/ 19 November 2004

Pea is for party and politics

Thanks to MTV, globalisation, the rand’s newfound strength and the relative backwater isolation of our audiences, South Africa has recently seen a flood of international live music events.

Gone are the days of Peter Stuyvesant Spectaculars and Brian Adams selling out Sun City. For the past year, the contemporary hit radio A-list groups have been lining up to perform here and pocket some South African ching. We’ve seen 50 Cent, Usher, Enrique, Ja Rule and Basement Jaxx, to name a few. Now the Black Eyed Peas are bringing their popular brand of conscious hip-hop to Jozi and iKapa.

A hip-hop act from East Los Angeles who have sold more than 10-million copies of their latest album Elephunk, with a slew of hits like Shut Up, Where Is The Love, Let’s Get Retarded and Hey Mama, the Black Eyed Peas are a regte global pop sensation.

Currently the darlings of MTV with their positive messages and downright, shake-yer-ass funkability, the Peas have been nominated for three MTV Music Awards: best album, best pop act and best group.

Before Elephunk, the Peas produced two albums that achieved little success. It was the post-September 11 collaboration with Justin Timberlake on Where Is The Love that launched them into the big time. A tear-jerking hip-hop masterpiece, dropped at the right time with the right message.

Will.I.Am, Apl.de.ap, Taboo and Fergie Ferg are the funny named crew who make up the Black Eyed Peas. The band has always aspired to create “the real hip-hop” in the mould of KRS1. So you’ll never hear them singing odes to women’s behinds, bling or Benzs.

“We had a dream to become pioneers of a music that is positive,” says Jaime “Taboo” Gomez over the phone from Cedar Falls, Iowa. “We come from the era of Native Tongues, Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul. They were more on a movement about positive vibes, dancing and people having a good time. Bling bling has always been around. We decided to showcase that it’s all hip-hop.

“You’ve got to respect people for what they do. I like 50 Cent. I’m an Eminem fan, but at the same time I’m a Black Eyed Peas fan, I’m into Roots, Talib Kweli and Mos Def. I appreciate hip-hop as a culture. I don’t shoot anybody for their vision or their outlook on how they’re going to make music. We may choose to do things different, but we respect all forms of hip-hop.”

Apl.de.ap adds: “Definitely, our sound is not your usual formula. We’re influenced by a lot of different rhythms, from Afro-Cuban to Latin jazz and dancehall. We just incorporate what we’re surrounded by. We’re more into the experimental in a positive note. We like shaking asses, if you know what I mean.”

But the radical success of the Peas has hinged on their ability to make generation MTV shake their asses and think at the same time. Recently the band rolled out on Senator John Kerry’s campaign trail, in a bid to rock the vote and unseat George W Bush.

“Yeah, we’ve been doing that,” says Taboo. “Campaigning around, trying to let the kids in America, and all over the world, know that we have a voice. And even though we didn’t win we got five million more voters to come out and vote. A lot of young people came out and supported the fact that we need a new president.”

“Campaigning is just like MC battles,” adds Apl. “Our main thing is to get kids to pay attention to what’s going on in social life. Kerry was saying something significant to us, so it was easy to associate ourselves with that. But we’re more social than political.”

“I’ve never been a Bush supporter,” says Taboo. “I never supported his father either. I’ve always been against that upbringing and that mentality. Maybe it’s because I’m a minority in an American world, a predominantly white world. I’m a Mexican kid from East LA. I was never into politics, I did not know about politics growing up. All I knew was the neighbourhood, breakdancing and family. I didn’t care who won the election. I didn’t vote. But now it affects me. I am in a different income tax bracket. I have a son. And my opinion matters.”

At the same time as being vehemently anti-Bush and against the United States’s excursion in Iraq, the Black Eyed Peas have done a series of promotional gigs for Hummer motor vehicles. The US army ride.

“I know what you’re going to say …” Taboo cuts in. You’re promoting gas-guzzling war machines?

“Military blah blah, yadda yadda. I guess it’s a double standard in people’s eyes. But you’ve got to have a certain medium when you get to our level. There are always going to be people like yourself who pick at it. You have to find a medium with everything in life. You can’t make everyone happy all the time. But you got to learn to live with it.

“Of course you want to pull that out. You want to find dirt. As positive and progressive as Black Eyed Peas are, what’s their downfall? What makes them hypocrites? But in actuality that’s cool because it allows us to let you know that we are human beings. We have to make hard choices.”

Apl is more direct: “Contradiction? No, of course not. That’s just having a business sense. We live in a corporate world. And that’s the business part of it. This is our job and we never change our music. And realistically, I’d like to own a Hummer. We’re young cats and it’s a cool car. You got to have your business sense in this industry. I don’t see nothing bad with Hummer. It was a good exchange, and … why not?”

I guess that’s when you know you’ve made it. When big business wants you just the way you are.

Despite being prolific, positive and massively popular around the globe, the Peas don’t profess to have all the answers.

“Sometimes you’re going to say the good shit and sometimes you fuck it up,” says Taboo. “That’s what being human is all about. That’s the whole thing about Black Eyed Peas, we’re not afraid to make a joke out of ourselves. If you take yourself too seriously you start losing touch with being human.”

Which South African artists would you like to collaborate with?

“It may sound a little ignorant,” Taboo admits. “But I haven’t really heard any South African music. The only person I heard that came from South Africa, and was meaningful here in the States, was Nelson Mandela. And he doesn’t do music.”

The details

The tour by the Black Eyed Peas is sponsored by Edgars, 5fm, Metro FM and Good Hope FM. The concerts take place in Johannesburg on November 20 at the Dome in Northgate, and in Cape Town on November 23 at the Belville Velodrome. Tickets range from R250 to R320, “excluding services fees”. Book through Computicket on Tel: 083 915 8000 or visit www.computicket.com for more information.


Organisers Real Concerts and 206 Productions are giving away six pairs of tickets for the concerts: three pairs for Jo’burg and three for Cape Town. To win e-mail your name, address and telephone number to [email protected]. E-mails must arrive by 4pm on Friday November 19. Winners will be notified and will have to collect their tickets from the performance venue an hour before the doors open.