Dee Koala. Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

Meet Dee Koala, the Young Cape Town-Based Rapper on the Verge of Blowing Up

Find out why Dee Koala got a cosign from Riky Rick.

At the popular hip-hop festival Major League Gardens, about two weeks ago, South African hip-hop superstar Riky Rick did what Riky does: he introduced Dee Koala, an up-and-coming rapper from Cape Town towards the end of his set. Earlier this year, the MC extended the same favor to The Big Hash at Back To The City.

Dee posted on her Facebook page on the night, shortly after her performance, "Last night I performed in front of 2000 people." The following week, Riky tweeted a video of Dee Koala freestyling. He would later tweet that the new wave of South African hip-hop will come from Cape Town. Which is far from being a lie. The new age Cape Town rappers are onto something.

A day after the performance, Dee Koala is holed up in a hotel room with fellow rapper Amilca Mezarati and their manager Ta Ledza. She's lethargic, but she's present. She's having chicken and a Black Label ngud'.

She says Major League Gardens had way too many people for her liking, as she is claustrophobic. What she and Amilca took from the show was the professionalism and large scale of the event, which is never heard of for hip-hop shows in Cape Town.

I ask how she felt when Riky hollered at her to come perform during his set. "I was taken, man," she says, her voice still hoarse from last night's performance, and, I imagine, from partying. "For a person who's already poppin' to recognize someone who considers themselves as an unknown. The way he reached out, he showed his humble side. It was a lot to take in."

Dee Koala's latest single "Whuzet," which has been out for more approximately a year, is a Cape Town smash hit. The song is teeming with personality. Dee raps over an aggressive trap instrumental in IsiXhosa and Cape Town township slang. Her bars are catchy, easy on the ear, but still potent. Her metaphors and similes are lofty and humorous. Peep, "Nicul' ikaka 'cause anikhathali/ Ndintswempu, asoze sifane/ Uyi-plug kodwa aw'nawo nom'bane."

Dee has been rapping publicly since 2016. She released a single called "Koala," which was part of her 6-track EP 18-18. "'Koala' did the things," she says of the single that introduced her to many of her fans in Cape Town.

Just like many before her, Dee started rapping in English. The 20-year-old MC started out as a poet in primary school. The magic moment came sometime in high school.

Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

"We were doing an arts and culture task in class," she says. "I went to a Muslim school, with mostly coloured students. Every other kid in there, they didn't know how to do this rap task. We had to write a verse and perform it in front of the class."

Her classmates knowing her ability to write, asked her to write verses for them. "I didn't go out of the class and go play during [break time]," says the rapper. "I stayed in the class, read a book or write some lines. That interval everyone came to me on some, 'can you please help me? Can you please write for me, we know you can rap.' I had to write verses for like 20 kids."

Dee's performance piece for that task, she says, was a verse about violence in Khayelitsha, the township she's from. "I wanted to show that environment," she says, "for them (classmates) to know what happens when I'm at home. All of these kids lived closed to school in Athlone. But for me, when I was on the bus to school, looking outside, a group of kids would be standing on the bridge watching a fight that's happening on the railway. What the fuck is that?"

Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

From that moment on, she never looked back. "I thought I was going to be a poet, but I thought poet is too lame for me. I can't really interact with people," she says.

On her decision to rap in her language, she says: "I was like I don't wanna sound like everyone else. All my other friends who are rapping, what's gonna set me apart from them? I needed that thing that would set me apart from just being female. So I did that, and the rest is history." She has since recorded and released songs with other new age Cape Town hip-hop artists and crews such as 9Ether, FLVK, KHALIFONICATION, LuRah and of course Amilca, among others.

Dee realized that rapping the way she speaks—which is a mixture of IsiXhosa, slang and English—was going to make her music relatable and rapping would be easier. "We don't always have to be serious when we are talking about a certain thing," she says. "We can make a situation funny and catchy."

Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

Amilca chips in. He says rapping in English for most rappers is similar to putting on a persona that's not necessarily definitive of who you are. "It's logical to rap how you speak," he says. "It's like radio DJs and flight captains," he says, imitating the typical flight captain's voice, which we all know, lacking emotion and personality, and sometimes it's hard to tell if it's even a person or a machine telling us we've reached cruising altitude. "That's what hip-hop was like to me," he says, "it's like these guys are putting on an accent just to be hip-hop. And they're not really talking about what's going on in the way that we saying it. Uyang'thola wena mfethu?"

Dee feels that tackling a heavy topic is easier when you rap in your colloquial lingo. "Like, for example, if you want to empower women or fight abuse," she says, "you don't have to get a boom-bap beat. You don't have to be all-serious—how are people gonna catch that? People might hear what you saying, but it won't spread to the kids." But rapping in your everyday language, she says, will "make young people know that hurting a woman is bad."

Photography by Sabelo Mkhabela.

"They don't understand what you are saying," she says. "Whether you do it in Xhosa or English, a lot of words, they bore kids. You have to make a song that kids can sing along to. That's when everybody in the house is like, 'Whose song is that you're singing?'"

She recites an impromptu hook to drive her point home. "For example," she says, "if you want to empower women, you can make a simple hook like: 'Ba uyimedi, phath' igoni/ Yaz' amajita, awasiboni/ Ba uyakubamba, and akho poli/ Mhlabe ngemela/ Ungabi nantloni.'" Amilca starts doing adlibs, and I find myself tapping my foot and doing the milly rock. In my head.

"You see, that's simple," she says, "everyone's gonna talk about it. And everyone, especially women, is gonna be aware that they must protect themselves."

Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

Earlier this year, Dee Koala's music reached the ears of the Cape Town-based music video director Motion Billy, who offered to shoot the video for "Whuzet," which is slowly reaching many eyeballs and eardrums across the country. Billy, through another artist he was working with, heard Dee's 18-18 EP, and was impressed by the song "Koala."

"I thought I should shoot a video for "Whuzet" because I had already seen clips of her performing," says Billy. "It's rare to see a young Cape Town kid controlling hundreds of these kids, and they were singing along to her songs."

The director describes Dee, whose music he's now a fan of, as "a really great kid."

"I felt like she's got that energy that Cape Town always needed—an artist who can be booked for any show, not just hip-hop shows. I mean she's doing house gigs and house parties, which is nothing new for Joburg rappers—your J Molleys and other kids—but for Cape Town, I knew she was onto something," says Billy.

Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

Cape Town has long been known for socially conscious hip-hop dating back to the crew Prophets of the City. But in recent years, hip-hop worldwide started being accepting of the fun element of the art form. The Mother City isn't getting left behind, and artists like Dee Koala and Amilca, among many others, are at the forefront taking their music outside of Cape Town and the Western Cape province.

Asked if she has any plans to drop a follow-up project to 18-18, she says no. "I'm not dropping until "Whuzet" is recognized," she says. "Till everyone around—even celebrities—know the song. Till people who can't even speak IsiXhosa know the lyrics. Which is why I've pushed it till now."

While you wait for Dee Koala to become a household name, check out this SoundCloud playlist of some of her best songs and guest appearances, handpicked by us.

Follow Dee Koala on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and SoundCloud.

Dee Koala Favorites

Still from "Kasala!"

Meet The Nigerian New Wave Director Behind the Film 'Kasala!'

One of Naija cinema's new wave, Ema Edosio talks about what it took to film her exciting new film in the streets of Lagos.

Ema Edosio is the director of "Kasala", a comedy set in present day Lagos and centers on the lives of four young men who go on a joyride to a party in a Honda Accord one of them has taken from his boss Taju without permission. Their evening is ruined when one of them crashes Taju's Honda breaking the windscreen and denting the car's body. With just four hours before Taju returns home, all four boys hustle around Lagos to raise money for the car repair.

Taju, who is a struggling butcher, is faced with a big problem of his own: his debtor has just given him an ultimatum to pay back money he's long owed. Bitter and frustrated, Taju's retribution will be double-fold, if he returns home to find his Honda is damaged. The four friends do not need more another reason to expect the worse from Taju if they're not able to fix his Honda before gets home in the next four hours.

"Kasala" is a vivid portrayal of contemporary Lagos and a riotous combination of physical comedy, inventive turns of phrases combined with fluid camera work and committed performances from some of the young and bright African acting talents.

Written by Temi Sodipo and directed by Ema Edosio—who is also the cinematographer and editor—"Kasala" was chosen for the closing gala of the 2018 edition of Film Africa in London this November, out of a total of 39 films from 15 countries.

Edosio flew into London for the film's UK premier at the Rich Mix cinema to a largely pan-African crowd who lapped up the rollicking comedy. Ahead of her trip to the UK, Okay Africa spoke to Edosio about her debut feature, the joys and challenges of shooting on location in Lagos and the rise of Nigeria's so called "Naija New Wave" cinema.

Photo courtesy of Ema Edosio

The fast pace and energy in Kasala is constant all through the film. Was this a deliberate injection or did it come as a result of the writing?

I worked as a video journalist for the BBC and I would go into the streets of Lagos to film, and I would see everything that made Lagos what it is: the traffic, the smell, the dirt, the vibe, the energy, the people. And I wanted to make a story that is authentic and that is the reason why I decided to make Kasala this way.

All the four friends and main characters jell naturally it would seem. How did you get them to work well together?

When I conceived of the film, I knew that I didn't want to work with any "known" faces. I knew that I wanted unknown actors. So I put out an audition call and these boys worked into the room and I told them to read together. And immediately it was like magic.

Why do you think they're largely unknown to the majority of Nigerian movie watching audience?

I think one of the reasons is there's not a lot of movies written about young people. Most of the scripts are for a certain kind of male character: the superhero who goes to save the damsel in distress, and the hunk and a lot of roles are not written for these amazing actors and that's why they're largely unknown.

Tomiwa Tegbe who plays "Effiong" is a good comic actor and has been in "On The Real (Ebony Life TV)" and "Shuga (MTV)". What does Kasala bring out in Tomiwa Tegbe that these other directors and film material that do not?

The thing that made Tomiwa Tegbe and the rest stand out in Kasala is that I gave them freedom to act and I wasn't micromanaging them. They became very comfortable in order to do their best to the film.

The cast as a whole is largely new and young with Jide Kosoko easily the most experienced. Why did you cast him for the role and not yet another "unknown" face?

The reason is I couldn't afford to hire known faces to work in the film and I honestly didn't have the budget. I [also] wanted to bring in a sense of familiarity and that is why I got Jide Kosoko. Even though they're guys are unknown, and they're are fantastic "here is someone you know who is in this movie playing with these amazing actors" which is why I worked with Jide Kosoko.

The different locations in the film are those of back corners, mechanic garages, meat market, communal flats most of which have the red and brown of rust and decay gives the cinematography a visual harmony. How much attention did you give to finding the right locations?

I think I made Kasala with a vengeance. I've had the privilege to work with Ebonylife tv which was beautiful but Kasala kept pulling me in: the people I met in the streets, the things I'd done on the streets of Lagos, the visual aesthetic kept pulling and I decided to make that. I wanted to see Lagos, I wanted to see barbwires. I wanted to see gutters, I wanted to see the people. I knew that the location was a character on its own. And I wanted to be able to find the right location that would be able to represent that boys and the lives they live in Lagos. I'm forever grateful for the people there who let us film there.

Your camera adopts the often frenetic pace of the film and is rarely still for long. Why this visual approach?

I'm very influenced by Guy Ritchie, Edgar Wright, Spike Lee and Martin Scorsese. And I would always say to myself that "these characters in their films can be Nigerians". I think that the camera should be fluid, breathe, move with the audience showing us "oh yeah this is a wide, oh yeah this is a close up". My influence by these directors was what I put into Kasala. And this is what made the film dynamic.

Are there any interesting, unplanned events during shooting which you could share with our readers?

Shooting in Lagos is one of the hardest thing to do. You have these agberos [louts] who come to you and literally want to take your equipment. I went with a very small crew and I'm very petite and they would see me and say "who is this small girl? She doesn't have money. Leave her alone, let her shoot". I started bringing them into the film to act and it was very beautiful seeing them react to it. One of the most interesting things is the children in the estates [on location] who act in the film, the joy and the playfulness. In some ways we brought back some joy and some fun into the neighbourhood.

Still from "Kasala!"

Did you worry much about what may be lost to foreign audiences who may not be clued up the pidgin English and "Nigerianisms" used in the film?

You can't come to Lagos and make a film about the slum in English. I felt like the pidgin English was as important as the location. My mind was not about where the foreign audience would accept it or whatever. My mind was "how do I make a film that is authentic to Nigeria? How do I make a film that would show of Lagos?" It would do no justice to use English.

Who are the other key players in Nigeria's "nu wave" film and tv you would like to highlight?

When you talk about new wave key players you're talking about Abba Makama whose film "Green White Green" inspired me to make "Kasala". CJ SeriObasi, ImoEmoren, Jade Sholat Siberi, Kemi Adetiba. So many new directors are springing out nollywood. And they're new directors making amazing stuff. I'm really really excited about the future.

How did you raise the funding needed to make "Kasala"?

When I wanted to make Kasala, it was not the kind of story people would fund. I decided in order to bring this story to live, to use the skills I'd gained over the years—to produce, direct, shoot and edit. Not because I wanted to be in control, because I didn't have the budget. That is the sport of new director coming in now. We're fighting against all odds and it is now beginning to be clear that it's way beyond nollywood. Kasala has been to over 20 international festivals and counting. And there an audience for our films, there's an audience for our voices.

What are you expectations for it at the festival?

I really don't know what to expect. I just hope that they love the film. For the Nigerians in the diaspora,I hope that it brings back memories of Lagos. For black people I hope it gives them a sense of how we are back home to help them connect with us as Africans. For the foreign audience I hope that they see a Nigeria of passion, of community, of tenacity, of brotherhood of love.

"Kasala" will be released worldwide on December 7th


Indomie: Unpacking a Nigerian Tradition

What does Nigeria's way of preparing this beloved brand of instant noodles say about the country as a whole?

Before I came to Lagos in September to begin a collaborative performance project, I imagined all the ways the place would challenge all I had read and heard about it, and all the ways it might remind me of my home, Trinidad and Tobago. Of all the kernels of similarities I've encountered so far, Indomie is perhaps the most intriguing.

Indomie, a brand of instant noodles originating in Indonesia, has become the household name for all instant ramen noodles in Nigeria.

As a child, I would make Top Ramen, but ours was far less intentionally adorned. I had never seen anyone add anything but Golden Ray. I would try to be fancy with my own and add eggs, but they never quite attained Naruto ramen standards.

Indomie was my first meal in Nigeria. I had arrived in Lagos about two hours earlier. In those two hours I had seen something of the character of the city. In the midst of the clouds of dust and engine exhaust fumes I saw a woman almost fall out the car she was getting into, I saw men sitting atop a truck, like wrinkles in the night sky fabric, I saw selling, so much selling and buying and haggling. It seemed to me that everything was happening here.

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Fela Kuti's 'Zombie' Is Coming Out On Limited Edition 8-Track

"Zombie" and "Mr. Follow Follow" are available in the nostalgic 8-track cartridge.

"Zombie," Fela Kuti's 1976 protest anthem and scathing attack on the Nigerian military, is getting an 8-track re-release.

Knitting Factory Records, Kalakuta Sunrise and Partisan Records have made 300 limited editions copies of Zombie/Mr. Follow Follow which you can pre-order now ahead of its December 7 release.

Fela Kuti's classic song uses zombies as a metaphor for soldiers mindlessly following orders. The song is thought to have triggered the Nigerian government's horrific assault on the Kalakuta Republic, in which the compound burned to the ground, Fela was brutally beaten and his mother, Nigerian feminist icon Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, was murdered.

You can pre-order Zombie/Mister Follow Follow on 8-track now and read more about each song from Mabinuori Kayode Idowu's text accompanying the release below.

Purchase Fela Kuti's Zombie/Mr Follow Follow on 8-Track

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