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Meet Sands, the Swazi Singer Making SiSwati Fashionable

With his hit single "Tigi," Swazi musician Sands has achieved what no other Swazi has done before.

In December, there was no escaping “Tigi,” the catchy single by the Swazi musician Sands.


It was the 2016 crossover song on Swazi radio, and also in some stations in the Mpumalanga province in South Africa, where the SiSwati language—which Sands sings in—is spoken. The single hasn’t lost its tang, especially after the release of its video. It premiered on Live Amp, the biggest music show on South African television—a first for a Swazi musician.

“Tigi” kicks off with an airy sinewy synth enhanced with a little reverb, before the drums kick in, forcing you to bob your head. It’s not clear what will happen before Sands starts humming and, eventually, crooning effortlessly. It’s when the single's hook comes in that it becomes impossible to not move at least one part of your body. It’s clear why "Tigi" became a hit.

“It’s a surprise,” is the answer Sands gives when I ask if he expected the song to be this big, especially considering he’s an afro-soul artist known for laid-back music. “But also when you write a song, you always give it your all. I am diverse, and it will be clear as my career progresses, but yes I do specialize in afro-soul.”

His previous single, “Vuma,” didn’t do bad either. It was the quintessential soulful Sands: a beautiful love song that was essentially a marriage proposal. It’s a minimalist work of art—he sings over mellow keys, subtle hi-hats and a pulsating kick, displaying all dynamics of his voice. Towards the end of the song, he hits the high notes like there’s no tomorrow.

Sands and I are sitting in a restaurant in the heart of Mbabane, the capital city of Swaziland, and he's telling me about his relationship with his producer, SubJamz, when our conversation is interrupted by a man who could be in his early thirties.

“I want you to know that I didn’t burn it, I bought the album,” says the man, who stretches his hand out to shake the singer’s hand. “My favourite track is 'Kuba Nawe,'” the man continues. “I play it on my way to and from work. Well done. Congratulations.” Sands replies with a resounding “thanks” and a light smile.

Scenarios like this aren’t new to Sands anymore. “I’ve received great feedback on the album. I’m actually speechless,” he says. “What I like is that people have their own favorite songs apart from 'Tigi' and 'Vuma.'”

“Tigi” isn’t the man’s first hit. In 2014, he teamed up with renowned Swazi poet and rapper Qibho Intalektual. The duo released an EP, which had a successful single, “Ntfombatane Lenhle,” that was almost as infectious as “Tigi.”

“It took some time to lure him to get into studio with me,” he says when I ask him how the collaboration came about. Sands had just finished studying music, which he did concurrently with his PR degree at the University of Swaziland, where Intalektual was also studying.

Sands was still performing under his birth name Sandziso, with the same four-piece band he plays with. “We’ve been together for seven years,” he says.

Sands' journey as an artist began in high school when his brother-in-law bought him a guitar and taught him a few chords. He taught himself from then on and got a confidence boost from studying music. He performed around campus until he met Intalektual, and they started recording with the producer Sub Jamz, who's highly respected in the kingdom.

What “Tigi” achieved is a first for a Swazi song. The hip-hop duo Siyinqaba, in 2010, had a song, “Gwayimane,” that was almost as big (they performed it on Big Brother Africa at a point in time), but Sands’s level is of a height no Swazi artist has ever reached. “Tigi” is playing on national South African stations like Ukhozi FM, Metro FM and Umhlobo Wenene FM.

The natural question is: how did he do it? Well, it was a combination of many things.

“Mostly it’s because it was a SiSwati song,” says Sands. He goes on to state that because not many songs in the language are released, it sets him apart, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s good at what he does either. “Two, the backing came from home,” he continues. “Thirdly, it’s a danceable song. Four, it’s a love song. It’s got all the elements and many genres in one—jazz, kwaito, house, it has everything.”

Sands. Photography by Sabelo Mkhabela.

What Sands and his team also did was invest in the promotion of the song. “[We went] on a radio tour in Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Mozambique, because we felt it had potential. Everyone who had heard it had said it was nice,” he says.

December was a busy month, the busiest of his life, he says. He was performing every week, sometimes even on weekdays. He performed in corporate functions and South African festivals such as Midmar and Groundzero.

Things are slowly changing, but in the past a lot of Swazi musicians were singing in Zulu, because South African music is just that big in the country, so the influence is inevitable. One artist who made singing in SiSwati cool is the successful soul singer Bholoja.

For Sands, it was a conscious decision to sing in his mother tongue. “I thought I would have more opportunities than any other languages,” he says. “SiSwati is also an official language in South Africa, but it hasn’t been explored much, such that people in Mpumalanga are like, ‘Oh wow, thanks, man, finally we have something in SiSwati, now we can’t be looked down upon.'

Sands’s eponymous album Sands Of Time, which “Tigi” and “Vuma” are on, sounds like money. Save for “Tigi,” most of the songs are slow to mid-tempo. It’s calming music you want to relax to in your room in the evening, the type of music to hear in a jazz club.

Sands is aware that his fan base is mostly young adults who have a refined ear and an understanding of his subject matter, which mostly revolves around relationships, and he’s serving them so well.

He’s looking to drop more singles and perform more in 2017. In the meantime, if you're in Swaziland or South Africa, simply turn on your radio for more.

Stream and purchase Sands' "Tigi" on iTunes and Spotify.

 

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From Chale Wote Street Art Festival 2016. Photo by Ofoe Amegavie.

5 Ghanaian Creative Spaces Doing Afrofuturist Work You Need To Know

These Pan-African outfits are actively visualizing and creating realities for black people that are better than the ones we inhabit now—get to know them.

In her praise for Octavia's Brood (an anthology of science fiction stories from social justice movements), filmmaker dream hampton quotes these words of adrienne maree brown, a co-editor of the anthology: "All social justice work is science fiction. We are imagining a world free of injustice, a world that doesn't yet exist." A respectable appropriation of brown's statement would be: all pro-Black/African activism is afrofuturism in praxis.

In that frame of social justice activism being twined with the useful framework that afrofuturism is—envisioning and exploring viable realities for black people all over the world—here are five Pan-African outfits out of Ghana who're doing advocacy work, and variously tasking our imaginations to visualize an existence for black people other—and better—than the one we inhabit presently.

Accra [Dot] Alt

Photo courtesy of Accra [Dot] Alt.

The "Alt" in Accra [Dot] Alt stands for alternative, which should say much about this organization's orientation: an invested interest in facilitating the alternative. To that end, A[D]A creates programs which provide spacial and other forms of support for the expression of alternative thought, and also for spawning boundary-breaking art. A[D]A's most popular initiative, the annual Chale Wote Street Art Festival, since its inception in 2011, has been thematically preoccupied with imagining and creating existences that are more humane and fulfilling—particularly for black people.

The African Electronics Trilogy exemplifies this. Between 2015 and 2017, the Chale Wote Festival's themes, African Electronics, Spirit Robot and Wata Mata—have altogether exhorted festival participants to "tap into a super power grid [and] create a new encounter with reality that is entirely of our choosing and construction." The theme for this year's festival, Para-Other, does not stray from this visionary mission. A[D]A partly describes Para-Other as an order "embracing of a black labyrinth and establishment of an aesthetic that captures our cessation of flight and transit into a non-contested existence."

Last time the statistics were checked, in 2016, over 30,000 people were at Chale Wote; which is a more than 6,000 percent increase from the number that attended the first edition of the festival. Talk about possibilities.

African Women's Development Fund (AWDF)

Photo courtesy of the AWDF.

This grant-making foundation, Africa's first pan-African women's fund, was co-founded in 2000 by three African women: Hilda Tadria, Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi and Joana Foster, who passed in 2016.

Since setting up, the African Women's Development Fund has funded and supported close to 1,500 women's rights organizations and women-led initiatives in countries all over the continent.

In April 2017, the institution launched their ground-breaking AWDF Futures Project. The initiative is basically composed of projections on the future of the continent as seen through an African feminist lens. These projections are based on a mix of data/trends analysis and sheer imagination.

The AWDF Scenario Stories is one aspect of the project. It comprises of four short stories imagining four different kinds of futures—desirable, undesirable, wild card, transitional—for African women, in Africa. The protagonist in each of these scenarios (set in August 2030) is Mariam; a queer, intelligent and free-spirited young woman in a wheelchair.

The full narratives of Mariam navigating each of these four futures can be accessed, in both text and animated audio-visual formats, on AWDF's website, together with the Futures Africa: Trends for Women by 2030 report.

What will Africa be like in 2030? What would we see if we looked through the eyes of a woman? The AWDF Futures page holds a number of possible answers to these questions.

AfroCyberPunk Interactive

Photo courtesy of AfroCyberPunk Interactive.

Sci-fi writer and self-proclaimed afrofuturist, Jonathan Dotse, created AfroCyberPunk in 2010. Then, it was a blog whose focus was on "exploring the creative potential of African science fiction and speculative narratives."

Almost a decade after running as a blog, AfroCyberPunk morphed into AfroCyberPunk Interactive—a digital hypermedia content developer and publishing house—in 2017. Still, the preoccupation with "exploring the future of Africa" (as went the blog's tagline) remains prime. A part of what could be referred to as their mission statement reads thus: "Our roots in afrofuturism continue to inspire the recurrent themes, motifs and aesthetics of our publications. We aspire to [...] address the global imbalance in the representation of marginalised peoples and perspectives."

Founder Jonathan Dotse is himself at work on his debut novel, a cyberpunk mystery/ psychological thriller set in Accra, Ghana circa 2060 AD.

All of the above certainly do echo these words offered by Jonathan in a blog post titled Why Africa Needs Science Fiction: "As Africa marches onward into the future it is important that we as Africans begin to critically visualize the development that will take place on our own soil, and our vision must be based on our own unique reality, cut from the cloth of our own societies and tailored to our specific needs."

Drama Queens

Photo courtesy of Drama Queens.

This feminist and Pan-Africanist theatre organisation optimally embodies the idea of Sankofa: an examination of heritage to select and use, presently, the positive and helpful values, in the ultimate service of creating the future.

Drama Queens is founded on the ancient Egyptian philosophy of Ma'at—which adjures for justice, balance and harmony as ways of being. The world being as it is now—generally unjust, imbalanced and disharmonious, against black people specifically, and more specifically against marginalized black communities—renders Drama Queens' work futuristic.

To ground this, they are avowedly working towards "a just, balanced and harmonious world where highest respect is given to nature and all nature creates."

This year, for instance, is Drama Queens' year of "contributing to an end to homophobia towards the African LGBTQ+ community" through various activities such as theatre productions, facilitating queer film production workshops, social media discussions and talk events.

Nana Akosua Hanson, founder and director of Drama Queens has said in an interview that her organization aims, ultimately, "to end oppression by changing mindsets through the use of cultural tools, to revolutionalize thinking and bring forth the existence of an Africa without heteropatriarchy, and a continent free from the exploitation and destruction of racist nations." Sounds about Afrofuturist.

Squid Magazine

Photo courtesy of Squid Magazine.

Comics, games and animation are probably the most popular media through which creators indulge in futuristic thinking. Add to this the truism that critical, intellectual engagement and documentation are of lifeblood importance to the efflorescence of a culture. Put together, it adds up to the fact that Squid Magazine (simply, Squid Mag) is doing essential afrofuturist work.

Started in 2015 by Kadi Yao Tay and Kofi Asare, Squid Mag is dedicated to the "exploration, critique, promotion and archiving of African creativity manifested within comics, games, animation..." As it happens, Squid Mag is one of the very few, if not only, platforms on the continent that wholesomely covers African output in the above mentioned media.

There's a rather poetic resonance as to why this outfit is named 'Squid.' Here's the import of the name, as explained on their website:

The name is inspired by squids, sea invertebrates that release ink as a defense mechanism. We find it poetic how such a mechanism can be a metaphor for painting a people's realities and dreams fluidly in an ocean of canvases. An ocean that is threatened to be overrun with narratives that exclude us.

So now you know, if you didn't know before, where to go in search of a sea of narratives—of realities and dreams—that include us.

*

There is a great deal more than can be said for the imagination—and exercising it. It begets creation, after all. Thus, what these and other entities are doing—engendering alternative socio-political imaginaries for all peoples of African descent—is such a needful venture. But after all is said and visualized, the ultimate challenge, most probably, is to act, to create. Blitz the Ambassador puts it succinctly on his afrofuturist song, "Africa Is The Future" (long since renamed "Africa Is Now"): There ain't no future unless we build it now.

moshood lives in Accra, from where he writes across genres. He has recently taken on painting. He tweets here: @thehamzay

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