Interview
Uhuru Productions

Still from documentary

In Conversation with Rehad Desai: "This was the biggest protest movement in post-Apartheid history."

The internationally-acclaimed filmmaker talks about documenting one of the largest student movements of the 21st century in 'Everything Must Fall'.

Everything Must Fall documents the Fees Must Fall movement which happened in 2015 and continued into 2016. It is a raw and uncensored account of what happened when thousands of South African students mobilized across the country and refused to be kept out of the very institutions they believed would end the cycle of poverty and unemployment that dominated their lives and those of their families.

The documentary, which is directed by Rehad Desai, is narrated by four of the prominent student leaders who were at the front line of violent clashes with police all the while fighting for the immovable belief that universities should not be elitist spaces that exclude the poor. Professor Adam Habib, The Vice Chancellor of the University of the Witwatersrand—the birthplace of the student movement—is also featured in the documentary.

Desai is a prolific South African filmmaker whose films have been screened at over 40 film festivals including Cannes. He's also a social activist who returned from political exile in the UK towards the end of Apartheid in 1990. Bring those two elements together and you have explosive documentaries such as Everything Must Fall and Miners Shot Down.

Miners Shot Down documented the 2012 Marikana massacre where 34 miners were gunned down by the police, all because they had asked for better wages and for their employers to simply "come and see how they were living".

We sat down with Desai to talk about some of the challenges he encountered documenting this historical movement and what touched him personally as a storyteller.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Fees Must Fall was and is a story about the youth. Why was it particularly important to you to document that story?

Well, I could relate for a number of reasons. One, I was very involved in student politics in the UK when I was doing my A levels and when I went to university in Zimbabwe from '87 to '90. A lot of what was being said resonated with me. Moreover, I'm a social activist, and I was feeling up until that moment, that I'd be going to my grave with these ideas with me and nobody else to follow behind me, so to speak.

Then all of a sudden, this young generation of people burst onto the scene and very quickly developed some quite hard-edged, radical ideas. There was a political imagination at work—it was fantastic.

When the students decided to continue with the protests, we decided then to move closer to the scene of action, so to speak. We decided to take these offices and just follow what was happening there and start identifying characters that we wanted to run with throughout this period.

Everything Must Fall - Documentary Trailer 2018www.youtube.com

Why did you the story the way you did?

Films are very expensive, very laborious and very labor intensive. This idea that the students should make their own films, tell their own history and so on, is a bit of a pipe dream. I mean, the film is primarily from the point of view of the students and that's important.

What were some of the challenges that you experienced in documenting Fees Must Fall?

Developing trust with the students. There's a couple of people that I tried to interview on numerous occasions, waiting, with all the cameras set up. And—your sound man hired, your camera man hired, your lights hired—they don't turn up. Four or five times with one person.

The other obstacle was they [student leaders] were very busy. I would've like to have stayed with them more. It was all very frantic in 2015 and 2016. The other challenge was the university itself. I think they felt quite threatened. I was chased away a couple of times by quite senior managers.

Still from documentaryUhuru Productions

Why was that?

I think that was looking at why is Wits getting all this attention? "Look how much space we're giving you and now you need permission to be on this campus." I ignored that when we worked.

But you know, just getting into the residences and the dining hall—getting in there and having permission, it was quite a job. But they gave way. They gave a lot of cooperation—I've got to give them that. Adam Habib was particularly open. He gave me a whole number of interviews. Gave me a lot of his time.

The other big challenge was the fact that this was a highly-contested movement. This notion of "Oh, wow, why are you putting ANC people in there? Why did you put EFF people in there? The movement's not about that."

Still from documentaryUhuru Productions

After filming thousands of hours of footage and doing these personal interviews, did you get the sense that the government was actively interfering and sewing division among the students?

I mean, all political parties were contesting in a way. But because of the very scale of the mobilization, the resonance—it was the zeitgeist—it came at the right time and the right moment.

The political partisan nature of it really was there following that zero percent announcement. I believe, and there is clear evidence of the ANC trying to rein back as far as possible their student involvement in the form of their student structures and student-aligned structures. The ANC had its own internal problems as we know. It all fed into this very fractious environment where they quite quickly turned to state security.

There was a momentum developing among the young; among the students. The EFF's manifestation of what's been happening at a generational level. This thing's been brewing for a while.

Still from documentaryUhuru Productions

What did you think about the militarization of the campus?

In 2016 we saw thousands of police deployed to the campuses, state security agencies and the refusing of giving people bail. This was a concerted strategy to contain the movement as far as they could. This idea that somehow it's a constitutional right to education that's being interfered with. I think that's actually nonsense. You actually polarize the situation much more deeply.

"You say to people, "Well, fuck you if you're poor and you can't afford fees. We're here to provide a service.""

It just confirmed the suspicions people were having about the nature of these universities. They're to serve the wealthy and the rich and the powerful and their interests.

Still from documentaryUhuru Productions

What do you think are some of the parallels that can be drawn between Everything Must Fall and your previous documentary on the Marikana massacre, Miners Shot Down?

I spent many months following the massacre. Amid the strikes, I was hearing the same thing and that was, "We are trapped in a cycle of poverty."

I think in many ways, the whole struggle around the fees and free education is the same thing. University is seen as a way to escape the cycle of poverty and more so as unemployment increases. So that spirit to engage and undermine the role of the market on miners, in terms of a living wage and then the fees and the right to education—it's a very similar spirit.

It's saying that there is much more to our humanity and our lives (and as a people) than the frame you're trying to put us in.

Now it's 2019 and students might not be on the streets protesting, but there's still very much that desire for free decolonized education. Where do you think things stand right now?

We saw at the beginning of this year and the end of last year, it was always the beginning and towards the end of the academic year that we see these mobilizations. I think we will see it flare up again this year. I don't think we've seen the end of this movement. It may be called something else. It may take a different form.

When you starve universities of funding, you quickly develop a big backlog in infrastructure. Our lecture halls aren't big enough. We've had a massification of education, massive expansion opening up. There's not enough accommodation. The libraries are becoming inadequate. There's also a lot of focus on research whereas it should be on teaching.

Still from documentaryUhuru Productions

Personally reflecting on the stories you've documented thus far, what was particularly heartbreaking for you?

Well, the biggest single event which I had the privilege to tell a story about was Marikana. That was heartbreaking. Seeing that and seeing all that footage was shocking and there was no going back for me after that. I was voting ANC up until that stage. I was political, never a member, but that was the turning point for me and a turning point in my life.

But the great success of that film, in being able to help form a discourse around the event, across society, politicians included, meant me taking my professional form and genre more seriously. It showed me the power of the genre. The responsibility, specifically in a context like ours, is pretty great.

You can stream Everything Must Fall on Showmax.


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Kwesta and Kabza De Small Return to Kwaito In Their New Collaborative Album

The South African hip-hop and amapiano stars revert to kwaito in Speak N Vrostaan.

Over the last few years, South African hip-hop’s overall prominence has slowed down — mostly because of amapiano’s tight grip on the market. As a result, most mainstream rappers have had to be innovative and incorporate the log drum into their tracks. One hip-hop artist who exemplifies and has executed this approach without neglecting his core artistry is Kwesta. The MC, who for a large part of the 2010s dubbed himself “Da King of African Rap,” has kept up with the times and his recent team up with Kabza De Small is a testament to this. As a rapper, who often dovetails into authentic, South African-birthed sounds, his decision to join forces with Kabza is not much of an anomaly.

Like Kwesta with South African hip-hop, Kabza is a towering and key figure within amapiano. For the past three years, the pioneering producer/DJ has remained a stalwart and has been one of the most streamed South African artists across all genres. As a solo act or together withDJ Maphorisa as Scorpion Kings, he has released genre-defining chart-topping amapiano tracks and projects. Through his label, Piano Hub, Kabza has also been instrumental in the careers of other artists including Kelvin Momo, Young Stunna and Mdu aka TRP.

The timely creative union of Kwesta and Kabza De Small dates back to 2020, amidst the peak of the pandemic when they had an encounter during a shoot for Channel 0’s Lockdown House Party show. As Kwesta tells it, Kabza was the one that initially suggested that they work together. At the time, the super producer had put out the first instalment of his Pretty Girls Love Amapiano album series and was gearing up for the release of the groundbreaking, I Am the King Of Amapiano: Sweet and Dust. From then, both their individual careers went on in their own unrelated ways: Kwesta released g.o.d Guluva in 2021 and Kabza put out multiple projects like 2021’s Rumble in the Jungle,Pretty Girls Love Amapiano 3 and 2022’s Scorpion Kings Live Sun Arena and KOA II Part 1, until they hit each other up via DMs on social media.

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Vigro Deep’s Experimental Strain of Amapiano Is Boundless

A look at the South African producer's inventive amapiano style in his latest albums, Far Away From Home and My House My Rules.

In a recent clip posted on Pharrell William's Instagram and Twitter feeds, the American star producer and musician shares kind words about his experience at Chanel’s Senegal-hosted fashion show backed by the sounds of Vigro Deep’s “Africa Rise,” an unlikely, boundary-crossing amapiano hit by the 21-year-old South African-born producer/DJ.

Since his thrilling emergence in 2018, Vigro Deep has remained imaginative. His unique use of the log drum — characterised by its thundering, rolling effect, and the pause-and-trickling bass of earlier hits like “Black Power” and “Untold Stories,” caught the masses' attention. While he became a household name for this distinctive and easily recognized sound between then and 2020’s Rise Of A Baby Boy, Vigro has since revamped it and created a mosaic by pairing contemporary electro and techno elements and sensibilities with amapiano. He started toying with this composite style on the last installment of his Baby Boy album series, Baby Boy 4, which came out in May 2021.

Far Away From Home

In an interview published in August 2021, the inventive, Pitori-hailing producer was reluctant to describe his sound as just amapiano. “I’ll say it’s more like electro-house music,” he revealed. “You know, I’m making music for the world, not just for Africa, not just for South Africa. I’m making music out of the box, that’s why I’m very creative when I make my music. I make motion tracks where there’s a whole lot of things in there.”

One of the first few instances where Vigro fully exhibited the compositions that he had been working on was in London on August 27th, 2021. During his Keep Hush and Bone Soda Carnival Special live set, he premiered tracks that would end up on his double album, Far Away From Home, which arrived in the last days of November that same year. The title of the project implied Vigro’s intentions of steering away from his usual sound and South Africa. The artwork is also a testament to this notion; a boarding pass, passport, bank cards, and banknotes, are displayed from inside an aircraft. Outside the window you can see the UK flag and London Bridge—where Vigro has his eyes set on.

Far Away From Home’s pre-released lead single, “I Am Vigro Deep” also offered a sneak peek of what was to come. Dark, hollow, and thunderous instrumentation underpin a vigorous poem that wonders what would happen if Vigro Deep went deep. The lines, “If I go deep / Will people pray for my downfall /Or just wait to see / If I go bleak?” instantly stand out. Going deep for Vigro meant going against the grain or what had become a norm, stylistically, to mainstream Amapiano in 2021. “If I go deep/ Will people realise that I just do beats / And I don't speak? / If I go deep / Will people know that, I'm just Vigro deep?” Uncredited and euphoric vocal/vox samples that he says he got from Skrillex, who has since become his acquaintance/collaborator, fuel the album along with heavy bass-driven percussions.

While countless recent amapiano songs and projects are filled with collaborations between vocalists and co-producers, Vigro opted for minimalism. He is the sole contributor on most of the tracks, the majority of them being instrumentals — which in a way is reminiscent of his and the genre’s past. Though rooted in ‘piano, Far Away From Home is forward-looking and Europe-facing, all but one of the vocals and song titles are in English.

“My dream is to get to Spain. [With] the sound that I do, I think of Ibiza type [of places and festivals], Tomorrowland. That’s what I’m looking for, that’s what I’m looking at, that’s what I’m currently working at,” he told CNN, in their January 2022 released mini-documentary on amapiano.

Vigro’s dream would crystallize months later. In July 2022, “Africa Rise,” “Some Attitude,” and “I Am Vigro Deep” blasted through gigantic speakers in Ibiza during a Boiler Room show, where the internationally acclaimed duo, Major League DJz, UK-based DJs Charisse C and Ade Smilez rendered sets. LuuDadeejay, who works closely with the twins, is the project’s sole co-producer on the track “Number,” while Vigro’s frequent collaborators, DJ Bucks, Yashna, and Neo Ndawo make vocal appearances on “In The Dark” and “Fire & Ice,” respectively. Much like his adored, unreleased but leaked remake of Bring Me The Horizon’s “Can You Feel My Heart,” Vigro also put his peculiar spin on Amaarae’s viral track “SAD GIRLZ LUV MONEY,” which he says were both supposed to be on Far Away From Home.

Towards the tail end of the body of work reverberates the cheekily-titled “Some Old Song.” The track borrows the melody of Joakin’s remix of “Camino Del Sol” by French-Belgian trio Antena — which was popular in South Africa in the 2000s and was famously interpolated on rapper Kwesta’s 2016 hit “Ngud.” Vigro’s take on the song gave it a creative and futuristic facelift, contrasting the common direct manipulation of the original. In another interview published on Oct 22, Vigro revealed that 70% of Far Away From Home was done in London. And that he wanted “to create something new, to target the European market.”

When asked in a recent podcast, if he felt that South Africans underappreciated Far Away From Home, Vigro quickly disagreed, detailing that his countrymen were not the primary audience for the effort because of how different it is. He acknowledges how the LP was better received outside of his home country, and that South Africans “got it later.” As he regularly tours Europe, it’s evident that his productions have traveled far away from home, as he initially intended.

Your 'Piano Is Not My 'Piano

In his December 2022-released album, My House My Rules, Vigro Deep welcomes listeners with an anthemic track that contains a computerized voice towards the end. In a bid to trance-induce or prequel what is to come, the voice defines what hypnosis is and describes some of its characteristics.

In many ways, the genre-melding offering follows in the direction of its predecessor with plentiful use of synths, arena-ready build-ups, mega breaks, and drops. These are again accompanied by minimum features and collaborations. Snenaah and M.J lend their vocals on “Ngizokulinda” and “Petori to Ibiza,” while Senjay and Mhaw Keys can be heard chanting on “Shukushuku” and “Desperado.” Freddy K, like LuuDadeejay on Far Away From Home, is the lone co-producer on “No Mercy.” The album’s artwork visually displays Vigro’s solitude (in both his art and sonic direction) as he appears sitting in isolation in the dark.

My House My Rules his first release since he’s been out of his deal with Kalawa Jazmee and Universal Music. The 17-track record was released via Rinse — the label division of the London radio station, Rinse FM, making him the first amapiano act to put out a full project with them. When asked where he sees himself in the next two years, by the station’s on-air host DJ Neptizzle, Vigro confidently shared his ceaseless ambition of performing at the Belgian-birthed dance music festival. “I really see myself playing in Tomorrowland with the new sound that I have,” he declared unwaveringly, in the April-2022-broadcasted interview.

Don't go out too far they said, you haven't got the power / You'll never make it back / You’ve got too much to lose they said, told them they were wrong, and I disappeared into the black,” sings an ethereal voice on the third track, “5am Set.” On a July ‘22 Instagram live, the virtuoso showed his creative process as he put the finishing touches on the song by adding an accompanying bassline and keys.

Throughout the project, Vigro’s vision remains outward. The second track “Gran Turismo,” is named after the popular car racing video game, while curtain closer “Desperado,” lifts its name from the Antonio Banderas 1995-released Western blockbuster, and also references the melody of “Alma de Guitarra,” which the movie star infamously debuts during the opening scene of the action-packed film. In the boldly-titled “Petori to Ibiza,” the masterful producer invites vocalist M.J to manifest and verbalise his aspiration of playing at the world’s most desired nightclub destination hotspot on wax. “Pitori to Ibiza, re tsena ka Sgida,” M.J expresses in the track's refrain.

Vigro often shares how an encounter with Skrillex in a London studio made him fine-tune his current style. “I explained to him where I wanted to go, and he understood and told me I had to change this and that. He told me that he knew what I wanted and that I should just be me. ‘If you wanna mix it with dubstep, do you, be you,’” he revealed.

It’s clear that Vigro Deep is equally radical and intentional with his newest stylistic approach. He has willingly chosen to make Amapiano which leans towards the sonics of global electronic dance music because that’s the space he's been playing in and wants to pursue further. He is a well-traveled DJ/producer that soaks up the different sounds of the countries and places he frequents like the UK or the Netherlands. Vigro creates from an adventurous place of no restriction or consideration of what his peers are currently doing. He has pushed himself artistically to unfamiliar terrains, and exists in his own world but is kind enough to let listeners in from time to time. As YouTube user @nyati86 commented under one of his live-recorded DJ sets, “Vigro deserves a set at Tomorrowland and gigs in Ibiza… this is the bridge for Amapiano to the world.”

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Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images

Listen to Burna Boy Feature On Popcaan's New Song 'Aboboyaa'


Renowned dancehall artist Popcaan has released his album Great Is He, via OVO Sound, and it features none other than Burna Boy.


Jamaica's Popcaanhas shared his anticipated album Great Is He, and the body of work features Nigerian superstar Burna Boy on the track "Aboboyaa."

The album showcases the Jamaican musical giant's signature dancehall sound, while also exploring the depth of genre's versatility. In addition to featuring Burna Boy, Great Is He includes features from OVO Sound's boss Drake, Jamaica's Chronic Law, and Toni-Ann Singh, among others.

On "Aboboyaa," the two musical powerhouses merge their signature rhythmic melodies and intonations in a way that is both compelling to listen to on the first listen, and in turn inspires a second and third listen.

Ever since he released his debut album in 2014, Popcaan has become an international dancehall sensation, and his repertoire includes a list of impressive features.

His album Forever, which was released in 2018, debuted at number two on Billboard’s Top Reggae Albums. Commercially, Popcaan has made a mark on the music scene too. His last project FIXTAPE — which included “Twist & Turn,” the mesmerizing dancehall hit featuring Drake and PARTYNEXTDOOR — has garnered over 191 million streams and continues to receive accolades from outlets like Pitchfork, who described the body of work as “a testament to his place at the forefront of the genre.”

"Aboboyaa" is not Popcaan's first international collaboration. In the past, the Jamaican icon has worked with several international music acts including Davido, Jamie xx, Young Thug, Gorillaz, Kano, Jorja Smith and a host of others. He also founded Jamaica’s annual Unruly Festwhich brings stars across the globe to experience Jamaican culture.

Listen to "Aboboyaa" featuring Burna Boy below.

Listen to Popcaan and Burna Boy's "Aboboyaa"

Music
Photo: Nabil Elderkin.

The Songs You Need to Hear This Week

Featuring Popcaan x Burna Boy, Bongeziwe Mabandla, Mr Eazi, Baaba Maal, Pheelz and more.

Every Friday, we highlight the top releases through our best music of the week column, Songs You Need to Hear. Here's our round-up of the best tracks and music videos that came across our desks.

If you like these music lists, you can also check out our Best Songs of the Month columns following Nigerian, Ghanaian, East African and South African music. If you missed them, check out our music lists for the Best of 2022 here.

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