Ndabaningi Mabuye or better known as Zubz the last letter is well known for his thought provoking lyrics and his ability to paint a beautiful and clear picture of society through his music. Here he opens up about his thoughts on the South African music industry and about the role music plays in society:
How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard it before and why do you feel the need to speak about some of the issues that you tackle in your music?
Zubz: I make Hip Hop music. Thankfully we are at that point in the evolution of Hip Hop music that allows for me to just describe it as Hip Hop; not African Hip Hop, or Conscious Hip Hop, or Lyrical Hip Hop or any other overly pretentious, highly restrictive prefixes. I make Hip Hop music. I only ever feel the need to speak. I’m hardly ever compelled to speak on particular issues. Sometimes I might do a track that doesn’t say much of anything but in making a non-statement, it makes a statement. When I do focus on a topic, it’s trigger could be anything from a book I read, a movie I watched, a conversation I had, to a lover’s quarrel, a dream or a socio-political event. It can get really broad with the spectrum.
What are your opinions on the music industry in South Africa at the moment?
I love how far we have come in the SA music industry, especially with regard to production quality and technical standard. Our music is right up there with the best when it comes to sonics I feel like we are more accepting of a wider range of musical artforms as authentic to this land, unlike in the past when only traditional music was viewed as authentically South African. It pleases me to see South African punk rockers, Hip Hop artists, folk singers etc being accepted the world over as not just ambassadors of Mzansi, but spokespeople for SA too; symbols of SA’s musical imprint on the nation. I am a bit concerned about the lack of grass roots support for urban music like Hip Hop, R&B, Soul, and numerous Dance oriented genres in High Schools and music/art colleges. These genres are as important as classical genres and should be as encouraged and nurtured in learning institutions where art is valued. I’m excited about the digital revolution and what it’s bringing in terms of music proliferation. I’m saddened by the stigma attached to free music in South Africa as it is still viewed by many as inferior and/or sub-par. I have plenty of other opinions on the industry locally, but that could take up your whole week! Lol!
What contribution do you think music had on the liberation struggle?
What an awesome question.
I think music helped ease the tension and strain in the liberation struggle; people could vent a little. Music gave folk an outlet for pent up frustrations. Music also served to unite like-minded people who through song reaffirmed alliances and allegiance and felt a sense of belonging as well as purpose. Music in the struggle gave hope and courage as the struggle mantra were sung over and over again. It also helped disseminate core messages ranging from tactical instruction to ideological stances. Someone should write a book on the role of music in the struggle if they haven’t already. I’d do it…
What role do you think music should play in shaping the way society is?
Like I touched on earlier, we’re living in a post digital revolution era; characterized by social media and wider access to a tremendous amount of information. Music can help us manage it all so that it all makes sense to us in the broader society. For example, there used to be a time when I could never even DREAM of speaking to the President of South Africa as a regular citizen. Now, I can send him a message on twitter and he can respond. Whether he does or not is irrelevant. Point is, this typifies the quantum shift society has gone through in a very short space of time. South Africa deals with issues of a hangover from a violent past, oppression, poverty, segregation, chauvinism, all kinds of social ills that could be addressed, managed even eradicated through music. A song can spark debate, trigger emotional response and even call the masses to action. At the very least, music can help alleviate stress and bring joy. For me, South Africa has an abundance of musicians ready to be repositories for our history, custodians of our culture, muses for our dreams and the wind in our sail towards the future. Music needs to rise to the challenge.
Do you think South African music is playing a role in addressing our current social ills?
For the most part, I’d say no. Musicians would sooner tweet random one-liners in the social space to a gazillion followers for a second, than write an amazing opus for the entire globe for an eternity. This is especially true for the more current crop of musicians. Remember, though, that a social ill is about as cool in the music industry as gonorrhea in the porn industry; not cool and never brought up. This is especially tragic in Hip Hop as an art form that was birthed out of social ills and the overt addressing of such ills. But when success in the music game hinges on being relevant and cool, which in turn require that social commentary of any sort is downplayed, we won’t hear such life changing songs. In that sense, I’m more than just a little excited about the crumbling of the opulence in the music industry in South Africa, cos maybe now the shiny reward for being silent on core issues may not be so shiny after all; maybe artists will refuse to trade their influence in for high-priced silence.
How would you like your music to be viewed in 10 to 20 years from now, and what sort of legacy would you like to leave behind?
I’ve been putting music out now for ten years and folk today view the music I made when I began as instrumental to shaping the Hip Hop landscape of SA. So now I’m seen as one of the “founding lyricists” which is pretty good. I’d like the next ten years’ worth of music to build on this legacy, but add more social activism to it. Eventually I’d like my music to be secondary to the impact it has on my society. That has always been my plan, but it has become more of a deliberate goal now.
What role do you think the youth should have in shaping our future considering the past that we come from as a nation?
I learned a while ago that the future is in the hands of the youth. Their choices today will shape our world tomorrow. Thankfully, the people with the most warped perspective of the world arising from their tainted past, are having less and less of a say on what kind of choices young people make today. This is encouraging. I say the youth must do their thing and do it hard, but stay cognizant of the impact of their choices tomorrow. That said, access to as much and as varied an amount of information is key; self-assurance and self-belief are super important so that self-expression becomes the order of the day.