Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

How AKA’s Sampling Is Preserving South African Classics

AKA reimagines old South African classics into hits young fans can relate to.

On his 2009 hit "Music and Lights," the legendary motswako rapper HHP greets us by asking, "What would Jabba be without a sample?"

It's a straightforward question, over the group Imagination's infectious melodies chopped up by the South African veteran producer Thasman. South African hip-hop is constantly asking itself that very same question, with a range of interesting answers. Where would it be without the inspiration of previous generations and a plethora of different sounds from various genres?

Over the past decade, the rapper AKA has been answering this question more often than any South African rapper. It's something he hopes benefits his young fans when they hear a sample he's deployed. The rapper once tweeted, "I really think with the passing of Ray Phiri and Hugh Masekela among other legends we've lost, it's never been more important for the music to be passed on to the next generation. Younger people need to know this music so they can be reminded where we come from."

As a student of an array of music himself, AKA has proven to have a penchant for picking great samples throughout his career. He's made it a point to signal where he comes from with hints of influence from African artists such as Fela Kuti, MXO, Stimela and Future 21, among others.

Traversing across genres like house, afrobeat, jazz, bubblegum and funk, he's proved he possesses an ear for catchy melodies and the talent to reinterpret them for his audience's current tastes. Sampling has played an important role in AKA's career, precisely because he's trying to create memorable music with a long shelf life. He's repeatedly tapped into timeless sounds with a proven longevity to do this. This strategy is clear on the Jerah-interpolating "Kontrol" and the Brenda Fassie-sampling "All Eyes On Me." With a decade-long career consisting of only two solo albums—Altar Ego (2011) and Levels (2014)—it seems to be working for him. AKA's singles have outlived those of his peers because they punctuate moments in people's lives and tap into the nostalgia of listeners. He repurposes soundtracks of the past and creates new ones that appeal to both young and mature markets.

The run-on effect of sampling, though, is what it contributes to the entire music ecosystem. The rejuvenation of genres that may have lost out on airplay as we've ushered in the age of streaming has far-reaching consequences. There are obvious financial benefits for the artists who get sampled (including their estates), the preservation of culture and great music for fans. It's no wonder that on his upcoming and final album, Touch My Blood, AKA is sticking to his tried and trusted formula. On Touch My Blood, it seems his masterful approach is coming full circle.

His lead singles, "Sweet Fire" and "Caiphus Song" reinterpret Stimela and Caiphus Semenya respectively. Both songs represent the now-signature sound AKA has been working towards: providing a pop sensibility to African classics. The masterstroke, of course, is that the resultant songs are as appealing to his young fans as they are to their parents.

This cross-generational appeal is particularly evident on "Caiphus Song." The track has been a staple on the charts since it was released last year. The brilliance of the artist is his awareness of how to create conversation before the song, and a future beyond the release date. His controversial fake-breakup in 2017 with his then girlfriend Bonang Matheba provided a talking point and the subsequent link to popular reality TV show Our Perfect Wedding ensured that "Caiphus Song" was a soundtrack to an important aspect of most people's lives.

This is precisely the strength of sampling; it simultaneously gives life to music that came before it and enables artists to create memories beyond the updated song. This may very well prove to be the case with "Amen", the latest Tweezy-produced single off of Touch My Blood. It reimagines Hollis P Monroe's "This Is Goodbye," a song popularized in South Africa by house DJ and producer Fistaz Mixwell. Although the L-Tido-assisted song is a nondescript, looped portion of the song, it's AKA staying true to form.

Reworking a prominent house hit from the 2000s ties into a larger story beyond the song itself. As listeners recognize the song, they also remember their initial interaction with it as a go-to party song in what seems like an aeon ago.

AKA has tapped into memories and added an extension to them again, so to speak. This allows for a second wind for other genres as they increasingly play a role in rappers' sonic choices. The offshoot of fusing genres has seen the growth of subgenres that have spawned their own great music. New age kwaito, digital maskandi, Afrotrap and skhanda rap are all a result of reimagining existing genres and moulding them for new audiences.

K.O's 2014 mega hit "Cara Cara," Kid X's "Aunty," Cassper Nyovest's "Destiny," Kwesta's "Spirit" and Dr Duda & Stogie T's "Stimela SaseZola (Trapmix)" all rely on a nostalgia specific to South Africa. This is proof enough that genres can be reborn through modern artists' treatment of them.

AKA has been at the forefront of this rebirth since releasing "Jealousy" in 2013, reimagining the sounds of South African hip-hop by drawing from music that reminds us where he comes from. Thankfully he's not alone and the sounds South African hip-hop explores will continue to reignite our love for music, both old and new.

Beyond AKA's penchant for sampling is the increased life cycle of more than just his songs: it's the preservation of music that has contributed to a collective culture that shan't be forgotten.

Listen to AKA's Touch My Blood below.

Photo still via TIFF.

Watch the Striking Trailer for 'Farming'—Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje's Directorial Debut

This is a must-watch.

The trailer for Farming, Nigerian-British actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje's directorial debut, is here.

"Between the 1960s and the 1980s, thousands of Nigerian children were farmed out to white working class families in the UK," the trailer begins. "This is the true story of just one of them."

Keep reading... Show less
Image by Fibonacci Blue via Flickr.

#IStandWithIlhan: Supporters Rally Behind Ilhan Omar Following Racist 'Send Her Back' Chant

"I am here where I belong, at the people's house, and you're just going to have to deal,"—Congresswoman Ilhan Omar

Social media continues to rally behind Representative Ilhan Omar, following a series of racist remarks targeted at her and several other congresswoman of color by President Donald Trump.

The president doubled down on his racist rhetoric during a re-election rally in North Carolina on Wednesday, attendees began chanting "send her back," referring to Omar—echoing anti-imigrant remarks that the president tweeted last week, in which he wrote that four congresswomen of color: Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib should "go back" to where they came from.

This is far from the first time that Omar has been on the receiving end of racist and Islamophobic attacks and referred to as un-American on account of her Somali heritage.

READ: Op-Ed: In Defense of the Black Boogeyman

Keep reading... Show less
Sir Elvis in "Loving Man" (Youtube)

6 African Country Musicians You Should Check Out

Featuring Sir Elvis, Jess Sah Bi & Peter One, Emma Ogosi and more.

With Lil Nas X's EP going straight to number on the American charts, it seems like country music revival is taking over 2019 and beyond, thanks to its unlikely fusion with trap music. It only makes sense that black people are reclaiming the genre, as country was actually partly created by black American artists and heavily influenced by gospel music.

On top of that, plenty of lesser known black artists and bands are making country, or country-infused, music. This is especially the case in Africa, where the genre has been around for a few decades and an increasing number of musicians are gaining momentum. By gaining popularity in Africa, country is coming back to its roots, as country guitar and the way of playing it was originally inspired by the banjo— an instrument that African slaves brought with them to America.

Country music has a strong appeal across the African continent for several reasons: the similarity with many African instruments and the recurring lyrics and themes about love, heartbreak and "the land." At the heart of it, country music has an appeal to working class people all over the world who feel let down by the people that were supposed to help them.

Country music is played regularly on the radio in countries such as Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi but yet, the artists featured are overwhelmingly white and American. African country singers do not get the respect they deserve or are seen as anomalies. With the growing number of them making country music, here is a list of the ones you need to listen to right now.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox