Hip-Hop & Kwaito’s Long Love-Hate Relationship

The complex relationship between kwaito and SA hip-hop: collaborations, shots, cross-influences and an undeniable symbiotic relationship.

Back To The City, South Africa’s biggest hip-hop festival, returns to Johannesburg this year. The line-up was released last week and, as usual, it’s stellar. The inclusion of kwaito star Zola was a surprise to many; a pleasant one for me.

In this piece, I explore the love-hate relationship between kwaito and hip-hop. This has played out in collaborations, shots, cross- influences and an undeniable symbiotic relationship.

Twelve years ago, Skwatta Kamp released the single “Umoya,” ushering hip-hop into the mainstream in the South African music scene. “Umoya” was a smash hit. The crew won their second Best Rap Album at the 2004 South African Music Awards for the album Mkhukhu Funkshen, off which the song was a single of.

At the time, kwaito, house and afro-pop were still running the airwaves. “Umoya” was considered “originally South African.” Most of the lyrics were in indigenous languages—mostly IsiZulu, SeSotho and Tsotsi Taal. Rappers at the time were getting flack for rapping in English, and getting accused of imitating their American counterparts. I remember reading a review of a Cashless Society album on the then-popular youth culture magazine, Y Mag. The reviewer expressed their disappointment on the lack of originality on the album: It sounded too American, they wrote.

Hip-Hop’s Influence On Kwaito

Kwaito has always flirted with hip-hop. Kwaito legends like Senyaka (R.I.P) and Oskido made some rap songs in the '80s and early '90s. In the late 90s, the group TKZee brought lyricism to kwaito—they had the catchy hooks and repetitive lyrics as per kwaito fashion, but on some songs (“Shibobo” comes to mind), they had structured sixteen-bar verses that had an undeniable hip-hop influence. From some of the lines they (especially member Kabelo) repurposed from American rap songs, hip-hop’s influence was evident.

Kwaito hasn’t always been sure of its stance on hip-hop. Stylistically, kwaito had some hip-hop elements; kwaito lyrics weren’t usually sung (even though there are a few exceptions), but delivered in chants that lean more towards rapping than any other style. Just like hip-hop, kwaito was the voice of young black people from the ghetto venting about their struggles while having a great time.

Yet a lot of kwaito artists used to diss South African hip-hop.

A War of Words

Brothers of Peace released a song called “Ase Mo States” (this is not the States) in the '90s, while one of its members Oskido would go to present the popular hip-hop show, Rap Activity Jam on YFM a few years later. Oskido had a rap song called “Mama Wami,” which featured the rap group Baphixile. (Kalawa Jazmee, a label co-owned by Oskido, would go on to sign their first hip-hop artist Ab Crazy around 2014.)

In the early 2000s, there was kwaito star Zola whose debut album Mdlwembe (2001) had songs like “Ghetto Scandalous” and “Woof Woof,” which were overtly hip-hop. A reasonable number of songs on the album also featured rapped verses.

On “Ghetto Scandalous,” Zola expressed his disgust of cats who used foreign hip-hop-centric words like “bitch, hoe and motherfucker” in the township. Which was hypocritical, given the song’s hook used the phrase “don’t fuck with us.”

Rappers were being told to switch to kwaito as it was more South African, and was the popular genre. Mr Selwyn on Amu’s 2003 single “Attention” was evidently pissed off at being dictated to.

He rapped, “What about ikwaito? Wanna try it?/ Yeah… but fuck it, I don’t like it/ Noma i-hip-hop inama flops I will stick to it.” He continued on the same verse: “I can’t help it, but sound ghetto on this shit/ ‘Cause I know I got talent/ You want me to sound like a broken album I can’t/ keep on saying the same shit, again and again/ And again and again, like a scratched up CD or something.”

Skwatta Kamp had disappointed their day one fans with their new, accessible sound. Though more more accessible (peep Skwatta Kampaign) than what Cashless Society, Hymphatic Thabs, Spex and other artists of that era were doing, Skwatta’s work had been uncompromisingly hip-hop.

Mkhukhu Funkshen, though a hip-hop classic, was a tad watered down, with radio-friendly songs like “Umoya,” “Kings” and “Eskhaleni.” The vocalist Relo was also featured on a reasonable number of songs.

The rapper Wikid, who was part of the quartet Township Frekwensi, alongside the singer Nothende, Amu and Mr Selwyn, took shots at Skwatta Kamp on “The Man,” a 2005 song on which he was dissing everyone from Mandoza to Loyiso, Magesh, Doc Shebeleza, among others. “Why don’t these Skwatta cats stick to their style?/ ‘cause I haven’t heard that one line shit in a while/ Nale kwaito incedwe yithi, shit, did I lie?” he rapped.

Rappers Had No Choice But To Do Kwaito

Rapping in vernacular and adulterating your hip-hop with kwaito seemed to be the working formula for South African hip-hop artists to flourish. The motive was simple: kwaito was selling, and hip-hop was struggling.

A good example is Pitch Black Afro, whose brand of hip-hop had a huge kwaito influence. He rapped in IsiZulu, made kwaito-esque catchy hooks (e.g. “Matofotofo” which, by the way, uses the same sample as Biggie’s “Kick in the Door”) and his beats, which were made by kwaito and house producer DJ Cleo, were jiggy and had kwaito written all over them. Pitch Black Afro’s debut album Styling Gel (2004) went double platinum, which was a huge achievement for a hip-hop album.

Hip Hop Pantsula, who released his first album in the early 2000s, was as much kwaito as he was hip-hop, hence his name. Since his first hit single “Mafikeng,” the rapper was rapping over beats that had kwaito sensibilities. Just as on his subsequent singles “Jabba,” “Tswaka,” “Music and Lights,” “Wa Mo Tseba Mtho” and “Bosso Ke Mang.” HHP went on to be one of the biggest hip-hop artists in South Africa with two gold albums, YBA2NW (2005) and Acceptance Speech (2007), under his belt. That was unheard of at the time.

In 2003, DJ Sbu masquerading as the asinine kwaito star Mzekezeke, released his first album Guqa Ngamadolo. The album featured the single “Amakoporosh,” on which he openly dissed hip-hop. The narrative was still the same; hip-hop was un-South African. TS Records, a label DJ Sbu co-owns, would later sign its first hip-hop act, Pro, circa 2007.

How Hip-Hop and Kwaito Fell In Love

Hip-hop’s attitude towards kwaito has changed substantially in recent years. Tumi Molekane (now Stogie T) worked with the kwaito star Brickz on “Bambezela,” the first single off his second solo album Whole Worlds (2010). No one saw it coming. Tumi was a hip-hop purist.

In 2012, Tumi and Zubz teamed up for Where Were You?, a collaborative mixtape as the duo TZ Deluxe (a play on words for the pioneering kwaito duo MM Deluxe, which consisted of Mdu and Spikiri). The mixtape saw Tumi and Zubz rap over monumental kwaito instrumentals such as Mshoza’s “Kortes,” TKZee’s “Mambotjie,” Mdu’s “Chepad”, among others. Great project by the way.

Spoek Mathambo and OkMalumKoolKat were some of the first artists to successfully fuse kwaito and hip-hop, creating a subgenre, which would culminate in 2014 and be known as new age kwaito. That was when K.O released the hit single “CaraCara,” which appropriates lines from the Trompies song “Bengim’ngaka.” The song went on to win him a Record of the Year award at the 2015 South African Music Awards.

The infusion of kwaito into hip-hop played a huge role in the popularisation of hip-hop in South Africa.

K.O told Red Bull Music Academy in 2015, “When we finally made the decision to use our own cultural influences to create what is now South African hip-hop identity, we found that was more appealing, not only to fellow South Africans but also beyond our own borders.”

Not Everyone Was Pleased

While most music fans were in love with this new relationship between the two genres, purists weren’t as pleased. The notion was that songs like “CaraCara” and Cassper Nyovest’s “Doc Shebeleza” weren’t hip-hop. K.O and Nyovest were repeating lines on the songs’ verses, as per kwaito fashion. They were rapping about subject matter—like the gusheshe and the CaraCara—that’s kwaito-influenced. They even shot their videos in the hood—the way kwaito videos were.

The rapper Reason, when he didn’t top the 2015 MTV Base Hottest MCs list (K.O. took the number 1 spot), released a song called “F.W.S,” in which he took shots at new age kwaito. “Guess I need to start making all of that ignant shit/ Empty words that can fill up a club and make sisters dip/ Remix some kwaito shit and make a dance,” he rapped. He clearly had his eyes on K.O. and Cassper Nyovest whose songs “CaraCara” and “Gusheshe” both had elements of kwaito and came with dances.

In the 21st century, lines between genres are blurred. It’s a tough time to be a purist. So, even though Back To The City, which is a 100% hip-hop festival, hosting a kwaito artist may look like progress to some, it’s a huge confusion to others, because the two genres have always had an equally confusing relationship.

Back To The City takes place on the 27th of April at Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown in Johannesburg. Tickets available here.


This Afro-Feminist Marching Band Is Challenging Negative Stereotypes of Black Women In Paris

30 Nuances de Noires is fighting the erasure of black women in public spaces one march at a time.

If you stroll through the streets of Paris and its suburbs and stumble across a parade of black women wearing shiny outfits, singing and dancing, consider yourself lucky: you've just come across the Afro-feminist marching band '30 Nuances de Noires' (30 Shades of Black).

The band was created by dancer and choreographer Sandra Rose Fanchine. Tired of the erasure of black women in the public space and of the negative stereotypes associated with them, Fanchine has brought women (and a few men) together in this project. Professional and amateur singers, dancers and musicians, they have all accepted to embark on this journey and use their talents to launch this much-needed conversation in France.

Sandra Rose FanchinePhoto by SEKA photography

The band's musical coordinator, Célia Wa, is a flautist, singer and composer. When Fanchine invited her to take part in the project, she was very enthusiastic to have the opportunity to play alongside other black female musicians and take part in something that portrays black women in a positive light and in a flamboyant way. She was also keen to play alongside other black female musicians and coordinate them, outside, in the public space, where music is accessible to everyone. But it wasn't easy going. "It's hard to find women who play wind instruments" she explains. "But especially black women. So, we decided to incorporate a few black men musicians—men who understand the meaning of the project and support us. They don't try to dominate the space, they wear dresses and headwraps, they really blend into the group."

Célia WaPhoto by SEKA photography

Wa hopes the project will encourage many young girls to become professional musicians by showing them that being a fulfilled woman, having a music career and a family life, is possible.

Awori is the singer of the band Kamiawori, and a singer and dancer in the parade. She accepted Fanchine's invitation to join the band because she realized a brass band made of women—especially black women—was something unique that she wanted to be part of. "Throughout history, women had been forbidden to play wind instruments because blowing into those instruments was assimilated to a sexual act", says Kamiawori. "As a result, nowadays, the majority of people playing these instruments are men, so the fact that Sandra was looking for black women only was really appealing to me".

Earlier this year the band had the chance to travel to French Guiana to do a performance with black Guyanese women. This is the kind of future she wants for the project. "I want us to go to places in France where there aren't many black people, as well as to the former French colonies and the French overseas territories," she says. She hopes the project will start conversations everywhere, and empower black women to talk about their issues in their own words and organize their own emancipation.

AworiPhoto by SEKA photography


Read on for our conversation with Sandra Rose Fanchine. This interview has been edited for length and clarity

Can you tell us about yourself and your background?

I'm 51 years old, I was born in Martinique and grew up in Côte d'Ivoire. I'm a hip-hop dancer and choreographer. I first came to France 22 years ago to study graphic design but along the way, I found hip hop and started dancing out of passion. With my background in graphic design, I knew I was going to be a choreographer eventually, I was convinced I could use hip hop beyond its performance aspect, bringing my visual artist's knowledge to it and using it to promote a narrative. So, when the age of maturity came, I became a choreographer. My first work considered the social construction of femininity, and I then created a piece which dealt with the memory of the black body. 30 Nuances de Noires is my third choreographic work.

Where did the idea of "30 Nuances de Noires" come from?

It came from my professional frustration as a black woman. When I was looking for a job after my studies, my graphic design work was very culturally influenced by my life in Martinique and Côte d'Ivoire. I was proud to show the aesthetics and the colors, to me it was beautiful but it wasn't seen as such, it was seen as something unworthy and my work was always devalued.

I also had to face that devaluation in my personal life. I wanted to partner up with a black man, but I could see that black men didn't value me, didn't give me space and in general chose to have solid relationships with white women. I am light-skinned so I used to pass black men's colorist filters, but this privilege stopped as soon as commitment was mentioned. I looked around me and saw a pattern in the way black men treated black women, in the way people in general treated black women, how we were looked down upon. I wanted to create something about that topic.

Photo by SEKA Photography

Why did you choose that name?

I chose that name to criticize the movie 50 shades of Grey, which from a feminist point of view is a sexist and misogynist movie, that glamorizes violence against women. Moreover, black women, in the global conception related to sexuality and sentiments, are continually eroticized in a very specific way: animalization, exotification and fetishization. I chose to reclaim these stigmas, just as Audre Lorde writes about in the chapter of her book Sister Outsider named "the use of eroticism, and the use of anger: the response of women to racism."

How did the people around you react to this project?

At first, I wanted to do a piece about sexuality, love and the neocolonial aspects of interracial unions but I faced a backlash from people in the cultural institutions and people in the hip hop industry. Whenever I talked about my project I was completely shut down and called a racist.

After all that rejection and denigration, I went back to university and studied gender studies for two years, and around the same time I became an Afro-feminist activist. In the meantime, the project evolved. I used to work at festivals where there were many brass brands and I already wanted to create a marching band with hip hop dancers so I just mixed the two ideas: highlighting black women's issues and creating a marching band.

After equipping myself with the relevant intellectual tools, surrounding myself with other black women and realizing we were all going through the same things, I was capable of demonstrating the systemic nature of what I was talking about and the barriers fell. I was finally in the right place at the right time. I found the artists very easily, the first musicians I met brought other musicians, the first dancers brought other dancers, it all happened very organically.

Photo by SEKA Photography

What type of women were you looking for?

I was looking for women who were strong enough to embody and address those issues unapologetically. They had to be capable of dancing on the streets with an attitude that says "I am standing up straight, I am black, I am glowing, I am shining and you will look at me and ask yourself how you really see me because I am not all those stereotypes you believe I am." Naturally, it first attracted feminists, women who were already aware of those issues. The women who later joined us and weren't aware of those issues are now more conscious and politicized.

What are the musical and aesthetic inspirations behind the project?

I really wanted visuals inspired by the aesthetics of the 70s and 80s because the dances present in the parade—locking and waacking—emerged at that time. For the musical aspect, I looked for songs that talked about black women and their issues: sorority, colorism, equality and resilience.

Photo by SEKA Photography

How do you see the project evolving in the future?

I want to do a world tour, I want us to dance with Beyoncé and Solange, I want to take this message of empowerment everywhere there are black women who need to exist, shine, go outside and assert their presence in the public space. Because of harassment, sexism and prejudice, it's still pretty complicated for women to simply exist. I consider myself lucky because I can see that the band does what I wanted it to do: it really empowers black women and seeing that happening gives me a lot of strength to take it further.

Seyi Shay. Image provided by the artist.

Seyi Shay's 'Electric Package' EP Is All About Love & Positive Vibes

We talk to Seyi Shay about her new EP, an intimate mix of different afrobeats blends topped off by Gqom.

Talented Nigerian singer and songwriter Seyi Shay recently dropped her brand new music project, the Electric Package EP Vol. 1.

It's her first project in three years, since the release of her debut album, Seyi or Shay, in 2015. The EP, an intimate mix of different blends of afrobeats, contains six tracks, topped off at the end by the Gqom brand of South African house music.

The project features artists from different corners of Africa, including rising singer King Promise from Ghana, Afropop songstress Vanessa Mdee from Tanzania, and rapper and producer Anatii from South Africa, giving it a pan-African outlook.

However, she didn't forget her fellow Nigerian acts, as seasoned highlife singer Flavour, young Afropop superstar Kiss Daniel, and fresh act Slimcase are also on the bill.

Several DJs were also involved in the project, hosting different songs in mixtape fashion; DJ Spinall, DJ Consequence, DJ Neptune, and DJ Cuppy from Nigeria, Vision DJ from Ghana, and DJ Tira from South Africa. The songs were produced by Killertunes, DJ Coublon, Krizz Beat, Lush Beat, Anatii, and Chopstix.

We caught up with the singer to discuss Electric Package. Read our conversation below.

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Photo courtesy of Nike.

OkayAfrica & Nike Present: Naija Worldwide

We're linking up with Nike to celebrate Nike's fire Nigeria kits and to send Team Nigeria off to the 2018 World Cup with style.

Partner content from Nike

We've teamed up with Nike to bring the Naija spirit to the world with "Naija Worldwide," an epic bash to celebrate Nike's triumphant Nigeria kits as we send Team Nigeria off to the 2018 World Cup with style!

Join us on Saturday, June 2, from 3:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at The Well in Brooklyn as we mark the occasion with music by DJ Tunez, DJ Moma and DJ Moniki. The vibe also includes art by Laolu Senbanjo, Nigerian cuisine, and a surprise performance by one of Afrobeats' finest.

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