Before moving down from Maseru to Cape Town in 2008 and exploring the Cape’s hip hop scene, Core Wreckah was already heavily involved in Lesotho’s capital hip hop scene. When we saw him plugging his new song ‘Reverb’ here and there on the web, we thought it a good moment to throw him 5 questions about what both scenes have in common, and what sets them apart. But more about that plugging after the song:

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How has Cape Town been treating you over the last three years? Do you feel at home? Has the city and its people been welcoming? Inspiring, as an artist?

It’s been good I suppose, similar to home in the sense that everything that one needs in order to survive is within reach. I found the hip hop community to be quite accommodating, so that was an added bonus – it enabled me to build relationships from very early on.

The disparity in living standards, and inter-racial separation (don’t really want to use the word ‘racism’ since I’ve given up trying to understand what that even means in a South African context) has been a bit of a shock. Growing up in Lesotho, one never witnessed the levels of segregation which exist between races here. (I wrote a song regarding my feelings about the issue: ‘Looking at me.’) I went to see comedian John Vlismas recently; he made the observation regarding the comparison between South Africa and a rainbow (i.e. the rainbow nation), and commented on how fitting it is since no matter how hard one tries, they can never mix colors of a rainbow. I thought that was a very apt way of putting it.

As an artist, it is only in the past year that I have taken an active role in terms of getting myself onto shows, and generally trying to get as many people as possible to hear and give criticism of my music. I had been lax to do this for various reasons before, but one of the main factors was that I needed to get a feel of the scene in its entirety; it is easy to get stuck with one group of people, which then leads to stagnation. From very early on, I have been interested in becoming a well-rounded artist, and have found that my involvement (either directly or indirectly) in the various scenes in and around Cape Town has had — and continues to have — a positive impact on my artistic output.

‘The scene in its entirety,’ that sounds daunting. You’re referring to the hip hop scene? Locally, nationally? How would you describe the scene? You find it ‘accommodating’. How so?

The ‘entire scene’ refers to my need to inspect from the side-lines what was happening in Cape Town hip hop, which events to go to, which rappers were making an impact, which breakers and writers were noteworthy, etc. This was important since I could then have an idea of who did what, who one needs to go to to get something done… and so forth.

I found it accommodating in that there was no ‘gatekeeper’ mentality; people were willing to let me become part of what they were doing. For instance, Driemanskap and Ill Skillz allowed me to sit in on a session one time; I hung out with Rattex a lot, and he bumped for me songs which he was recording during his ‘Bread and Butter’ album sessions; most of those songs made it onto the final product.

Part of it could have been because of me asking nicely, and part of it could have been due to the fact that I wasn’t just another rapper trying to be down with them, or trying to get onto a show, or doing whatever it is that makes people become guarded. So it was ‘accommodating’ in the sense that I got to form good relationships without a prolonged amount of effort.

Are you still in touch with the hip hop scene in Lesotho’s Maseru? Is there a scene beyond Maseru? And is it in any way comparable to what’s going down in Cape Town? Is there a line (of communication, of interest, of collaboration) between both scenes?

I am still very much in touch with the scene in Maseru, that’s home, that’s what I represent in songs and every time I get on stage. I’ve written a column for the past four years which focused on the Lesotho hip hop scene, and started a blog (in 2008) which had as its main focus the promotion of Lesotho hip hop.

I am not very much aware of the scenes beyond Maseru. I mean, I know of a few people from elsewhere (e.g. Kommanda Obbs and Suuth from Maputsoe, and Mohalakane, a group from a district called Quthing). Apart from that, it’s very hard to get music from elsewhere in the country; perhaps people are not so much interested in promoting their music beyond their immediate environment.

The scene where I come from is very much street-level though — a lot of ciphers, lots of ‘bedroom’ recordings, a lot of hand-to-hand CD sales. There are no regular performance slots, and Maseru’s nightlife as a whole is pretty non-existent — but that’s what I hear from people, and cannot comment much since I rarely go out at night unless it’s to support a poetry event or an independent movie screening.

On the other hand, Cape Town has a small but vibrant scene; there are regular events (Kool Out, Party People, etc), and park jams which ensure that hip hop is well-represented, and that rappers have a platform on which they can showcase their creations. So Cape Town is much more ‘advanced’ in comparison to where I am from…which is all fair and well since the standards of living (economic and otherwise) are different in the two places.

In terms of collaborations, I personally do not know many Cape Town-Maseru collaborations; I know of mc’s who are from Maseru originally — now making a living in South Africa — who have done collaborations. For instance, Konfab has done some work with Dplanet (CEO of independent imprint Pioneer Unit), and Arsenic (of Manic Mettaloids/Writers Block). I think Hymphatic Thabs has also worked with Arsenic on some songs. On my part, I am constantly looking for people to collaborate with, but it is not always easy. I suppose people are too busy working on their own projects to bother.

How has the use of new channels like twitter, facebook, youtube, bandcamp and soundcloud influenced your way of trying to get noticed? Are these media efficient tools in South Africa to get your music up and out? I’m asking this because it’s maybe a bit too easy to rave about them while so many South African (or Sesotho) hip hop heads simply have no access to these media (not everybody has the money to regularly recharge their smart-phones or spend hours on-line in internet cafes).

Twitter is cool, I like it for the ease of use, and the randomness with which I found it (I clicked on a link on someone else’s blog about three years back, got taken to the site, and have not really looked back since). I’m not quite the fan of facebook, but it has its uses I suppose. I worked on a documentary in 2007 which was concerned with exploring Lesotho’s cipha scene, and youtube has been very central in letting me put that on so that anyone from elsewhere in the world can check out what I’ve done; I’ve also uploaded mine and my band’s performance footage on there.

I love soundcloud for how it enables me to discover other musicians’s work. For instance, I’d been a fan of Namibian BecomingPhill for a long time, and totally bugged out when I found him on soundcloud. The dude is pure genius, and I think someone needs to get him a premium account so that he stops having to delete some stuff in order to upload new songs. Same goes for Hiperdelic, a producer from Cape Town.

While I have used bandcamp and got some benefit from it, there are still so many more avenues for me to explore within its framework (e.g. the physical goods store). I find it very useful, especially when it comes to collecting people’s e-mail addresses; as the argument goes, e-mails have sort of become the new ‘currency’, though I’m not sure how much I agree with the statement. Having one’s e-mail address and sending them updates every now and then does not necessarily mean that they’ll read what the mail is saying, but it does definitely increase the likelihood.

Bandcamp has been efficient in getting my music out, as has soundcloud. But what I have discovered time and time again is that people seem to be…I don’t like using the word ignorant, but rather lax to check out links to music from those they do not know. I say this because I am part and parcel of that ‘unknown’ bunch, so even managing to get a single play on my soundcloud is a big achievement for me. But write-up on blogs such as Welfare State of Mind, okayafrica, 25tolyf, and others have certainly helped to direct a bit of traffic onto the portals on which I am present.

As for the point you raised about it being easy to rave since one has access to the internet…well, look, I have been able to achieve a certain amount of presence on the web even before I had a fairly stable internet connection. I have a very good friend, Lyrical Bacteria, from Lesotho who — though not always connected to the net — has managed to do amazing things for both himself and Lesotho’s poetry scene. His work ethic is impeccable to begin with, and the small chances he gets to go to an Internet cafe he utilizes those wisely. Also, that connectivity argument is tramped by the fact that there is mobile connectivity now in Lesotho, we have 3G and HDSPA technology — though still a heck of a lot expensive — making the rounds. An investment of at least 50 maloti (that’s our currency, equal to 50 rands) every once in a while will ensure that one has enough data to upload their work on-line, synch their accounts so as to make a single update and feed it to all social media, etc. I know that there are people who have made do with the very limited resources we have. Big shout-out to producer San the Instru-monumentalist who has also managed to release a compilation (Classic Dirt which has on it among others, myself, John Robinson, Moka Only, The Holstar, etc) using those very same ‘limited’ resources.

It’s very easy to suppose that having access to all these social media tools automatically grants one some sort of magical key into the world. I have found that basic rules still apply; a ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ will go a long way, etiquette is not negated by on-line presence; in fact, I’ll argue that it is even more essential since most of the time one is communicating with people one has never met, and the person being communicated to has no onus to even bother replying to whatever request it is directed at them.

You recently wrote a beautiful ode to Sankomota, a band, you say, which “has served as my sanctuary whenever music seems to loose track” but you also hint at the fact that “we betrayed the memory of a legend.” In what way do young Sesotho artists keep the memory of their musical forebears alive, if at all?

From my side, I have a vested interest in Famo (traditional Sesotho music performed with the accordion), and have been researching its origins as well as making a collection of music from the musicians who impress me the most.

One of these musicians, Famole, died around 2004; he was quite instrumental in introducing a sort of paradigm shift in terms of how the music gets performed; his lyrics were striking in that they were a concoction of post-apocalyptic revelations (with a strong Christian undertone, as well as semi-battle rhyme-like (he has the dopest braggadocio songs). He was a man very aware of his own mortality, yet also equally aware that life is to be lived as well as enjoyed.

Famo musicians — as far as I know — do not write their songs; so to me, we as the younger generation have this library of people who have hardly gone to school, yet are able to weave together narratives potent enough to stand neck-a-neck with those of the best scholars the world has to offer. Of course the language is different, but the dynamics are the same: the setting, the build-up, climax… all these elements are contained within these songs.

 For me, the artist Famole best personifies what I would like to achieve with my music: a man capable to engage his audience by using elements from the environment, objects such as names of towns and/or activities that people can easily identify with. So in my music, especially my Sesotho stuff, I sort of channel — though reluctantly, being careful not to loose myself in the process — what to me Famole’s music personified, and still personifies. But it’s not only him that I look up to… the music of Letsema Mats’ela also strikes a deep chord within me, and I also channel him — especially with regards to my vocal intonations.

I have also recorded a song (still to finish it though) whereby I address the issue of murders within the Famo community. Legends such as Sanko, Lesholu, and most recently Selomo, have succumbed to the violence which seems to be rife in Famo music. The song is a call-to-arms of sorts, but from the perspective of a hip hop head.

In the greater scheme of things, I have not heard a lot of homage being paid to our musical heroes by my fellow artists, but this could also be attributed to the lack of a functional distribution channel for hip hop artists in Lesotho. However, a lot of my friends are very clued up on our traditional as well as contemporary Sesotho sounds; it is perhaps just a matter of time before that awareness translates to them incorporating elements of that into their musical compositions.

Papa Zee and Dunamis (both quite well known in Lesotho) are the only two people I know of who have actually recorded songs with Famo contemporaries. Besides that, I haven’t heard much.

So in conclusion, there is an awareness that the legacy of those who came before us has to be preserved by Lesotho’s hip-hop community. I have a feeling that the time is near when this awareness shall translate into actualization through music.

Further Reading

Are you safe? Please stay safe

The statistics and scenes of violence against black immigrants in South Africa are horrible. A young Cameroonian student in South Africa writes about what it is like to live under such insecurity.

Eyes on the Prize

Does the peace deal between Ethiopia and Eritrea—now rewarded with a Nobel Prize—bring the kind of cooperation between the two countries that it aspired to do a year ago?