Interview
Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

Otarel performs at Back To The City in 2019. The rapper teamed up with producer Reverb360 for what is one of the most compelling independent South African hip-hop releases of 2021 so far.

Reverb360 & Otarel Make Music That Attempts To Leave No One Behind

On their new project 'R&O', South African producer-rapper duo Reverb360 and Otarel's diverse backgrounds help them in prioritising inclusivity.

R&O, the collaborative project between artist-cum-producer Reverb360 and lyricist Otarel is one of 2021's most compelling independent South African hip-hop releases.

One of the project's biggest drawcards is the duo's genuine attempt at being representative of not only themselves, but their diverse backgrounds too. On songs like "Ngwenyama", which boasts an isiZulu chorus and is an ode about upholding one's values and principles, while seeking to lead a virtuous life, Otarel raps in English:

"There are more things than whether you swell your ego, to be with one who sees you, in alignment with your people, fulfilling something peaceful, choosing one who feels unequal, reaching further than imagined with the ammo for a reload, more over than making money..."

Otarel considers Nqamakwe in the Eastern Cape home, though she was born in Sterkspruit and raised in Durban. For Reverb360, home is in GaManamela in Polokwane. His childhood was spent between Mpumalanga and Polokwane — he then moved to Pretoria after high school to further his studies. Both artists have built solid reputations in the country's alternative hip-hop scene. Most recently, Otarel appeared on Stogie T's Freestyle Friday on Channel O, while Reverb360 was featured on PDot O's "Like White Doves", off his latest album Cold Waters: Low Tides and Lost Tapes.


When listening to R&O, one gets a sense of musicians who are well-practised in other creative realms other than the traditional rapping and singing. On a song like "Nguwe", built around a vocal beat-box, there's a poetic tonal resonance with Otarel's composition as she starts off by saying:

"Seeping through the melanin, the unmistakable scent of wholesome satisfaction, a thankful gaze acknowledges the works of the heavens and the humble word of gratitude is given to abaPhantsi..."

Some of the standout songs that make up the project take forms that are as diverse in sound, as they are in themes. "Teleportation" is a politically charged song that deals with the upliftment and unity of the people. "Turnt A.F", on the other hand, is a bouncy club cut with heavy 808s and a slew of infectious synths, illustrating a more lighthearted side to the duo. "Don't Sleep On Me" and "All Night" are both centred on romance and intimacy, with the latter being an overt relaying of intimate relations between two lovers. Both Reverb360 and Otarel croon on the song, with the former seductively singing:

"When the lights dim low and it's just me and you in the house, sexy music in the background, you know what I'm about girl, we're about to make each other moan…"

"Senza Konke" allows Otarel the chance to get into a storytelling groove. But first, she prefaces her rapped verse with Zulu chants which further drive forward the amalgamation of tradition throughout the project. Reverb360 does similar chants in Sesotho to preface his part. "We About That" is a chance for Otarel to show off her rapping chops as she gets into different pockets while varying her flow. Reverb360 also takes a stab at the beat with a rapid-fire flow.

In the interview below, the duo discuss their new EP, the importance of indigenous languages in their music, being independent artists and more.

Note: This interview has been slightly edited for clarity, flow and length.

When did the two of you decide on this joint project?

We met in February 2019. We were at a studio session working on a project where we were both featured by someone else. We discovered that we had undeniable musical chemistry, and immediately started talking about working together whenever the opportunity presented itself. We linked up in March of the same year, and soon started working on R&O.

How would you guys describe each other's roles in the collaboration?

Reverb360: I composed the project with some input from Otarel here and there. For the most part, I created the beats, did most of the recording as well as the rest of the technical work. Otarel worked more on the lyrical aspects. I have more experience in diverse songwriting, so I focused more on the hooks, whereas she focused on the core content of the music.

Otarel: Reverb360 is the project's creative director and designed the sound. I focused more on the writing and aesthetic of the tracks. We penned the hooks together, and generally spent a lot of time freestyling most of the music while making the beats.

When did each of you get into music and what are your inspirations?

Reverb360: I grew up with a love for music. Michael Jackson was my favourite musician. In primary school, I joined the choir and thereafter, my principal Mr Maloka urged me to pursue a career in music. That man is a genius, he introduced music in our school as a form of discipline, and we got along because he realised that I was genuinely in love with music. As I got older, I started making my own music.

Otarel: I fell in love with music unwittingly. My first artistic love was drawing, and when I started attending a relatively Model-C school, I became fascinated with the English language, which led me to poetry. In my latter primary school years, a friend that I played basketball with became fascinated with beatboxing. I became intrigued, too, and it wasn't long before we were exchanging music. By 2004, I was a hip-hop head, attending cyphers and sessions. That's when the fire for music was ignited.

Was there a deeper reason for choosing to be multilingual in your music?

Reverb360: Language is an important aspect of communication. We wanted to incorporate as much diversity into our music because expression is, inevitably, communication. We also wanted to position ourselves as people who don't distance themselves from where they come from and who they truly are. We felt that incorporating the diversity we both represent would help us express who we are without restricting us to an English-speaking audience.

Otarel: Most times we find ourselves unable to relate to our people because of language. We don't just want to make good music. We want it to be the kind that, also, rekindles and encourages a certain pride in being who you are.

Based on the project's different sounds and moods, there seems to be a concerted effort to appeal to different demographics and audiences. "Teleportation" is politically charged, while "Turnt A.F" is a club banger. Talk us through your strategy?

Otarel: "Leave no one behind" is the motto of any solid revolution. Part of what hip-hop taught me was that there is always an opportunity to educate. Parallel to R&O, I was working for a human rights non-profit organisation. Before that, I was heavily involved in youth development and social activism messaging through my music. When I met Reverb360, we had countless conversations about our childhood experiences, being Black, being Black and female, and being Black and male. These gave me an in-depth understanding of what it means to be actively involved as an artist. We set ourselves the challenge of creating a song that would echo the voices of the marginalised and oppressed. Our combined desire to unite against societal threats and embrace each other's diversity was so great that the project became a voice instead of, just, a body of music. And no voice is loud enough if it doesn't speak for all.

Reverb360: We face so many different struggles that it's impossible to confront them all in one project. However, we can peel the onion one layer at a time. In the process of all of that, we shouldn't forget to celebrate the wins that enable us to overcome these obstacles. During my time in Pretoria, I worked with a lot of young people who broke through and became figures in the current simulation of the game. Even though bangers are my forte, when I met Otarel, I became exposed to a diverse demographic of individuals, and movements that are much more conscious. Meeting people of various backgrounds and hearing how they managed to break free from a societal structure that seeks to contain who they are really spoke to me. This ended up inspiring the music. Identity is very important. One of hip-hop's elements is knowledge of self, and it is practised by a vast demographic of individuals who deserve to know that they are respected and their representation is acknowledged, accepted and not endangered.

What do you hope to achieve on this musical journey?

Nothing is set in stone! So, our most urgent goal is to resuscitate the values and principles of Ubuntu within the industry itself and establish a collective that focuses on empowering and inspiring creatives and observers, alike. If we could blueprint a formula that doesn't require total submission of who you are in order for you to live a sustainable life doing what you were called to do, that would be great.

What legacy do you want to leave behind?

Otarel: Honestly, at this point, I just want to get my paper up so I can live well with my family and also pursue my career. The world is our oyster.

Reverb360: One that embraces technology as a solution to some of the deep-seated issues that we are experiencing. We are definitely an educational experience!

Are you guys fully independent or are you signed in some capacity? And how has the journey been?

We are fully independent and looking to get into publishing agreements. We'd love to make money without losing our creative prowess, authenticity and sustainability.

The R&O project by Otarel and Reverb360 is available on Bandcamp.

Music
Photo credit: YouTube

Major Lazer, Major League, Tiwa Savage & Maphorisa Want You to Have Some 'Koo Koo Fun'

Major Lazer and Major League Djz just released their collaborative "Koo Koo Fun" record featuring Tiwa Savage and DJ Maphorisa.


Major Lazer and Major League Djz drop a new track featuring Tiwa Savage and DJ Maphorisa. The dance record, which is additionally produced by Don Jazzy and Stargate is accompanied by a bubbly music video which showcases a disco scene and African modern party scene. The track is the first of Major Lazer’s music releases this year and is primarily in the Amapiano style—the South African sound that has recently become widely successful in Africa and the diaspora. "Koo Koo Fun" is a musical reunion for Major Lazer and DJ Maphorisa, who had previously collaborated on the song “Particula,” which featured Ice Prince, Jidenna, Patoranking and Nasty C.

Major Lazer is a dance music group that includes record producer Diplo, DJs Walshy Fire and Ape Drums. The group was originally founded 2008, and although some original members are no longer a part of the team, the current trio have achieved great commercial strides and global success so far.

Major League Djz aretwin brothers who have quickly risen to prominence on the South African dance music scene and have become commercially successful for their hit dance songs, which have continued to place African music on the map. The duo recently performed at Coachella alongside Black Coffee and at the O2 Academy Brixton.

Maphorisa is a South African producer, and vocalist, whose production credits have been featured on records from the likes of Drake, Wizkid and Black Coffee, among others. Nigeria's Tiwa Savage is a pioneer in her own right, with numerous accolades and a global recognition, the icon has solidified as Africa's leading pioneers, harnessing motherhood and superstardom seamlessly.

Watch the music video for "Koo Koo Fun" below.



News Brief
Photo: Liezl Zwarts.

Nasty C Partners With 'Call of Duty'

The South African star rapper announced that he's collaborating with the popular mobile game.


South African rapper Nsikayesizwe David Junior Ngcobo, popularly known as known asNasty C, recently took to Instagram to share with his millions of followers that he would be collaborating with US-based gaming publisher Call of Duty.

The rapper, who has been a long-time gamer, said that he was excited to represent the gaming brand in the South African market,“I’ve been a gamer all my life, and it’s amazing to partner with Carry1st and Call of Duty: Mobile to hype my favorite game in South Africa,” said Nasty C. “I’m excited to show off Call of Duty: Mobile to the next generation of players across the country!”

In an official statement, Cordel Robbin-Coker, the CEO of Carry1st said that the partnership was an excellent opportunity to highlight the global influence of the gaming conglomerate and also recruit new users for the platform.

“We’re excited to partner with Call of Duty: Mobile to highlight the hugely-popular gaming experience to both players that already love the game and new recruits experiencing it for the first time!” said Robbin-Coker.

Earlier this month, the company announced that Call of Duty: Mobile would be launching its own servers in South Africa, and that would give South African gamers the opportunity to seamlessly compete with other gaming enthusiasts around the world.

South African fans of the game will have the opportunity to visit the Call of Duty: Mobile booth at Comic Con Africa from September 22-25, for an exclusive opportunity to win VIP gaming experience with Nasty C, along with R5000 in cash.

Nasty C has always been active in the gaming community. Earlier this year, the 25-year-old secured a partnership deal with Activision, which sponsored his Ivyson Army Tour. With another partnership under his belt, the rapper continues to prove that it is possible to be a renowned artist and also thrive in business ventures.

In other related news, Nasty C recently collaborated with fellow South African star AKA on "Lemons (Lemonade)." He also released the Ivyson Army Tour Mixtape last week, which you can stream below.

Film
Photo: Cyrille Choupas

Alice Diop On Using Film to Center Marginalized Stories

The French director, whose latest film Saint Omer has been selected by France as its submission for the Best International Picture race, is known for her nuanced portraits of humanity.

“When I hear myself through Nicholas, I find me [sic] too radical!” French filmmaker Alice Diop jokes during our conversation, after hearing some of her words and thoughts filtered through her translator Nicholas Elliott.

Diop was responding passionately to a question about the tensions in France between holding onto assimilation policies and embracing a more modern ethos of inclusion and diversity. She is tying her argument to the radical leaning of French republicanism, which is very, very different from the conservative spirit embraced by the Republican party in the United States, where she is expected to appear in October to present her latest film, Saint Omer at the New York Film Festival.

Saint Omer marks Diop’s transition to fiction after seventeen years working as a documentary filmmaker. The film, which won the Grand Jury prize and best debut feature prizes recently at the Venice Film Festival where it debuted, is a wrenching legal drama that follows a young novelist Rama (Kayije Kagame) covering the trial of an immigrant mother accused of infanticide.

Before her triumph at Venice, Diop was in New York to promote the MUBI release of her latest documentary, We (Nous), which premiered at the 2021 Berlinale, where it won the Encounters Grand Prize. The film chronicles a disparate group of people, including an immigrant mechanic and a writer from the Parisian suburbs, and places their lives in connection to the RER B commuter train cutting through the city from the north to south. Diop makes We (Nous) a personal declaration of belonging, weaving footage from her family archive and trailing her sister, a home nurse, at work as she provides care for her patients.

Diop, who is a first-generation daughter of immigrants from Senegal had a wide-ranging chat with OkayAfrica about her films, belonging to French society, and her reasons for prioritizing the stories of the marginalized.

Interview has been edited for length and clarity.

In We (Nous), you are telling these seemingly unrelated stories without obvious connections. What is the common thread linking these stories or people together?

The link is a very personal vision that I have of French society. It is a vision that is at once a dreamed vision but also something already there and not many people see. It is about what can unite people who appear to be so different in a single territory or country. And in a sense, the thread is one that I am weaving myself. It doesn’t exist as such but something very subjective.

In terms of constructing the film, what was the starting point for you?

It started from the book, The Passengers of the Roissy Express published in France about 30 years ago. It is a nonfiction book in which the writer, François Maspero takes the RER B train and follows it to the last stop. This is the train that has the peculiarity of crossing all of the Paris banlieues (low-income suburbs) from north to south. Now these are very different areas that have a great diversity of populations that really express the complexity of French society. I read this book, and it gave me the framework for using the name of the train to describe these very different territories.

A still from the film, We (Nous) of train tracks.

We (Nous) chronicles a disparate group of people, including an immigrant mechanic and a writer from the Parisian suburbs, and places their lives in connection to the RER B commuter train cutting through the city from the north to south.

Photo: Mubi

At what point does your family come in and how do you weave them into the narrative?

This film is a composition of the singularities of the many different people who live and work in France, and my family is part of that history. That is why I wanted to use our family archive in the film because it is a symbolic way of inscribing these traces of my family, and people like them, who are not shown in the constitution of French society. The archive, for me, completes a missing part of French history. I have so little in terms of archives of my family. I have only less than 17 minutes of images of my mother and everything that I have is in this film. That is something very painful; the lives that my parents had were not necessarily appreciated. These were lives that were not epic or did not have the right narratives. At least that was the feeling that I had because the people that I saw on television, in films and novels were not like me. They did not have my history or background, so I grew up with that absence. And I think that is why I became a filmmaker, to repair the violence of having this unrepresented life.

In a sense, this film, and your entire career has been about adjusting this narrative?

Absolutely. This question touches me because this is at the very heart of my filmmaking. I have done this work ever since the desire came upon me to do it, as a way to not succumb to the anger. My new (fiction) film, Saint Omer is focused on Black women, and is inspired by my mother, and it made me realize how much I needed to do this. I want to add up their bodies in film and in history.

Film, for me, is not a space for entertainment, it is a space for revenge and self-care. Saint Omer is not about the banlieues at all. I believe that people from the banlieues have every right to make films that are not about the banlieues. It is about maternity, and I have every right to talk about maternity because it is a question that is relevant to Black women, as much as it is to white women. I am speaking from my own body, and I think the closer I am to myself, the more likely I am to touch other people.

In the film, you talk about not paying into the family fund that ensures you are buried back home in Senegal. Was coming to this realization difficult?

Exile is not just measured in economic gain; it is also a loss that I cannot even qualify. This relationship to the land where you will be buried, I find it a beautiful thing to choose where you are going to die. But the most concrete way of saying where you belong is to say where you are going to be buried. And for me to say it publicly the way I did was for me to cut myself off. I have a 13-year-old mixed race son who was born and lives in France. I speak French, I don’t speak Wolof. I go to Senegal twice a year at most. I am a Frenchwoman.

Now, I am a very particular kind of Frenchwoman; I am a Black woman with colonial history so the most concrete way for me to be French is to say I am going to be buried where my son lives, or where he is most probably going to live. And that’s not a choice between France and Senegal that I am making, it is a way of saying that I am in harmony with where I am. But it does separate me forever from the place where my parents came from. It is hard to think about, even in this conversation with you. It is the entire complexity that is raised here: of the path of immigrants, of the trajectories of coming and of going, of where you are. It is something that is so complex and intense that merely signifying it is already an achievement. It is also a very universal question.

A still from the film We (Nous) of the filmmaker sitting at a table with an interviewee.

Alice Diop and Pierre Bergounioux in a pivotal moment from We (Nous).

Photo: Mubi

And when you put yourself in the frame by the end of the film, are you completing this tapestry that you are sewing?

In a sense. My appearing with my Black woman’s body in the frame, next to this writer Pierre Bergounioux, in his office is a way for me to get revenge for my father for the 40 difficult years he spent working in France. There is a point in the film when I ask my father if spending these years in France has been positive or negative, and he says it’s been a positive gain overall. But I have the intuition that for his daughter to be able to go to university and do things that as a working man, and my mother as a cleaning woman, never had the opportunity to do, and then to show myself in the frame next to this white writer in the film that I am making -- that I have invited the writer to -- I think that shows something about French society and what it can allow. And that repairs, to some degree, the pain that my parents experienced by coming here to offer me a life that they could not have.

Translation by Nicholas Elliott.

Culture
Image courtesy of the artist

Spotlight: Obou Gbais Is Painting The Story of His Life

The artist is reimagining Cote D'Ivoire's history through modern, contemporary language and his latest project "Man Dan"

In our 'Spotlight' series, we highlight the work of photographers, visual artists, multimedia artists, and more who are producing vibrant, original work.

In our latest piece, we spotlight Ivorian artist Obou GbaisAKA Peintre Obou. Obou's remarkably detailed style of painting comes after years of training and educating himself in all things Cote D'Ivoire. The artist's work mirrors the society found in the aftermath of the Ivory Coast's political-military unrest, putting paint on the harsh conditions he witnessed in capital city Abidjan. The emotive expressions donned on the Dan masked faces speak to Obou's acknowledgment of his people and the shameful conditions forced upon them due to a war that didn't involve them. As the artist puts it, "The main theme is the human condition, the characteristics, major events, and situations that make up the essence of human existence", and tapping into his ancestry allows the talent to soothe all aspects of his identity, one paint stroke at a time.

We spoke with Obou about the importance of learning from those who are where you wish to be, and finding authenticity.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.


Describe your background as an artist and the journey you've taken to get it to where it is today.

I was born in the West of the Ivory Coast and studied in Abidjan, the capital. My ambition to become an artist started at a young age, and knew that I would pursue it in high school, and then when I went to college. I worked hard at improving myself -- and to form myself as well as my art -- and in 2012, I obtained my BA in Art. Two years later, I attended Abidjan's National School of Fine Art and from that moment, I really started to practice and educated myself in the world of art.

For five years I attended painting workshops with teachers who were also artists and who exposed me to the creation of the "perpetual". I learned a lot from them and it allowed me to open my work up to constructive criticism, which today has given me a certain openness of mind on art and the ability to continuously renew myself.


What are the central themes in your work?

My work is the story of my life -- my environment, my culture, my love stories, my traumas. My daily life. The main theme is the human condition, the characteristics, major events, and situations that make up the essence of human existence. I talk about my life, my city and also the people who live there. The element that defines me today is the Dan Mask. I have reappropriated the mask of my ancestors to create a contemporary language. In my work, I reconcile my contemporaries with their ancestral cultures by writing my story in a series of works. Generally, one sees masked crowds, one finds demoiselles of my city Abidjan. Couples and family scenes are perceived with the Dan mask and take the center of interest.


What is your medium of choice, and why?

I am sensitive to all mediums and supports but generally gravitate towards those that allow me to better transcribe the story I am telling. It's enriching for me to keep experimenting with new materials in order to be able to tell new stories. I work mostly with brushes, acrylics, and collages, but also with my hands and natural materials like earth, which give my artwork even more authenticity.

How has the pandemic affected you creatively?

The pandemic has affected my creativity in a productive and positive way. I suddenly had more time alone at home to concentrate on my work and try out new elements and methods. Many people had to limit themselves to a minimum during this time, which can be inspiring, especially for artists. Already this is a time in our lives when we were condemned to wear masks and my work is about people wearing masks. It allowed for some connections with my outside world. The series of confined people in their homes and on the streets was a testimony to the realities of that period in Abidjan.


Can you describe your artistic relationship with 'Afro-futurism' and 'surrealism'?

I consider myself as an Afro-futurist because I use, like all young people today, new technologies such as social networks to talk about my culture and share my creations with the world. Putting my country on the world stage through my work and especially my history. I would say that I consider myself a realist and not a surrealist, just by what I transcribe in my daily life -- I speak about real facts with real forms.


Can you talk about your use of colors and jewelry in your art?

The colors and jewelry are elements that appear at different times. There have been times when my work was quite dark with minimal color. And also periods when I feel a lot and peace which are symbolized in my work with quite fresh colors which give emotions.



Image courtesy of the artist

"Dan Love" 150x150 cm 2022 by Obou Gbais

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