Meet the Young Entrepreneur Behind Swaziland’s Biggest Hip-Hop Festival

For 6 years, Sakhile Nkambule has been successfully running Swaziland's Hipnotik Festival without any major sponsors.

SWAZILAND–After Bushfire, the annual Hipnotik Festival, is Swaziland’s biggest and most anticipated music event, boasting an attendance of 5000 in 2016.

Now going on its sixth year, the festival has hosted major South African and Swazi hip-hop artists such as Cassper Nyovest, Kwesta, Emtee, Reason, Da L.E.S, OkMalumKoolKat, Nasty C, 80 Script, and Psycholution, among others. It's, without a doubt, the biggest hip-hop festival in the country.

“It was initially planned as my birthday celebration and, as we planned, it grew into this idea that we felt we needed to share with everyone,” says Sakhile Nkambule, the founder of Swazi Jive Entertainment, the company behind the festival. “Hip-hop was not the coolest genre at the time. In fact people made fun of us for attempting to introduce a hip-hop festival, but we trusted the process.”

Swazi Jive is more than just an events company, it’s also a record label, home to artists such as Kikwa, Adrienne Foo, Lo, Rahim, and Donno. The label has released several singles from its artists and three compilations: Love Hurts Vol. 1, Art Money and Love Hurts Vol .2.

Nkambule and his team have been pulling off an event of this magnitude without any external sponsors. While he doesn’t reveal much detail, he acknowledges that it hasn’t been easy, before attributing Hipnotik Festival's success to support from the fans and the people that believed in his vision.

“This year will be different, though,” he says. “We have proven our value, and are open to sponsorship opportunities. If it works with the brand, we will consider it.”

The crowd at last year's Hipnotik Festival. Photo: Sabelo Mkhabela.

Currently living in Chicago, where he's pursuing his studies, Nkambule describes himself as a young entrepreneur who sees himself as a future billionaire. His inspiring blog posts recount his journey to success and entrepreneurship, the best being “My Fear, Faith and Foolishness” in which, he touches on how fear can prevent you from attaining the things that make life exciting.

“The blog is the only place I get to fully express myself without the fear of being judged or having to live up to anyone's expectations,” he says. “I tell my stories, real stories about my journey as an entrepreneur, a brother, a son, as a human, you know. People tend to forget that people that have experienced some sort of success also experience the same emotions, have the same fears, and that's the only space where I can show that part of myself.”

Last year’s Hipnotik Festival was marred by drama. AKA, who was one of the headliners, pulled out a few days before the event, leading to one of the rapper’s infamous Twitter rants. He was said to be replaced by Burna Boy who eventually didn’t pitch up. During the event itself, there were a number of disappointments such as late starting times, some artists not pitching and the bar not having sufficient drinks. Nkambule says he and his team can only learn from such mistakes.

K.O at Hipnotik Festival 2016. Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

“Every year we have challenges and every year, during our post meetings, we find solutions to avoid repeating those mistakes,” he says. “At our level, there are some things we can't do (such as late starts), therefore I had to make significant changes to my team and how we run things. Everything at this stage is based on excellence and that mentality in our office will translate to our productions.”

There is also hope of AKA gracing the Hipnotik stage again as Nkambule admits the rapper is a great artist, and that he continues to contribute positively to the culture. He hopes they can put their differences aside.

This year’s theme for the festival is 'The Magic Returns.' “A lot has happened since we embraced urban culture in southern Africa,” Nkambule explains. “Hip-hop artists are making money now and winning awards, promoters are getting interviews (*cough cough*), egos are getting inflated, and we're all forgetting the magic that brought us together and gave us everything we have: the music!”

He mentions that there are a lot of surprises in store for this year’s event, the details of which he’s keeping mum about. One of the biggest changes to the festival is that this year it will span over two days.

Nasty C at Hipnotik Festival 2016. Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

With the growth of hip-hop and the quality of music released, everyone is expecting more Swazi artists to headline this year’s edition. Nkambule agrees. “Definitely expect more Swazi artists on the line-up this year,” he says. “We don't book artists based on where they're from. If it's good music that resonates with our audience, we give it a chance. Swazis have learned this, and have stepped their game up. We're looking forward to welcoming artists from Zambia, and even as far as Haiti.”

Not one who's short of motivational quotes, Nkambule’s words to aspiring entrepreneurs are: “Dream big! Also read as much as you can and get financially literate.”

This year’s Hipnotik Festival takes place between July 7 and 8 in Ezulwini, Swaziland. 

2017’s line-up, so far, includes South African acts such as Cassper Nyovest, A-Reece, Anatii, Gigi Lamayne, among others. Adrienne Foo , LO will be representing Swaziland. Case Buyakah and CR Boy from Mozambique will also be performing. View the line-up here.

Image: Courtesy TIFF

Jenna Cato Bass is Capturing the Horrors of an Unhealed Nation

The film marks the South African director's third debut and stride towards making a name for herself in the international film circuit.

Ever since premiering her debut film, Love the One You Love, which won the Best Feature Film at the Jozi Festival in 2015, Jenna Cato Bass has been a name to watch on the international film festival circuit. Her 2017 feature, High Fantasy, was the first of her films to land on the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) lineup, followed by Flatland in 2019. Her latest offering, Mlungu Wam (Good Madam), debuted at TIFF in September of 2021 — marking her third time at the esteemed Canadian film event.

Often provocative, always thought-provoking, Bass' films have come to establish her as a director who looks at South Africa's youth, the lives they're living and the future that awaits them, with a nuanced, open-minded lens. For the first time in her career, Bass uses the genre of horror to dig into an enduring mark of the country's past — that of the fraught, complex relationship between madam and domestic worker, in Mlungu Wam (Good Madam). Set in Cape Town, the film follows the unusual, disturbing things that start happening when a young woman moves back in with her estranged mother, who is the longtime caretaker for a rich, white household.

Bass also co-wrote the film Tug of War (Vuta N'Kuvute), which became Tanzania's first film to be selected for TIFF this year, and she co-wrote Rafiki, which was Kenya's first film at TIFF in 2018.

She spoke to OkayAfrica about playing in a new genre and her hopes for African cinema.

Still from Bass's film Mlungu Wam Image: Courtesy TIFF

This story revolves around the relationship between a domestic worker and her 'madam.' What made you want to make a film about this subject?

When I make films, I like the concept to revolve around something that we all have in common - because, despite the many fractures in our society, these shared places exist. And in South Africa, we felt that everyone - in some way or another - has been deeply affected by domestic work and domestic workers, who are a keystone in our society's structure. Additionally, the 'maid' and 'madam' relationship is the ultimate symbol of race relations in South Africa - as well as how they haven't changed significantly, despite almost thirty years of democracy. So a domestic worker was the perfect character around which to centre a South African horror.

The genre of horror works really well to explore this subject and tell this story — when did you know it would be the genre you'd want to use?

The early stages of developing a film aren't always linear for me. I'll be thinking about a genre I'm interested in, and then parallel to that I'll have an idea for a story or a character, and later on, will realize that these pieces all fit together. In this case, I'd been wanting to make a horror film for ages, but hadn't found the right story… until I had the idea for Mlungu Wam, and I realized I was finally ready to try this genre.

What challenges did you face in making a horror?

It was my first time working in this genre, and it was intimidating because there's no saving you if you fail. We were also working on a very, very limited budget, so it wasn't possible to show as much as we'd like to - but then again, this story was all about the subjective and the unseen, so I did as much research and planning as we could, and just had to trust it would work.

Where did you film, and did that have any impact on the process at all?

We filmed in a house in Cape Town, in a gated community in the Southern Suburbs. The house and the environment had a major impact on the film - especially because we were also quarantining there for the full 7 weeks of rehearsal and shooting. The house was our set and our accommodation, so it was very intense, very claustrophobic, and very triggering for many of our team members.

How did you and co-writer Babalwa Baartman work on the story? You've included cast members in the writing process in your previous work — did you do that here too?

Mlungu Wam was made along similar lines to my first two films, Love The One You Love and High Fantasy, where we started with an outline, cast actors, then workshopped the characters collaboratively before completing the story breakdown and using improv for the dialogue. Babalwa and I had worked together using this method on a short film we made in 2019 called Sizohlala. She really understands the process, and it was a really rewarding experience exploring the story with her and our cast.

How did Kristina Ceyton, who produced the excellent acclaimed horrors The Babadook and The Nightingale, through Causeway Films, come to be involved in this film?

I had met Sam Jennings, who is also a producer with Causeway Films, several years ago at a festival. We really connected and kept in touch over the years, sharing our work, and hoping there'd be a chance to collaborate. So when we were developing Mlungu Wam, I pitched her and Kristina the concept and they were immediately supportive. It has been a massive pleasure working with them both.

Your films are known to venture into themes of identity and healing from the past — how does this film speak to that?

Mlungu Wam is definitely about this too - it's a story about three generations of women (actually four, if you include Tsidi's grandmother, who is an unseen character in the film), how they are haunted by the past and eventually refuse to remain chained any longer. Their healing is collective, linked to each other, and wouldn't be possible for them alone as individuals.

Still from Bass's film Mlungu Wam Image: Courtesy TIFF

You've been at TIFF before - how has your experience of it been this year, with it being a hybrid of virtual and in-person?

Things have been quieter and a bit harder to navigate, but the TIFF staff have done incredible work getting the festival off the ground, despite endless challenges. It has felt very surreal to be here, and a privilege - and inspiring too, that we can still get together to celebrate films, even though our world is in such a mess. We had over 200 (socially distanced) people at our last screening, and that was an amazing feeling.

Yours is one of few African films on this year's line-up - is there anything you'd like to see happen to try improve that?

Regarding African cinema, TIFF has a real range of films this year, across several sections. Compared to many other festivals, they seem really invested in supporting cinema from the continent. Of course, this could be better, but it's also an example to other festivals who claim there aren't enough African films, that this is clearly not the case.

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