Featured

On The Map: Swaziland’s Christian Hip-Hop Scene

In the third edition of Okayafrica's On The Map series, Sabelo Mkhabela takes us inside Swaziland's rising Christian hip-hop movement.

For our new series, On The Map, we ask artists, DJs, writers, and general in-the-know people to tell us about what’s happening in their hometown’s music scenes—from the rising artists getting played across the city to the hot venues and new genres. In this third edition of On The Map, Sabelo Mkhabela takes us inside Swaziland's rising Christian hip-hop scene.


It makes sense that Swaziland would have a Christian hip-hop movement.

Growing up there I was Christian by default. The religion is a bonafide way of being with an estimated 82% of Swazis in the country identifying as Christian. The kingdom being a Christian nation, and the haven of gospel music in southern Africa, doesn’t necessarily make it easy for Christian rappers. Their biggest challenge? Finding an adequate space for Christian hip-hop to exist.

Apart from the few events devoted to the Christian art form, most notably The Life We Chose Concert (which last happened two years ago), Christian hip-hop artists and poets don’t have a reliable platform to showcase their craft. The church isn’t too accepting of a young man in sagging pants and a flat cap turned backwards talking about Jesus over loud 808s and hi-hats.

According to Swazi poet Poetic Soul, most people don’t understand the difference between religion and Christianity. “Things like dress code, language, even the way you walk, are all religion’s limitations,” he says as I join him in a gathering with his fellow brethren in a restaurant in the Swazi capital, Mbabane.

Known as P1.7, the collective, which is open to everyone, consists of prominent Christian hip-hop artists and poets such as Skeel, Calliber, Wesley, Switch and X.O. The Hip-Hop Apostle. They are the only visible Christian hip-hop movement in the kingdom.

P1.7 members (left to right) Wesley, Skeel, X.O. The Hip Hop Apostle, Switch, Poetic Soul. Photo: Sabelo Mkhabela P1.7 members (left to right) Wesley, Skeel, X.O. The Hip Hop Apostle, Switch, Poetic Soul. Photo: Sabelo Mkhabela

For Christian rappers in Swaziland it hasn’t been easy. “I’ve made some compromises,” says Skeel. “When a person saw me with a stack of CDs and I’d tell them this is my mixtape of Christian poetry and rap, I could tell they were losing interest. To win that person over I had to say, ‘But it’s also conscious hip-hop.’”

The media, just like the general public, has been shunning the sub-genre. But things are slowly changing.

“They’ve become intrigued,” says Skeel. “In Swaziland it’s become some form of a new genre. For a long time, we weren’t getting the attention. Because things that are associated with Christ are looked down upon.”

Skeel hosts a radio show on SBIS 2 (the English channel of the government-owned SBIS radio station). Titled “Euthology,” the show embraces Christian hip-hop fully, without any compromises. It’s one of the latest platforms where the sub-genre thrives.

The front-runner of Christian hip-hop in Swaziland is undoubtedly Switch, the 2013 Hip Hop Artist of The Year at Swaziland’ National Arts and Culture Awards (NACA). “I wasn’t expecting to win,” he says. “I didn’t feel I was doing that much. We didn’t have that strong a presence in the industry. They didn’t even play us much on radio. Because it was something new.” He had just released his debut album, The Journey Begins, in 2012. It was his first release as a Christian hip-hop artist.

Winning the same award in 2015 wasn’t just a feat for the rapper, but a symbol that Christian hip-hop had arrived.

Switch. Photo: Sabelo Mkhabela

The brothers of P1.7 were all introduced to hip-hop and poetry at an early age. Switch cites 50 Cent as one of the first rappers he ever listened to. X.O, the oldest member of the collective, grew up listening to LL Cool J and DJ Jazzy Jeff. Calliber used to battle-rap and Wesley was a Lil Wayne fanatic.

The collective was started by Calliber, Pyramid, Nathan Ebed-Melekh formerly The Sword Skill Assassin, Tafadzwa Asaph and Limpo Mwenda back in 2011 (the last two aren’t rappers).

“We said let’s come together and see what we can do, based on Proverbs 1:7–‘The fear of The Lord is the beginning of knowledge,’ which we looked at as the guideline to being a Christian rapper,” says Calliber. More than anything, P1.7 is a brotherhood. “Anyone who understands what we are doing and loves our music, I’d consider you as part of P1.7.”

Skeel in a Christ Attributes hoodie. Photo: Sabelo Mkhabela

Aside from the members of P1.7, there are hip-hop artists in the kingdom whose music has undertones of Christianity. Psycho-Lution is one of them. Though his music contains religious references, the rapper would prefer not to box himself in as a Christian hip-hop artist. “But a hip-hop artist who was brought up as a Christian from birth,” he once told me.

And it doesn’t just stop at rhymes and stanzas for P1.7. Wesley has a clothing label called Christ Attributes. The label’s hoodies and t-shirts are branded with slogans like "I <3 Jesus" and "Show Know Mercy."

Indeed, P1.7 is becoming a subculture of sorts. Only time will tell how wide the gospel will spread.

For more from Okayafrica's On The Map series, check out a weekend immersed in Maputo's music scene and an inside look at Maseru's hip-hop scene.

Sabelo Mkhabela is a writer from Swaziland, currently based in Cape Town. He also drops award-winning tweets as @SabzaMK.

popular

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.

EXPERIENCE 100 WOMEN 2020

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

Audio
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.

Keep reading... Show less
popular
(Photo by Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images)

Blitz the Ambassador Named 2020 Guggenheim Fellow

The Ghanaian artist and filmmaker is among 175 "individuals who have demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts."

Ghanaian filmmaker Blitz Bazawule, also known as Blitz the Ambassador has been named a 2020 Guggenheim fellow.

The musician, artist and director behind he critically acclaimed film The Burial of Kojo, announced the news via social media on Thursday, writing: "Super excited to announce I've been awarded the Guggenheim 2020 Fellowship. Truly grateful and inspired."

He is among 175 scholars, "appointed on the basis of prior achievement and exceptional promise, the successful candidates were chosen from a group of almost 3,000 applicants in the Foundation's ninety-sixth competition," says the Guggenheim.

Keep reading... Show less
Culture
Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

6 South African Podcasts to Listen to During the Lockdown

Here are six South African podcasts worth listening to.

South Africa has been on lockdown for almost two weeks as a measure to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus, and it looks like the period might just get extended. If you are one of those whose work can't be done from home, then you must have a lot of time in your hands. Below, we recommend six South African podcasts you can occupy yourself with and get empowered, entertained and informed.


Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.

popular.