A Message to all the Super Mega Haters: AKA is a Victim of Your Hypocrisy

Sabelo Mkhabela addresses AKA's haters in a new instalment of his South African hip-hop column for Okayafrica.

Welcome to the second instalment of Cape Town-based music journalist and radio host Sabelo Mkhabela‘s South African hip-hop column for Okayafrica.

The last two weeks have been great for South African music. Beatenberg were on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. AKA was on 106 & Park. Cassper Nyovest was on Sway In The Morning. And Black Coffee bagged the first BET Award by a South African artist.

But some South Africans are choosing to see Black Coffee's victory as a loss for AKA.

Of course, tweeps triumphing at AKA “losing” is nothing new. When the rapper walked away empty-handed (or should I say “Emtee-handed”) at the SAMAs a few weeks ago, the hashtag #AKAwinanga (Zulu for “he didn’t win”) trended for more than a day. Twitter celebrated AKA’s loss because, you know, he’s arrogant. The rapper who had claimed to be South Africa’s new king of pop a few months ago lost in all categories he was nominated in, including the publicly-voted Record of the Year award.

AKA is a victim. A victim of our hypocrisy. As human beings, we encourage the idea of self-expression, and believing in oneself. But as soon as fellow humans do it, and their words make us uncomfortable, we seek to silence them. "Be humble," we dictate to them.

Who’s to tell a man where to draw the line between arrogance and confidence? AKA is not shy to remind you how major he is. While other rappers reserve bragging for their rhymes, AKA is the same person on wax and on them Twitter streets.

I don’t always agree with everything he says or does. For instance, I don’t get why he addressed his baby mama on Twitter last month. But when it comes to calling himself the best in the land, AKA has every right to brag. There have been tonnes of great artists in South Africa. But as AKA says on his latest single, “Dreamwork”—“The last five years ain’t shit without me.” The rapper has been running in the major leagues since releasing his debut album, Altar Ego, in 2011. Few South African rappers can claim to have reigned that long.

I’ve been following AKA since he went solo, when his biggest song was his breakout hit, “Do It.” Back then he was “starting out with a pipe dream, white T and an ice cream”—as seen on the cover of his 24/7/366 mixtape. On the verge of Altar Ego’s release, he was asked if he expected the album to go gold. His answer was a resounding “no.” He said he was expecting to sell anything between 6,000 and 8,000 (gold was 20,000 in South Africa at the time–it has since been reduced to 15,000). He mentioned that he was not yet where Teargas was. Teargas was the most popular crew at the time. Their album, Dark Or Blue, had gone gold towards the end of 2010.

The interview revealed an artist being real about their situation. AKA’s always understood the levels things. He understood that he still had a long way to go, and he wasn’t ashamed to admit it. AKA bagged three Metro FM Awards in 2011, for Altar Ego. Reporting on that win, one South African publication addressed him as South African hip-hop’s crown prince, a title he kindly embraced. He’s been known as The Prince of South African Hip-Hop ever since.

As AKA’s profile grew, so did his standards. The rapper started affirming his impact on Twitter and in interviews. He became picky. He began demanding the same treatment given to Kanye and Kendrick by organisers. In 2015, Super Mega wasn’t an up-and-coming rapper anymore. He was a star, and he had the accolades to prove it. He even made the decision to stop opening for international rap acts, after he felt disrespected at a Kanye show.

“We still have that mentality of saying ‘how can AKA and Drake be on the same stage?’” he once asked in an interview with Forbes Africa. “We need to address our own self-worth. Apartheid left in us the idea that we are not worth more and we need to change that.” In that same interview, he made a comparison of how artists are treated in South Africa versus Nigeria. He said Nigerian artists were encouraged to be great, while South African artists were encouraged to share the humble pie’s crumbs. “[It] makes us meek, subservient and easily taken advantage of,” he was quoted as saying.

In South Africa, fans will deplete their data bundles telling AKA how to be humble. Like, please send me a link to a Times LIVE article about an artist trending for being humble.

The sad part about how South African fans choose to be with their artists is that an artist such as AKA will go down in history as one of the most arrogant rappers of his time. But AKA has done more than rant on Twitter. He is the first English rapper to win Best Hip-Hop and Best Male at the SAMAs; the first English rapper to have a platinum-selling album; among the most consistent mainstream hip-hop artists; and one of the few rap acts to have their albums locally released on vinyl.

There are more accolades. And also not leaving out the fact that AKA has raps, makes great music and puts on an amazing show. Why be apologetic about all that? You don’t have to agree with AKA or like how he chooses to handle himself, but let the man be great.

Sabelo Mkhabela is a writer from Swaziland, currently based in Cape Town. He also drops award-winning tweets as @SabzaMK.

Image: Courtesy TIFF

Jenna Cato Bass is Capturing the Horrors of an Unhealed Nation

The film marks the South African director's third debut and stride towards making a name for herself in the international film circuit.

Ever since premiering her debut film, Love the One You Love, which won the Best Feature Film at the Jozi Festival in 2015, Jenna Cato Bass has been a name to watch on the international film festival circuit. Her 2017 feature, High Fantasy, was the first of her films to land on the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) lineup, followed by Flatland in 2019. Her latest offering, Mlungu Wam (Good Madam), debuted at TIFF in September of 2021 — marking her third time at the esteemed Canadian film event.

Often provocative, always thought-provoking, Bass' films have come to establish her as a director who looks at South Africa's youth, the lives they're living and the future that awaits them, with a nuanced, open-minded lens. For the first time in her career, Bass uses the genre of horror to dig into an enduring mark of the country's past — that of the fraught, complex relationship between madam and domestic worker, in Mlungu Wam (Good Madam). Set in Cape Town, the film follows the unusual, disturbing things that start happening when a young woman moves back in with her estranged mother, who is the longtime caretaker for a rich, white household.

Bass also co-wrote the film Tug of War (Vuta N'Kuvute), which became Tanzania's first film to be selected for TIFF this year, and she co-wrote Rafiki, which was Kenya's first film at TIFF in 2018.

She spoke to OkayAfrica about playing in a new genre and her hopes for African cinema.

Still from Bass's film Mlungu Wam Image: Courtesy TIFF

This story revolves around the relationship between a domestic worker and her 'madam.' What made you want to make a film about this subject?

When I make films, I like the concept to revolve around something that we all have in common - because, despite the many fractures in our society, these shared places exist. And in South Africa, we felt that everyone - in some way or another - has been deeply affected by domestic work and domestic workers, who are a keystone in our society's structure. Additionally, the 'maid' and 'madam' relationship is the ultimate symbol of race relations in South Africa - as well as how they haven't changed significantly, despite almost thirty years of democracy. So a domestic worker was the perfect character around which to centre a South African horror.

The genre of horror works really well to explore this subject and tell this story — when did you know it would be the genre you'd want to use?

The early stages of developing a film aren't always linear for me. I'll be thinking about a genre I'm interested in, and then parallel to that I'll have an idea for a story or a character, and later on, will realize that these pieces all fit together. In this case, I'd been wanting to make a horror film for ages, but hadn't found the right story… until I had the idea for Mlungu Wam, and I realized I was finally ready to try this genre.

What challenges did you face in making a horror?

It was my first time working in this genre, and it was intimidating because there's no saving you if you fail. We were also working on a very, very limited budget, so it wasn't possible to show as much as we'd like to - but then again, this story was all about the subjective and the unseen, so I did as much research and planning as we could, and just had to trust it would work.

Where did you film, and did that have any impact on the process at all?

We filmed in a house in Cape Town, in a gated community in the Southern Suburbs. The house and the environment had a major impact on the film - especially because we were also quarantining there for the full 7 weeks of rehearsal and shooting. The house was our set and our accommodation, so it was very intense, very claustrophobic, and very triggering for many of our team members.

How did you and co-writer Babalwa Baartman work on the story? You've included cast members in the writing process in your previous work — did you do that here too?

Mlungu Wam was made along similar lines to my first two films, Love The One You Love and High Fantasy, where we started with an outline, cast actors, then workshopped the characters collaboratively before completing the story breakdown and using improv for the dialogue. Babalwa and I had worked together using this method on a short film we made in 2019 called Sizohlala. She really understands the process, and it was a really rewarding experience exploring the story with her and our cast.

How did Kristina Ceyton, who produced the excellent acclaimed horrors The Babadook and The Nightingale, through Causeway Films, come to be involved in this film?

I had met Sam Jennings, who is also a producer with Causeway Films, several years ago at a festival. We really connected and kept in touch over the years, sharing our work, and hoping there'd be a chance to collaborate. So when we were developing Mlungu Wam, I pitched her and Kristina the concept and they were immediately supportive. It has been a massive pleasure working with them both.

Your films are known to venture into themes of identity and healing from the past — how does this film speak to that?

Mlungu Wam is definitely about this too - it's a story about three generations of women (actually four, if you include Tsidi's grandmother, who is an unseen character in the film), how they are haunted by the past and eventually refuse to remain chained any longer. Their healing is collective, linked to each other, and wouldn't be possible for them alone as individuals.

Still from Bass's film Mlungu Wam Image: Courtesy TIFF

You've been at TIFF before - how has your experience of it been this year, with it being a hybrid of virtual and in-person?

Things have been quieter and a bit harder to navigate, but the TIFF staff have done incredible work getting the festival off the ground, despite endless challenges. It has felt very surreal to be here, and a privilege - and inspiring too, that we can still get together to celebrate films, even though our world is in such a mess. We had over 200 (socially distanced) people at our last screening, and that was an amazing feeling.

Yours is one of few African films on this year's line-up - is there anything you'd like to see happen to try improve that?

Regarding African cinema, TIFF has a real range of films this year, across several sections. Compared to many other festivals, they seem really invested in supporting cinema from the continent. Of course, this could be better, but it's also an example to other festivals who claim there aren't enough African films, that this is clearly not the case.

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