Bhizer is gqom’s supreme penman. For evidence of that, one only has to listen to the 26-year-old’s hit, Aw’ Kodwa, which has now been co-opted by the award-winning kwaito group, Dbn Nyts.
The song is typical gqom: a 90-second droning intro, tinny but snappy drums, and punctuated one-note vocal drops.
It’s a bassline lacking wonder, with a hook so powerful that it dominates the structure of the song. The second verse is a strained forgettable turn at bat by Bhizer’s producer Trigger. In the sparse eight bars of the first verse, Bhizer spells out his approach to playing the field, not so much lamenting infidelity but almost extolling it.
“The first version we put out was November 11 2013,” says Bhizer from the backseat of a rented car in Mgababa, his hometown south of Durban.
“We did it on November 10, then on November 11, we put it up on kasimp3. Then last year, uOskido asked me to release it on Dbn Nyts’ album. But it’s an old song.”
That “old song” was used to buff up Dbn Nyts’ Believe, an album that recently won best group album at this year’s Metro FM awards. Dbn Nyts were signed to Kalawa Jazzmee by DJ and artist Oskido.
“Aw’ Kodwa is still my song, just that it’s on their album,” says Bhizer of the rife practice of song appropriation.
Oskido and Bhizer met last year, a move that has altered the course of the young songwriter’s career.
Besides his own string of gqom hits such as Ncoh Man, Uhlanya (with gqom rap originator Madanon) and Wrong Turn, he has gone on to record Rockerfella with Oskido and Maphorisa, a song Bhizer initially penned for himself.
“He asked if it could be his song because he is still grooming me,” says the lanky, buoyant Bhizer. “So, when he has gigs here [around Durban], I go with him and we perform the track together, with Aw’ Kodwa because we are pushing the both of them.”
The move has meant that Bhizer has abandoned the raw gqom sound that made him a household name. This has created something of an identity crisis; he’s now casting his stylistic net wider and courting mainstream attention.
He says he’s not plagued by loyalty to the genre. “Before releasing Aw’ Kodwa in 2013, I was already an artist. I started doing music in 2003. I was rapping in vernac and English, but mostly vernac. In 2009, I decided to do kwaito, but gqom is a recent thing.”
The lyricists in gqom ply a thankless, precarious trade. The best of its wordsmiths, such as gqom rap originator and one-liner king Madanon, suffer death by co-option from super kwaito groups hanging on to a slipping relevance.
Songs are sold for quick cash to beef up material for artists on labels such as Kalawa Jazzmee or DJ Tira’s Afrotainment. In some instances, as was recently the case with Madanon, the gqom artists are brought in to studio sessions.
Flurries of songs are recorded. But only their inflections and lines, and not the artists, appear on the records.
Big Nuz’s For The Fans is littered with this borrowed terminology.
Borrowed here refers to the fact that the genre’s lexicon originates from the colloquial parlance of Durban, but Madanon’s imprints are hard to miss on Big Nuz songs Tsege Tsege and Phaqa.
Oskido and Bhizer’s Rockerfella, in fact, borrows the “Weh mame weh weh” refrain from Bhejane and Thando’s uBaba ka Girl.
Outnumbered by producers from within gqom and surrounded by waning kwaito demigods lurking around the genre, they lose out both in the current European scramble for gqom (which has seen local producer groups such as Rudeboyz become international stars) and in the dangerous climb up the South African music industry.
Asked how much he has earned from Rockerfella, Bhizer says: “Well, the way Oskido works is that he believes that an artist should be credited for their work so they can earn royalties. It was released in October on Universal. The video is on Channel??O and MTV Base. So this year October, I’m going to get some royalties. It’s still my song, he is just using his face to push it.”
Of late, the slow wheels of fortune for Bhizer have seen him tinker with a different iteration of gqom, one with hip-hop infused in its DNA.
From Trigger’s one-room shack studio he cues up Ingakho S’ngalali, a song with gqom’s broken beat and trademark chops, but with trap drum rolls and whistles instead of the usual spakupaku (plastic container) sounds.
Midway through the song, the trap drum roll gives way to an auto-tuned hook in the style of Emtee. It’s a jarring rather than interesting flourish, which Bhizer explains simply.
“Hip-hop is dominant right now and people like gqom more than kwaito. So this is just to draw the attention of hip-hop people.”
He has several songs in this style and is working on a more seamless mix of the two genres.
The idea of gqom trap (so named by Durban hip-hop group Witness The Funk) seems bigger than its actual execution at the moment. As for Bhizer, versatility might not only be his gift but also his curse.