Da L.E.S. Photo by Mkhabela.

There’s No One Way To Be An “Authentic” South African Artist

Rappers with American accents tell authentic South African stories.

(South) African rappers sounding American. Rapping in American accents, dressing like Americans, and making American references in their music—these are not new topics.

ProVerb released a song—2016's "Truth Is Revealing"—where he argues that him rapping in an American accent doesn't mean he isn't proudly African. Verb asks pertinent questions on the song. "Are you tryna be German if I see you in a BM?/ Or if I blow a trumpet, am I tryna be European?/ No. So who's to say what language music should be in," he rapped. "Would you feel better if I was wrapping a leopard skin/ with a monkey on my back or riding an elephant? 'cause that's how ignorant you being."

But the many explanations by artists such as ProVerb still haven't convinced some.

Little America is a new documentary dealing with the phenomenon of South African rappers who rap in American accents and copy American hip-hop. It's directed and narrated by Yoza Mnyande, who is also one half of the South African music duo Darkie Fiction.

"We are influenced by South African music of yesteryears and pride ourselves in making music that authentically represents where we are from," says Yoza about the group in her narration of the documentary.

Adds Katt Daddy, the other half of the duo: "Now that the music industry in South Africa is booming, we realized that it's important to preserve what really sounds South African."

Read: Cassper Nyovest Is the Poster Boy For Biting in South African Hip-Hop

Yoza mentions that kwaito was a "sound of celebration" for the youth when Nelson Mandela was released from prison. "No matter where you're from, you knew what kwaito was. Kwaito was the soundtrack to new possibilities. Kwaito sounded like home," she says.

The documentary is cool and all, but it doesn't add anything new to the narrative that South African rappers are American wannabes.

Da L.E.S, veteran South African rapper and God of the north side of Joburg sits in a dimly lit studio during his interview in the documentary. "I always just find this conversation a little bit annoying," he says. "Because these conversations are never brought up in rock music, pop music, house or EDM. It's always hip-hop. It just shows how influential hip-hop is."

It's a no-brainer to L.E.S that a genre of music that originates in the US will come with US influences—dress code, lingua franca and even mannerisms. "If you're gonna learn Kung Fu, you're gonna wear Kung Fu attire, that's just the way it is," he adds.

Hip-Hop, not America

Hip-hop heads have always been viewed as American wannabes. A lot of us took offense. We fell in love with a genre of music, and with that came assimilation into the the culture, which just happens to be American.

I'm a hip-hop head. I live this shit; been, since I was a teenager wearing baggy jeans and Air Force Ones. We spoke English the way our idols did—we said "nigga" and cussed like Uncle Snoop (insults we couldn't dare utter in our indigenous languages), and we owe all of that to hip-hop.

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

Now that we are older, that identity crisis we went through as teenagers is part of our history. Growing up listening to Hype Sessions is an experience many heads my age hold dearly to our hearts. South African hip-hop artists with "American accents," the likes of Ben Sharpa, Glitz Gang, Tumi Molekane, ProVerb and a lot more, played an integral role during our come-up.

The US' Influence on Kwaito

One school of thought argues that kwaito, which "sounded like home," was a slowed down hybrid of hip-hop and house. Artists such as Skeem, TKZee, Mashamplani and later Chiskop and a few more, were overtly influenced by hip-hop, from their style of dress, mannerisms and even in the music itself.

Remember those hip-hop lines Kabelo of TKZee used to appropriate? For instance, "It's plain to see, you can't change me, ngilipantsula for life," from his hit song "Pantsula For Life" was a rip of "It's plain to see you can't change me, 'cause I'm People Army for life," by Dead Prez on the song "I Am African." There are several more lines which Bouga Luv appropriated from hip-hop.

Kabelo - Pantsula For Life

How about the baggy clothes worn by Skeem, the breakdancing on Chiskop videos? Some of these crews were originally hip-hop crews, but they resorted to kwaito, which was selling at the time, unlike hip-hop.

This "authentic South African sound" came about from fusing two American genres, it seems. The indigenous languages and slang used in kwaito songs atop this hybrid sound did form a distinct South African sound.

But it still drew from America.

The argument made by Darkie Fiction—and by many who share the same sentiment—is that there's an accepted level of drawing inspiration from American music and culture, but exactly where that line is drawn remains unclear.

Judging from the hip-hop artists they interviewed who had to defend themselves—Da L.E.S, J Molley and Nadia Nakai, who all rap in English—I will assume that according to the duo, originality happens when one raps in an indigenous African language.

Globalization at Play

Zubz rapped on his nostalgia-driven 2006 single "Baby In The Cradle Of a Mind Stand," "Rap Pages, Right On!, Jet Magazine/ Hi top, fade, with cuts extra baggy jeans/ None of them were sold in Africa, but still you got' em/ It's called passion, something that you since forgotten."

baby in the cradle of a mic stand

Things are, however, different in 2018. Unlike in the 80s and 90s, getting hold of the music kids are exposed to on BET and Trace is the easiest it has ever been.

Instant access has resulted in a lot of black kids all over the continent identifying with hip-hop to an extent that's clearly shocking and concerning to some. Hip-hop is no longer niche, but forms a major part of young people's lives on the continent.

Not Everyone Grew Up on Kwaito

There are South African kids who didn't grow up on kwaito or bubblegum. Some rappers will even tell you that their mothers put them onto hip-hop.

So, to them, hip-hop sounds like home. Take for instance, the 21-year-old rapper Nasty C. The razor-sharp lyricist went to a mixed race school, which as we know, makes you fluent in English. Nasty, every time he's asked about the music he grew up on, cites T.I. and Lil Wayne. The likes of Zoocci Coke Dope, Priddy Ugly, A-Reece and Shane Eagle, Nadia Nakai among others, cite the same artists, especially Lil Wayne.

These influences are overt in these artists' work, but we must never overlook the fact that they are telling authentic South African stories in their music. When Nasty C raps about losing his mother to taxi violence, or Shane Eagle raps about how he sees his surroundings, or when Reece and his goons rap about spending money they never dreamed they'd ever see, these are South African stories that deserve to be told.

What we tell to Americans and Europeans who treat Africa as this great monolith of a village, we must also remember ourselves as Africans.

Sjava. Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

It's damaging and exclusionary to think there's one way to be South African. A kid who grew up on hip-hop and speaks English with an accent may not fit other people's stereotypical definition of being an African, but it remains that they are from here, and their stories deserve to be told in the way they choose. When I listen to Da L.E.S, I hear a South African who grew up in the lavish North side of Joburg telling his story the best way he knows how. Kwaito may form a big part of Darkie Fiction's story, but not so much L.E.S' or A-Reece's or Nasty C's. And that is fine.

While it's great that artists like Darkie Fiction, Muzi, Anatii, Sjava, Emtee, Robin ThirdFloor, Future Africa, Kwesta, Sho Madjozi, and many many more are opting to infuse more vintage South African genres like maskandi, mbhaqanga and kwaito in their music, that can never be used as a benchmark for originality.

To many kids who are lining up at Shane Eagle and Nasty C's Yellow and IVYSON tours all over the country, these stories told by these American accents are relatable, and sound like home. America has colonized the world culturally, and we can't just leave it at rappers. You see it in how people dress, and in the phrases people use in everyday conversation.

The line outside Shane Eagle's Yellow pop-up store in Braamfontein, Johannesburg. Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

Zola puts it well in the Little America documentary, when he says: "If you have enough money, you can take an idea of your country, and go sell it so much to another country that it becomes law of that country. Then the people of that country, their generation, would leave everything they're about in their culture, and follow what you say if you are a conquering nation. That is why you get SA kids speaking American Tsotsitaal (slang)."

He is of course referring to America's influence on pop culture as a whole. The infiltration of American subcultures on the continent and the rest of the world might, to others, seem detrimental. The arguments might have legs, but the fact remains that there are (South) Africans who identify with it.

Bi-directional Influence

Last year, when the first AFROPUNK Joburg event took place, there were plenty of South Africans who, as one person put it on Twitter, looked like caricatures of African Americans trying to look like Africans.

I first rolled my eyes, asking myself why, if we are celebrating our blackness, it has to be through a Western lens; why do we have to look like Africans in the diaspora to celebrate our blackness?

I thought that us celebrating our blackness as South Africans meant we should come dressed up as amapantsula and izikhothane—you know, "authentically South African" subcultures. But I had to get rid of those thoughts because, as much as these young black people looked like those who attend AFROPUNK in Brooklyn, this was also how they chose to celebrate their blackness.

How about the US movements that we've now all made our own?—#BlackGirlMagic, #HoeIsLife etc. This is us as Africans in the continent and the diaspora celebrating our similarities in the midst of our nuanced, lived realities. The difference is no one will make a documentary questioning the cross-pollination of cultures in those kinds of settings. Because it isn't hip-hop, right?

Originality is Subjective

Human beings aren't brands. What we deem original is subjective. Unlike sneakers, we don't come with a swoosh or a jump man, that if it's facing a certain direction, means it's a knock-off. We are a product of our environment, which will always evolve, just like their cultures. And, in a world where we are free to subscribe to cultures that mean something to us, as opposed to those that are imposed on us because of our clans and nationalities, originality is subjective now more than ever.

Lindiwe | A Short Film @BYLWANSTA

Rapping or singing in IsiZulu or sampling kwaito or maskandi doesn't automatically make you original. What do you make of the OkMalumKoolKat knockoffs that are being hailed as the forward thinkers of our generation, when all they did was bite another artist's style? Some aren't even Zulu. Are they trying to be Zulu by using the same slang OkMalumKoolKat uses, which is part of where we grew up?

How are songs like Tumi and the Volume's "76," Ben Sharpa's "Hegemony," ProVerb's "I Have A Dream," A-Reece's "Meanwhile In Honeydew," ByLwansta's "Lindiwe," Shane Eagle's "Julia," Solo's "Jubilee NoLigamo," and thousands of others, not authentic South African classics? Just because they are in English and the rappers have American accents, and they choose to rap over boom bap and trap beats that don't contain Mahlathini or Mdu samples? Puhlease!

JULIA - Shane Eagle (Official Video)

This piece is part of Sabelo Mkhabela's South African hip-hop column. He's happy to debate you on Twitter: @sabzamk

Photo still courtesy of YouNeek Studios.

The Official Trailer for 'Malika: Warrior Queen' Is Here

Malika surely means business in the clip that sets the scene for YouNeek Studios' newest animated pilot.

After much anticipation, the new trailer for Malika: Warrior Queen, starring Nollywood's own Adesua Etomi, is finally here.

In the trailer, we already see the Warrior Queen fearlessly stand up to defend her people against enemies who have set their sights on seizing her expanding empire of Azzaz. Facing threats of invasion by foreign cultures, Malika now has to decide how to fight a war both inside her kingdom and outside of it.

"War is coming," she declares.

Malika: Warrior Queen was executive produced by Niyi Akinmolayan of Anthill Studios. The series has been three years in the making, with a two-part comic series already available for reading; and even more so in line with YouNeek Studios' mission to create stories inspired by African history, culture and mythology.

Joining Etomi in the cast are Femi Branch, voicing Chief Dogbari, Deyemi Okanlowon, voicing the WindMaker and King Bass, Blossom Chukwujekwu as Abdul and Sambassa Nzeribe, voicing General Ras.

Check it out below.

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All photos courtesy of Remi Dada

Afropreneurs: Meet the Designer Reinventing Nigerian Workspaces

Remi Dada's Spacefinish is shaking up design to create futuristic work environments for African companies

In the digital age when a fancy rectangle in our pockets can find us whatever we want, customize it and deliver it to our door, it's odd that the same thought process isn't also applied to physical space. Why does every parking lot feel exactly the same? Can waiting rooms be designed to make time pass more quickly? How can we bring these new standards of personalization into the areas where we live our lives?

Nigerian designer, Remi Dada, is doing just that. With both architecture and business degrees, Dada started his career in tech working in user experience and product marketing–eventually ending up at Google Nigeria. Once he started working in the office however, Dada didn't find it to be an environment that sparked inspiration or productivity. It felt more like rooms with tables and chairs rather than a place that nurtured new, progressive ideas. Luckily, the perfect project presented itself: redesign the office. Dada jumped at the opportunity to meld his practical knowledge in user experience with his love of design and architecture–and the result turned some heads.

Thus Spacefinish was born, a pioneering design company based in Nigeria that works with companies to transform ordinary office space into beautiful and functional environments that increase productivity and employee satisfaction. I spoke with Dada about the purpose of Spacefinish, the importance of design in the workspace and the unique properties of designing in Nigeria for Nigerians. Read on for insights from the design entrepreneur on the impact of spaces and what the future holds for the company.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Nereya Otieno for OkayAfrica: In your experience, how important is workspace environment in Lagos? How is it viewed?

It hasn't been prioritized. A lot of employers do not invest heavily in their employees and you can see that in work spaces all over the world. Now, people are also beginning to understand that high-performing employees–especially millennials–want to work in a space that inspires them and with people who inspire them. Right now in Nigeria it is still very new.

We've been able to measure how companies have been performing prior to us renovating their space and afterwards. What we've seen consistently is that our spaces help with employee retention, they help with collaboration and they help with inspiration. One important thing that we always measure and that we try and add to our design is what we call 'PIC.' PIC is the measure of productivity, innovation and collaboration–now we can track that within a workspace. These three key things are the pillars of how we create better work spaces.

A sketch showing plans for a space in the PwC Experience Centre, Lagos.

With that data, it's probably pretty simple to pitch Spacefinish to a company. But what was it like in the beginning to try and sell the first Spacefinish idea outside of Google? You're essentially coming into a stranger's space and saying 'you're doing this wrong.'

True. We were very lucky in that the first space we did was a Google office. It's Google. Everyone aspires to have a workplace like Google and people visiting the office were curious about how a space like that could exist in Nigeria. So there was a lot of interest but no commitments. Our first real commitment came from a company called Andela, a tech startup aspiring to be like the spaces you see in Silicon Valley. But they were looking to create a space just to meet their capacity and meet their head count, that was all. They thought they wouldn't be able to afford what we'd done for Google.

I went and pitched for them to do something different instead of creating the standard, generic workspace that we've all seen. Then I took our approach: connect the expense and cost of that project to the potential output of the team working there and how that could affect the company's bottom line. When we do that, it becomes an easier conversation to have. Once we are able to connect with the key decision makers and give them metrics they actually care about—like it's not about having a pretty space but about having a space that will allow people to achieve their short and long-term goals—they tend to be more receptive.

A meeting room at the Google offices in Lagos.

Do you feel like a bit of a disruptor or trouble maker?

I would say when we started we didn't feel like a disruptor. For me, it felt very natural because it was in line with what I was hired for and the world I was coming from. When you work at Google, you tend to live in an innovation bubble. So we didn't feel like disruptors while it was happening, but when we got people's reactions—the industry's reaction—then we realized that what we were doing was actually groundbreaking and very new to that part of the world.

Okay. And then what do you do after that? You just keep poking at that nerve?

Yeah. [Laughs] So what happens after that is the floodgates open up and we start to see a lot more demand than we can handle as a company. That gave me the confidence to quit my job at Google and do this full time. We are now starting to figure out how to do it to the best of our capacity at the same level, and sometimes surpassing, what our peers are doing across the world.

What do you find is the most important element within the workspace? How does Spacefinish highlight that?

People are the most important element in the workspace. One CEO said that his team was very unruly—weren't well composed. There is a mentality that we all subscribe to, especially coming from Nigeria where you see people at the local airports not obeying the rules. But those same people, as soon as they land in Heathrow, they're suddenly very compliant. They're the same people. The only thing that changed is their environment. New spaces can cause people to change their behavior—they morph into the space. For that client, the leadership was very happy that their team members began acting in the way they wanted them to act when we changed the space. The psychology of the whole thing is very interesting. That's why we take a human-centered approach to design, with a lot of qualitative and quantitative research before we begin.

View of the Vibranium Valley warehouse workspace in Lagos.

I'm originally from California and I grew up in Silicon Valley–it's a very peculiar place simply because of the concentration of resources. There are surely different challenges for a developer in Nigeria versus one in Silicon Valley. What is the most unique thing for you, after all your travels and experience, that makes designing for Nigeria special?

That's a really good question. You rarely find imagery of inland Africa that is progressive and modern. The first time in recent times was the Black Panther movie and that's why it was so huge. Kids could see a different version of what Africa could be in their collective imagination. I'm making this correlation because that is what I think is different for us, from a design standpoint. For example, the Google office in Nigeria looks very Nigerian. It has a lot of cultural nuances and it is locally relevant to the region, however it is a very sophisticated and modern space with all the right technology. There's videoconferencing, micro-efficiency, access control and security but with the backdrop of an African space. When people see that, it feels very fresh and new and there is so much content that we can use to inspire–from artwork to traditions–and we infuse all those things in to the spaces we're creating.

Do you have a favorite space you've done?

All the spaces we've done have been fantastic. But I think my favorite to date is the PwC office, it is an innovation hub and a huge cultural departure for PwC. They are more or less known as a rigid, stoic brand and they wanted a space that defied all of those things. So we created an innovation hub that was super, super, super futuristic and the first of its kind in West Africa. Anyone who knows interior fitouts understands that lines are straightforward but curves are complicated. This space has a lot of curves. That's difficult to do anywhere in the world but 10 times more complicated in Nigeria because we just don't have access to the right tools and technology that you will find elsewhere. But it came out very well and that has been my most exciting space so far.

A look at the PwC Experience Centre, Lagos

Was it also the most challenging?

It was, yes, because of the design ideas we wanted to achieve. We have things like revolving doors that were inspired by the hobbits' shire in Lord of the Rings and a single workstation that extends across the entire space. There are a lot of lights, floating elements and Nsibidi—an ancient African writing system that we used to create a new language. The artwork is very deep and gives a timeline of different instances in Africa where technology has inspired innovation. It was a very involved and challenging project. But we do the challenging things because we feel it allows us to move forward and push boundaries.

Sure. It's exciting for you and everyone you work with but also, I'd say, for the local contractors and artists doing the artwork.

You know, that is something that we do differently. Most architecture firms just design but we design and build. We do that because, when we started, no one in the market really understood what we were doing. We were asking for materials that didn't exist so we had to create our own. Also, everything we do is local, we don't import anything–which can be an even bigger challenge. But we want to know that we are helping to build industries here in Nigeria, we want to help fix the lack of resources in this part of the world. We could import but it doesn't help the community and economic infrastructure in the long run.

A meeting room in Vibranium Valley

I think the first time our impact hit me was when we were building a place called Vibranium Valley. That's been our biggest project so far: a 2,000 square meter office that was built in a massive warehouse. I went there on a Wednesday one day and we had over 200 people working in the space. And for the first time I was like, "Wow, we really have the ability to create jobs as well." It put things in context for me.

Are there any plans to venture outside of offices and corporate workspaces with your human-centered approach? Classrooms, waiting rooms, etc.?

We are actually about to embark on our first non-office project. We are designing and building the interior of two international airports in Nigeria: Lagos and Port Harcourt. Two very massive projects that we couldn't say no to because...no one says no to international airports [Laughs]. So it's a good way to toss us into things outside of the workspace. So everyone should come fly to Nigeria and check it out when we're finished.

Catch Nereya on her Instagram here.

Still from 'Harriet' trailer.

Watch Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman In the Moving New Trailer for 'Harriet'

The highly-anticipated biopic about the life of the iconic freedom fighter is due out on November 1.

Back in 2017, it was announced that Tony-winning actor and singer Cynthia Erivo would be taking on the role of the iconic freedom fighter Harriet Tubman in the upcoming biopic Harriet. We've been anticipating its release ever since, and today, the trailer for the buzzed about film has finally arrived.

The moving and climactic trailer sees Erivo delivering a convincing performance as Tubman. The film follows the hero's journey from escaping slavery to becoming a legendary abolitionist and freedom fighter. Here's the official description of the film via Shadow & Act:

Based on the thrilling and inspirational life of an iconic American freedom fighter, Harriet tells the extraordinary tale of Harriet Tubman's escape from slavery and transformation into one of America's greatest heroes. Her courage, ingenuity, and tenacity freed hundreds of slaves and changed the course of history.
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