Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

2018 Was the Year Women Won In (South African) Hip-Hop

Women reached new heights in South African hip-hop last year.

During her set at the annual hip-hop and street culture festival Back To The City in April last year, the rapper Rouge said, "This year is the year of the female." She then proceeded to give one of the best performances of the whole festival. So did Assessa, Yugen Blakrok and Tyrant The Rapper, among the few other women on the line-up.

"I think I hit the nail on the head," says Rouge eight months since Back To The City when asked about the statement she made during her set. "People can fight it all they want. I made top 5 in MTV Base's Top 10 Hottest MC list, and that hasn't been done before. There were three women on that list. That hasn't happened before. Girls hitting the million views mark [on YouTube], us getting these endorsement deals and all. It was a great year for us. But we still have a long way to go."

The rapper Nadia Nakai took the 10th spot on the MTV Base list, her video for "Naaa Mean" passed the million views mark on YouTube and she was on the cover of Hype. Nadia collaborated with urban fashion retail giant Sportscene for her own range, Bragga. Most clothing brands have collaborated with male artists in the past—Loxion Kulca collaborated with Pro in the late 2000s, Nasty C collaborated with Sportscene last year, Head Honcho collaborated with AKA for the Supa Mega merchandise in 2014.


Rouge performing at Back To The City in 2017. Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

But in 2018, brands are taking women artists more seriously. Continues Rouge, who recently partnered with Levi's: "[2018] was a year whereby people can't deny Rouge is a force to be reckoned with. Brands are taking me more seriously. Rather than just handing me a check, they see value in investing. That is growth and a step towards longevity."

According to veteran rapper Shameema Williams, a member of the trio Godessa, longevity is an issue when it comes to women rappers. "It seems that every 10 years, there is a spike in female hip-hop activity," she says, "and after a while, the hype dies down. Once they made enough noise, once the novelty of a new female act wears off or perhaps motherhood, building a home or a business becomes priority." She makes a contrast with male rappers who are able to grow old and not look as attractive as they did in their 20s and 30s, but still be able to have thriving careers.

Astryd Brown, Nadia Nakai - Lately (Official Music Video) www.youtube.com

"Few women, in each decade since hip-hop's inception, have had careers that span further than a couple of records," she continues. "In my opinion, Nicki Minaj has been the most consistent, and I don't see her slowing down anytime soon. If there is any female MC in this country right now that I believe has that same stamina and longevity, it's Fifi Cooper. So I think a lot more doors have opened, but not that much has changed. The same challenges a female MC had in the 80s, she still has now. Comments on YouTube beneath a Rapsody video [will be as ridiculous as]: 'She can rap, but she ugly.'"

Patriarchy is a real thing; the pressure to look a certain way to be considered attractive and thus accepted. The rapper Yugen Blakrok is no stranger to that. "There's a lot of meeting with people wanting to manage me—like, 'Dude, you have a great voice, but why don't you try be more sexy?'" the MC said when I interviewed her earlier last year. "This is coming from women as well in the industry. We can talk about women in hip-hop, we can talk about how we are treated in society—hip-hop is gonna be a reflection of that either way, it's just showing us everyday things."

Nadia Nakai at Back To The City 2017. Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

Yugen is one of the several women hip-hop artists who made serious strides last year. While she was on tour in some parts of Europe in 2017, she got the email from TDE to contribute a verse that would land up on the Black Panther soundtrack for the song "Opps."

"It was a, 'Hey, we came across your work, it's good stuff'—you know that kind of thing. For me it was really hard to believe, but also not, because you put your work out there for it to be found. So when it happened, it was so mind-blowing that it would lead to that."

Yugen and her Iapetus labelmates have a solid presence on the online store Bandcamp, which is the friendliest to indie artists. The MC has a niche fanbase in South Africa. So niche that when the Black Panther soundtrack tracklist was revealed, a majority of South African media houses missed her name because a lot of them just weren't aware of who she was.

Yugen Blakrok at Back To The City 2017. Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

Yugen went on to receive an overwhelming amount of media coverage off of her verse on "Opps," which received praise from the likes of Billboard, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone and other publications. The rapper tiptoed over the skittering drums on the instrumental, which she shared with Vince Staples and Kendrick Lamar. She displayed adeptness and flair and proved she's one of the best around.

A few months later, the MC announced a deal with the French label IOT Records, which will release her sophomore album Anima Mysterium in 2019, a follow-up to her stellar 2013 debut Return of the Astrogoth.

Boity at the 2018 South African Hip Hop Awards. Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

Back To The City was a microcosm of the rest of 2018 for women who rap in South Africa. They shone, and reached heights they never had before. So did Cardi B, CupcakKe, Tierra Whack and a lot more—this rise in prominent women rappers is worldwide.

Moozlie dropped a potent debut album Victory, released one of the best hip-hop singles of the year "Vatel", while Rouge became the first rapper to win a South African Film and TV Award for her short film The New Era Sessions, along with winning Best Music Video at the South African Music Awards—South Africa's biggest award show.

Women are breaking new ground and creating their own terms. For instance, Dope Saint Jude performed in Germany, France and Switzerland this year. Her song "Grrrl Like" topped the 5FM Hip Hop Charts, she was Apple Music's Artist Spotlight artist for the month of November.

Dope Saint Jude at Cape Audio College studios in 2016. Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

"My career shifted the moment I started requesting more for myself," says Dope Saint Jude when asked to comment on the shift that has seen women being more visible in hip-hop. "I set a very high bar with my work and I expect it to be reciprocated. I believe a lot more women in the industry are demanding better treatment, working conditions and better pay. This makes me excited for women artists in South Africa."

In the past few years, this excitement has expanded beyond bars and vocals; women are making their names behind the boards. Cape Town-based Kay Faith has been engineering songs by the likes of YoungstaCPT, Reason, Nasty C, Spoek Mathambo, Uno July and hoards of others. Faith, who released her debut EP In Good Faith in 2017, was Apple Music's New Artist Spotlight feature for January 2018. Recently, Molly 1080 has produced songs for Moozlie and Reason in his latest album Azania.

Kay Faith at Cape Audio College studios in 2016. Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

Women's participation in South African hip-hop has been limited to behind the scenes. A lot of your favorite rappers' careers are managed and shaped by women. A large amount of hip-hop journalism—from print to digital, radio and TV—is championed by women (Helen Herimbi, Spoken Priestess, Mercia Tucker, Caron Williams, etc.).

The first solo South African rap album rhymeziwrote by the rapper Spex was released by Eargasm Entertainment, a label co-owned by DJ Bionic and Melanie Ramjee, known to the skreets as Hypress. The label was also home to the late legendary MC Mizchif.

Says Shameema: "I definitely think one of the most positive things that has happened is that the wave of new female MCs have broadened the female fan base of hip-hop because there is a lot more hip-hop that women can relate to. I certainly hope that it translates into sales as women are still feeling cheated, as they do in society in general, that they are paid less than men for the same damn job. This is an ongoing struggle."

Shameema at Bush Radio in 2017. Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

Rouge agrees. Asked what challenges still persist for women rappers, Rouge says, "Bookings. 'Cause they don't want to have to many women on. And the pay for these gigs in relation to the male counterparts."

Shameema feels women need to be more careful in their careers. "One of the biggest challenges is that so many women's careers are paved by men," she says, adding that most of these men have led to the downfall of women artists' careers. "Behind every female MC is a manager, producer, husband or boyfriend pulling the strings," she continues. "And dare I say it, men writing rhymes for women. I would like to see true empowerment where woman are in control of all aspects of their careers, with at the very least, a proper understanding of their business. Don't get duped by men who have been in the industry longer than you, [don't] allow men who can't rap to live vicariously through you or be a puppet to enrich someone else's wallet."

Perhaps, more platforms such as the South African Hip Hop Awards need to nominate women artists on more categories that aren't gender special. Last year, with an album as strong as The New Era Sessions, didn't make the Best Lyricist Award. Her response when asked if she thinks her not making that category has anything to do with her gender, is, "I do. And maybe I could be wrong, but I feel I can challenge a lot of my male counter parts lyrical on a daily. But at the end of the day everybody feels that way about themselves. So in due time. My time will come but for now I'll just prepare for it."

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Boity fucked up the game with just one single; the Nasty C-produced and featuring "Wuz Dat?" The young Cape Town rapper Dee Koala got a cosign from Riky Rick.

Gigi Lamayne and MegMafia joined one of the country's most successful indie labels in the country Ambitiouz Entertainment, Yugen Blakrok appeared on the Black Panther soundtrack. Castle Light hosted an all-female line-up hip-hop event Hip Hop HerStory, which was headlined by Young M.A., Nadia Nakai, Rouge, Moozlie, Gigi Lamayne, Roxanne Shante and a few more. The list of women's achievements this year is endless.

Dee Koala. Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

A few select albums & EPs that were released by women rappers in SA 2018:

Dope Saint Jude Resilient

Fifi Cooper Take Me Back

Assessa uGogo EPEP

Tyrant The Rapper Stress of a Genius

Gigi Lamayne VI

Ms Nthabi Broken Silence

Eavesdrop Scrolls of the Unseen

Moozlie Victory

Some women in South African hip-hop trivia:

  • Fifi Cooper was the first artist signed to Ambitiouz Entertainment
  • Yo! Girls was the first all-female hip-hop crew in South Africa. They performed in the 80s, and one of the members Malikah Daniels is now married to Grandmaster DJ Ready D and doubles as his manager and booking agent.
  • Godessa was the first all-female hip-hop crew to release an album, Spillage (2004).
  • Ms Supa was the first woman to be on the cover of Hype magazine in 2005.
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Photo (c) John Liebenberg

'Stolen Moments' Uncovers the Namibian Music That Apartheid Tried to Erase

The photo exhibition, showing at the Brunei Gallery in London, highlights artists from Namibia's underground scene between 1950-1980, a time of immense musical suppression prior to its independence.

Before its independence in 1990, a whole generation of Namibians were made to believe that their county had no real musical legacy. Popular productions by Namibian artists from previous eras were systematically concealed from the masses for nearly 30 years, under the apartheid regime—which extended to the country from South Africa following German colonization—depriving many Namibians of the opportunity to connect with their own musical heritage.

"Stolen Moments: Namibian Music Untold," a new exhibit currently showing at London's Brunei Museum at SOAS University of London, seeks to revive the musical Namibian musical traditions that the apartheid regime attempted to erase.

"Imagine you had never known about the musical riches of your country," said the exhibit's curator Aino Moongo in a statement of purpose on SOAS' site. "Your ears had been used to nothing but the dull sounds of country's former occupants and the blaring church and propaganda songs that were sold to you as your country's musical legacy. Until all at once, a magnitude of unknown sounds, melodies and songs appear. This sound, that roots your culture to the musical influences of jazz, blues and pop from around the world, is unique, yet familiar. It revives memories of bygone days, recites the history of your homeland and enables you for the first time to experience the emotions, joys and pains of your ancestors."

Photo (c) Dieter Hinrichs

The 'Stolen Moments" project began in 2010 in an effort to champion Namibia's unsung musical innovators. For the collection, Moongo and Assistant Curator, Siegrun Salmanian—along with a group of international scholars, artists, photographers and filmmakers—curated a large-scale photo exhibit that also features a 120-minute video projection, focusing on the dance styles of the era, along with listening stations, a sound installation that features "100-hours of interviews with musicians and contemporary witnesses," and displays of record covers and memorabilia from the period between 1950-1980.

The musicians highlighted, produced work that spanned a number of genres—a marker of the country's vast and eclectic underground scene. Artists like the saxophonist Leyden Naftali who led a band inspired by the sounds of ragtime, and the psychedelic rock and funk of the Ugly Creatures are explored through the exhibition, which also centers bands and artists such as The Dead Wood, The Rocking Kwela Boys, Children of Pluto and more.

"There are many reasons why you've never heard this music before," Moongo continues. "It was censored, suppressed, prohibited and made almost impossible to listen to. Its creators are either long gone or have given up on music making, by reasons of adversity, death and despair. And yet this beautiful music exists with a liveliness, as if it had never stopped playing. It is still in the minds of the few who can remember, with the ones who played it, and on those rare recordings that have survived in archives and record collections scattered around the globe. Allow me to share these stolen moments with you."

Photo (c) Dieter Hinrichs


Photo (c) John Liebenberg

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"Stolen Moments" is now showing at the Brunei Gallery in London and runs through Sept 21.

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Foul Language and Depictions of Rape Spur a Book Recall Campaign in Kenya

Kenya's Top Book seller pulls a South African book for youth due to foul language.

A main book supplier in Kenya, Text Book Centre, has announced that they would not stock a book due to its "vulgar and foul language." The book, Blood Ties, was written by South African author Zimkhitha Mlanzeli. The banning comes just after a video went viral in Kenya of a school child having a verbal outburst peppered with strong language. As reported by BBC, the removal was sparked by parents showing outrage after excerpts from the book were shared on twitter. These excerpts contained use of the f-word as well as a description of a rape scene.

As per their statement, the Text Book Centre claims they believe in "upholding high moral standards and raising generations of responsible citizens who are not only educated but ethical." The Kenyan publisher, StoryMoja, has defended the book in a statement of their own. They argue that the book is part of a new series showcasing books that deal with "contemporary societal issues" and that this particular book is a fictional story that grapples with the negative repercussions of peer pressure. "In actual fact, the book guides readers on the steps to take should they find themselves in a similar situation and underscores the sensitivity with which victims of sexual abuse should be treated." The statement also highlights the fact that the publishers had listed Blood Ties for readers in high school or above.


The discrepancy is that some schools have recommended the book as a reader – meaning for younger children aged 12 or 13 – though it has not been approved by the Kenyan Institute of Curricular Development (KICD), the entity in charge of managing texts used in schools. In a tweet, the KICD claimed that the book was not approved and that some teachers may be recommending texts without ensuring they were endorsed by the KICD. The dispute is sparking debate as to what should be taught in Kenyan schools.

As of late this morning, StoryMoja is in the process of recalling all copies of the book from stores and schools across Kenya. In a tweet they claim that it is because they have determined the language used in the book is the issue and not the subject matter.

Censorship is always a contested topic, just last month we reported on Nigerian authorities censoring a music video for "threatening security." Also, Kenya's censorship tactics have been in the global eye since a refusal to screen the film Rafiki for its homosexual heroines despite being lauded at international film festivals.

Here are some reactions from Kenyans on Twitter:





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mage courtesy of TIFF

Senegalese Filmmaker Mati Diop Tells a Haunted Story of Migration

We caught up with the celebrated director at the Toronto International Film Festival to talk about her new film, Atlantics

It's been a good year for French-Senegalese director Mati Diop and her film Atlantics: A Ghost Love Story.

The movie got its North American premier at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) this month after wowing critics and audiences at Cannes, where it won the prestigious Grand Prix. Diop was the first Black woman to successfully submit a film in the Cannes competition, and naturally the first to win any award at the iconic festival.

In Toronto, the Paris-born director was also honored with the inaugural Mary Pickford Award for Outstanding Female Talent, presented at the TIFF Tribute Gala on September 9. The award is named after Mary Pickford, a Toronto native who went on to conquer Hollywood in the early days of the industry as an actor and producer. Co-founder of United Artists, she was the highest paid woman in Hollywood in her day.

Mati Diop, actor and director, was born in Paris into a prominent Senegalese family, the daughter of noted musician Wasis Diop, and niece of well known filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambéty. As a director, she has several short films under her belt, including Atlantiques in 2009. Her short films Big in Vietnam and A Thousand Suns screened at TIFF in 2012 and 2013 respectively. Atlantics: A Ghost Love Story is Diop's first feature, which she directed as well as co-writing the screenplay with Olivier Demangel.

It's in the story of the first Atlantiques – the short – that the new film came to be. "The two films are both connected and not connected," Diop tells OkayAfrica. The short Atlantiques was self produced, and shot on video on a shoestring budget, she explains. Diop was moved by the constant stream of reports, between 2000 and 2010, of young Senegalese taking to small wooden boats and braving the ocean waters in a bid to reach Spain and better opportunities. As she notes, the media tended to treat the phenomenon as largely an abstract issue, one that had to do with economic forces. Diop wanted to tell the story of the real people in that situation.

"I felt that my cinema should be put at the service of their voices," she says. "I wanted to understand." It's part of what motivated Diop to get into film in the first place. While the short was shot documentary-style, she worked the story as fiction. The actor featured in the short had actually made an Atlantic crossing, but was subsequently turned back by Spanish authorities. The way he spoke about the experience connected with Diop; in particular, his determination to try the perilous journey once more. "I am here, but not here," he told her. "Serigne felt it was here [in Senegal] he would lose his life," Diop says. She wanted to understand what drove so many young men to risk their lives. "He felt that his life was vulnerable in Senegal." The actor's words took on even more resonance when he died, while still in Senegal, before he could try again. Diop says he had gone to a hospital after falling ill, but the staff were on strike. After his death, it left her with mixed feelings. "I wondered if I had the right to continue."

TIFF Tribute Gala Mati Diop | TIFF 2019 www.youtube.com

Diop was left with the poignant memory, and a haunting impression. "When you leave, it means you are already dead," she says. After filming the short, she attended Serigne's funeral, and filmed his mother and sister—the women left behind who would become the focus of the feature film treatment. Diop says that the character of Ada, the protagonist of the new movie, is based in large part on the sister, who, in the short film, does not speak any lines.

In Atlantics: A Ghost Love Story, Ada is 17 years old, in love with Souleiman, but her parents have already arranged a very practical marriage with another—and much wealthier—man. On the eve of her wedding, odd things begin to happen, and Ada learn that Souleiman and his friends have left Dakar in a boat, hoping to reach Spain. Ada and her BFFs anxiously await any word from them, as the mysterious happenings keep piling up.

"The beauty of women comes through marriage," a cleric tells one mother. Ada's story embodies the life of a young West African woman—torn between traditional forces in both her family and society, and the friends who wear Western dress and don't bother with the old ways. The wealthy family she has married into owns a large construction company, the one that didn't pay its workers for months, leading the young workers to try their luck in Spain. She loves Souleiman, but she also needs to find her own path.

Mama Sané plays Ada, the solid heart of the film, as a tangle of emotions and repressed desires. She veers from defiant when dealing with the police detective sent to investigate the strange occurrences, to a wordless expression of longing with the kind of intensity only a teenager can muster.

Diop's directorial vision turns Dakar into a place of both surreal magic and harsh reality. The film immerses the audience in the city's sounds, from the goats bleating outside a window while Ada and her friends talk, to voices in the next room, with the eternal heaving of waves against the shore as a recurring refrain. The original music by Fatima Al Qadiri adds to the effect.

Cinematographer Claire Mathon has shot the film with a poetic eye. There are many images of the shifting surface of the sea, with the open sky and sun above it, each different from the last. The streets of Dakar at night take on an otherworldly edge, framed in palm trees against the artificial lights. The building the young men have been working on is futuristic in design, all glass and steel, and the company owner's neutral modern mansion contrasts with the broken rubble on the streets, from slick sports cars to horse drawn carts. It adds to the sense of the surreal.

Atlantics: A Ghost Love Story was acquired by Netflix after Cannes, and is intended for worldwide release by the streaming service, (with the exception of China, Russia, Benelux, Switzerland, and France.) As part of its new policy, Netflix, which became an official member of the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America,) earlier this year, will be giving the flick a "theater-first" release, opening in selected theaters on November 15, with streaming available from November 29 in North America.

The film also stars Amadou Mbow, Ibrahima Traoré, Nicole Sougou, Amina Kane, Mariama Gassama, Coumba Dieng, Ibrahima Mbaye, and Diankou Sembene. Dialog in the France-Senegal-Belgium co-production is in Wolof with subtitles.

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(Photo by Francois LOCHON/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images )

Exiled Tunisian President Ben Ali Has Died

The former president had been living in Saudi exile since 2011.

Tunisia's former president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, 83, has been declared dead while in exile in Saudi Arabia. Ben Ali became interim Prime Minister in 1987. He ran unopposed and was elected Prime Minister in 1998 and served for 23 years – from 1988 to 2011. He was known for using autocratic techniques, eradicating presidential term limits and altering age caps in order to stay in power. In the beginning, Ben Ali was considered a "people's head of state" and garnered the nickname "Benavie" which loosely translates to "Ben Ali for life." By the 2000s, however, he had become deeply unpopular and prompted protests and unrest against his oppressive rule.

His reign ended when he fled Tunisia on January 14, 2011 amid protests that ultimately led to a string of revolutions dubbed the Arab Spring. He had been living in exile in Saudi Arabia ever since. As France 24 reports, in 2018 Ben Ali was sentenced in absentia by Tunisian courts to "more than 200 years in prison on charges including murder, corruption and torture."

Though there is no cause of death just yet, Ben Ali had been in intensive hospital care for lung cancer for three months. According to Al Jazeera, lawyer Mounir Ben Salha announced Ben Ali's death to news agencies via phone and the claim was confirmed by Tunisia's foreign minister.

There is footage of a Tunisian lawyer taking to the street at dawn celebrating the news of Ben Ali's death.


This past Sunday, Tunisia held free elections advancing Kas Saied and Nabil Karoui (who is currently jailed) as presidential candidates with neither receiving a majority vote. A run-off election between the two will be held September 29.

Tunisians and others are sharing their reactions to the news across social media. Here are some reactions:





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