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.

GULSHAN KHAN/AFP via Getty Images

New Research Out of South Africa Brings Us Closer To Understanding Ancient Human Species

The remains left by “Homo Naledi” informs us of their use of burial grounds, tribal paintings, and more.

South African researchers continue their journey to discover the weird and wonderful ways human beings have developed over the last hundred thousand years. Their latest achievement is in the improved understanding of how the hominin “Homo Naledi” existed, thought, and behaved. Scientists have discovered that the ancient human species partook in burial practices, and created rock paintings and carvings -- acts previously believed to be above their level of intelligence.

“It’s a remarkable thing. My mind is blown,” said famed American-South African anthropologist Lee Berger and his team, who unearthed the artifacts and published the latest findings. Homo Naledi was first discovered in 2013, but our understanding of their behaviors has only scratched the surface. The new discoveries have shown evidence of behaviors humans only exhibited 100,000 years later, and the evidence left behind leads us to believe that they were incredibly intelligent - a major blimp to the idea that bigger brains make for smarter brains.

Keep reading...Show less

The Best South African Songs Right Now

Featuring new South African music from Inkabi Zezwe, Nomfundo Moh, Tyla, K.O, A-Reece and more.

Here are the South African songs and music videos that caught our attention this month.

Keep reading...Show less
Photo by Burak Cingi/Redferns.

Three Takeaways From Burna Boy’s 'Love, Damini' Tour Wardrobe So Far

Wearing back-to-back Robert Wun from Paris La Dèfense to the London Stadium, the Afrofusion superstar has never looked this stylish.

The new leg of Burna Boy’s Love, Damini stadium tour is in full throttle. Done with arena spaces — he’s conquered New York’s Madison Square Garden, London’s O2 Arena, and Atlanta’s State Farm Arena with sold-out shows — the Nigerian heavyweight act is now scaling up tour venues to fit his image. Not surprising, then, to see some thoughtfulness in his outfit choices. Weeks after making his Met Gala debut wearing the new Burberry tartan, he thrilled fans in Paris in the first stop of his Love, Damini tour.

He sold out the 40-000 capacity Paris La Défense venue. Strikingly, he wore custom Robert Wun for a better part of his performance, a black, pleated matching set plucked from Wun’s SS23 “birding” collection. Over the weekend headlining at the London Stadium, home ground of Premier League club, West Ham United, Burna Boy turned to Robert Wun once more.

If he looked like a raven in Paris, he looked like a kingfisher in London. In crisp, autumnal orange, the bursting flare of pants and sleeves, and the glide of the top overlay as he moved about on stage, isn’t only hitting a sartorial tone with high fashion but might suggest a new metaphorical shift in how Burna Boy sees himself.

He’s become the first African to sell out London’s 80,000-capacity stadium, and with more stops in the Netherlands (June 17), Portugal (June 28), Denmark (June 29) and the US (July 8), here are three takeaways from his tour looks so far.

The Robert Wun-Afrobeats star relationship

Before Burna Boy donned his first Robert Wun ensemble in Paris, the London-based Hong Kong designer had Tems as a celebrity client, whom he had put in two custom creations. The first time at her 2022 London show at Koko, wearing a teal, halter neck set with billowing pleats. The second time was at the 2023 Met Gala, her showstopping feather couture in monochrome.

Both Burna Boy and Tems owe their stylists — Romani Ogulu and Dunsin Wright respectively — for tapping their celebrity into the world of designers like Wun. With the crossover of Afrobeats into global markets, its stars are now thrust into new worlds of fans, media, and public engagements. Wun is filling an opportunity gap where Afrobeats A-listers are making fashion statements on bigger stages. And we have a feeling this is a symbiotic relationship that will spring more surprises.

Breaking the Afrobeats male wardrobe ceiling

Due to gendered notions ingrained in music artistry, there are often low expectations for male artists regarding wardrobe and style choices when performing live. In Nigeria, where Afrobeats is situated as a nerve center, male artists arrive at their shows or concerts wearing streetwear or wardrobe basics. In some cases, they take off their tops in the throes of excitement or passion. This isn’t the case with female Afrobeat acts.

Asake has been of the male artists who have pushed the envelope, causing a stir online when he wore a black denim skirt repurposed as a top to one of his shows. While Burna Boy has performed topless (one time he stripped to his underwear in Nigeria), his Love, Damini tour outfits show male artists can straddle the line between stage performance and stylish wardrobe.

A new Burna Boy iconography

Robert Wun’s avian-inspired garments honor his late grandmother, who liked the swallow bird. But seen on Burna Boy, they take a different meaning. His crossover stardom was accompanied by a nonstop supply of confidence on his part. Some might argue that it’s cockiness, so much so that he earned his name as the “African Giant” after the 2019 Coachella fiasco.

As time went on, he likened himself to the fearlessness of a gorilla, meshing with his persona in a way that has produced an emoji, merchandise, and more. His ongoing tour staged in stadiums demonstrates that he’s in a gigantic world of his own. Robert Wun’s avian motif in his designs seemingly codes for Burna Boy’s appetite for more space to dominate, more records to be broken. Even if it means launching himself into the sky like a bird.

Image courtesy of the artist.

Meet Andre Vibez, the Producer Behind Rema's 'Calm Down'

We caught up with the Nigerian producer who’s been cranking out record-breaking hits on the story behind Rema’s "Calm Down" and more.

Before "Calm Down" was gifted to the world, producer Andre Vibez and Remahad already forged a connection. This was during Rema’s early years in Benin City as a teenager and a budding artist, part of the musical duo RNA. Andre Vibez was well-known in the city for his grasp with unproven talents and his enviable heritage as the son of Sir Victor Uwaifo, a Nigerian music legend.

But Andre, who journeyed into the music world first as a rapper before being nudged by his Dad to master music production, sought for more outside Benin. Thus, a move to Lagos, the nation’s creative hotspot, surfaced. While that phase came with a state of lull, news of Rema being unveiled in 2019 ignited a sense of hunger in Andre Vibez to go harder at music production than ever before.

A meeting with Don Jazzy happened through his cousin in 2020. The partnership with Rema would be struck again and a year later, Andre Vibez would supply the sonic rudiments that morphed to become the most streamed Nigerian song in 2021, “Feeling” by LADIPOE. He and Rema would create “Calm Down” —the monstrous hit that has continued to shatter existing records—that same year, creating new landmarks and pumping in new opportunities both for the producer and the artist, who’s just finished touring India.

We spoke to Andre Vibez below.

You often add elements from other genres to your Afropop beats. What’s your creation process like?

It differs for everybody. But the thing I do is, when I make my beats, I have an artist or similar artists in mind. So if I’m making a certain beat, I can make it thinking Rema will be great on this, Ayra Starr will be great on this. I try to make it in a way that it’s so good that when I play it for that particular artist, they can instantly connect to it.

Another secret is leaving a lot of room on my beats when I start making them so when any of the artists jump on it, I can go back and add other elements or melodies to it. So it all complements what the artist did on that record. There were some beat elements on Mavins' "Won Da Mo" and Crayon’s "Too Correct" that were added after the artist had recorded so it gave me room to experiment and be creative.

Andre VibezAndre VibezPhoto courtesy of the artist.

Your dad Sir Victor Uwaifo was a legend, did he influence your choice to become a music producer?

Yes. Getting into production was quite easy for me. Considering the fact that I grew up in music, my father, the late Sir Victor Uwaifo was like one of the biggest musicians out of Nigeria and Africa in his prime. I just grew up listening to his music, watching him perform, watching him record, rehearse, cut records. I took all of that in but I didn’t realize I was going to do music until I became a teenager.

My dad’s influence is so great on me that if you listen to the beats I make, you’ll hear that there are elements of different genres. That's what my dad created. Also, he was very experimental. My dad wasn’t exactly highlife, he made a highlife hit and people tagged him highlife. And when you hear the instrumentation in his beats—the percussion, the orchestral sounds, horns and the jazz melodies... imagine growing up, listening to that kind of music every day, it’d definitely have a big impact on you.

You produced "Dirty" and "Calm Down" off Rema's Rave and Roses album. How did that connection with Rema begin?

Rema and I go way back to 2014, when I first met him. I mean Rema is Rema. But Rema is like my younger brother. Because when I met him, obviously he was really young, he was 13 or 14 when I first met him, I was the one who made his first record when he was in a group (RNA).

I made about three other records for them. Fast forward to when he was unveiled by Mavin. To be honest, Rema is one of the people who motivated me to get back to doing music production. Because I remember I was in SoundCity at the time. When I saw that, it just sparked something inside of me. It felt like, I came here, to Lagos for something and I’m seeing someone that I know, we have some history together. And he’s here at this level, I can do this as well. So that was what sparked that idea of me just quitting my job and getting back to this.

Once I got into Mavin, Rema and I started working. When he had the time, we would record and the synergy started to come back. I started to understand him and he understood my stuff. Rema is someone who knows exactly what he wants. And once you understand him, then it makes it easy for a relationship to be formed.

So how was "Calm Down" made?

After we recorded "Calm Down," we knew it was a special song. I just didn’t know how big it was going to be. I think it was during the day we recorded the song. So Rema came to the studio, this was sometime in 2021, and I played him a couple of beats. The "Calm Down" beat must have been the third beat I played him that day. As soon as he heard it, he was like I should keep that. I played him another one and he was like let’s go back to the previous one, which is the beat for "Calm Down."

He just told me to keep playing it and he started coming up with the lyrics, the melodies. He came up with the vocal melodies first. And then we started putting in the words and recorded it. After we were done, we listened to it and we knew this song was special.

"Won Da Mo" became a popular hit in December and although produced by you, it spelled out your versatility. How do you infuse elements from other genres into the Afropop records you make?

I mean we can make rock music or metal music in Nigeria. So if you’re going to infuse any of that you have to balance it out with other things.Every Afrobeats song that you hear today regardless of the melody or the rhythm, it's the drums that drive Afrobeats. Because for African music, before we started making contemporary African songs or like what we make today, if you go back in time before we got civilized, you’ll notice that literally every culture in Africa plays drums. They play heavy drums, the percussions, congas and shakers. So African music first of all is drums. And what Afrobeats is using to dominate is firstly the drums and the addition of nice melodies which you can borrow from anywhere else and add to the drums.

How did that happen for "Won Da Mo"?

For "Won Da Mo" we were going for something really fast because it is supposed to feel like it’s an action movie. That was the idea. The idea wasn’t coming from me though. Rema was definitely a heavy part of that process. In fact, the main melody was Rema. That “Tan Dan Tan Dan Tan Dan” you hear at the beginning, Rema is the one who wanted that. Then I started playing the drums, adding like all the other elements, getting a guitarist to come to the studio to play some melodies too, directing him on what to play.

Once I realized that it was a song every artist in Mavin was going to be on, I had to find pockets for each artist to come in which was very difficult because you have eight artists. How do you want to fit eight artists into a song that’s not so long? The most difficult part was the transition from one artist to the next artist. I had to make it work in a seamless format. If you notice, for every time the next person comes in, there’s something that leads into that person’s part.

So those sounds that I added, those things I added to make the record what it is, the whole rock sounds, R&B feel, is just an approach I like. For me, it’s something that makes me stand out. And for you to be recognized, for you to stand out, you need to be able to do something that’s different from what other people are doing.

You also produced Ayra Starr’s "Rush," her biggest record yet which has amassed over 100 million Spotify streams and just went Gold in France. How did that happen?

I just did my own bit. I had made the beat a while back, maybe April last year. So I worked with another producer, Hopp, from the U.S. who’s on the production credits. After we dropped "Calm Down," I had a lot of international producers reaching out, wanting to send samples. So this guy, Hoops sent me samples and loops. I heard one particular loop, loved it instantly and wanted to create around it and then I just worked it my own way. You know, added other things and gave it that Afropop feel.

I then shared it with Mbryo, who co-wrote the song with Ayra Starr. That’s it. I wasn’t even present when it was recorded. I recorded Mbryo but when Ayra recorded I wasn’t there. I just heard the record when she had done it and sent it to me. I was like cool, I love it. And after, I added some other elements to it. There was this particular bassline I included and some little strings and transition sounds I added here and there.

get okayafrica in your inbox


Photo Series: Inside Nigeria’s Egungun Festival​

Rooted in the Yoruba word for masquerade, the centuries-old festival honors ancestors, with a striking display of costumes and masks.

Burna Boy is the First African Artist to Sell Out London Stadium

The Nigerian superstar became the first African artist to sell out London’s 80,000-capacity stadium, during his June 3rd performance. The U.S. is next, where he'll be the first African artist to headline a stadium, at New York's Citi Field.

The Best Nigerian Songs Right Now

Featuring new Nigerian music from Asake,Olamide, CKay, Wande Coal, Teni, Oxlade, Joeboy and more.

Uganda's President Will "Go To War" Over New Anti-LGBTQ+ Bill

President Museveni is defending the world's harshest anti-human rights bill, threatening death for being gay.


Rukky Ladoja on Building a Socially Responsible Nigerian Fashion Brand

The Nigerian designer behind Dye Lab has established a popular design brand based on the principle of little to no waste.