/ 7 May 2015

Emile YX: Pushing the art of hip hop along

Activist and educator Emile YX.
Activist and educator Emile YX.

Across the Cape Flats we are experiencing a peaceful awakening through music. The pioneer of this social upliftment is Emile Lester Jansen. 

When hip hop culture exploded in the early 1980s, Emile caught this culture in its truth, and never compromised what it stood for. Despite being a rhymer and one of the first B-boys on the streets of Cape Town, Emile decided to share his talents and serve his community through teaching and counselling. And 33 years down the line, in the midst of a career of recognising and polishing talent, Emile is at the centre of a burgeoning Cape and national hip hop scene.  

In an interview in Muizenberg at the beginning of the year, Emile spoke about his work in community upliftment through education. “In this country, we are injured historically and mentally. There are all these race groups and there is no attempt to be a South African. We were forced apart and you know in physics when a force is travelling in one direction you need an equal and opposite force to bring it to a stop.” 

Relating to the equal and opposite force he talks of, Emile created Black Noise in 1988. It is an evolving performance group that took their music to the schools, stages and airwaves. Then he created the Heal the Hood project in the same year. “Heal the Hood started out as an informal community-based volunteer organisation by the youth for the youth on the Cape Flats,” reads the organisation’s website.

“The purpose of our activities provides an alternative cultural experience for historically marginalised youth. Hip hop and its related elements encourage youth to break away from the gangster culture encountered daily on the streets of the Cape Flats.”

From Manenberg to Gugulethu, Mitchells Plain, Khayelitsha, Heideveld, Nyanga, Hanover Park, Ocean View and other townships in the Cape, a conscious vibration and unique sound of Cape Town hip hop began to rise like steam. With projects like Heal the Hood, hip hop culture is reinforced as a powerful tool for social upliftment and for youth to use to express and believe in themselves; free of political and economic stereotypes. Heal the Hood activities range from one on one counselling to mentorship, workshops and cultural exchanges. 

Emile later created the annual Hip Hop Indaba and African Battle Cry initiatives, which attract many performers and audiences from all over the country. Emile’s latest project Mixed Mense is a manifestation of the power of his mentorship programme. 

The foundation for the Mixed Mense crew was laid 10 years ago, when Black Noise performed and offered free classes at a high school in Lavender Hill, a neighbourhood on the Cape Flats. Some of the scholars that attended the classes continued their mentorship with ‘Heal the Hood’. But two of those scholars, Leeroy Phillips and Stefan Benting never looked back and are now fully fledged practitioners of the hip hop culture and are bringing the uplifting theme full circle and planting it in the next generation.

Emile uses African consciousness to inspire the content of his teaching. He says, “We all have this genetic code that can be traced back to the first people. There is the story of Blombos Cave, which was the last 600 humans on the planet who spread from there to the rest of the world.” Emile took these scholars and others, to meet the first nation people, who also like to go by the name “Bushmen”.

These holistic journeys of higher learning saw youngsters visiting the red sands of the Kalahari, !Khwa ttu and Platfontein. And according to Emile, he was amazed at the transformation that his scholars underwent from the trip. 

“I tell them stories how to be a man you have to go and hunt and I say, ‘Think what is that similar to on the Cape Flats’. They say, ‘Can it be that we are now hunting each other because there are no animals?’ Another thing we were speaking about is how prominent tik is. It is a false trance. They are unblocking that truth in their own mind. There is an awakening. There is a hunger to know more. It is a silent revolution among young people,” says Emile.

He has also released dozens of albums and books, is the director of a collaborative musical performance Afrikaaps and is currently touring the country with Mixed Mense.  Mixed Mense is more than a performance group, it is like a school, continuing the vision of Emile to bring upliftment through authentic hip hop culture education to the Cape Flats.  “We help each other give back to the community, grow hip hop and change the mind-set. Hip hop in Cape Town is growing. We teach the kids to be themselves, to sing something no-one has ever seen before,” concludes Mixed Mense MC Leeroy.

Forthcoming Mixed Mense performances

  • 9th May 9 – Cravenby Snr Secondary School Show  
  • 12th May 12 – Afrikaaps Talk at UCT  
  • 30th May 30 – Hip Hop Event at Artscape
  • June 3- Show at the Slave Lodge 
  • June 16 – “We Are” Hip Hop Festival in Grassy Park