Sibu Mabena Works Behind The Scenes in South African Hip-Hop, And She’s Kicking Ass

We speak to Sibu Mabena about her agency that works with countless personalities and brands.

As much as South African hip-hop is male-dominated, it has a huge network of women working behind the scenes, making sure your favorite rappers' live shows are A1 and that their craft is lucrative. 26-year-old Sibu Mabena is one such woman and she has a resume that will humble even the biggest egos. She worked behind the scenes on Cassper Nyovest's Fill Up The Dome, Fill Up Orlando Stadium and Fill Up FNB Stadium—some of the biggest hip-hop concerts South Africa has ever seen.

Her creative agency Duma Collective currently employs eight young people, and works with a plethora of South African personalities and brands. Artists and personalities such as Natasha Tshahane, Luthando Shosha, Reason, K.O., Solo & The BETR Gang, The Muffinz, Sne Mbatha and DotCom are all managed by her agency. Mabena, full disclosure, briefly worked for OkayAfrica in 2017.

Mabena, who started out as a hip-hop dancer in high school, has a degree in political science from the University of Pretoria. "While still in varsity," she says, "I was doing SAB conferences and doing choreography for Brutal Fruit and Miller, and going on tours, teaching kids how to dance."

"Then, while still studying, I thought let me register a company so I can invoice properly. Registering my company gave me something to work with. I went to work for MTV Base, fresh out of varsity, I did a 2-month stint with Pop Bottles, where I consulted for them, and they gave me office space."

In 2016, after working for a digital agency as an operations manager, she decided to run her agency, Duma Collective, full-time. She attributes her success to hard work, God, and intense networking. Duma Collective "manages talent, procures talent for events, does social media campaigns, manages influencers and does creative direction for events."

Mabena took time off her intensely busy schedule to chat to us about her work.

What exactly do you do for the artists you work with?

It varies because of the different industries they are in. so for example, with an actress, they will have an agent to get them into TV shows, ads and find all the auditions for them. And then I come from a business management perspective to say, 'okay, fine your craft is acting, and that's how you pay the bills, but how can we build the brand and monetize it,' so plugging an actress with a brand and seeing how that can go forward, from brand campaigns, an ambassadorship or social media campaigns or plugging them into live events, also I will advise if we need PR, a stylist or makeup artist. As the business manager, you basically come on as a CEO of the company that is that artist. I like to treat my artists as companies, versus just seeing them for what they do.

You've been involved in all of Cassper Nyovest's Fill Up concerts. What other events have you been involved in?

I've done the MTV Base MAMAs 2014 and 2015. I've done SAFTAS, 2015 and 2016, the SAMAs, 2014 and 2015, I've been a part of Homecoming Africa and Afropunk. I've worked in Afropunk in Brooklyn and in Johannesburg. I'm currently working on Just For Laughs Africa, which is happening in December. I'm also working on Homecoming Africa, which is happening in October.

What did you do with the Fill Up series?

My role with the Fill Up series changed over the years. With the first one, Fill Up The Dome, I had just come back from shadowing the director of the EMAs (MTV Europe Music Awards) in Milan. I landed, and I called T-Lee (Cassper Nyovest's manager) and said, "T-Lee, you have to give me a job, I have to do something," and he said, "Fine, come to the Dome, we'll see what we can find for you. I got there and created a role for myself. I asked the stage director, Gareth Hadden from Formative, who was helping Cassper change outfits during the quick changes, and there was no one, so I put my hand up and it ended up being me. So I was just making sure that Cassper wore the right things, got to stage on time, in between these changes.

That role grew with Fill Up Orlando Stadium; I came aboard to make sure that talent got on and off stage on time, and that we had the right things happening on time. So I dealt with dancers, the stage team, the technical crew and the show caller. It was a technical job… so stage assistant really.

With Fill Up FNB Stadium, my role grew to head of talent operations, which then means I managed everything that had to do with talent—from the principal, which is Cassper, to the first DJ who gets on stage, making sure that they've been contacted and even know that they are performing. Dressing rooms, dancers, on and offsite rehearsals, catering, tech and hospitality riders, props… a lot, I had a team of 29 people working with me, including interns and some very experienced people in the industry. And I had the privilege of heading up that team and being the coordinator of this big machine.

How did you get into the industry?

I used to wait for my mother to pick me up at school at 5pm. So I started following my friends into a dance class, and eventually I started dancing. I was good at it, and my teacher put me in the SA dance team. With that, we went overseas to compete, and my eyes opened to this big world of hip-hop, like 'wow this is crazy, there's so much more than what we know.' I was 10 the first time I went to compete in Germany. We did well, and I started knowing people so my network grew from there. I eventually joined the crew The Repertoires when I was 16, and was there for a year. I met some people from Clinch (a dance crew which was popular then); so I latched myself onto Clinch to work on Masters of Rhythm (a dance event), as a volunteer first. I've been that person that's just like 'give me a chance to work and I will show you what I can do then we'll take it from there.' I spent three years with Masters of Rhythm. From there, I met Jay Kayembe, who spotted my talent and said, "I can use your skills in the other projects that I do, so we did STR. CRD (a street culture festival), a Flying Fish dance challenge thing. Jay then got an opportunity to do the Miller Boomtown Tour with Kendrick Lamar, so that was my first big gig and entry into the industry. I creative consulted on that team. And then I did the choreography for the tour with dancers Taryn, Sne and Sbu, who were the choreographers, but we gave the creative direction for that. And through that I met people at SAB, interacted with the artists and grew relationships. Reason was on that tour, that's why we're so close today. Khuli was there, too, we very close today. Tumi, same story.

With all these stories from women who have been abused by men in the entertainment industry and just sexism as we know it, how has it been working in a male-dominated industry for you?

I must be very honest, I haven't been a victim of that. I have always had the mindset to let it not affect me. I think the only time I've ever complained about guys and their behavior was when a group didn't wanna hear me, and then I kicked and screamed, and then they called me emotional. But in terms of being kept out of the loop or not having a seat at the table, men working with each other and against us, that thing for me has always been an idea more than it is a reality. So I've always said 'just be so good that they don't ignore you.' Or be so good that you are needed at the table, and it's happened a number of times. It's just like the race thing—a white agency will have more opportunities than black ones, but eventually they'll call on you.

Sibu Mabena (fourth from right) with Reason's band and road crew en route to Oppikoppi festival last year. Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

To the young girl who follows you on social media or just sees you and would like to follow your path, what would you say are the biggest misconceptions of your job?

What I put out on social media, more often that not, it's the final product, which is the picture in front of the big stage at FNB Stadium, or the picture at the table with al the accreditation to Afropunk, and my life looks like 'wow, that's so great, that's so cool.' It's cool, it really is, but the work it takes to get there is hard. I've gone from picking up cases of cool drink and water into dressing rooms, and then an hour later, I'm serving Raphael Saadiq a cup of tea on stage. So, it's glamorous, but it's hard—long hours, physically and emotionally draining, you don't see your family as much as you want to, and having a decent love life has been difficult until recently. It's hard but it's so rewarding, because every rand you get to spend has been earned. Secondly, flirting with the right person is not as easy as some people think. Some people are able to sleep their way through, and make it to the top. But that's just some people. That's not God's potion for all of us, some of us were put on this earth to work very hard for what we get. And others just breeze through. As a young girl, I would say don't test which one you are—take fate into your hands and work your way into the space you want to be in. it's really as simple as that.

Follow Sibu Mabena on Twitter and visit the Duma Collective website.

Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

8 South African Hip-Hop Battles We’d Love to Watch

After Tweezy and Gemini Major's battle, we'd like to see these ones next.

Last week, Gemini Major and Tweezy, two of South African hip-hop's super producers hopped on the trend of the Instagram Live beat battle started by Swizz Beatz and Timbaland, amidst the lockdown enforced to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Much to the delight of fans and industry mates alike, Tweezy and Gemini Major showcased their best productions, with many realizing and marveling at the fact that they're the two foremost producers responsible for multiple hits in the South African hip-hop industry for the past 10 years.

South Africa's hip-hop scene has a wide range of producers who have shaped the sound of the country's scene over the years since the 90s and 2000s, to the current crop. Taking that into account, we bring you eight pairs of producers we would like to see go against each other in an IG Live beat battle.

Keep reading... Show less
News Brief

Peep Nasty C’s Picks in His Exclusive Shazam Playlist, a First for an African Artist

Apple Music launches the very first Shazam Exclusive Playlist for an African artist with Nasty C.

Nasty C's Shazam Exclusive Playlist is the first in which Apple Music features picks from an African artist. The South African lyricist joins artists such as Lizzo, Kesha, Anne-Marie and others who've all shared their selections on Apple Music.

Nasty C's playlists features songs by Jay-Z, Frank Ocean, Young Thug, Drake and of course some of his own songs among others.

Keep reading... Show less

The 12 Songs You Need to Hear This Week

Featuring Sarkodie, Cassper Nyovest, Elaine, Darkovibes, Stogie T, Phyno, C Natty, and more.

Every week, we highlight the cream of the crop in music through our best music of the week column.

Here's our round up of the best tracks and music videos that came across our desks, which you can also check out in our Songs You Need to Hear This Week playlists on Spotify and Apple Music.

Follow our SONGS YOU NEED TO HEAR THIS WEEK playlist on Spotify here and Apple Music here.

Check out all of OkayAfrica's playlists on Spotify and Apple Music.

Keep reading... Show less
Photo courtesy of CNOA

These Colombian Civil Rights Activists Are Fighting to Make Sure Afro-Colombians are Counted in the Census

When 30 percent of Colombia's Black citizens disappeared from the data overnight, a group of Afro-Colombian activists demanded an explanation.

It was the end of 2019 when various Black organizations protested in front of the census bureau—The National Institute of Statistics and Informatics (DANE)—in Bogotá, Colombia to show their dissatisfaction about what they called a "statistical genocide" of the black population. The census data, published that year, showed 2.9 million people, only 6 percent of the total population of the country, was counted as "Afro-Colombian," "Raizal," and "Palenquero"—the various terms identifying black Colombians.

For many years, Afro-Colombians have been considered the second largest ethno-racial group in the country. Regionally, Colombia has long been considered the country with the second highest number of Afro-descendants after Brazil, according to a civil society report.

Why did the population of Afro-Colombians drop so drastically?

Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists protesting erasure of Afro-descendants in front of the census bureau.

Last year, a crowd of activists gathered in Bogota to protest what they saw as erasure of Black communities in the Colombian census.

Photo courtesy of CNOA

In the latest national census report from 2018/2019, there appeared to be a 30.8 percent reduction of the overall group of people that identified as Black, Afro-Colombian, Raizal, and Palenquero, as compared to the 2005. After this controversial report, an Afro-Colombian civil rights organization known as the National Conference of Afro Colombian Organizations (CNOA), officially urged DANE to explain the big undercounting of the black population.

This wasn't a small fight. Representatives who hold the special seats of Afro-Colombians in Colombia's congress asked the census bureau to attend a political control debate at the House of Representatives in November 2019 to deliver an accountability report. "The main goal of doing a political debate was to demand DANE to give us a strong reason about the mistaken data in the last census in regard to the Afro population," said Ariel Palacios, an activist and a member of CNOA.

At the debate, the state released an updated census data report saying that, almost 10 percent of the Colombian population—4.6 million people out of 50.3 million—considers themselves Afro-Colombians or other ethnicities (like Raizal, and Palenquero). But despite DANE trying to confirm the accuracy and reliability on the latest census report it was clear that, for a variety of reasons, Black people were missed by the census. The state argued that their main obstacles with data collection were related to the difficulties of the self-recognition question, as well as security reasons that didn't allow them to access certain regions. They also admitted to a lack of training, logistics and an overall lack of success in the way the data collectors conducted the census.

How could they have counted Black populations better?

Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists playing drums in front of the census bureau.

Drummers performing during a protest against the Colombian census bureau's erasure of Afro-Colombians from the 2018 census.

Photo courtesy of CNOA

These arguments were not reasonable for the civil rights activists, partially because the state failed to properly partner with Afro-organizations like CNOA to conduct or facilitate extensive informational campaigns about the self-identification questions.

"CNOA has worked on self-recognition and visibility campaigns among the Afro community and this census ignored our work," says priest Emigdio Cuesta-Pino, the executive secretary of CNOA. Palacios also thinks that the majority of Afro-Colombians are aware of their identity "we self-identify because we know there is a public political debate and we know that there is a lack of investment on public policies."

That's why it is not enough to leave the statistical data to the official census bureau to ensure that Afro-Colombian communities are fully counted in the country. And the civil rights activists knows that. They made a big splash in the national media and achieved visibility in the international community.

Thanks to The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a human rights organization, Palacios traveled to D.C to meet with Race and Equality institution and a Democratic Congressman. "We called for a meeting with representative Hank Johnson to talk about the implementation of Colombia's peace accords from an Afro-Colombian perspective but also to address the gross undercounts of its black population," says Palacios.

For the activists at CNOA, the statistical visibility of the Black population is one of their battles. They have fought for Afro population recognition for almost two decades. "Since the very beginning CNOA has worked on the census issue as one of our main commitments within the statistical visibility of the Afro-Colombian people," says priest Cuesta-Pina. Behind this civil organization are 270 local associations, who work for their rights and collective interests.

The activists want to raise awareness on identity. Because according to Palacios, "In Colombia, there is missing an identity debate—we don't know what we are. They [the census bureau] ask if we are black, or if we are Afro-Colombians. But what are the others being asked? If they are white, mestizo or indigenous?" Palacios believes that for "CNOA this debate is pending, and also it is relevant to know which is the character of this nation."

Afro-Colombian Populations and the Coronavirus

Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists use mock coffins and statistics to protest erasure of Afro-descendants

Colombian civil-rights activist insist that undercounting Afro-descendants can have a real impact on the health of Afro-Colombian communities, especially during the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis.

Photo courtesy of CNOA

Even though the state recently "agreed with to give us a detailed census report" and make a different projection with the micro data, says Palacios, now with the Covid-19 emergency, CNOA and the government has suspended all meetings with them, including cancelling a second congressional debate and the expert round table meeting to analyze the data.

Unfortunately, it is exactly in situations like the Covid-19 emergency where data analysis and an accurate census report would have been useful. According to the professor and PhD in Sociology Edgar Benítez from Center for Afro Diasporic Studies—CEAF, "Now it is required to provide a reliable and timely information on how the contagion pattern will spread in those predominantly Afro regions in the country and what is the institutional capacity in those places to face it," says Benítez.

He adds that this information is "critical at the moment because the institutional capacity is not up to provide it at the current situation". That's why the Center for Afro Diasporic Studies plans to work with DANE information from the last census. According to Benítez, "We are thinking of making comparisons at the municipal level with the information reported in the 2018 Quality of Life Survey, in order to have a robust and extensive database as possible on the demographic, economic and social conditions of the black, afro, Raizal and Palenquera population in Colombia."

get okayafrica in your inbox