The conspicuous infrastructural disparities laid bare before my eyes as the fully-seated taxi made its way from the rich man’s CBD to the vibrant Native Yards – Gugulethu Township. The buildings deteriorated in quality as we moved further away from the city centre. Shacks and small houses stood shamelessly next to the road. The road became narrow, the population – frolicking toddlers, full-of-life youths, going-about-their-business adults and frail stray dogs – became sparser and the houses crammed together. We were undoubtedly in the hood. Ekasi.
My photographer, Onele and myself disembarked at Vincent Ntunja Street and made our way into the Gugulethu Sports Complex where the Ikasi Experience was taking place. “Kha sibone uba akukho into ebandayo aph’ebagini yakho, sisi,” one of the security guards at the gate said to Onele reaching for her bag to search for any liquor bottles that she could be sneaking into the premises in order to avoid buying liquor at the venue. I offered my bag to another one to search but he told me it was fine, I could go in. Innocent-looking?
I wonder. “It’s not packed,” I observed as we made our way in. “Even people who stay here don’t know about this [event],” Onele explained, “because they only market it on the internet.” “It’s at a point where it should be marketing itself right now, though,” I protested. We arrived more than two hours late as Onele had another event to shoot earlier and I had to catch up on some sleep. From what it looked like, we hadn’t missed much.
Apart from the chic cool kids and hippies adorned in Tumblr-ready colourful vintage apparel and contemporary fashion, reminiscent of A$AP Rocky and Rihanna videos, the Sports Complex looked different from what I’ve always known it as – it was oozing diversity and exuberance. The last time I was there, was during the All NYz Sunday hip hop session a couple of years ago when there wouldn’t be much but a sound system and a crowd of hip hop heads. Today, the space was a haven of cool. This being my first Ikasi Experience, the excitement I had did make me forget that I was missing Back To The City in The City of Gold.
I was welcomed by the sounds of AKA’s “Congratulate” booming out of the amps on the far left corner of the Vincent Ntunja basketball court where the stage was. On the far right corner where the coolest people in the world – you know those who don’t watch any performances, nor observe any products on display but just chat with friends over perennial supplies of alcoholic beverages – were assembled was the bar. I made a few turns there to assist Onele in scouting for fashionable peeps to snap, and of course to mingle with familiar faces. I spotted a few familiar brands on display on the stalls opposite the stage. I was familiar with most of the brands – Stratto, MOS, Kasi Kid Wear etc.
My navigation was interrupted by comedian Siv Ngesi’s voice coming out of the speakers announcing the Ikasi Has Talent competition. Six groups were up against each other battle-performing for a price of R1000. Yeah, that may be a small fraction of your salary but it goes a long way for a starving artist. Beating Friends@Play, M4M Crew, One Hot, Phresh Clique, and Sir Lunatiks, the winner was up-and-coming rapper, Sibah Anne who had the girls (the crowd that really matters) eating out of the palm of his hand with his tongue-in-cheek punchlines (still the best way to win crowds). My money was on Phresh Clique and M4M Crew but hey, crowd screams determined the winner. I don’t need to tell you that I’m too cool to scream (especially when I’m asked to).
By now the crowd – which included toddlers, youths and even pensioners – had grown exponentially (sorry Onele).The first ever winner of the Ikasi Has Talent competition, house artist, S’dumo was given a slot. He performed some dance floor-ready Durban-house/kwaito style tunes. He left no impression on me. Is it because house music has never been my piece of cake? I don’t know. Halfway through his performance, my attention was diverted to an unscheduled rap cipher. I congregated among adolescents, trying very hard but most of the time failing to get the deigning exchange of words between the two young men who were battle-rapping. Nonetheless the spirit, hunger and passion were refreshing.
I nonchalantly caught glimpses of the Muziek Sensation dudes’ performance from a distance while I was catching up with an ex’s friend who I guess I’m now allowed to look at as a potential girlfriend, right? Right? Okay, back to the crooners. I’ve never been that much of a fan. I’m not a fan of The Soil either, if that adds anything. But the masses love the dudes and the crowd was in a jovial frenzy. And the fellas are cool peeps too. But hey, it is what it is.
Youngsta, as per usual fashion, didn’t disappoint. I’m a shameless fan of dude and he once again demonstrated why he is South African hip hop’s best kept secret. All I can say is, homie will be major (I’m talking Reason and Tumi major) and it could be sooner than one can imagine. Backed by his old friend, The Muffin Man on the decks, he owned the stage with a charismatic stage presence and lyrical dexterity yet to be equaled, killing everything from a house beat to trap beats to boom bap beats, and even kicking a freestyle (not a verse, called a freestyle, but an actual freestyle). It was his first time performing in Gugulethu, he said. He left a great impression, no doubt. He did touch a bit on the issue that hip hop should break the racial boundaries that exist in Cape Town hip hop – an issue that everybody should be aware of.
I missed one-fourth of Driemanskap, Ma-B’s performance while checking out the soccer guys on the other side of the fence, and honestly, I didn’t sleep with a broken heart. I prefer the whole Drie together. Only Redondo strikes me when he’s solo.
After what seemed like an eternal wait because of “technical difficulties”, Ill Skillz finally kicked off their performance with the pertinently fitting “To The Beat Y’all” backed by their old mate, Planet Earth on the decks. Right after “TTBY”, they called 5th Floor member, Camo to perform his new J-oNE-produced single, “Give Me More” off his upcoming Shaolin Jazz EP “dropping soon”. The tune’s been out for a minute but I only fell in love with it after that performance. It was quite well-delivered and it has a strong hook too. But, back to Uno and Flexx. Their performance showed evidence of thorough preparation – I’m guessing they had been sharpening themselves for Back to The City which they were doing on the following day in Jozi. Or was it home-turf advantage? Uno was on his element as usual and Flexx was quite more focused than he usually is. By the time the sun was about to disappear behind the height of Table Mountain, they performed the last song of their set – the robust “Ill Skillionaire”. The setting sun’s rays directly aimed at our eyes blinded us to every detail of anything else and all we caught was artistic silhouettes of the two men on stage. A great performance it was.
By twilight, I had to consider making my way back to the northern suburbs. As I made my way out of the Sports Complex, a surge of late-nighters were making their way in. But us young people have to get back home early, you know. I thoroughly enjoyed the few hours I spent experiencing ikasi (not that I’m a tourist or anything like that). Big ups to Ikapa Live and all other stakeholders involved in putting Ikasi Experience together. More events of this kind – that unify the arts, encourage trade and celebrate the diverse youth culture of Cape Town’s townships – are needed. On to the next one.
Written by Sabelo Mkhabela
All images by Onele Liwani