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Representation, Rhymes and Cape Town’s Fiercest Femcees
Palesa Maloisane speaks to three of Cape Town’s rising stars to talk about representation in hip-hop and breaking into South Africa’s music industry.
Let’s flashback to 1994: Queen Latifah is urging women to come together in her track U.N.I.T.Y to speak out on the normalisation of street harassment, domestic violence and sexism that dominated lyrical content in hip hop culture of the time. Similarly, rappers Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown also carry the baton of empowerment with their sensual and provocative style and imagery, encouraging women to take ownership of their sexual agency and body.
Flip to 2002, and one of my fondest memories as a young girl is standing in front of my grandmother’s television, donning my favourite short denim skirt and bright pink vest, with multi-coloured beads in my braided hair spinning around the room in a kaleidoscope of colour as I gyrated my hips and waved my head in jubilation as Lebo Mathosa captured my heart with her phenomenal voice, dance moves and sex appeal. Both local and international femcees and singer/song writers have paved the way in their own identity and own sound in the music industry and 2016 is packed with artists that are breaking through the customary mould of what the hip-hop and the alternative market looks and sounds like, especially on the local South African scene.
Perhaps my favourite characteristic about hip-hop is that it is born out of a boom box of rebellion. Rapping and singing becomes a deeply personal art form that involves a comment on not only the world, but introspection of the inner artist. Growing up an avid hip hop listener became harder the older I got and pushed me to ask myself vital questions - how do I support content that demeans the very nature of my existence and limits my own agency? Finally, who do I look at locally on the South African music scene for representation and how do I support artists with different identities than my own?
In South Africa, the local music scene has been growing in leaps and bounds- we have our artists flooding onto international radio stations, award shows and stages with their incredible talent. From breaking into the local music charts and creating a loyal fan base of support, artists such as Black Coffee, AKA and Emtee have broken barriers and put the South African music scene on an international map. But how does this all begin for our underground local artists? What are the experiences for some of our femcee’s and singer/songwriters? I chatted to three of Cape Town’s rising talents; Miss Celaneous, DOPE SAINT JUDE and OBie Mavuso about their experiences and insights on the local music scene and what is means to be a woman in the hip-hop and alternative music culture.
Just as her idiosyncratic stage name suggests, Miss Celaneous is not an artist who you can never put into a single box. She makes her own rules, which is probably why she has gained such as loyal following in the Mother City. She applies her unique sense of style and non-conforming ways to her music as well. With her aggressive lyrical content that is peppered with profanities and sexual innuendos, Miss Celaneous addresses the frustrations of being a woman in today’s society. Of course, she soon became boxed into being known as a “hard core, fiery rapper chick who spoke about sex”, but being the evolving artists she is, Miss Celaneous grew out of that space in her music and expresses herself as the woman she is now, with her life experiences.
“Being an established artist, I can pretty much experiment with different sounds and styles of rap that feels right to me. I'm grateful that my followers appreciate the growth and the different directions I've moved into: house, dance, trap, RnB, jazz, slow love songs- they seem to be loving it! After all ‘miscellaneous’ means random things you can't label”, states the rapper.
Being a coloured woman from Cape Town, Miss Celaneous has had to fight her way into having her name on line-ups for gigs and support from local fans and as much as the hip hop scene in Cape Town is growing, she feels that local support for our artists needs to grow and the industry needs to open up the space for new artists to be placed on the map as we already have the platform.
“For example, if 50 of my followers tweeted 5FM to request my song, they would have to play it. Instead of retweeting Kim Kardashian, our South African consumers should support the local underdogs because there are plenty of great quality artists to choose from, they just don't have the support in numbers. A music fan in Cape Town would think twice to pay R50 to see an artist they haven't heard of but will pay R200 to see the same dude they saw last week.”
With the new established rule of 90% local music getting airplay, Miss Celaneous’ made me reflect deeply on how we as consumers need to help open up the industry to new talent and faces constantly. As listeners, we can support and bring rising talent to the forefront of the entertainment industry through demand, especially in Cape Town.
“I’m excited to see if things will change in the minds of the consumer or music lovers in South Africa. They are the ones who controls who gets put on but yet they don't even know they have the power to choose who entertains them. Right now the industry is dominated by who the media feels is relevant. Once the people demand what they want to hear and see, I feel we will have a much greater diversity in music culture and entertainment”.
DOPE SAINT JUDE
With her distinctive image and swagger in her step, DOPE SAINT JUDE it isn’t hard to understand why this Cape Town based emcee has become so clearly loved, with her lyrical style and content that reflect her lived experiences.
“I have always made a point of asserting myself and being completely unapologetic about who I am. My experience breaking into the industry has been fairly pleasant. I have set the tone forcefully and clearly with my art and have found the reception mostly favourable. There are a few sexists, homophobes and racists, but that is to be expected”.
Being based in Cape Town, DOPE SAINT JUDE holds a positive approach towards the direction that the Cape Town music scene is heading in and hopes to see a bigger commercial industry for hip hop artists in Cape Town so that they can make a living commercially in South Africa in the future:
“I am excited about my future projects and collaborations. I am also excited to see an artistic community grow in South Africa. I am finding that across disciplines, artists are connecting with one another and I am excited to see a greater sense of community come out of that”.
As an alternative singer/ songwriter, OBie Mavuso is making her way through an industry where she is placing alternative music onto the South African map but she admits that breaking into the industry and having her voice, music and identity seen and heard has not been easy:
“The world is heavily patriarchal and filled with cis-gendered artists and this for me has been a push to create my music and tell my stories. I have not been getting booked mainly because people probably did not know what my vision is, and it’s been up to me to just release work that the world can hear and my resilient nature is the one that makes me stand out because I do not give up on myself and my vision”.
As a black, queer, alternative singer, one of OBie’s biggest motivations in her music is to have representation within alternative music: to be heard, to be seen and to exist. OBie continues to break the mould with her incredible sound and lyrical content packed with messages that encourage people to know that “different is cool”.
“I would love to see more black alternative artists getting booked for gigs, touring all over the world, it should never be about anything else, if an artist creates good quality work, they deserve to eat from their work”.
By the time I was done chatting to these three woman, I could not help but feel a wave of both excitement and comfort pass over me. I am excited because there is so much new, raw and rising talent that we have yet to discover and they are right here on our doorstep. I am excited because I can play a part as a consumer in supporting these woman and placing their names onto the local hip hop and alternative scene permanently. Finally, I am finding comfort in knowing that I am closer in answering the questions that my 16 year-old self was wondering all those years ago: there are women’s voices and lyrics that are here to exist and it is up to us to make sure that they are heard.
Photos supplied by artists
by Palesa Maloisane
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