Back in the 1960’s, Sheryl Sandberg told the world that “the goal is to work toward a world where expectations are not set by the stereotypes that hold us back, but by our personal passion, talents and interests.”
We can assume that she most probably wasn’t speaking about anything vaguely related to the rap game, but it’s this very deviation away from stereotypes, and this belief in personal passion and talents that best describe and make up the lyricist that is Kanyi Mavi.
In addition to the actual hardcore bars bars, it’s her smooth and captivating delivery that make it entirely possible to keep the repeat icon highlighted on your phone, and still feel like you’re on your first loop when you’re really nearing your third. This is one emcee that continually excites her fans with not just her music, but her approach to the industry as well.
More recently my attention was caught by her involvement in the KWAAI Tour which is the Hip Hop exchange between Swedish and South African rappers, coming together to form one group of excellence to tour the world.
When I asked if I could have an interview with Kanyi Mavi for the blog, I knew that when it happens there would be a good amount of info coming from Kanyi; whether the information surrounds her and her rap, or whether it surrounds her love for Hip Hop, its dope insight nonetheless. I’m always curious to understand exactly what goes on in the mind of one of the illest hip-hop artists in our land and how she perceives both the good and the bad sides of the industry that she’s wrapped in, and in this interview she did of exactly that. I’ll ramble no longer.
Where did this rap journey begin for you?
Kanyi: “Much like most South African kids, music was part of my childhood. I had a lyric book in primary school which I used to write all my favourite songs, whether ballads, R&B, pop or rap. As I grew older and started high school, I began digging more into Hip Hop – looking for tapes, recording from radio to TDK tapes and recording music videos on VCR tapes. I had internet access at school to print out all the lyrics I wanted. High school was all about investigating and discovering Hip Hop. My love and fascination with Hip Hop grew and resulted in me writing my own lyrics. That’s when I started having rhyme books. Around 2002 is when I started going to open mic sessions and doing my thing.”
Talk me through your mind when you write a song. What’s your process like?
Kanyi: “I guess it depends on the song, but for the most part, I like allowing a concept or thought to marinate in my mind for a while before I write it out. I like challenging myself when I write.”
The rap game in South Africa is at an extremely commercial stage. Most of the rappers are making music for the radio and what would work in a party setting and is generally in English. Do you ever fear not getting your message through to the masses? I ask this because your content, the fact that you rap in Xhosa and your beat choice makes you noticeably different from a lot of other people are rapping right now – in the more mainstream light that is.
Kanyi: “Music is its own language and all I know is [that] I know ‘dope’ when I hear it – no matter the tongue. I believe music has a place for all those who are ‘called’ to be in it. Funny thing with SA is that we assume everyone understands English, and based on that – we see the ‘masses’ as English speakers, which might not be 100% accurate. Nonetheless, my main concern has always been content and creativity. That’s what inspires me, and therefore, that’s what I pay attention to most when listen to other rappers or when I write my joints.”
The industry is tough. You’ve also spoken about how, at times, it’s been quite difficult to get gigs and sell your album. Personally, I dig your music and I’m such an advocate for local rap support – especially for the women. What is it about this rap thing that keeps you going? Most people would have tapped out by now but you haven’t.
Kanyi: “Well the first thing is that I love Hip Hop, everything else comes secondary to that. I’ve learnt so much from Hip Hop, it’s opened my mind to the world. Emcees from around the world have taught me a lot just by living their lives through their rhymes. At the core of it all, it’s not the gigs or sales or fame or money that attracted me. That feeling I get when I hear a beat so dope I want to climb into the speakers and just be consumed by it. When an emcee is so potent, they expand the way you think. That ish that moves your spirit, your body and your mind. That feeling for me, transcends all.”
Previously, in a different interview you spoke about how “the only time [women] are inundated with work is during women’s month.” What message would you just love to get to out to the few stiff industry people that overlook the beauty of local talent – more specifically in our ladies?
Kanyi: “Well, whether they get the message now or later, Iintombi-zifikile, and they are here to stay.”
As I keep mentioning, you’ve done so much that I feel isn’t given enough credit. Opening for Mos Def and having Lauryn Hill attend your album launch and grace the stage is something I think most artists could only spend their rap days dreaming of. What has been the highlight of your career?
Kanyi: “My biggest highlight was having my mom watch me perform at the Cape Town International Jazz festival. Apart from hearing me make noise around the house, that was the first time my mother saw me perform live – it was magic. Also releasing ‘Iintombi-zifikile’ was and continues to be a highlight and great motivation for me. Plus, meeting and being a part of KWAAI, the Sweden/South Africa Hip Hop super crew. With KWAAI, I also got to travel to different countries and perform. The blessings keep coming and I am supremely grateful for every one of them.”
What would you love to see happening to SA rap scene in future, and how do you see yourself contributing to that?
Kanyi: “What I would like to see happen is already unfolding. Ladies are coming out from all directions attacking the mic – I love it. It’s about time. Not just the mic, production, graffitti, DJing, and the over all business of Hip Hop. I am looking forward to a time when I won’t have to answer questions based on the sex of the rapper, but more on the content of their character, their skills. I play my part by doing what I’ve always done, pushing myself and my abilities.
Something else I would love to see is a way for artists to make money outside of major record labels. In Europe, they have Spotify – we need similar platforms. Not only that, but I also hope to see South African media playing their part in the growth of local music by playing majority local music on the radio. Other countries in Africa have no problem with that and their industries are thriving. But one dream I have is the African Hip Hop Festival, one day.”
In terms of future music plans, what should the people expect from you? Any albums, features, or shows?
Kanyi: “Right now, I am actually in Sweden – I have a show this coming weekend. I’m also busy in studio working on some new music. 2016 better be ready for me because I am coming through and coming through proper. There are other things I am working on, but I prefer to talk less and do more. The works will speak for themselves…”
Here’s a little video of what the KWAAI Tour artists got up to