Driemanskap: Speaking Xhosa to the world

Driemanskap signed to the accomplished indie label Native Rhythms this year in what is poised to be a turning point for the Cape Town hip hop quartet and spaza (Xhosa hip-hop), which is under-represented nationally.

“This is what we’ve always wanted – to just be busy,” says Ma-B, one of the members on the Friday evening I interview the crew at Bush Radio. “Mina, personally, I just wanna be busy and never stop.”

Hlala Nam, the follow-up to the group’s debut album Igqabhukil’inyongo (2009), was promised to fans in 2013 but still hasn’t seen the light of day. One of the many speculations was that the guys were having issues with Pioneer Unit, the label that signed them in 2008. At the time, they were fresh off creating a serious buzz for themselves in the Cape Town hip-hop scene through mixtapes, street singles and rocking park jams and ciphers in Gugulethu, Cape Town.

Group members Dla, El Nino, Redondo and Ma-B are now focused on the future and talking about parting with the Unit is the last thing they would like to discuss. In Long Wait, the opener of their latest EP Journey of a Soldier, Ma-B raps: “Aish my bru, khaw’me ndiqale ngaphi? I don’t even know/ Sisogoliswe yi-label so we decided to let them go.”

Dla’s contribution: “Excuse the long wait/ Things didn’t go well as much as we prepared/ The plan was complete/ Implementation was dragging its feet.”

Apart from that, nothing. Just after signing the Native Rhythms deal, their explanation was: “We were on a one-album deal with Pioneer Unit [for] Igqabhukil’ Inyongo. There’re no bad vibes between us, we’re still friends and we’ll still be working together, we [just] wanted to flip [to] a new chapter.”

Native Rhythms’ roster includes successful names in the South African music scene such as The Soil, Zakwe, Siphokazi and Camagwini. Looking at Native Rhythms’s success rate, Driemanskap is in the right hands. In 2006, the label was able to make a star out of hip-hop star Zuluboy, whose conscious raps stood in stark contrast to the house and kwaito music the rest of South Africa were obsessing over.

Finding a new home 
Songs like Sphum’eGugs, Camagu, Mhee, Pizza Zamadoda and more, were so authentic to Driemanskap’s roots – you felt like you were taking a tour of Gugulethu aboard an iphela. When Drie signed with Native Rhythms, a reasonable number of fans were concerned the label would soften the crew’s street-centric “raw” brand of hip-hop into something more radio friendly (Driemanskap have made it public that, in the past, their music was rejected by major radio stations like Metro FM because it wasn’t “urban enough”). The label’s owner Sipho Sithole has made it clear that he signed Driemanskap for who they are.

Driemanskap’s latest single Rathathatha, which samples TKZee Family’s Fella Kae, could be used against their case. One can say the group is jumping on the new-age kwaito bandwagon like many South African hip-hop artists. But the guys disagree.

“Actually, I don’t think Rathathatha is any different from the tracks we’ve done [before],” says Ma-B. “It’s just that [TKZee] sample. In general when people sample kwaito, they will make it sound like kwaito. But that Rathathatha beat doesn’t even sound like kwaito, it’s just a turn up [hip hop] beat.”

Having been part of the Cape Town underground hip-hop scene since 2001, churning out street classics, the crew feels like it’s time to grow and expand its listenership. They want more than just respect from backpackers in park jams and ciphers. The aim is to evolve while still keeping the essence of their sound, which Rathathatha is a great example of.

“We are making music for the masses, not just to please our own buddies,” says El Nino, who doubles as a producer. “The industry is so big. We thought now we don’t have a point to prove to anyone. Let’s just be artists more than rappers. But still it’s that Driemanskap feel.  Music is evolving and we can never run away from that. It’s either you get a 9 to 5 or you make your music work.”

Ma-B, who exhibits a natural swaggering demeanour, adds: “Our aim is to recruit new fans and still keep the old ones. But it’s gonna happen that we lose some, but that’s just how it happens.”

A worldwide brand
Apart from Rathathatha and maybe eNantsiken, which both have a kwaito influence, Journey of a Soldier presents a band that is still the Driemanskap that fans fell in love with in the early and mid-2000s. Songs like Journey of a Soldier and Craziness are tailored with the same energy as I Will Make it and S’phum’eGugs from Igqabhukil’inyongo. They are still working closely with their old-time producers Planet Earth and Kosh. Khayelitsha-based producer Phizo also contributes some kicks and snares.

As a musician looking to have a career that spans many years, exploring other sounds is essential. It seems fans were expecting Driemanskap to release another S’phum’eGugs. According to El Nino, this is nothing new. The pressure was on when they released Igqabhukil’inyongo in 2009. Fans were still stuck on the Drie anthems from their previous mixtapes.

“Eventually, even those who don’t understand [the new music] will catch on. Driemanskap is now a worldwide brand.”

As we speak, the crew has just returned from Zambia and Zimbabwe for the Kwaai Tour – a hip hop exchange initiative between South African and Swedish artists. About two years ago, they toured Sweden. They managed to build relationships that could lead to collaborations and projects with some artists from that side of the globe.

Everyone wants to rap
They are pleased about the response they get overseas, the Eastern Cape, Jo’burg and other places. Sadly, the same can’t be said about Cape Town. The Cape Town hip hop scene comprises more of up-and-coming artists than fans. “Everyone wants to rap,” says Ma-B, so Capetonians tend to be a tad more competitive than supportive.”

“We have peeps from Sweden, France, Switzerland, Germany who we have made family because we tried to make families in Cape Town but people just focus on petty politics,” adds El Nino.

Dla recalls: “We once went to perform at Fort Hare this other year. There was a stampede in that show. But when you come back home, when you bump into peeps on the train or taxi, they just look at you like… I’m not even saying a person should always praise you all the time. But there must be that sense of appreciation that ‘you’re putting my hood on the map’.”

Nostalgia creeps in as the guys explain that Cape Town hip hop wasn’t always stalled by segregation. 

“The times of Zula Bar, were the days,” recalls Dla. “Then there were other movements in Khayelitsha, Phillipi, Guguletu – movements like the All NYz Park Jams. But then all of a sudden, divisions started forming. Cats started being choosy about sessions they were attending.”

Only time will tell if Driemanskap are on the way to making spaza as big as mostwako. One thing is for sure, though – the guys are in a good place and are happy with their new home.

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