Interview
Kiff No Beat. Photo: Wilfried 'Tony' Sant'Anna

Kiff No Beat, Cote d'Ivoire's Premier Rap Group, On Being the Blueprint For the Youth

Kiff No Beat are riding a wave that shows no signs of slowing down.

I walk into a studio tucked on an unpaved road in Cocody, Abidjan, and I'm greeted by a young beatmaker, Tam Sir, the female duo, Nafasi, and the multi-platinum producer behind a number of Afro-French hits, Christophe Ghenda.

What's blasting from the speakers has me silently bobbing my head. Kiff No Beat members Didi B, Elow'n, El Jay, Black K, and Joochar aren't yet present. The artists I do see are on Africa Mindset, a label headed by Didi B, the leading member of La Kiff. A couple moments pass before Black K walks in and starts listening to another track made by Christophe Ghenda. Not too far from me sits the up and coming Congolese crooner, Cevin, waiting to leave for an interview.

Universal Music Africa has flown in Ghenda to diversify the sort of music their artists are releasing and evidently churn out bangers. It's Didi B's birthday and I am told to expect some delay. A few hours of waiting go by as artists shuffle in and out of the studio and more members of Kiff No Beat trickle in.


The group was founded in 2009 as the merging of two rival hip hop groups, JEKBOYZ and KIFF BLACK won a hip-hop competition titled, FAYA FLOW, and took their wins to producer Shado Chris to create hits for them. He catapulted their careers, and the rest is a history that is still being written.

With the albums Cadeau De Noël (2011) and Pétards D'Ados (2014), and mixtapes Cubisme (2015) and Made in bled (2018), under their belt, Kiff No Beat is slated to release a new record this year. Despite being newly signed to Universal Music Africa, they are seasoned in the game.

With over 10 years behind them, these men are riding a wave that shows no signs of slowing down. Their winning formula is an eclecticism that is a hit with the youth and adults alike—rapping and singing in nouchi (Ivorian slang) over trap and Coupé-Décalé beats. Where Black K, Elow'n, and Didi B are known for their raps, El Jay sings and Joochar sprinkles reggae and dancehall on tracks.

Kiff No Beat - Ce n'est pas bon youtu.be

Kiff No Beat has not only inspired young rappers coming up after them but moved an entire industry towards blending hip-hop and afrobeats together—and they've now got competition from coupé-décalé artists rapping. Rap and coupé-décalé are dead locked in a fight to dominate Ivorian music and spectators are eating it all up.

When all five members have assembled, they posses a chemistry that lights up a room and rare are the moments that aren't filled with laughter. They speak with ease about who they were at the start of their careers, who they now and what it means to be ambassadors of urban culture at home and abroad.

This interview was conducted in French and has been translated and edited for length and clarity.

Okayafrica: Who are your musical influences?

Elow'n: The idea of forming a group this size was brought on by French hip-hop group, Sexion d'Assaut. Seeing them made us realize it's possible. The way in which each member sings or raps depends on their influences. I'm influenced by American rap—T-Pain, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar. They'll tell you theirs.

Didi B: My influences are more so singers and not rappers—Alpha Blondy, Meiway, Michael Jackson—Everyone with a unique presence about themselves. When we started, we did a lot of choreography, as well; we thought of ourselves more so as artists than rappers. We had idols who more so inspired the way we put on concerts or shows. There are a few rappers though, Booba and Lil' Wayne.

El Jay: I listen to singers like Mario and the greats who started R&B.

Black K: Same as them but we're inspired by everything, namely African music like Lokua Kanza.

Didi B. Photo: Wilfried 'Tony' Sant'Anna

I'm going to ask you all to describe each member of the group. Let's start with El Jay.

Didi B: El Jay is more so the melody, he's the softness of the group, he's also our go-to guy for afrobeats, when we have to depart from rap or trap, we count on him to bring it home. He's also the group's pop star.

Elow'n: He's our lover. He's soft. He's our Chris Brown, our Matt Pokora, our melody. He's also a great dancer.

Up next is Didi B.

El Jay: He's the dark rapper of the group. He's our dark side. He's the group's hardcore rapper.

Elow'n: He's the brains. He typically knows what to do and when. He's our strength. He's our third eye.

Black K: He's our leader. He knows when we should release a track. He's our sorcerer.

Black K's turn.

Elow'n: He's l'homme étrange (the mysterious man). He's black, obscure, dark. He's capable of everything. He can rap, sing and even flow on Ndombolo.

Didi B: He possesses a wide breadth of knowledge of afrobeats. When we want to get traditional or incorporate the use of guitar riffs, he's our go-to. It certainly comes from his family, from the music that his sister makes. (Gnahoré Okou Camille or Black K comes from a musical background as his sister, Dobet Gnahoré, is a singer, and his father, Boni Gnahoré, was a percussionist and a singer, as well) He's responsible for songs like "Ils on dit".

El Jay: He's our resident stylist. He's responsible for the styling behind a lot of our music videos. He's an expert when it comes to putting outfits together.

Black K. Photo: Wilfried 'Tony' Sant'Anna

How about Joochar?

El Jay: He's our reggae, dancehall vibe.

Elow'n: He's a hybrid and adaptable.

Dibi B: He's also the person who is the most shy in the group. He's like the rat in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Master Splinter, who never comes out.

And Elow'n?

Johnny (Group Manager): He's a humorist. He's outspoken and charismatic.

Didi B: Elow'n is the only one who doesn't sing. He raps rapidly, it's his gift.

What themes do you cover in your music?

Dibi B: Alcohol, sex, drugs. Life, in all honesty. We aren't conscious rappers. We aren't inclined to give life advice etc. Most conscious rappers do what we do behind closed doors.

Elow'n: This isn't church music! We don't lie in our songs.

Dibi B: We do, however, convey messages. Our latest track "Yaka Dormir" is about working hard for your family.

Kiff No Beat - Yaka dormir youtu.be

You were previously signed to Da Carmen label, what has changed since your move to Universal Music Africa?

Elow'n: Soon after signing, we made a music video with Clarence Peters (Nigerian music video director), we partook in a show at Paris' L'Olympia, attended Cannes Music Festival and did huge features with Kaaris and Tiwa Savage. We've expanded. We couldn't of done any of this as independent artists. We are reaching new heights.

Didi B: Because we made things happen for ourselves at the start of our career, we've had help getting to the next level—the European and anglophone market. Because of them (Universal) we have new videos and a better understanding of where our money is coming from and going… When we started out, we were solely dependent on funds from concerts and shows at baptisms and weddings. We used to just randomly release music and nothing was monetized.

Elow'n: You can hear us in playlists on Air France flights. We have gone to Georgia to shoot a music video. Our songs are being mastered in countries like Pakistan. We can see clearly now. "C'est plus pour la mairie," (an Ivorian expression that means we are no longer out here working for free).

El Jay: There are really artists out here unknowingly making music for free!

El Jay. Photo: Wilfried 'Tony' Sant'Anna

When is the next album coming out?

Elow'n: Soon. A couple weeks. It's already ready. We have a couple finishing touches left. We just have to give a date and it's out. We promise the album before July. We promise the album in 2019.

What is the state of music in Ivory Coast?

Elow'n: Before, there was only coupé-décalé, now rap has come and imposed itself. It hasn't been easy. In 2003 or 2004, all there was was coupé-décalé; luckily, nowadays, everyone is talking about rap. There are now two styles that are definitely here to stay.

Didi B: Music has done well here. There are a variety of festivals and concerts popping up. This wasn't the case before. Before, it was one artist with a concert at Le Palais. Now, there are as many as 5 concerts, during the holidays, and 10 during the year. There are even award shows. Honestly, things are going well. Within our genre, things are going well. After us, there are artists on the come up.

Do you think this is due to you all?

Elow'n: We are definitely responsible for this.

Elow'n. Photo: Wilfried 'Tony' Sant'Anna

What advice would you give to artists coming up under you?

Didi B: My advice is to try to understand your rights. It's also to be perseverant and work hard. I want to reiterate, 'Know your rights,' and be professional. If we signed with Universal, it was because we've always been professional. We paid our friends who made our covers, we did shoots for our covers, which isn't common here. Here, artists drop a track with a cover that's an image of them in a club. Universal saw how serious we were about our craft and it motivated them to work with us.

Elow'n: There is money to be made in this industry. It is important to know what steps to take. An industry where everyone wants to be Kiff No Beat is no good; you have to have your own identity, an identity that no one else has. That's what we did, we came on the scene as something new and refreshing. To be someone who inspires someone tomorrow, you have to be different from everyone else at your start. Be your own person. Don't sell gumbo in a market where everyone else is selling gumbo.

Joochar. Photo: Wilfried 'Tony' Sant'Anna

Do you see yourselves as ambassadors for your country?

Elow'n: We are conscious of the fact that there are a lot of youth who watch us and are inspired by us.

Didi B: There's a generation of people who are coming up like us. We are rappers but Tony, for example, is a photographer. Drogba once said, "On a ça aussi chez nous," (We have that where I'm from) We see ourselves as the representatives of urban culture, of rap, of beautiful music videos.

Black K: There's swag here in Africa.

Elow'n: C'est la nouvelle Afrique. (It's a new Africa)

El Jay: There's a new generation whose entrepreneurial and is attempting to work hard and develop its businesses.

Audrey Lang is a writer and merchandiser based out of Boston. All photos by Wilfried 'Tony' Sant'Anna.

Music

Listen to Samthing Soweto’s Album ‘Isiphithiphithi’

Samthing Soweto's highly anticipated album is finally here.

One of the most anticipated albums of the year, Isiphithiphithi by Samthing Soweto is finally here.

The South African artist's project consists of 12 songs and features Makhafula Vilakazi, Shasha, Kabza De Small, DJ Maphorisa and Mlindo The Vocalist.

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South African Telenovela 'The River' has Been Nominated for an International Emmy

This is the popular telenovela's first International Emmy nomination.

One of South Africa's beloved telenovelas, The River, has received its first ever International Emmy nomination in the category of "Best Telenovela", according to IOL. The River will go up against other telenovelas from Columbia, Argentina as well as Portugal. The 47th installment of the International Emmy Awards will take place on November 25th of this year and will be held at the Hilton in New York.

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Culture
Photo (c) John Liebenberg

'Stolen Moments' Uncovers the Namibian Music That Apartheid Tried to Erase

The photo exhibition, showing at the Brunei Gallery in London, highlights artists from Namibia's underground scene between 1950-1980, a time of immense musical suppression prior to its independence.

Before its independence in 1990, a whole generation of Namibians were made to believe that their county had no real musical legacy. Popular productions by Namibian artists from previous eras were systematically concealed from the masses for nearly 30 years, under the apartheid regime—which extended to the country from South Africa following German colonization—depriving many Namibians of the opportunity to connect with their own musical heritage.

"Stolen Moments: Namibian Music Untold," a new exhibit currently showing at London's Brunei Museum at SOAS University of London, seeks to revive the musical Namibian musical traditions that the apartheid regime attempted to erase.

"Imagine you had never known about the musical riches of your country," said the exhibit's curator Aino Moongo in a statement of purpose on SOAS' site. "Your ears had been used to nothing but the dull sounds of country's former occupants and the blaring church and propaganda songs that were sold to you as your country's musical legacy. Until all at once, a magnitude of unknown sounds, melodies and songs appear. This sound, that roots your culture to the musical influences of jazz, blues and pop from around the world, is unique, yet familiar. It revives memories of bygone days, recites the history of your homeland and enables you for the first time to experience the emotions, joys and pains of your ancestors."

Photo (c) Dieter Hinrichs

The 'Stolen Moments" project began in 2010 in an effort to champion Namibia's unsung musical innovators. For the collection, Moongo and Assistant Curator, Siegrun Salmanian—along with a group of international scholars, artists, photographers and filmmakers—curated a large-scale photo exhibit that also features a 120-minute video projection, focusing on the dance styles of the era, along with listening stations, a sound installation that features "100-hours of interviews with musicians and contemporary witnesses," and displays of record covers and memorabilia from the period between 1950-1980.

The musicians highlighted, produced work that spanned a number of genres—a marker of the country's vast and eclectic underground scene. Artists like the saxophonist Leyden Naftali who led a band inspired by the sounds of ragtime, and the psychedelic rock and funk of the Ugly Creatures are explored through the exhibition, which also centers bands and artists such as The Dead Wood, The Rocking Kwela Boys, Children of Pluto and more.

"There are many reasons why you've never heard this music before," Moongo continues. "It was censored, suppressed, prohibited and made almost impossible to listen to. Its creators are either long gone or have given up on music making, by reasons of adversity, death and despair. And yet this beautiful music exists with a liveliness, as if it had never stopped playing. It is still in the minds of the few who can remember, with the ones who played it, and on those rare recordings that have survived in archives and record collections scattered around the globe. Allow me to share these stolen moments with you."

Photo (c) Dieter Hinrichs


Photo (c) John Liebenberg

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"Stolen Moments" is now showing at the Brunei Gallery in London and runs through Sept 21.

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Foul Language and Depictions of Rape Spur a Book Recall Campaign in Kenya

Kenya's Top Book seller pulls a South African book for youth due to foul language.

A main book supplier in Kenya, Text Book Centre, has announced that they would not stock a book due to its "vulgar and foul language." The book, Blood Ties, was written by South African author Zimkhitha Mlanzeli. The banning comes just after a video went viral in Kenya of a school child having a verbal outburst peppered with strong language. As reported by BBC, the removal was sparked by parents showing outrage after excerpts from the book were shared on twitter. These excerpts contained use of the f-word as well as a description of a rape scene.

As per their statement, the Text Book Centre claims they believe in "upholding high moral standards and raising generations of responsible citizens who are not only educated but ethical." The Kenyan publisher, StoryMoja, has defended the book in a statement of their own. They argue that the book is part of a new series showcasing books that deal with "contemporary societal issues" and that this particular book is a fictional story that grapples with the negative repercussions of peer pressure. "In actual fact, the book guides readers on the steps to take should they find themselves in a similar situation and underscores the sensitivity with which victims of sexual abuse should be treated." The statement also highlights the fact that the publishers had listed Blood Ties for readers in high school or above.


The discrepancy is that some schools have recommended the book as a reader – meaning for younger children aged 12 or 13 – though it has not been approved by the Kenyan Institute of Curricular Development (KICD), the entity in charge of managing texts used in schools. In a tweet, the KICD claimed that the book was not approved and that some teachers may be recommending texts without ensuring they were endorsed by the KICD. The dispute is sparking debate as to what should be taught in Kenyan schools.

As of late this morning, StoryMoja is in the process of recalling all copies of the book from stores and schools across Kenya. In a tweet they claim that it is because they have determined the language used in the book is the issue and not the subject matter.

Censorship is always a contested topic, just last month we reported on Nigerian authorities censoring a music video for "threatening security." Also, Kenya's censorship tactics have been in the global eye since a refusal to screen the film Rafiki for its homosexual heroines despite being lauded at international film festivals.

Here are some reactions from Kenyans on Twitter:





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