Swaziland’s biggest hip-hop gathering celebrated its fifth anniversary on Saturday. But the 2016 Hipnotik Festival was far from perfect.
The festival was already marred by drama going in. AKA was dropped from the lineup last week in the aftermath of a tweet threatening to pull out if his logo wasn’t added to the festival flyer. The organisers didn’t take kindly to Super Mega’s demands and subsequently announced Burna Boy as a replacement headliner. The Nigerian superstar never showed up.
Saturday was downright frustrating from the jump. The one-day concert was slated to start at 2pm. Hours went by and fans were forced to stand outside the venue without being told what the hold was. “They don’t respect us,” I overheard one young person saying to his friends. I was equally helpless. The security guards had no idea when the gates would be open. Neither did anyone I asked.
And then finally, at around 8pm, while I was still on the long queue, I started hearing performances from the outside. The first set I caught when I finally got in was from the Botswana-based group Bang!Gae.
Some sets were cut short as a result of the delay. Also, the sound could have been tuned better, especially for early performances. But through the mishaps, the night saw some great performances. Mostly from South African artists, though a few local acts showed they could hold their own. Below are the performances that stood out most.
South African-based Swazi rapper Size Killa’s set came at the right time––earlier in the night, before fans were hypnotized by the intoxicating trap bangers that would follow. The man’s syllables are densely packed and require an attentive ear. It wasn’t that type of crowd, but the rapper managed to win them over with a natural stage presence, and his traditional boom bap production set him apart. But just as he was about to call Swazi vocalist Slotta on stage–I assume to perform their collaboration “Unofficial”–his set was cut short because of time constraints.
Swazi rapper EimsoflY has been making a buzz, especially on radio. His set at Hipnotik proved he can do more than just make dope songs. He stood in front of a crowd that was there mostly for the superstars, like Emtee and Kwesta, and made them acknowledge his presence. His partner in rhyme, Eskay, made an appearance and dabbed alongside the Manzini-based rapper, for what was one of the most solid sets of the night.
There’s something classy about the Cashtime Life frontman. He roamed the stage with no hypeman. Instead, he had a guitarist and a deejay. K.O has all the hits, from early works like L-Tido’s “We Rollin’”, on which he’s featured, to more recent anthems like “CaraCara,” “Skhanda Love,” “Papa Action,” DJ Vigilante’s “Pasop” and “Bang Out”. All he had to do was show up, he’d kill it. And he did just that. The electric guitar renditions of his hits gave them a new twist you can’t download anywhere.
Mozambican rapper Laylizzy’s collaboration with AKA, “Hello”, isn’t the only dope song he’s released. He performed a few more heaters at Hipnotik. His set was coherent, and his hypemen did a great job at maintaining the same energy throughout.
The Ambitiouz Ent gang––Benchmarq, Emtee, Fifi Cooper, Saudi and A-Reece––were backed by the indie record label’s deejay, Miss Pru. Fifi Cooper went first, performing some of her hits, and her verse on AKA’s “Baddest” remix. Emtee joined her for their collaborative tracks “Kuze Kuse” and “Angeke”. Emtee infected the crowd with an existential euphoria when he performed “Roll Up,” “Five-0” and “Pearl Thusi”, before being joined by A-Reece for their collabo, “Couldn’t”. From there it became a spaz fest––an exhibition of the stable’s collaborative hits like “Ameni” and “Washa.” Easily the best performance of the night, from one of South Africa’s most exciting group of young rappers.
The K1 God had adolescents lifting up their beers to “Ngud’”, singing along word-for-word to the rapper’s mega hit. He took us down memory lane with his earlier release “Boom Shakalaka,” and the response was equally amazing. He ended his set with an emotive speech about how far he’s come, talking about his third album (DaKAR II) and his single “Ngud’” both going gold after about nine years in the game.
At dusk, during Swazi deejay Tendaness’s set, the crowd started chanting Nasty C’s name. The young rapper emerged to close the festival on an impressive note. He had me forgetting that my feet were killing me, and I had been up for close to 24 hours. The rapper has poise and an arsenal of hit singles – “Juice Back,” “Bamm Bamm,” “Way It Go,” “Hell Naw” – that take control of crowds of all ages. The Hipnotik audience was no exception.
Sabelo Mkhabela is a writer from Swaziland, currently based in Cape Town. He also drops award-winning tweets as @SabzaMK.