Op-Ed
Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

The late PRO performing at Back to the City.

[Op-Ed] SPeeka: “‘Dankie San’ brought me closer to kasi rap”

A personal reflection on one of South Africa's most influential hip-hop albums, 'Dankie San' by PRO.

Ed's note: South Africa's national channel SABC 1 recently aired a 2-part documentary on the making of Dankie San, the late South African rapper PRO's 2007 album which is considered by many as his magnum opus. The album is considered a "kasi rap bible." In this Op-Ed, South African hip-hop producer and powerhouse of kasi rap, SPeeka reflects on the album's impact on the South African scene and his own life.

2007 was a strange year for me. I had matriculated the previous year, and, thanks to succumbing to peer pressure, was studying I.T.. I eventually dropped out because instead of doing my Programming assignments, I focused most of my energy on being a hip-hop head and making beats.

I cared very little for anything outside hip-hop culture. I was deeply entrenched into both American and South African hip-hop—listening to everything from Mr. Selwyn to Kanye West, Morafe, The Roots and PROkid.

Of all the South African MCs I was listening to at the time, PRO (then known as PROkid) was right at the top of my list. He was one of the few MCs who was able to spit in English and vernac (IsiZulu and South African township slang known as tsotsitaal) with the same lethal precision – both written and freestyled.


I respected him heavily for this, but I gravitated more towards his vernac tracks. The joints I mostly played from his first two previous albums Heads & Tales (2005) and DNA (2006) were the joints where he was spitting in township slang – think "Wozobona," "Ungaphel'umoya," "Fede Fokol," "Where u At," "Amabhadi" and "Wild West" to name a few.

At the time, there already had been many MCs who had rapped in vernac before PRO, but none of them sounded as technically polished as he did. Ask anyone who attended the legendary Slaghuis session in Diepkloof Zone 4 circa 2004.

A fitting apology to SA hip-hop from TS Records

Fast forward to the last half of the year when I was still trying to figure out what to do with my life after realizing that I.T.. just wasn't it for me. Word got out that PRO would be releasing a new album under one of the most successful black-owned South African record labels of all-time, TS Records (Zahara, Ntando, Brown Dash etc.). To keep it a hundred, I was a bit apprehensive when I first heard of this considering that Mzekezeke (DJ Sbu's alter ego and one of the label's leading artists) literally put out "Amakoporosh," a diss track targeting SA hip-hop a few years before.

Read: Hip-Hop & Kwaito's Long Love-Hate Relationship

However, the feeling of doubt quickly faded away when I realised that PRO would be benefitting from the label's legendary relentless marketing strategies. For me, I saw this was a fitting apology to SA hip-hop from label heads DJ Sbu and TK Nciza by putting on the Slaghuis god right after his stint with Gallo Records had come to an end after the release of his sophomore album DNA.

A portrait of Speeka wearing a grey T-shirt and black beanie hat. Speeka. Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.


I mean, even though he was previously signed to a major label, PRO was big, but he wasn't TS Records-big—if you know what I mean. The MC went on a television and radio tour promoting the release of the new album under the label. The album was said to be dropping in October 2007, which PRO had dubbed "PROctober."

During the promotional run of the album – which he named after his catchphrase "Dankie San" ­– he appeared on the country's biggest TV music show One (now known as Live AMP) on SABC 1 to perform the lead single titled "Bhampa."

Read: The Story of How Pro Gave AKA & IV League Their Biggest Break

The track blew me away upon my first listen. This was PRO in his element. The flow. The street swag. The bounce. The beat from this new production team, the trio IV League (AKA, Kamza and Buks) was utterly flawless.

This joint reignited the same excitement I felt when I first heard "Wozobona" in 2005.

A sense of Sowetan pride

The final blow that convinced me that I would be buying the Dankie San CD come hell or high water, was when I heard PRO rap on the song's third verse: "To all the crooks abaz'shaya ngama PRO Ink boots/ Sengisho nalaba abakhule nge-beer ne-loose/ Ngoba i-culture yase Loxion is part of your roots…" I even remember the hand gestures he made during this part of his performance.

Strange as it may seem, considering that through those lines, he briefly touches on the sad reality that is underage drinking and smoking, those bars filled my heart with an overwhelming sense of Sowetan pride similar to the pride we all felt when we first heard his debut hit single "Soweto."

Another one of PRO's stops during the album's promotional run that fuelled my excitement was his appearance on Tbo Touch's then-popular radio show Rhyme & Reason on Metro FM. On the show, PRO exclusively performed two songs: "Uthini Ngo PRO" and "Ringa Mo." A number of things made this radio appearance special, namely Tbo Touch's genuine excitement for having PRO on the show. Tbo Touch wasn't just a radio host interviewing an artist on his show, he was a huge PRO fan and wasn't afraid to express it.

His reactions to PRO's lines were the same as those of us, the listeners. We, along with Tbo Touch, lost our minds when PRO first delivered the now-iconic line, "uPRO yinjayam! Um'yisa nin' e-SPCA?" on "Uthini Ngo PRO." Another factor that made this radio appearance dope was hearing DJ Sbu in the background, yelling and proudly backing his newly signed artist.

When the album finally dropped, I wasted no time and immediately got myself a copy – which I still own to this day. Dankie San gave me my favourite version of one of the country's finest MCs—effortless vernac raps accompanied by the spellbinding production of IV League, Dome, Omen and Semi-Tone.

Influencing a whole generation of kasi rappers

Dankie San proudly paid homage to PRO's kwaito roots, as heard in Ringa Mo (which sample's Mapaputsi's "Manga Manga Business" intro) and "Is'khathi Sewatch" (which references the late great Mandoza's song "Sikhathi Sewashi"). It can be argued that PRO's bold exploration of blending kwaito and hip-hop, also done by the late great HHP on more than one occasion, contributed to putting an end to the unnecessary war between the two genres. The kwaito influence wasn't only apparent in the sampling and referencing, but also in PRO's overall attitude and delivery.

The album's influence on South African hip-hop, more particularly kasi rap, is undeniable. Many will disagree, but I believe that this marked the beginning of an avalanche of rappers all attempting to emulate PRO's technique, which resulted in what most consider as the "nje nge" generation (a generation of kasi rappers who use a lot of similes—"nje nge" is "like" in IsiZulu).

On a more personal note, Dankie San found me at a time when I was still searching for myself. It brought me closer to kasi rap and helped bring a perfect end to a year that was filled with regrets and uncertainty.

The first time I met PRO, I was too star-struck to even put together a complete sentence. You can't blame me. I mean, what do you say to the man who used his gift to inspire you and make you proud of where you're from? Looking back now, all I really had to say was, "Dankie San!"

Stream Dankie San on Apple Music and Spotify.



Revisit our profile of Speeka here and watch his Slaghuis Joint Elements documentary below:

Slaghuis Joint Elements (2019) - Documentary www.youtube.com

Interview
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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