Introducing Cape Town Beatmaker Cutting Gems

Okayafrica spoke to Cape Town beatmaker Cutting Gems (aka Jeremy Bishop) and naas' Thor Rixon in the lead-up to the Cape Town Electronic Music Festival.

There’s an air of mystery that hangs around the video for Cutting Gems' "Tonight/Baby," but after a little digging we found that the ever-so-secretive Jeremy Bishop (aka B#; aka Cutting Gems) produces left field hip-hop and electronic music with unexpected influxes of Soul and R&B. Jeremy has spent a fair amount of time lurking in the shadows musically, holding off on releasing his music until now. His debut EP is set for release on March 3rd via naasMUSIC, the same team who introduced us to Oltak’s "Stars/Lemonade," among other gems. We got to know young Bishop and the naas team a little more in the lead-up to this weekend’s Cape Town Electronic Music Festival. Watch the naas-produced video for Cutting Gems' inaugural single "Tonight/Baby" below, and scroll on for the full interview.


Shiba for OKA: Tell us a bit about Cutting Gems as a musician…

Cutting Gems (Jeremy Bishop): Well, I’m a 21 year-old producer born in London, but raised in Cape Town, South Africa. I first got into making music when I was 12 when I started teaching myself guitar, and through that learnt a lot of music theory that still affects my music today, even though it's no longer guitar-driven. I now primarily work as a beat-maker, although I do often record myself playing guitar or keyboards/synths in my songs. Previously I’d been DJing under the name ‘B#,’ but I wanted to move away from playing other people’s music and return to making music that I love. I do not sing (or at least not at the moment). The vocals off "Tonight/Baby" are actually taken off Ashanti’s "U." It's funny for me that a lot of people have asked if it’s me singing when I’ve taken for granted that it’s a pitched-down female vocal sample. I always point to the lyrics “Now I’ve been known to crush a brother once or twice before / But what you bringin’ to the table looks like so much more.”

OKA: As manager of naasMUSIC, what do you look for in a great track? What about Cutting Gems drew you guys to work together on this?

Thor Rixon for naas: We always look for originality above anything else in a track or body of work. People that are pushing a unique sound is what really grabs our attention. Also artists who are very driven and hard working excite us and make us want to work with them. Jeremy approached us with some of his tracks a few months ago and we were really excited by what we heard and the enthusiasm he had for this EP he wanted to release.

OKA: What can we expect from the rest of the EP?

naas: The rest of Cutting Gems' EP features Jeremy's diversity in sound production and mood which leads the listener through many lavish soundscapes. The rest of the album features a few more uptempo numbers compared to the first single, "Tonight/Baby."

Cutting Gems: I think "Tonight/Baby" sets the tone for the EP in a more overstated way than anything else, in that it is more condensed than some of the other songs I’ll be releasing. It’s the only song which features a strong vocal part (not that I haven’t used vocals in the other songs). The rest of the EP focuses more on instrumentation and texture, or at least I feel that that’s where it succeeds. I have never thought of my music as being a contribution to a scene, although this is probably quite naive as so many people have had an effect on me locally. I’ve always just made music which I like, even though I’ve been aware of local and international trends.

OKA: What was the conception of this video like?

naas: When we first heard Cutting Gems' EP, we knew we wanted to produce a video for one of the singles. When we decided on "Tonight/Baby" we threw a lot of ideas around amongst myself (director), Stewart Innes (co-director & editor) and Jeremy. Jeremy was very hands-on from the get-go and had really great ideas to add to the video. The initial idea was to have a static frame of a female singing the lyrics to the track without seeing her eyes. As you know, this idea evolved into what you see in the final product.

Cutting Gems: Stewart (editor of the video) is a good friend of mine, and I’d been throwing ideas about doing a music video with him for probably over a year. When he recently started working with the guys over at naas, and I had an upcoming release, the stage was set and we went ahead. Although a lot of the original ideas were not present in the final video, the frame of a girl singing the lyrics was kept from the beginning and we worked from that. The focus was never really on getting a bunch of ‘hot’ girls, although admittedly it did play a factor aesthetically. I liked the idea of playing on the lyrics, which portray a strong female will.

OKA: What are some of your favourite music moments from 2013? Any predictions for 2014?

Cutting Gems: Internationally, my highlights from 2013 would have to include Lone’s Airglow Fires, Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap, Snoopzilla & DāM FunK’s 7 Days of Funk, everything by DJ Rashad, Machinedrum’s ongoing Vapor City project, Mount Kimbie’s Cold Spring Faultless Youth, and labels Soulection, Huh What & Where, and Lucky Me. Locally, CTEMF (Cape Town Electronic Music Festival) who are pushing serious boundaries and bridging the massive (geographical) gap between South Africa and the western world. Damascvs releasing quality left-field tunes, John Wizards exploding internationally, Wildebeats winning competitions to play festivals overseas (muh boi!), continued game changers from the Gravy crew, and discovering new local producers more and more regularly.

Cutting Gems' debut EP arrives 3/3. Until then, stay caught up with Cutting Gems and all things naas.


Introducing OkayAfrica's 100 Women 2020 List

Celebrating African Women Laying the Groundwork for the Future

It would not be hyperbole to consider the individuals we're honoring for OkayAfrica's 100 Women 2020 list as architects of the future.

This is to say that these women are building infrastructure, both literally and metaphorically, for future generations in Africa and in the Diaspora. And they are doing so intentionally, reaching back, laterally, and forward to bridge gaps and make sure the steps they built—and not without hard work, mines of microaggressions, and challenges—are sturdy enough for the next ascent.

In short, the women on this year's list are laying the groundwork for other women to follow. It's what late author and American novelist Toni Morrison would call your "real job."

"I tell my students, 'When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else."

And that's what inspired us in the curation of this year's list. Our honorees use various mediums to get the job done—DJ's, fashion designers, historians, anthropologists, and even venture capitalists—but each with the mission to clear the road ahead for generations to come. Incredible African women like Eden Ghebreselassie, a marketing lead at ESPN who created a non-profit to fight energy poverty in Eritrea; or Baratang Miya, who is quite literally building technology clubs for disadvantaged youth in South Africa.

There are the builds that aren't physically tangible—movements that inspire women to show up confidently in their skin, like Enam Asiama's quest to normalize plus-sized bodies and Frédérique (Freddie) Harrel's push for Black and African women to embrace the kink and curl of their hair.

And then there are those who use their words to build power, to take control of the narrative, and to usher in true inclusion and equity. Journalists, (sisters Nikki and Lola Ogunnaike), a novelist (Oyinkan Braithwaite), a media maven (Yolisa Phahle), and a number of historians (Nana Oforiatta Ayim, Leïla Sy) to name a few.

In a time of uncertainty in the world, there's assuredness in the mission to bring up our people. We know this moment of global challenge won't last. It is why we are moving forward to share this labor of love with you, our trusted and loyal audience. We hope that this list serves as a beacon for you during this moment—insurance that future generations will be alright. And we have our honorees to thank for securing that future.


The annual OkayAfrica 100 Women List is our effort to acknowledge and uplift African women, not only as a resource that has and will continue to enrich the world we live in, but as a group that deserves to be recognized, reinforced and treasured on a global scale. In the spirit of building infrastructure, this year's list will go beyond the month of March (Women's History Month in America) and close in September during Women's Month in South Africa.

100 women 2020

Burna Boy 'African Giant' money cover art by Sajjad.

The 20 Essential Burna Boy Songs

We comb through the Nigerian star's hit-filled discography to select 20 essential songs from the African Giant.

Since bursting onto the scene in 2012 with his chart-topping single, "Like to Party," and the subsequent release of his debut album, L.I.F.E - Leaving an Impact for eternity, Burna Boy has continued to prove time and again that he is a force to be reckoned with.

The African Giant has, over the years, built a remarkable musical identity around the ardent blend of dancehall, hip-hop, reggae, R&B, and afropop to create a game-changing genre he calls afro-fusion. The result has been top tier singles, phenomenal collaborations, and global stardom—with several accolades under his belt which include a Grammy nomination and African Giant earning a spot on many publications' best albums of 2019.

We thought to delve into his hit-filled discography to bring you The 20 Essential Burna Boy Songs.

This list is in no particular order.

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The 12 Songs You Need to Hear This Week

Featuring Sarkodie, Cassper Nyovest, Elaine, Darkovibes, Stogie T, Phyno, C Natty, and more.

Every week, we highlight the cream of the crop in music through our best music of the week column.

Here's our round up of the best tracks and music videos that came across our desks, which you can also check out in our Songs You Need to Hear This Week playlists on Spotify and Apple Music.

Follow our SONGS YOU NEED TO HEAR THIS WEEK playlist on Spotify here and Apple Music here.

Check out all of OkayAfrica's playlists on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Photo courtesy of CNOA

These Colombian Civil Rights Activists Are Fighting to Make Sure Afro-Colombians are Counted in the Census

When 30 percent of Colombia's Black citizens disappeared from the data overnight, a group of Afro-Colombian activists demanded an explanation.

It was the end of 2019 when various Black organizations protested in front of the census bureau—The National Institute of Statistics and Informatics (DANE)—in Bogotá, Colombia to show their dissatisfaction about what they called a "statistical genocide" of the black population. The census data, published that year, showed 2.9 million people, only 6 percent of the total population of the country, was counted as "Afro-Colombian," "Raizal," and "Palenquero"—the various terms identifying black Colombians.

For many years, Afro-Colombians have been considered the second largest ethno-racial group in the country. Regionally, Colombia has long been considered the country with the second highest number of Afro-descendants after Brazil, according to a civil society report.

Why did the population of Afro-Colombians drop so drastically?

Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists protesting erasure of Afro-descendants in front of the census bureau.

Last year, a crowd of activists gathered in Bogota to protest what they saw as erasure of Black communities in the Colombian census.

Photo courtesy of CNOA

In the latest national census report from 2018/2019, there appeared to be a 30.8 percent reduction of the overall group of people that identified as Black, Afro-Colombian, Raizal, and Palenquero, as compared to the 2005. After this controversial report, an Afro-Colombian civil rights organization known as the National Conference of Afro Colombian Organizations (CNOA), officially urged DANE to explain the big undercounting of the black population.

This wasn't a small fight. Representatives who hold the special seats of Afro-Colombians in Colombia's congress asked the census bureau to attend a political control debate at the House of Representatives in November 2019 to deliver an accountability report. "The main goal of doing a political debate was to demand DANE to give us a strong reason about the mistaken data in the last census in regard to the Afro population," said Ariel Palacios, an activist and a member of CNOA.

At the debate, the state released an updated census data report saying that, almost 10 percent of the Colombian population—4.6 million people out of 50.3 million—considers themselves Afro-Colombians or other ethnicities (like Raizal, and Palenquero). But despite DANE trying to confirm the accuracy and reliability on the latest census report it was clear that, for a variety of reasons, Black people were missed by the census. The state argued that their main obstacles with data collection were related to the difficulties of the self-recognition question, as well as security reasons that didn't allow them to access certain regions. They also admitted to a lack of training, logistics and an overall lack of success in the way the data collectors conducted the census.

How could they have counted Black populations better?

Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists playing drums in front of the census bureau.

Drummers performing during a protest against the Colombian census bureau's erasure of Afro-Colombians from the 2018 census.

Photo courtesy of CNOA

These arguments were not reasonable for the civil rights activists, partially because the state failed to properly partner with Afro-organizations like CNOA to conduct or facilitate extensive informational campaigns about the self-identification questions.

"CNOA has worked on self-recognition and visibility campaigns among the Afro community and this census ignored our work," says priest Emigdio Cuesta-Pino, the executive secretary of CNOA. Palacios also thinks that the majority of Afro-Colombians are aware of their identity "we self-identify because we know there is a public political debate and we know that there is a lack of investment on public policies."

That's why it is not enough to leave the statistical data to the official census bureau to ensure that Afro-Colombian communities are fully counted in the country. And the civil rights activists knows that. They made a big splash in the national media and achieved visibility in the international community.

Thanks to The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a human rights organization, Palacios traveled to D.C to meet with Race and Equality institution and a Democratic Congressman. "We called for a meeting with representative Hank Johnson to talk about the implementation of Colombia's peace accords from an Afro-Colombian perspective but also to address the gross undercounts of its black population," says Palacios.

For the activists at CNOA, the statistical visibility of the Black population is one of their battles. They have fought for Afro population recognition for almost two decades. "Since the very beginning CNOA has worked on the census issue as one of our main commitments within the statistical visibility of the Afro-Colombian people," says priest Cuesta-Pina. Behind this civil organization are 270 local associations, who work for their rights and collective interests.

The activists want to raise awareness on identity. Because according to Palacios, "In Colombia, there is missing an identity debate—we don't know what we are. They [the census bureau] ask if we are black, or if we are Afro-Colombians. But what are the others being asked? If they are white, mestizo or indigenous?" Palacios believes that for "CNOA this debate is pending, and also it is relevant to know which is the character of this nation."

Afro-Colombian Populations and the Coronavirus

Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists use mock coffins and statistics to protest erasure of Afro-descendants

Colombian civil-rights activist insist that undercounting Afro-descendants can have a real impact on the health of Afro-Colombian communities, especially during the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis.

Photo courtesy of CNOA

Even though the state recently "agreed with to give us a detailed census report" and make a different projection with the micro data, says Palacios, now with the Covid-19 emergency, CNOA and the government has suspended all meetings with them, including cancelling a second congressional debate and the expert round table meeting to analyze the data.

Unfortunately, it is exactly in situations like the Covid-19 emergency where data analysis and an accurate census report would have been useful. According to the professor and PhD in Sociology Edgar Benítez from Center for Afro Diasporic Studies—CEAF, "Now it is required to provide a reliable and timely information on how the contagion pattern will spread in those predominantly Afro regions in the country and what is the institutional capacity in those places to face it," says Benítez.

He adds that this information is "critical at the moment because the institutional capacity is not up to provide it at the current situation". That's why the Center for Afro Diasporic Studies plans to work with DANE information from the last census. According to Benítez, "We are thinking of making comparisons at the municipal level with the information reported in the 2018 Quality of Life Survey, in order to have a robust and extensive database as possible on the demographic, economic and social conditions of the black, afro, Raizal and Palenquera population in Colombia."

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