Speeka. Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

Meet Speeka, the Soweto-Based Producer Keeping Kasi Rap Alive

Away from the spotlight, a South African hip-hop movement is alive and well.

In the early 2010s, the South African hip-hop subgenre kasi rap was at its peak. The late rapper Pro, who pioneered the sub-genre, was still dropping hits like it wasn't a thing.

Pro, since rising to prominence in the mid-2000s, inspired a legion of rappers, most from the townships of Joburg. The YFM radio show The Full Clip, which was hosted by popular media personalities and hip-hop heads Sizwe Dhlomo and Scoop Makhathini, was a great platform for up-and-coming kasi rappers to showcase their witty punchlines and storytelling skills. Some of the country's finest lyricists such as Kid X, Zingah (formerly Smashis), Ginger Trill (formerly Gingerbread Man) and Siya Shezi gained popularity from frequenting the show.

Then The Full Clip ended. And on the surface, it looked like kasi rap had died with it. It became hard to keep up with artists such as MT (not to be confused with Emtee) and Mickey M, Sbuda P and a lot more, who were staples of the show.

"That was our go-to show to hear what they were up to and how they sounded," says Speeka, a producer whose prominence also rose during the Full Clip days. Right now as he chats to me, he is taking a break from mixing a song at his home studio in Protea Glen in Soweto. "But as soon as that show ended, all we had was social media," continues Speeka. "And if you didn't follow any of them on social media, to you they kinda vanished. But most of them, as far as I know, continue to rap and put out projects. But there really isn't a platform that is specifically for kasi rap."

Speeka has been running The Sotra Cypher series since 2016, which he films and edits himself, just like most of his music videos. "That's kind of my way of letting cats know that, 'No, guys, we can still put out stuff, and there are people who are willing to listen and watch.' And I've had guys telling me that, 'Yo man, after I appeared on the cypher, people have been inboxing me, trying to meet up and buy my tape.'"

Speeka adds that it's stories like those that give him satisfaction and encourage him to proceed even though he doesn't make any money from the series.

SOTRA CYPHERS PART 24: Castro Gunner, LazyLazy & Earl Kay

Speeka is a powerhouse of kasi rap. Apart from being an encyclopedia of artists who are doing their thing away from the mainstream media spotlight, he frequently releases music like it's not a thing. This year alone, he has released four EPs and produced for countless artists, and he also directs and shoots his own videos.

Read: Ringz and Spidans Rap: The New Sound of Cape Town Hip-Hop

The producer, who has been "messing around with music" since he was 16, was at home listening to The Full Clip several years ago when he learned that the show was open to up-and-coming artists. "And me and a couple of my friends were like, 'Hey let's go there to rap,'" he recalls. "It wasn't even about me, and them rapping on my beats, I was just like I know dope cats, they should definitely be on that show. So we organized transport and drove there. The first time I went there, I was with Axe-Ray and MaseVen. When we got there, we found abo Froz and Spy Two, and they went on and killed it."

Speeka and the rappers he would perform with at Back To The City. Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

Becoming Speeka

The producer recalls the day his beat was first used on the show by Spy Two. "I was at home that day listening to YFM," he says, "my beat comes on, I lose my mind. On top of that, I hear Sizwe Dhlomo, who's an idol of mine, say, 'Whose beat is this? This is dope.' I lose my mind."

He says that encouraged him to share his beats with rappers to spit over on the show. "So whenever cats would go, I would be like, 'Ntwana, nay' i-beat.' I think the second or third time that happened, this one episode, Sizwe said live on air, 'Who's this Speeka guy? He makes dope beats.' That was insane. What I did was I actually sent him a disk full of my beats to play for rappers when they came through. I even got interviewed one time on that show."

Speeka - Party ya Mapantsula ft. Noks Matchbox, Sfilikwane, Mthizo & Jef (Official Video)

Sizwe believed in Speeka so much he introduced him to rap superstar AKA. He laughs as if to prepare me for the plot twist he reveals after. "That was an L for me. I still hold that L to this day," he says. "At the time, AKA had just won a SAMA for [his debut album] Altar Ego (2012). He was AKA."

AKA asked Speeka if he had any beats for his consideration. "I didn't have anything on me, and I kinda panicked," recalls the producer, "I didn't ask for his number or email address. I kinda sabotaged myself. I don't think I was ready at the time to be working with an artist like AKA. I think I said some dumb shit like, 'Next time.' But yeah that was a definite L for me."

Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

Speeka Presents…

In 2017, Speeka won the producer's challenge at South Africa's biggest hip-hop festival Back To The City. For the competition, up-and-coming South African producers have to send their beats through to the festival's organizers, who then shortlist 20 and fans must vote for their favorites online. The top 10 gets to showcase their beats to a panel of judges, which consists of the country's seasoned producers.

Two years after winning the competition, Speeka was billed to perform on the festival's main stage. When I met up with him, a few days before the festivals, he was both excited and apprehensive. He was frustrated because he was trying to squeeze as many rappers into his 10-minute set as possible. Which makes a lot of sense; Speeka speaks highly of the countless artists he's worked with.

On the day of the festival, however, clumsiness from the festival's organizers saw Speeka's set getting cancelled. He was, I imagined, devastated, but wasn't showing any signs of it. He told me backstage, "At the end of the day, I'm here for hip-hop, bro, so I will just stay and enjoy the festival."

Today, he's equally composed and exhibits a placid disposition. When I ask him if kasi rap is dead, as is the popular notion, his response insinuates it's far from it. "It's certainly not dead in this studio," he adds. "And mainstream-wise, definitely not. Because I believe Kwesta does kasi rap, Zakwe too, and, to a certain extent, Cassper Nyovest. So it's definitely not dead, it's just that in the mainstream, there are very few kasi rappers. In this studio, I can literally give you like 20 rappers, all dope, equally as dope as the mainstream guys that do kasi rap. The day I pop off, all of these guys are gonna be known, all of them. I'm gonna make it a mission of mine."

SPeeKa presents: Jef - Hook, Line & Sotra EP (2018) - Full Audio

He tells me he feels it would be a crime to know a great artist and not make an effort to work with them or try to expose them. This explains why on social media, Speeka is always recommending artists that impress him, both known and unknown.

Most of Speeka's EPs are attributed as "Speeka Presents…" (insert name of artist he's collaborating with). He prefers to work with an artist on a song or project from scratch instead of just sending them beats and letting them do as they please.

A few years ago, when he still sent out beats to artists, he was always unhappy with the final product. "What I started doing," he says, "was I waited until I could afford a decent studio setup, and as soon as I was able to do that—I'm talking the day after I got my equipment—I started working on my project. I started organizing guys, and started recording and mixing. So even now, when I produce a song, I want to mix it myself." That project would go on to be his debut EP Organized Grime, which was released in January of 2017.

Loux Artiste - Catch A Fade (ft. Infektist, Mreja & Soweto Tshepiso) [OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO]

But as meticulous and prolific as he is, he admits it doesn't always lead to big checks. "It's not easy," he says. "And most of the time, the reason I'm doing music is because I love this so much. If I get to a point where I feel like even the love isn't working, then I will stop and go back to getting a 9 to 5."

At the moment, it's all about perfecting his craft and making as much music as he can, while waiting for his break. He sends his beats to artists every chance he gets. "I've even gone as far as hitting up a DJ—since a lot of DJs are releasing music—with a disc full of my beats." He laughs when he recalls sharing a beat with a particular DJ, who rejected it because he didn't have a CD player.

Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

Next Steps

Speeka's production style is an anomaly. It leans towards boom bap, but has the intangible rawness that characterizes kasi rap. He's slowly catching on to the trap wave, as can be heard, for instance, on the song "Catch a Fade" from his collaborative project with the rapper Loux Artiste titled The Craft, which came out earlier this year.

"For the longest time," he says, "I was your typical purist—boom bap or nothing. But for the past few months, I've been kind of experimenting and working with the new age sound; the 808s. But even with those sounds, I still wanna have my identity in those beats, maintaining the grunginess that I'm associated with. I have mad respect for those who can pull it off flawlessly. I learn from them."

Expect more music, music videos and episodes of the Sotra Cypher from Speeka.

Keep up with him on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Stream and/or downlaod his projects on Audiomack.

Interviews | "I Wasn't Ready To Work With AKA" - Speeka

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

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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