/ 27 March 2023

One Album Two Takes: Mass Country AKA

Mass Country
AKA’s last album, Mass Country. Photo: Supplied

The plan was to listen to Mass Country a little later in the year because, as a diehard fan of Kiernan “AKA” Forbes, I was not ready. 

Listening to this final body of work would mean accepting his death and moving on, but when your editor says write, you write — ijob yijob sbali. 

Released on 24 February, two weeks after AKA was murdered in Durban, Mass Country was a letter of farewell to the country he loved and had represented on major stages worldwide.

“I grew up listening to a lot of Jackson Browne and Cat Stevens, and all these weird guys that my dad played me, and it was kind of cathartic for me after my fiancée passed away. Country music is about heartbreak, pickup trucks and stars and stuff like that. 

“So, I wanted to kind of get that feeling in there. But in a South African context, that would mean what? Maskandi; music from the Midlands, Pietermaritzburg,” the rapper told Apple music.

AKA could fuse many South African genres, and sounds from across the world, into his songs but with so much respect. Only some artists respect and deliver samples the way Supa Mega did. We heard how he sampled a house track, Summer Daze by Nick Holder on Energy, a single on his EP Bhovamania, released November 2021. That song was absolute fire.  

The influence of South African music is present in hits such as Jika, where AKA samples Thathisgubhu by Bongo Maffin. Sweet Fire is clearly influenced by Ray Phiri and Stimela’s body of work. In Caiphus Song, he pays homage to Caiphus Semenya by sampling Matswale.  

I was initially taken aback by the order of the album. It felt a bit off but, after a few listens, I understood the story. The intro track, Last Time, captures that maskandi feel so well. After having it on repeat, I found myself wanting to listen to Shwi no Mtekhala or Izingane Zoma right after that. Absolute genius.

He also mentions Riky Rick, rapping, “Remember what Makhado said, just take care of the kids.” AKA takes heed of this message by featuring Nasty C, Blxckie, and Yanga Chief, among other artists who are young in the industry. He had young producers, such as Zadok, Fdeezus, and Tshepo “Teddy” Moloi, work on Mass Country

Ease and Diary (Anxiety) are very heavy songs. On Ease, he recounts some toxic moments in his relationship with his fiancée, Anele Tembe. 

He says, “Everything was good till you put your paws on me.” He also says, “You were sharp with your tongue, you was crystal clear.” Those lines sent chills down my spine.

Tembe fell off the 10th floor of the Pepperclub Hotel in Cape Town in April 2021.

The album also gives us groovy songs such as Lemons (Lemonade), Company, Paradise, and Dangerous, featuring his girlfriend, Nadia Nakai. 

I might get in trouble for not being impressed by Nakai’s bars on Dangerous but that song is super-catchy. I kept singing “pioneer, icon” all weekend long. 

Forbes told Apple music, “There’s no way I wasn’t going to do a song with my girlfriend.” 

He references All Eyes on You, a song by Meek Mill recorded while dating fellow rapper Nicki Minaj. Dangerous captures that vibe so well. I wish this song had a video. 

Mass Country is different to Supa Mega’s other offerings. His ego and flamboyance take a little bit of a backseat on it. It’s still there, but we got much of what was in his heart, and I am not mad at that. 

Sometimes our work or our last moments on Earth are specially curated by powers that are way beyond us.  Asihambi sodwa.

“In Mega we trust, trust, trust, until the finish.” — Lesego Chepape

I don’t think it’s settled in yet that rapper AKA will never make another album, song or music video. Sometimes we take musicians for granted. We don’t value their artistry until they’re no longer alive. 

Listening to Mass Country, I had that kind of moment — realising what a musical gift AKA (real name Kiernan Forbes) had. It’s all over his discography in Mass Country, which dropped just two weeks after his murder in Durban last month.

Initially, I had mixed feelings about the project, mainly because, lyrically, it’s not his best album, but it’s not supposed to be. When Forbes spoke to the publication SlikourOnLife about a month before the album was released, he said it would include South African traditional sounds with pop, kwaito and hip-hop influences. It achieves this very well in songs such as Last Time, Everest and Amapiano.

 The 14-track album features artists such as his girlfriend Nadia Nakai, as well as Khuli Chana, Nasty C, Emtee, Sjava, KDDO, Musa Keys, Gyakie, Yanga Chief and Manana. 

Mass Country samples a few tracks, including South Africa’s unofficial ratchet anthem Sister Bettina by Mgarimbe (real name Nkosinathi Mfeka), and the melody of Brazilian artist Sergio Mendes’s 1986 hit song Mas Que Nada, on the song Amapiano, where AKA cleverly replaces the hook on Mendes’s song with the word “amapiano”.

An obvious favourite for me is Lemons (Lemonade), the first single from Mass Country which reached platinum status. Teaming up with Nsikayesizwe Ngcobo (Nasty C) to give us lines like, “Nice ting with the lips and the curves in my corner, A ten on my lap, Maradona” and the memorable “Zaba Zaba Zaba Zai Zaba Zai Always out the country, I guess I’m a Zai Zai.” Ah, what a gem that track is. The song’s easygoing melody, catchy hook and flow are unmatched.

Dangerous, with Nakai, has this nostalgic teenage love feeling to it, reminding me of Kelly Rowland and Nelly in Dilemma. I wasn’t too keen on the song initially, but after listening to it a few times, it grew on me. 

It would be remiss of me to not mention AKA’s vulnerability on the song Diary (Anxiety), where he talks about being left out of his fiancée Anele Tembe’s funeral programme, where he’d planned to speak. The song sounds so bittersweet now knowing both are dead. 

I find myself gravitating towards his older albums, such as Levels and Touch My Blood, rather than to Mass Country. There’s no doubt the project is beautifully crafted, with a track list that has a diverse sound, so you’ll probably find one you like. But it doesn’t compare to his previous body of work, which had quirky rhymes, clever punchlines and catchy hooks. Nevertheless, Mass Country is a strong victory lap to a race well run. — Bongeka Gumede