Sites and Sounds From South Africa's Back To The City Festival

This year's Back to the City Festival—South Africa's biggest and best hip-hop throw-down was a riot of style and cutting edge performances. Here are the pictures.

South Africa’s biggest street culture and hip-hop festival, Back To The City, took place last Thursday—Freedom Day. Now in its 11th year, the festival boasts an attendance of approximately 25,000 hip-hop heads from across South Africa.

The biggest challenge for a fan during the event is catching acts from across all three stages – given performances on the festival are an average of 15 minutes. We stuck to the main stage, where most of our favorite acts were performing.

Back To The City focusses on all four elements of hip-hop – so, as usual, there were graffiti artists embellishing the concrete pillars of the bridge that runs about Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown, Johannesburg. There were break dancers, skateboarders, ‘ballers, and an array of deejays such as DJ Switch, DJ Papercutt, DJ Kenzhero, Themba Lunacy, DJ Sliqe and more.


The best thing about Back To The City is that it caters for all of rap music’s sub-genres. Most hip-hop events either focus on mainstream or “underground” rap—never both. It’s only at Back To The City where you will get to witness Tha Hymphatic Thabs and Emtee on one stage. It’s always interesting watching how the audience reacts to these different kinds of artists, and it says a lot about South African hip-hop fans’ tastes and knowledge of the genre.

American artists such as Apollo Brown & Skyzoo, Mazzi, Cappadonna (Wu Tang), added another flavor to the prevalently South African line-up. South African rap superstars such as Cassper Nyovest, Emtee, Stogie T, and more niche artists such as N’Veigh, Smerf Illest, Yugen Blakrok, Mr. Beef, Big Zulu, and Uno July, graced the main stage, and impressed. The more left-field artists such as ByLwansta and Revivolultion were on the Play Stage, where the MC and beat battles were taking place.

There was also, as usual, the Hip-Hop Summit before the performances, where hip-hop scholars and artists such as Skyzoo, Andile Mathobela (founder of, Keke Mokeona (artist manager), T-Lee Moiloa (artist manager) and more, shared what they know about the game to an audience of up-and-coming artists and media peeps.

Even though better than compared to previous years, time management at the festival was an issue–some performances were cut short, while some–most notably Kwesta and Kid X–didn’t happen at all.

The sound was crisp, and the atmosphere was robust, as usual, the place was teeming with cool kids dressed in the most colorful outfits and kicks, puffing marijuana and downing beers like there was no tomorrow.

Our favourite performances came from Tha Hymphatic Thabs, Zola, Stogie T, Priddy Ugly, Mr. Beef, Cassper Nyovest, Reason, Tweezy, Patty Monroe. Not to say everyone else didn’t rock–most of artists on the main stage were impressive.

As the platitude goes, hip-hop won.


Interview: Wavy The Creator Is Ready to See You Now

The multidisciplinary Nigerian-American artist on tapping into all her creative outlets, creating interesting things, releasing a new single and life during quarantine.

A trip canceled, plans interrupted, projects stalled. It is six months now since Wavy the Creator has had to make a stop at an undisclosed location to go into quarantine and get away from the eye of the pandemic.

The professional recording artist, photographer, writer, fashion artist, designer, and evolving creative has been spending all of this time in a house occupied by other creatives. This situation is ideal. At least for an artist like Wavy who is always in a rapid motion of creating and bringing interesting things to life. The energy around the house is robust enough to tap from and infuse into any of her numerous creative outlets. Sometimes, they also inspire trips into new creative territories. Most recently, for Wavy, are self-taught lessons on a bass guitar.

Wavy's days in this house are not without a pattern, of course. But some of the rituals and personal rules she drew up for herself, like many of us did for internal direction, at the beginning of the pandemic have been rewritten, adjusted, and sometimes ditched altogether. Some days start early and end late. Some find her at her sewing machine fixing up thrift clothes to fit her taste, a skill she picked up to earn extra cash while in college, others find her hard at work in the studio, writing or recording music.

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