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This South African Documentary Explores Skin Lightening Among Women of Color

Some were just trying to get rid of pimples, while others were succumbing to societal pressures.

A Gentle Magic is a 55-minute-long documentary by South African documentary filmmaker Lerato Mbangeni, US journalist Susie Neilson, Graeme Aegerter (producer) and Tseliso Monaheng (co-director).


For the film, which explores skin lightening among women of color, the crew travelled to Cape Town, Johannesburg and some parts of the Eastern Cape. There are interviews with students, artists, salon owners, and prominent figures such as Milisuthando Bongela, editor of Friday, the arts section of the Mail & Guardian.

This variance in voices gives an interesting perspective of how and why rural and urban women prefer their skin lighter. Some were just trying to get rid of pimples, while others were succumbing to the societal pressures that equate looking lighter to being prettier.

The documentary also explores the health implications of skin lightening. Research by Professor Ncoza Dlova, a dermatologist and chief specialist and head of the department of dermatology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, offers an entry point into the documentary. She's of the notion that it's society that pressures black women to want to appear lighter.

A Gentle Magic doesn't only excel in giving voices to women from different walks of life. But the cinematography makes it a visual poem by way of cutaways that may, at first, not appear connected to the stories.

There are cutaways of young people living carefree, and the geography of the different locations the film was shot in is exhibited. Those shots intercut with the interviews to give the viewers' eyes something positive to rest on, as the heartbreaking stories of altering one's skin is told lay by layer.

Watch the trailer of A Gentle Magic below. Follow the crew on Twitter for South African screening dates or email them: susancneilson@gmail.com.

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Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

Cassper Nyovest’s 20 Best Songs Ranked

The 20 best songs from Cassper Nyovest's growing catalogue.

Cassper Nyovest recently released his fifth studio album, A.M.N. (Any Minute Now). Announced in June 2020, he revealed that the title of the album refers to the impending birth of his son at the time, whom he said would be born "any minute now". His son was eventually born on September 13, two days after the album was released.

The South African rapper, in a conversation with media personality Pearl Thusi over IG Live, shared his opinion on the subject, saying that A.M.N. is his best offering.

Six years have come to pass since Cassper Nyovest released his debut album, Tsholofelo, in 2014. In that time, he has released four other albums, Refiloe (2015), Thuto (2017) and Sweet and Short (2018). A.M.N. takes his total tally to five albums in six years, four of which are RiSA platinum-certified.

That is a distinguished career, not to mention all other achievements he has amassed in that time—the establishment of his own record label Family Tree, his annual #FillUp concerts, being part of numerous lucrative endorsement deals, as well as other successful business ventures outside of music.

As things stand, Cassper Nyovest is the biggest rapper on the continent.

We dived into his catalogue and picked 20 of his best songs across his catalog. This list focuses on songs that appear on his albums, and ones that don't feature more than one act, so as to get the most Cassper Nyovest contribution and experience as possible.

20. "Amen Hallelujah" (Thuto, 2017)

The closing track on Cassper's critically acclaimed album Thuto, is a tour de force in the form of "Amen Hallelujah". Unassumingly so good yet often overlooked. The production, which is certainly the highlight of the song, is helmed by The Gobbla. Cassper interweaves celebratory stories about his family and friends, having the utmost palpable fun as he does so. A fitting triumphant closure to an album that solidified his legend status in the South African music industry.

19. "Remote Control" (Sweet and Short, 2018)

Sweet and Short as an album was a curveball for the most part, but there's no denying Cassper's vision when he linked up with DJ Sumbody to deliver this amapiano-based bop. In it, he playfully assimilates into a Pitori persona, playfully making fun of himself by living out the Pitori party scene with all its colloquial lingo.

18. "Bentley Coupe" (Thuto, 2017)

This represents the peak of that superficial braggadocio rap that Cassper ever so often taps into. When it comes to Bentleys, he seems to have found the ultimate object of his material desires. He weaves a tale of rags to riches and how acquiring a Bentley Coupe means he has reached the pinnacle of his acquisitions. Decadent bragging justified by a previous life of poverty, against the background of a J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League-type beat, eerily reminiscent of a rapper whose name rhymes with thick moss.

17. "Phumakim" (Tsholofelo, 2014)

Cassper's debut had an overwhelming amount of blockbuster hits. "Phumakim" is one of them. Employing autotune on the chorus was a masterstroke considering hip-hop fodder in 2014. It also doubles as a diss to his arch-nemesis, AKA - especially the cheeky double entendre, "AKA's favorite rapper, I guess I made it to the Forbes List." The dance moves, in tandem with his ponytail antics, also contributed to the overall popularity of the song, which has remained a permanent fixture in his live performance sets.

16. "Push Through The Pain" (Thuto, 2017)

Though he seems unable to see through to the end, an attempt to make meaningful odes to other people in his life without including himself ("Amen Hallelujah", "Superman", Mama I Made It"), Cassper does a decent job in uplifting others with "Push Through The Pain". However, the reality is that songs of this nature would truly be much more meaningful and impactful if he stuck to an exterior point of view and avoided continually centering himself when he attempts to speak for and on behalf of others.

15. "Loco" (A.M.N. (Any Minute Now), 2020)

While his ideas and general outlook towards his adversaries are hardly ever novel, it's always refreshing when he exhibits some accurate self-awareness, but is careful to not take himself too seriously. "Loco" is just that—a scathing yet witty look at his peers who attempt to take advantage of his wealth and also to those who cast doubt on his abilities. He is sharp as ever as he scoffs to his naysayers who just can't wait for his downfall.

14. "Malome" (Refiloe, 2015)

Cassper has tried a few times to interpolate and incorporate South African traditional genre sensibilities and compositions into his own music—"Mmangwane" comes to mind—but with "Malome", he managed to make the perfect genre marriage. The Mahotella Queens' contribution must surely be one of his proudest achievements because given their royal status in the South African industry, their presence ensured his incorporation of the mbaqanga genre didn't feel forced, but instead merged beautifully.

13. "Gusheshe" (Tsholofelo, 2014)

For most people, this song was their introduction to Cassper Nyovest. "Gusheshe" is a searing kasi rap song with motswako origins that served as the perfect way for him to announce his arrival in the scene, declaring himself an industry mainstay, which he has proven to be. With an almost scene-stealing OkMalumKoolKat feature, Cassper still manages to captivate, as far as his inexplicable ponytail could help.

12. "1 of 1" (A.M.N. (Any Minute Now), 2020)

One of the longest standing myths in South African hip-hop is that Cassper can't rap rap. That is simply not true. Notwithstanding a few overly simplistic lines here and there, half of the time, Cassper really raps well. The second verse of "1 of 1" is evidence of his awareness to the tenets of traditional rapping conventions. He raps, "Let's take it back to basics, an A4 page and a pen get creative, I fell in love with poetry, my skill was okay, but I was just writing how I feel that day...." The boom bap beat is the icing on the cake.

11. "Move For Me" (Sweet and Short, 2018)

The Sweet and Short era was critically panned and rightfully short-lived, but it did give fans some memorable songs. "Move For Me" is such a hypnotic song that's trance-inducing every time it's played. Artists usually strike gold when they don't try too hard. This song was such an easily executed one, and it turned out to be one of his biggest hits. Perhaps it's the spell-binding hook by Boskasie or the highly ambitious visual spectacle that is its music video, but whatever it is, Cassper created a juggernaut with it.

10. "Destiny (Thuto, 2017)

It takes guts to re-imagine a beloved Afro-Pop classic like the 2000s kwaito/Afropop group Malaika's "Destiny" that isn't even 20 years old. It's even more bold to get a completely different vocalist to re-do the chorus and refrain, an on-brand audacious move from Cassper. The result is some of the best rapping Cassper has ever done, pouring his heart out about his shortcomings and misgivings when it comes to love and relationships. Goapele offers a decent re-interpretation of Malaika's much loved chorus and refrain in the original song.

09. "Baby Girl" (Thuto, 2017)

Being a self-proclaimed hear-throb and often styled as a sex-symbol (side-eye Sweet and Short-Cassper era), it certainly isn't surprising that Cassper has continuously done songs meant to appeal to the feminine populace. It is with "Baby Girl" that he finally cracked that code and delivered a simple yet masterful jam that can be enjoyed by all genders and ages. A potent solo effort that will surely remain relevant for times to come.

08. "Thoughts" (A.M.N. (Any Minute Now), 2020)


An existential angst-ridden Cassper rides this slow tempo beat, as he bemoans his feelings of inadequacy. Perhaps the most honest he has ever been on record, he says: "See I convinced the whole damn world to believe in me, bruh - when I don't even believe in myself. I'm not as honest as you think I am. I'm just as filtered as your Instagram, I mean, I'm really mean with just a little bit of trickery… I know I'm real, and I know I'm fake." Truthfully, the Boogie feature doesn't add anything significant on such a personal song, despite the verse itself not being bad.

07. "Tsibip" (Tsholofelo, 2014)

"Tsibip" is a fan-favourite that's also the inspiration for the ill-coined term "Tsibipians", meant to describe ardent Cassper fans. It's a rugged, raw and stripped down version of a young Cassper showcasing his lyrical prowess - in his standards at least - coupled with a masterful flip of a M'du Masilela vocal sample incorporated by Ganja Beatz into the beat. The song is accompanied by a memorable music video, showing the literal and figurative many hats that Cassper wears, and goes down as one of Cassper's most impressive rapping performances.

06. "Isinkwa" (A.M.N. (Any Minute Now), 2020)

A pleasant surprise on Cassper's most recent album A.N.M. (Any Minute Now) is the PRO-assisted "Isinkwa". While PRO's hook does wonders for the song, the fact that he doesn't provide a verse is surprisingly not a disservice to it because Cassper does more than a stellar job in handling the verses. A thoughtful song that despite the weight of its feature, does not take itself too seriously by being over the top or trying to achieve everything, instead it is delivered with regal poise from both Cassper and the late South African hip-hop legend.

05. "Doc Shebeleza" (Tsholofelo, 2014)

"Doc Shebeleza" propelled Cassper into immediate superstardom at the very start of his career. It's original as it is trite because he creatively took a veteran kwaito artist's name and repurposed it into an entire concept, yet this was already common practice in hip-hop—artists naming their songs after actual people or character's full names. Nonetheless, Cassper's foresight to create a simple, chanted hook that's incredibly infectious has guaranteed him a career-long scorcher, that lights up any stage he performs on.

04. "Strive" (Refiloe, 2015)

Though Cassper is often unable to completely look outside of himself when writing songs, he almost succeeds on this melancholy yet reassuring song off the second album, Refiloe. "Strive" is virtually a philosophical rumination of keeping one's wits about themselves amidst any form of difficulty. He speaks life not only to his own endeavours but to everyone out there who is striving for anything meaningful in their lives.

03. "Confused" (Thuto, 2017)

Cassper's debut and sophomore albums sold platinum. He also achieved two career milestones—Fill Up The Dome and Fill Up Orlando Stadium in that time. It's therefore not surprising that the stand-out song on his third album Thuto, finds him at his most confused in the midst of such overwhelming success. This makes for an emotive and stellar performance on "Confused", as he delivers soliloquies of a man deeply disenchanted, among other things, by the music industry - the business, his peers, money, fame and the loss of his credibility, through it all.

02. "I Hope You Bought It" (Tsholofelo, 2014)

"I Hope You Bought It" is another one of Cassper's songs with cultish reverence that could render it the best Cassper song ever. It's a ferociously rapped reflective piece, that houses glimpses of what would become a staple in his music, i.e his unflinching albeit uncomfortable oversharing in songs, the sometimes-justified paranoia, the all-consuming self-indulgence, the insurmountable self-belief, the impregnable will to win, and, ultimately, the obsessive need to be loved and accepted.

01. "Refiloe" (Refiloe, 2015)

Cassper is at his best when he introspects, but it's not frequent for his form, function and message in a song to all be at full tilt. He usually lacks in one respect or another. However, on "Refiloe" his form, from a technical aspect, is near flawless. His flow is superbly in-pocket. The disciplined flow, the earnest message, the timbre in his voice, the brilliant storytelling and the incredible beat, which are all executed in high equal measure, collectively make "Refiloe" Cassper's best song.

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The multidisciplinary Nigerian-American artist on tapping into all her creative outlets, creating interesting things, releasing a new single and life during quarantine.