Meet Linkris, the South African Rapper Addressing Coloured People’s Issues

Cape Town rapper Linkris' latest album, 'Bloed Is Dikker As Water,' focuses on the marginalization of coloured people in South Africa.

Linkris, a rapper from Cape Town, South Africa, released his second album Bloed Is Dikker As Water (Blood Is Thicker Than Water) last December.

“I'm trying to encourage the sentiment that we are all family," says the rapper about the album's title. “When my neighbor has a problem, it's my problem as well. When there are evictions happening in Woodstock, that is my problem as well. We should all stand up for each other's problems."

Linkris is a self-confessed conscious rapper, and he favors traditional hard-hitting boom bap production. And that's what you'll find on Bloed Is Dikker As Water.

On the album, the 29-year-old rapper focuses on coloured people's issues—just like on his previous releases.

The project goes from talking about how coloured people are marginalized in South Africa and their stereotypical portrayal on mainstream media, to internal issues like “uppity coloureds" who aren't embracing their ethnicity (“Een Honnet Persent"), how religion is used to blind people from the truth (“Dis Tyd" featuring Dope Saint Jude), to crime in coloured neighborhoods (“Bloed Optel").

He isn't shy about calling out politicians like President Jacob Zuma, Patricia de Lille, Helen Zille, FW de Klerk—who he says all have blood in their hands on a song called “Be-Bloede Hande." On “Omdat Ek Kullid Is," the first video single from the album, he raps about staying true to his coloured heritage through all the challenges his people face.

Some context. The apartheid government in South Africa, among other evils, introduced the Population Registration Act—which hierarchically separated South African races. At the top of the food chain were Whites, followed by Indians, then Coloureds and lastly Africans (for the sake of this piece, I will use the word “black").

Indians and coloureds had a few more privileges than blacks, but were still oppressed nonetheless.

More than 20 years after apartheid ended and the ANC took power, not much has been reversed in South Africa. Land is still in the hands of people who stole it. Most people of colour are still living in the ghetto. Affirmative action is there, but it has barely scratched the surface.

While all people of colour fought together against apartheid, coloured people feel marginalized under the black government. Take for instance, in Linkris's field of hip-hop, AKA is one of the few coloured rappers making it big. YoungstaCPT, even with an unmatchable work ethic, has been struggling to get through.

Linkris. Photography by Sabelo Mkhabela.

When the athlete Wayde Van Niekerk won a record-breaking gold medal at the Olympics last year, a conversation was started. Some coloured people questioned why that was considered “black excellence," but when coloured people are being stereotyped as gangsters, they aren't referred to as black.

“How many coloured freedom fighters do you know?" Linkris asks rhetorically, trying to demonstrate the erasure of coloured people in South African history. “People are only learning about Ashley Kriel now because [filmmaker] Nadine Cloete is pushing this documentary [about him] that she's been working on for a while. But besides Ashley, there are a lot of [activists] we don't know about. It's evident that our history books don't include our people. Colored people have to walk on water to get the same merit as their black and white counterparts."

The conversation is ongoing, with movements like Colored Mentality, which was started by two women on a quest to explore their colored identity and open a conversation about it. Many think-pieces have been written, with some claiming that colored people are always avoiding their black identity or there's no such thing as coloured identity.

Don't say that around Linkris. He acknowledges that the term itself has a dirty history. “Let's take this ugly term 'coloured,' which we are called whether we like it or not, and make something good out of it," he says. “I think that's going to be less laborious than having to uncover and learn for a thousand years till I get to a point where I'm like, 'Now I know what I'm gonna call myself.' I think we are too stuck in terminology. We need to start doing things. I'm tired of all this talking, these workshops, we need industries, we need business, housing… a lot of things."

Bloed Is Dikker As Water offers Linkris's outlook on life and coloured identity. It plays out as a history lesson at times. The academic Shanette Martin, who does the intro, gives a not-so popular origin of Afrikaans (the language most coloured people speak), which is normally looked at as the oppressor's language.

She states that Afrikaans is the heritage of the brown Afrikaner, who is essentially a mixture of various slaves from Africa, Indonesia and Malaysia. We learn that the settlers instructed the slaves in Dutch. Having to communicate among each other, the slaves developed a language that was based on Dutch, but contained Malagasy, Malay and Khoi words, birthing Afrikaans. Later the Dutch masters adopted the language of the slaves to accommodate everyone.

“I've had people who say the intro encouraged them to just go do a Google search," says Linkris, “and what they found when they started digging in academic journals—by the likes of Richard van der Ross and Adam Small—was that there's a lot they don't know. They were just regurgitating the notion that it's the oppressor's language."

So what are the challenges of rapping in Afrikaans? One, according to Linkris is it's hard to get his and his Katalis Productions labelmates' music playlisted on mainstream radio and TV. “Besides Goodhope FM (especially The Ready D Show) and Bush Radio, no one is showing love to Afrikaans hip-hop," says the rapper.

“We've submitted to Metro FM and YFM. We have the paperwork on lock, and we mix and master our shit. Maybe they don't like the sound, but at least give us a response. The DJs must also be held accountable. They play their buddies' music, and only give you a slot there, but when it comes to daytime playlisting, it's their friends. They are in a strategic position where they can actually say to their station managers, 'Let's be open-minded, let's take some risks.'"

Linkris. Photography by Sabelo Mkhabela.

But he's optimistic: “I think there's a shift happening, I never thought I would get played on MTV Base, with my aggression and that kind of production. I can't think of any Afrikaans hip-hop artist except maybe Die Antwoord and Jack Parow who have been played there.

“A lady at work said after seeing the video on MTV Base and KYK Net, 'If people saw this music all the time, they would become fans because they become fans of Beyoncé because they are spoon-fed all the time.'"

Linkris assures me there is a market for Afrikaans hip-hop. “When I go to Outshroon (a rural town in the Western Cape), I easily get a crowd of 7,000, and that's without a major sponsor."

Linkris believes in coloured people building their own structures, instead of complaining about marginalization. “Yes, we are marginalized, but why aren't we starting our own multimedia companies?" This year, Linkris looks to expanding his fanbase in South Africa, and completing some collaborations with some artists in Holland, who him and his team met while there for a show.

Image: Courtesy TIFF

Jenna Cato Bass is Capturing the Horrors of an Unhealed Nation

The film marks the South African director's third debut and stride towards making a name for herself in the international film circuit.

Ever since premiering her debut film, Love the One You Love, which won the Best Feature Film at the Jozi Festival in 2015, Jenna Cato Bass has been a name to watch on the international film festival circuit. Her 2017 feature, High Fantasy, was the first of her films to land on the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) lineup, followed by Flatland in 2019. Her latest offering, Mlungu Wam (Good Madam), debuted at TIFF in September of 2021 — marking her third time at the esteemed Canadian film event.

Often provocative, always thought-provoking, Bass' films have come to establish her as a director who looks at South Africa's youth, the lives they're living and the future that awaits them, with a nuanced, open-minded lens. For the first time in her career, Bass uses the genre of horror to dig into an enduring mark of the country's past — that of the fraught, complex relationship between madam and domestic worker, in Mlungu Wam (Good Madam). Set in Cape Town, the film follows the unusual, disturbing things that start happening when a young woman moves back in with her estranged mother, who is the longtime caretaker for a rich, white household.

Bass also co-wrote the film Tug of War (Vuta N'Kuvute), which became Tanzania's first film to be selected for TIFF this year, and she co-wrote Rafiki, which was Kenya's first film at TIFF in 2018.

She spoke to OkayAfrica about playing in a new genre and her hopes for African cinema.

Still from Bass's film Mlungu Wam Image: Courtesy TIFF

This story revolves around the relationship between a domestic worker and her 'madam.' What made you want to make a film about this subject?

When I make films, I like the concept to revolve around something that we all have in common - because, despite the many fractures in our society, these shared places exist. And in South Africa, we felt that everyone - in some way or another - has been deeply affected by domestic work and domestic workers, who are a keystone in our society's structure. Additionally, the 'maid' and 'madam' relationship is the ultimate symbol of race relations in South Africa - as well as how they haven't changed significantly, despite almost thirty years of democracy. So a domestic worker was the perfect character around which to centre a South African horror.

The genre of horror works really well to explore this subject and tell this story — when did you know it would be the genre you'd want to use?

The early stages of developing a film aren't always linear for me. I'll be thinking about a genre I'm interested in, and then parallel to that I'll have an idea for a story or a character, and later on, will realize that these pieces all fit together. In this case, I'd been wanting to make a horror film for ages, but hadn't found the right story… until I had the idea for Mlungu Wam, and I realized I was finally ready to try this genre.

What challenges did you face in making a horror?

It was my first time working in this genre, and it was intimidating because there's no saving you if you fail. We were also working on a very, very limited budget, so it wasn't possible to show as much as we'd like to - but then again, this story was all about the subjective and the unseen, so I did as much research and planning as we could, and just had to trust it would work.

Where did you film, and did that have any impact on the process at all?

We filmed in a house in Cape Town, in a gated community in the Southern Suburbs. The house and the environment had a major impact on the film - especially because we were also quarantining there for the full 7 weeks of rehearsal and shooting. The house was our set and our accommodation, so it was very intense, very claustrophobic, and very triggering for many of our team members.

How did you and co-writer Babalwa Baartman work on the story? You've included cast members in the writing process in your previous work — did you do that here too?

Mlungu Wam was made along similar lines to my first two films, Love The One You Love and High Fantasy, where we started with an outline, cast actors, then workshopped the characters collaboratively before completing the story breakdown and using improv for the dialogue. Babalwa and I had worked together using this method on a short film we made in 2019 called Sizohlala. She really understands the process, and it was a really rewarding experience exploring the story with her and our cast.

How did Kristina Ceyton, who produced the excellent acclaimed horrors The Babadook and The Nightingale, through Causeway Films, come to be involved in this film?

I had met Sam Jennings, who is also a producer with Causeway Films, several years ago at a festival. We really connected and kept in touch over the years, sharing our work, and hoping there'd be a chance to collaborate. So when we were developing Mlungu Wam, I pitched her and Kristina the concept and they were immediately supportive. It has been a massive pleasure working with them both.

Your films are known to venture into themes of identity and healing from the past — how does this film speak to that?

Mlungu Wam is definitely about this too - it's a story about three generations of women (actually four, if you include Tsidi's grandmother, who is an unseen character in the film), how they are haunted by the past and eventually refuse to remain chained any longer. Their healing is collective, linked to each other, and wouldn't be possible for them alone as individuals.

Still from Bass's film Mlungu Wam Image: Courtesy TIFF

You've been at TIFF before - how has your experience of it been this year, with it being a hybrid of virtual and in-person?

Things have been quieter and a bit harder to navigate, but the TIFF staff have done incredible work getting the festival off the ground, despite endless challenges. It has felt very surreal to be here, and a privilege - and inspiring too, that we can still get together to celebrate films, even though our world is in such a mess. We had over 200 (socially distanced) people at our last screening, and that was an amazing feeling.

Yours is one of few African films on this year's line-up - is there anything you'd like to see happen to try improve that?

Regarding African cinema, TIFF has a real range of films this year, across several sections. Compared to many other festivals, they seem really invested in supporting cinema from the continent. Of course, this could be better, but it's also an example to other festivals who claim there aren't enough African films, that this is clearly not the case.

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