani Experience, Sade and even Frank Ocean play hard to get with their cult-like followers, who are subjected to waiting aeons for any release.
“Don’t play hard to get, but play hard to forget.” This corny line by Drake aids my understanding as to why the great aforementioned artists are lauded. It’s not the excitement of dangerously flirting with the possibility of losing ardent fans, nor playing hard to get but artists who don’t fickle to industry pressure have this in common- they respect time and the muscle of art.
“…they’ve been asking for it [a solo project] since our first Las Day Fam album in 2008. So a huge expectation is certainly out there,” rap artist LandmarQ tells me. Over a decade later LDF has released two albums, Eternal Effect (2012) and Dissent (2017). The clique won the Best Group award in the now defunct Hype magazine Hip Hop awards in 2010, got a SAMA nomination at the 2013 South African Music Awards (SAMA) and won Best Gospel Rap at the SABC’s Crown Gospel awards in 2011.
But still, dololo a LandmarQ project. With no disrespect to Bonafide and Baggz, it’s an open secret that listeners fervently anticipate the LandmarQ verse on each LDF track. He has the sort of presence on a track, a mere punchline or clever wordplay can’t match. It’s not only in what LandmarQ says, or how he says it but shit sounds sick because it come from him- he has natural artistic integrity.
“It was inevitable that a time for a solo would come. I just never had a timeline/deadline for it. I also wanted it to be organic when it happens. I wanted it to be inspired and come from a good place. I believe creativity can’t be forced or pressured. It should be an outpouring of a natural process,” says LandmarQ.
Be that as it may, some artists shun going solo because of their discomfort of being the centre of attention preferring to “hide” within a group- there’s a plethora of reasons why some performers won’t pursue a solo career. “I am not uncomfortable about it. I just believe that there is a time and place for everything. In any show, the spot light moves to where it needs to, for the purpose of shining and highlighting the main performance act for that particular moment. So I’m happy to have the spotlight when it’s my time to perform.”
“IF THE MEDIA SAYS THERE’S A GENRE OF HIP HOP CALLED CHRISTIAN RAP, I’M NOT PART OF THAT GENRE. SIMILAR TO THE UNDERGROUND RAPPER TITLE…”- LandmarQ
Having pondered on it and even getting the nod from his LDF brothers, the spotlight is stationed on LandmarQ with the release of his debut solo project Envy and Avarice, a seven track mixtape which is first of a trilogy of mixtapes set to drop this year, inspired by the Seven Deadly Sins.
He says the decision to release was taken in 2019 “I met and consulted with several producers to craft a sound for the album. I also made several beats for the project but then decided an album might not be entirely a good idea especially considering that I haven’t put out music before as a solo artist. So therefore a different approach was required.”
He took the old school route, hopping on other people’s instrumentals which he tweaked a bit. “So the producer in me still found expression on this project albeit a little less than usual. However the route to follow the traditional mixtape method was crucial for me to do because it’s important that music lovers and fans alike get to experience LandmarQ on a wide variety of instruments/beats. The key thing however was creating a sizeable body of work.”
The reason he chose the Seven Deadly Sins as the concept for his series of mixtapes, is to bring awareness to the condition of society in general, and specifically the condition of the Hip Hop culture. J. Cole did something similar last year with the Kids On Drugs album, focusing on narcotics. A concept about Greed, Envy, Pride, Gluttony, Sloth, Lust and Wrath directly questions the behaviour of the inner self.
“We are all confronted with varying degrees of extremes of the Se7en (remember the movie by this title with Brad Pitt, Kevin Spacey and Morgan Freeman?) in our society at large and in Hip Hop. And the hip hop community is a lovely case in point i.e. tension between old and new cats, underground and commercial, this sound and that sound etc. And its manifestation in hip-hop is most notable because hip-hop as a form of expression is definitely brash/boisterous.”
The rap artist who hails from Tembisa comes from a group pigeonholed to Christian rap and with a solo project tackling a heavy topic such as the 7 Deadly Sins, there’s a likelihood of being trapped in that box as the preachy rapper. “I am not making a Christian statement with this mixtape series. I am making a statement on humanity, in the world at large and in hip hop culture,” LandmarQ says adamantly.
“The Seven Deadly Sins is not a Christian concept. After all, the seven deadly sins aren’t even mentioned in the Bible. Its origins are nebulous and likely trace back to before Hellenistic Greece. Historically, and especially in the Philosophical disciplines, the 7 Deadly Sins have been society’s way of trying to formulate a universal theory of the pitfalls that human beings face.”
But LandmarQ isn’t oblivious to how the simple-minded might perceive his choice of topic to be conservative and limiting especially because the media has dubbed him a ‘Christian rapper’. “That isn’t how I would describe myself. If the media says there’s a genre of Hip Hop called Christian rap, I’m not part of that genre. Similar to the ‘Underground Rapper’ title. I wouldn’t describe myself as an underground rapper.”
He continues “In Hip Hop we rap about our way of life. And because I am a Christian, I have and will continue to touch on Christian themes from time to time. But that’s no different than any rappers that incorporate their reality in their music. Chuck D of Public Enemy said rappers are like journalists. I’m a rapper’s rapper and have rapped alongside the best rappers in the country and have been featured on numerous songs that aren’t Christian and aren’t underground. And my message is universal. If you love Hip Hop that stands for something, I’m your guy. I however am a rounded human being. Sometimes my music is about having fun with wordplay, with different flows and metaphors.”
The project is out today. Listen and download it here
Most people generally lack the know-how when it comes to winning in this game we call life, or they possess the know-how but lack the necessary determination and self-discipline to get to that imaginary number one spot that we all dream of, but never work towards. The lack of fulfilment that failure breeds nourishes our obscene worship of those who seem to excel in pursuing their dreams and living their best lives. This behaviour often blinds us from the fundamental truth that we are all flawed and imprecise entities.
The entertainment industry ruthlessly exploits this pitiful and ever present blind spot that we all possess as people by carefully curating experiences and imagery that introduces artificial constructs of beauty and success into our minds. Brands are built around this simple concept and we all fall for on some level or another. Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men, a four-part documentary about the legendary Wu-Tang Clan, is an exemplary tale of how a multinational brand can be built by a bunch of raggedy ghetto boys with very little, except for a mic and a dream.
“…the Wu-Tang Clan is an extremely flawed thing that is not worthy of honour that comes with being addressed as legendary.”
One normally chooses ignorance when it comes to the personal lives of their favourite musicians because it is often uglier and realer than the stench of sewerage that consistently flows through the streets of Winnie Mandela Zone 4. Once you know, you cannot not know that the Wu-Tang Clan is an extremely flawed thing that is not worthy of honour that comes with being addressed as legendary.
The above opinion does not nullify the fact that a group of impoverished young black men from the grimy streets of New York’s ghettos banded together to build one of the biggest cultural brands of all time. Impressively they did this without embracing the perverting gloss of ostentation which is often essential when one to seeks be prosperous in the entertainment industry. Them ghetto niggas made some of the grimmest joints ever heard on either side of the equator, while selling over 30 million albums between the period of 1993 and 1998. The level of brand recognition that the iron wings logo achieved is easily comparable to that of any global business one can think of. Whether it be Apple, Coca-Cola, Nike, Red Bull or any other symbol of the Caucasians international hegemonic domination of economics, society and culture. Personally, as a House and a kwaito loving pre-pubescent child in mid-nineties South Africa, the iron-wings represented everything that was Hip-Hop in my mind.
Timberlands, baggy-jeans, an added bounce to your walk and a propensity to call every Hip-Hop head “My nigga!” Little did I know that I would soon become a fanatical Hip-hop lover, who refused to acknowledge or listen to any other genre of music that was not about these bars. Retrospectively I think the iron wings were the spark that ignited my chronic interest in in Hip-Hop. All this happened in the underdeveloped dusty streets of Tembisa. Which is a testament to the fact that Wu-Tang clan ain’t nothing to fuck with.
As a long time hip-hop head I have grown to realise that when it comes to the clan, a lot of people were (and still are) faking the funk, myself included. Shamefully I have only come to learn the names of all the clan members through watching Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men. I only knew and recognized GZA, RZA, Method man, Ghostface Killah and Old dirty bastard. Them other mother fuckers just didn’t command my attention with the weak ass calibre of their work. Beyond their big hit songs, Wu-tang’s music is so steeped in localised urban colloquialisms and experimental Hip-Hop beats that most heads don’t truly fuck with their music the way they claim they do.
Like any global brand, Wu-tang’s core offering is not universally loved but they looked cool as fuck and that’s what most people are after. The cool. Their aesthetics represented a ghetto brotherhood of the hardest and weirdest motherfuckers alive. Urban black youth was proud of the fact that people who looked and behaved like them were represented in mainstream media. Suburban white youth’s curiosity was aroused by the clan’s antics and in their minds Wu-tang represented how the other side lived. Additionally they could piss of their conservative Yankee parents by putting C.R.E.A.M on full blast as they refused to clean their bedrooms, the struggle of any immature white teenager (I think).
My disappointment with the clan stems from how they ran their business as friends and as a family. First of all, do not get into business with family or friends! I repeat, do not go into business with family or friends! One risks irreparably damaging a valued personal relationship and it is difficult to hold people you care about accountable when they are incompetent or insubordinate.
Secondly, RZA’s selection criteria when it came to picking clan members was unsatisfactory to say the least. Old Dirty Bastard is a prime example of this, he was a musical genius with serious impulse control issues. He was one of the first hip-hop artist to sing on hip-hop joints, ululating randomly as the joint went along while sounding gutter as fuck. He was a one man reality show. Keeping fans of the clan glued to their radios and television screens waiting to hear what shit the ODB got up to while they were busy exemplifying mediocracy through their shitty lives.
The dude would arrive late for shows, get wasted while performing, go on wild rants about whatever came to his mind, dissing whoever had the nerve to call him in to order while he was embarrassing the entire clan. Instead of cleaning up to fit in with them Hollywood types, ODB put his poverty on full display because he intuitively knew that white America would be enamoured by the whole spectacle because that’s how they wanted to see black people. As crass and something to be laughed at.
One could argue that Mohammed Ali employed the same tactic to increase his appeal as a public figure when he was coming up as a heavyweight boxer. With all that said, high levels of charisma and creativity are not the only characteristics that a professional artists should possess. Like in any other profession an artists must be disciplined, hardworking and pragmatic. Old Dirty Bastard was none of the above. RZA could not make him toe the line because he was a close cousin and that limited how ruthlessly he could deal with him as a professional.
On the flip side, some of the other clan members lacked the necessary level of talent to be professional recording artist. Masta killa, U-god and Inspectah Deck were subpar talent in my not so humble opinion. They were dead weight who added very little value to the clan’s brand. In the specific case of Ghostface killah he did more harm than good with his bad temperament.
During a HOT97 Summer Jam in 1997. He hyped the crowd into chanting “fuck HOT97”. He was disgruntled with the radio station because at the time HOT97 did not pay artist to perform at their events. They subliminally threatened artists with the possibility of never playing their music on their radio station, which is what they. This negatively affected the reach of their brand because HOT97 was the biggest hip-hop radio station in the mecca of Hip-Hop, New York. Shortly after this incident the clan cancelled tours because certain members could not get along. Simply put, there were too many egos at play and RZA could not keep them in check because he had personal ties with each Wu member.
Throughout the doccie it is clear as daylight that every member of the clan is unhappy with how RZA ran Wu-Tang Clan. Annoyingly nobody ever explicitly expresses this sentiment which makes the whole thing feel inauthentic to me. One suspects that this is because RZA was the one who got the financial backing to shoot the documentary. Thus nobody wanted to bite the hand that feeds them.
Which is why the Wu-Tang clan could not last as a brand. The image they tried to project in public was not an accurate reflection of how their internal processes actually ran as an organisation. That is the only way a brand can remain sustainable in the long term. That requires a logically consistent approach when one seeks to build a successful business and personal feelings are often disruptive to such an approach. Which does not change the fact the Wu-Tang clan ain’t nothing to fuck with.
“It’s a beautiful thing man, music is a beautiful thing,” Mac Miller jokingly said on his NPR Tiny Desk performance. But nothing could be closer to the truth. Listening to music and singing together has been shown to impact neuro-chemicals in the brain, many of which play a role in closeness and connections.
The music-events industry is built on this fact. But not all events harness the beauty of umculo. Cue the Beast, People Series that takes place tomorrow at 4ROOM Creative Village in Tembisa. It’s a sequence of gigs around Gauteng, which was founded by DJs and producers from various parts of the province.
It includes founder DJ BlaQt from Vosloorus, Soweto’s DJ Medicine, DJ Killa Kane and Backdraft of Mambisa. “The gig started in Vosloorus as Beats, People & Vosloorus. This is the second installment in Tembisa, we’re headed to Soweto with the next gig,” Backdraft tells me. “What connected us and still connects us to this day is our love for the music and I believe it is the reason our name starts with Beats,” Backdraft, who is the musician in the clique says.
“The purpose of the show is to grow audience, have people appreciate what we do because we’ve realised that ja, the vibes that we bring are not necessarily mainstream and is not what people get all the time. They actually want to get it. We are bringing it to them and taking it to different hoods,” says Protea Glen’s DJ Medicine.
Much as this is about music and how it brings people together, the guys understand the potential ecosystem such a movement presents for stakeholders themselves as well as entrepreneurs e lokxion. “…because the whole thing is for us to do our shit you know, benefit from our shit and grow our shit with the people that like what we’re doing, without compromising the vibe. But also including the people that are in that hood we’re going to, and making it grow in that hood,” Medicine says.
There’s already merchandise like T-shirts and hoodies sold at their gigs. The merch is simply laden with the aesthetically pleasing name of the movement which is also their logo. “Well the name was simply to do with what my vision was; the music and all people in and around the hood or townships,” BlaQt explaining the origin of the name. “Tembisa will be our second edition of the Beast, People Series…we had great success in my hood. We’re preparing for the next gig as we’re talking.”
Vosloo was a success that set a high bar for the succeeding hosts, but Backdraft is convinced his Tembisa has a unique proposition. “Our geographic position, we are where Ekurhuleni starts or ends, depending on how one views this. We attract people as far as Pretoria, Centurion, Midrand, Alexandra, Daveyton, Kempton Park and even Joburg. We are a melting pot for different cultures and offerings. We have our very own celebrities, artists and DJs who hardly ship their skill beyond hood boarders, therefore providing an experience that one will only experience in our hood,” he says.
The gig at 4ROOM has eight DJs on the line-up with Backdraft himself and the Musa Mashiane Trio as the night’s only live performers.
IT was Mahatma Gandhi who once said we ought to be the change we wish to see in the world. Words of the low-key racist Indian reverberate in the story of how NGO Umzekelo Community Development Organisation was found.
UCDO’s founder and chairperson Fortune Shabangu grew up as the bad-influence kid your parents didn’t want you playing with. “I’m a school drop-out myself and I grew up doing petty crime with friends just to fit in and that always put me as a black sheep of the family, my community and at school. My friends’ parents didn’t want me near their kids as I was a trouble child and all that. I believe I was longing for my separated parents because I was raised by my grandmother and uncle,” says Shabangu. His mother passed away in 2011, a few months after Shabangu rekindled his relationship with her.
Seeing the need to make a turnaround in her life, Shabangu joined Siyanqoba Theatre Project as a hip hop dancer which later went into drama, poetry and music. “…we were doing prison tours showcasing talents I never thought I would, and seeing young brothers in jail opened my eyes that’s when I realised one day I want to establish an organisation that will educate young kids about social ills, crime and where the smallest things we ignore”
So in 2017 Umzekelo was born from his previous pains. “Umzekelo Community Development Organisation was established to be the voice and change of young people in all educational institutions. In schools we are seeing a lot of bullying, crime, teenage pregnancy, moral degeneration, drug abuse, school drop outs and all these things are increasing the volume of poverty in our black communities. Coming with programmes that will enhance the kids to try keep them off the streets is our main own collective objective,” Shabangu tells Tha Bravado.
Two years later, Shabangu has built a team around Umzekelo which has helped kids going through unimaginable traumas. The organization is currently on a clothing drive, for less fortunate youth which has been well received. “The reception so far has been overwhelming, with a high number of people on social media and different communities across Gauteng showing interest and endless support,” says Umzekelo’s Deputy Chairperson, Derah Manyelo. Other team members include Treasurer Reggie Majola, PR and marketing head Kenny Sekhoela as well as graphic designer Kamohelo Morobe.
“The clothes are going to be donated individually to financially disadvantaged kids, with more of the clothes going to orphanages around Tembisa mostly. Community members can also identify a kid they believe deserves the clothes and we will gladly assist with some of the donations we have,” adds Manyelo.
Umzekelo has in the past, went on a pad drive as well. “The clothing drive isn’t the first initiative under UCDO, before the clothing drive we were pushing the Sanitary Pad Drive which is an initiative aimed at collecting and donating sanitary pads to underprivileged school girls who cannot consistently afford to buy sanitary pads for themselves.”
“We do not have a cut-off date because these are ongoing problems and we are willing to tackle them till the end,” says Manyelo of both the Pad Drive and the clothing drive.
Get in touch with Umzekelo Community Development Organisation at: