Interview
Photo courtesy of Boity

In Conversation: Boity Wants to Create Bad-Ass Anthems for Black Girls

Make space for the up-and-coming rapper. She's here to stay, and on her own terms.

Boitumelo 'Boity' Thulo is a South African TV personality, actress, entrepreneur and model for the Sissy Boy brand. Her journey to stardom began when she landed a gig as a co-presenter on the educational show The Media Career Guide on SABC 1 alongside Stevie French. She has since graced South African television screens for years, acting on the local drama series Rockville and hosting the popular music show Club 808. Last year, Boity surprised many when she released her first trap-inspired single, "Wuz Dat" featuring the lyrical maverick, Nasty C. She recently released her second single entitled "Bakae", where she spits a few verses in English but mostly pays homage to her native Sotho language.


In the beginning South Africans were not convinced, however, that Boity's transition into music would be all that successful or that it should even happen at all. Quite a number of them felt that she should rather "stick to what she knows" and leave music to "those who know how". However, with "Wuz Dat" having received close to a million YouTube views and "Bakae" steadily growing in numbers, they may just have to eat their words.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


You've released two singles, "Wuz Dat" and "Bakae". How does it feel to be able to personally add "rapper" to your resume?

It feels incredible. And now that I'm in this space, I realize only now how much I've wanted it and how at home I feel in this space. It's been such a massive chunk of me that's been waiting to be explored. It feels good.

For the longest time we've known Boity as a TV personality, a model for Sissy Boy and an actress. Is that space completely different to the music space?

Yeah, definitely. I think to a certain extent all of them require their own kind of characters I guess. I think in the other realm it's the politically correct and respectful voice that everyone knows and is used to. Not that she's not real but that she's just a part of me. I don't feel like that space would have ever given me a chance to showcase the rest of Boity the way in which rap has allowed me to.

Were you making moves to venture into the music space or did you finally get that opportunity and just said, "yes I'm going for it"?

I think it was more of an opportunity-based thing. The Boity brand is growing so organically without me having to try and push it to. But I think when the rapping opportunity came about it was just a matter of timing as well, where I felt like, "I think I'm ready to push myself a little further without the fear of the risks of doing it," you know? It was me being comfortable and secure enough in myself knowing that I'm gonna try it whether it fails or not.



In your first single, "Wuz Dat", you collaborate with Nasty C, one of our top notch and quality hip-hop artists. How was that experience?

It was fantastic. The whole experience has been brand new to me. I started questioning myself and thinking, "Is this was you thought it was gonna be?" And if so, "Do you really wanna do this?" So I went through all of that. Nasty C is a musical genius. He's so brilliant, and he's also so chilled, you know? I think it made a huge difference, having someone who is as talented, someone who is as well informed and someone who's so willing to work with me as he is. He allowed me to be scared, uncomfortable and free all at the same time.

Was there ever a moment where you asked yourself whether you should be rapping at all?

That was my first day in the studio and it was time for me to open my mouth and say something, you know? At the very beginning, I had to be comfortable with what my voice sounds like. Even now, I'm still very self-conscious about what I hear.


Do you like the way your voice sounds?

No. I'm still getting used to it and I'm still wrapping my head around it. I'm still getting comfortable in this space. And, also, just learning how my voice should sound, because I'm assuming that it's still gonna mature the more sessions I do. I'm gonna get used to what Boity sounds like. For now, obviously, we're seeing where it goes and we're testing the waters in terms of what sounds and feels comfortable, but I don't think I've discovered my voice as yet. But it takes more than two records to figure that out.

Nasty C has been welcoming to you. Do you feel like the rest of the music space, especially the more veteran female rappers such as Rouge, Gigi Lamayne and Nadia Nakai, have been as welcoming?


The reception was amazing. People were truly cheering me on. Gigi, Nadia, Rouge, all of them. They all tweeted and they were congratulating me, But, without a doubt, I think the reception I received was incredible. I wasn't expecting it. And, I wouldn't have held anyone against it if they hadn't congratulated me. It's okay. No one has to.

Read: Why Nasty C is The Greatest South African Rapper of This Generation

What would you say makes you a little nervous or anxious in this new space?

And, the only thing that makes me nervous, I guess, is before I get on stage. It's never the same because it's a different crowd all the time. It's a different space and a different time. Different energy as well.

How do you handle those nerves? What are some of the processes you go through?

Obviously, mentally, I'm preparing for this five days before the show. But, if I know that I'm about to get on stage, in like 10 or 20 minutes, I don't want anyone to talk to me. I'm getting lost in my thoughts—just self-preparation and calling on my ancestors. I just want to make sure that I give people my best at any given moment, whether it's 17 people or 17 000 people. It must be the same energy because they all just bought tickets.

Boity performs at the South African Hip Hop Awards in 2018. Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

Do you channel anyone or are you just trying to focus on Boity and developing your own identity as a musician?


I wouldn't say I've stopped listening to female rappers altogether, but I've tried to lessen that so that I don't get subconsciously influenced. The last thing you want now is to hear, "Oh, but you sound like this person." I try to not think of anything or anyone. It's just me.


You're an actress, a model and now, you're becoming a rapper. What do you have to say about the "open up the industry" conversation?

Well, for me, personally, it's such a tricky conversation because I know that essentially it does lead to people thinking that opportunities are being given to the same people all the time. But people don't understand that it took ten years to get to the point where it seems like, now I'm getting everything. You had to build. Actually, trust, is more more than anything, that's the main one. Trust with producers, people who can trust you with coming, showing up on time. And they don't know how long it took for me to get a certain gig. What if I'd been working on it for three years? People don't see those things.

And so, their assumption is purely based off of the end product and also, it's a massive chunk of this conversation about "opening up the industry" should be with gatekeepers and those are the people that call us.

Perhaps there is the misconception that because of all the glamour in your line of work, you don't have to work as hard?


You don't even know how much pay and how much we work; the hours we have to put in to get to that point. It's like, again, it's you look at the end product. And, it's almost like people wanna show up to a good life. A lot of the people who want the industry to be open based on this thing that they see; this glamorous side, it almost feels like they're not willing to put in the work. They just wanna rock up and be in the dress and be on the red carpet and also be presenting.

Boity - Bakae (Audio) www.youtube.com


What kind of music do you want to make? What music would make you happy?

Well, I definitely wanna make music for, like you say, black girl magic. That would be dope. Whether it's about us getting our own money or you know, making it sound as bad bitch as possible. Just a female anthem. But, if I can create anything that resonates with a young female and it makes them feel like, "Hey man. This created some form of a shift in my mind to either do better or to step forward for myself and to put my foot down and say, I deserve more."

Are you going to keep dropping singles, getting into the feel of it? Are we expecting an album soon?


No pressure. We'll see how it goes. We're gonna go with the flow. I don't wanna make any promises to myself or to people. I think people should just know that whenever I come out with something...there it is.

Follow Boity on Twitter (@Boity) and stream her first two singles below.





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Angelique Kidjo performs onstage during the 62nd Annual GRAMMY Awards Premiere Ceremony at Microsoft Theater on January 26, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

'Take Africa Out of It and There's No Music for Y’all,' Angelique Kidjo on Success, ‘World Music’ & Championing New African Talent

OkayAfrica caught up with the legendary Beninese singer following her recent Grammy win and her feature on the collaborative electronic track 'Milambi.'

Last month, Angelique Kidjo won her fourth Grammy in the 'Best World Music' category. But it wasn't quite like every other year she had been nominated for the award. This time she shared the nomination with fellow African act Burna Boy, the first artist of the continent's current afropop scene to earn a nomination. While there's no question that Kidjo, who won for her 2019 album Celia, was beyond deserving (this was by no means a Kendrick-Macklemore scenario), Kidjo made the conscious decision to dedicate her award to Burna and urged viewers to pay attention to the wealth of new talent coming from the continent. "The new generation of artists coming from Africa are going to take you by storm and the time has come," said the artist.

Her vocal support for African talent isn't new though. As Kidjo notes, she gave a similarly memorable speech when she won four years ago for her album Sings, and she sounds fierce and impassioned as she speaks about it over the phone. After all, Kidjo has always been notably forward-looking in life and in music—experimentation doesn't scare her. Her latest work is on a futuristic, electronic project from Swiss DJ and producer Pablo Nouvelle and she expresses excitement about the novel methods in which African artists are creating and amplifying their music.

We caught up with Kidjo following her latest Grammy win and the release of her joint single with Nouvelle, "Milambi," to discuss her support of the new crop of talent emerging from the continent, fame, the controversy around the 'Best World Music' category, and remaining true to her identity in a Western-oriented music industry.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

The Grammys were a big moment. Why did you decide to dedicate your award to Burna Boy and acknowledge the new generation of up-and-coming African artists?

I'm always in contact with my continent. I go back on a regular basis, and that's where my source of inspiration is from. Throughout the years going back and forth, I've been seeing the entrepreneurship of the young generation coming up. When I started music—there was none of that. You just went to the studio, and you found people to help you do your music. Now you can be a self-producer. I have nephews and nieces, and I'll just say "Ok, what's new? Let me listen to the new stuff." And I just realized that the rest of the world has no clue about what's happening in Africa.

Four years ago, when I received my Grammy for the album Sings, I said "Brace yourself, because Africa is coming. You have to open your heart, your mind and ears to listen to what is going on and what is coming from the new generation of my contient"— I said that four years ago, and the time has come because [with artists like] Burna Boy, Wizkid, Davido, Yemi Alade and many more from Nigeria, and Sho Madjozi from South Africa—you have so much happening culturally in Africa. I have the feeling that sometimes people just completely turn their head away from Africa and I just wonder how one could possibly turn their head away from where they come from, because Africa is the cradle of humanity. Culture comes from there—there's no music on this planet that doesn't have Africa in it.

www.youtube.com

Is this why you've chosen to work with a lot of younger artists from the continent like Yemi Alade most recently?

I'm so proud of this new generation of musicians that are using the technology to tell a positive story about Africa. It's no longer about our suffering. Everybody suffers. So, why should people be focusing only on our suffering and not seeing just the human beings that we are, and how joyful we are? Then suddenly, you realize that joy becomes political because if your society, your people are perceived as joyful, then a leader cannot complain anymore that something is wrong. Beyond all that, [I do it] to pay tribute to the entrepreneurship of the young generation. They aren't waiting on help from anybody. If you are famous in your country and on your continent, there's nothing that can stop you. You have billions of people that will love you, so why should the rest of the world look aside when you're passing by? They should pay attention.

That's why I use my platform to bring the attention of the media to this new generation coming. They don't want to be caught by surprise because I've been telling them to pay attention. If something happens, and they don't pay attention, at least I've done my work.

I do think it's really amazing how new artists have been able to gain traction and put their music out despite their not being a lot of support by African leaders for creative industries. Do you think that African governments, and the folks with money should invest more entertainment?

I think they should because we create jobs. People make money, and it's not only the artists. There's also the people helping them make videos, or cut tracks—music creates jobs.

I think we have to educate our leaders and our business people in Africa. Who can carry their brand better than us? Who are the best ambassadors of our cultures, our countries and our continent? It's us artists across different forms of art, from painters, to storytellers, to people in theatre and movies. Every form of art is about telling the story of ordinary people and the people that have come before us. How do you know about your own history, if not for the elderly people that tell you the story of who you are?

In order for us to tell our story, we need to have a voice. We need to say it through different mediums. Music is one of them. We shouldn't let anyone else tell our stories anymore. That time in history has passed. We have new narratives, we have proof of how entrepreneurial we are. Africans can make money in Africa and anywhere else. The world is open to us—the world is ours. No one can stop us.

So many African artists look to you as an inspiration and a model for longevity in the music industry. I'm wondering which artists served that role for you when you were first coming up.

There are many, many of them. I would say it started with traditional musicians because I was a very curious child. I come from that background of traditional musicians telling me stories through songs. [Growing up] my brothers were playing music, my father brought the instruments for them, and freed a room in a crowded house for them to rehearse. I heard every genre of music in the '60, '70s and '80s through them, but my role models start with traditional musicians, both male and female. [But at a certain point] I noticed that every album that would be brought home had just men on the covers. I was like, "Okay, so women don't sing? They can't do albums too?" Then you had Western women start coming in and I was like, "Okay, at least some women are making it through [in the industry]."

Then Miriam Makeba came and Aretha Franklin came. The day Aretha Franklin came, the singer of my brother's band—who had such a fucking ego, you couldn't even put it anywhere—said "there's no song I can't sing." [But] Aretha came and he couldn't sing. I'm like, "What? A woman is whooping your butt. I like that."

So, there have been strong men and women as musicians that have informed the music that I make today. The only way I could absorb it and make my own music, and become a role model to others today is because I am proud of my culture. I know where I come from, I'm not trying to copy anybody because everybody copied what we have. There wouldn't be any music in America without the input of enslaved people that came from Africa. The blues came from slaves. It doesn't matter how hard the slave owner wanted to dehumanize us—they even took the drum away from us. But we had many ways of celebrating culture. We had many ways of celebrating our humanity—singing was one of them. We sing our pain to lift it up. We sing our joy to share it with people. That's what African music is. The essence of what music is comes from that place. We've seen it all, we've been through hell, yet here we are prevailing still.

"I have to be able to sing my songs till I die."

You've always championed African culture and identity, whether it's through singing in Yoruba, or representing Benin through various endeavors. Did you at any point, ever face pressure from the industry to tone down your "Africanness" to appeal to certain audiences?

They have a saying in my country, that "the advisor is not the payer." [It's about] what you do with the advice people give you. I'm always listening, I'm always ready to sit and hear constructive criticism. But if you want to critique for the sake of criticizing me—I've heard some journalists say that I'm not African enough in France because my music sounds too Western. I said, "What is the music of the West then? Tell me." Take Africa out of it and there's no music for y'all.

For me, I respect everybody, particularly the differences because there lies the genius. We all don't think the same.

People said, "Why don't you show your titties?" I'm like, "Well, I don't feel like showing my titties because my titties ain't singing. My voice is not in my breasts." You've got to be somebody, and I am African. I come from a rich culture. Why should I change to look like what? What do you want me to look like? I've never ever allowed anyone to say to me, "You can't do this." I have fought some producers that try to change my music. I say, "If that's the case, you take the microphone, you sing, it's not mine, I'm out of here." You have to stand for something. If you are afraid of not making it, then you become a fool to somebody.

People will say what they want to say. If I want to dress differently, I do sometimes. When I received the NAACP award, I wore a suit. A well-tailored suit, and I kill it too in a suit. It's not what you wear, it's who you are.

I always say, if anyone wants to work with me, I'm open. The bridge I'm trying to build, everybody's welcome on it in the respect of each other's differences. My strength might be your weakness, and then I supply. My weakness might be your strength. It goes both ways. I don't have the answer to everything, but one thing I know is that if we stop bitching at each other and blaming people for all the things that aren't good in our life will be better off because when we start doing that, what do we do? We create fear, and fear is dangerous.

I wanted to ask you about the controversy surrounding the Best World Music category at the Grammys. Many believe that it doesn't truly encompass the diversity of music coming from the continent. What are your thoughts on the matter?

Don't underestimate the recording academy. They have been thinking about it way before this. It's a conversation that we're going to be engaging in. Africa is not a country, it's a continent. The Latin Grammy exists. We should have the African Grammys too, because it's a continent, because it's vast, it's huge. So, it's a conversation we started having because the academy is also realizing this, and they are, at least, having that conversation. Right now, if you look at the "French Grammys" coming up, there's not one person of African descent [represented]. Not one. They just completely ban what is called "world music" out of it and we're in the 21st century. So, I think criticizing is one thing, finding solutions is another.

Let's work with the recording academy and find out how we can help to come up with something that works for everybody. That's all I'm about. I'm always about solutions. The thing is that we also need to recognize that we cannot be discriminating when it comes to culture. If we don't speak to each other, and we're always blaming and pointing fingers, there's no conversation possible anymore. We should have an open discussion about this and be creative about it. That's all I say.

Speaking on shifting genres, you recently worked with Pablo Nouvelle on his new project Eliso, I saw it described as your "maiden venture into electronic music." What was that experience like for you?

I started with electronic music. If you ask David Byrne, he would tell you that my first album, Logozo was completely electric, but African electric. So for me, working on this album brings me back to the beginning and, I'm not done doing that. I'm going to do it more.

So, we can expect a lot more of this electronic sound that you've already been working on?

I'm not saying anything.

We can't have a hint?

No, nothing, because I always follow my inspiration. If my inspiration changes a little bit, I have to change [my direction].

You just go with whatever feels right?

I have to be able to sing my songs till I die. All my songs, if I can't sing them, with just my voice and a guitar, it means it's not good. When writing a song, less is more because if you add too much stuff, then you kill the song. You're overstating it. Do the minimal. If it feels good to you, and you can sing it in your sleep, wake up dancing to it, and you can feel it in every beat in your body, it's right.

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Watch Ayanda Jiya's music video for 'Lover 4 Life.'

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News Brief
Twice As Tall World Tour. Flyer provided by Atlantic Records.

Burna Boy Announces 'Twice As Tall' World Tour Dates

The Nigerian star will be playing shows across North America and Europe this summer.

Burna Boy is hitting the road again.

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The Twice As Tall World Tour will kick off in May in Atlanta, and will see Burna Boy playing concerts across the US, Canada, Norway, France, Portugal, UK, Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and more locations.

You can check out the full tour dates for Twice As Tall World Tour below and revisit Burna Boy's performance for Okay Acoustics.

Tickets are available now.

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