September 22, 2006

the kwaito story: rude boy paul interviewed by aryan kaganof

Filed under: 2003 - sharp sharp! (the kwaito story) — ABRAXAS @ 11:16 am

Wednesday 12 February 2003


rude boy paul: I’m Paul Mnisi a.k.a. The Rude Boy, that’s sort of my stage name, my radio name. I started in the industry round about 1995 when I worked for a community radio station called The Voice of Soweto which broadcast to the masses of Soweto, the South Western Township of Johannesburg. I worked there for about a year and for me that was a stepping stone because I had the opportunity to learn everything within the radio field from being a field reporter to being anewsreader and ultimately landing a gig as a dj. In 1997 I joined Y FM at its inception from day one and that was a great opportunity for me. It was a young station going on air for the very first time. I was young, I was 19 years old at that point so what better opportunity? And I’ve done a couple of tv shows since then but at the end of the day radio will always stand as my first love. That’s where I give all of me.

aryan kaganof: Were you a colleague of Penny’s at Voice of Soweto?

rude boy paul: Penny Lebyane yes, in fact there were a lot of us that came from that school so to speak; the likes of Bond Nduli who is with us at Y today, music managers who have gone on to work for other SABC radio stations, so for a lot of us that was a great stepping stone.

aryan kaganof: There is talk today in the city and indeed, the entire country of the Y Generation.

rude boy paul: Yes, the Y generation does exist, and part of that I’m glad to say, has been formed by Y FM and the personalities upfront, on the frontline of the battle. It’s about lingo, it’s about lifestyle, it’s about dress sense, it’s about being hip, being happening and we like to educate young people on how to achieve their dreams, get up in the corporate world if that’s where you want to go, so that’s what the Y generation is all about and it’s a pity it only exists in the Gauteng Province of South Africa because we’re only a regional radio station. We would like to see a scenario where the broadcast authority gives us a larger footprint so that we can get to all four corners of South Africa. And once that happens we will have done our bit.

aryan kaganof: What does get to all four corners is the magazine, Y mag.

rude boy paul: Y Mag kicked in a year after the radio station kicked in. It was devised to have a sister brother relationship with Y FM. Obviously being nationwide and it hits other countries such as Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe as well, so that was devised to give other regions an idea of what we’re trying to do, this youth revolution that is different because we’re not throwing sticks and stones and petrol bombs anymore, it’s about uplifting ourselves as young people. Y Mag is now wholly owned by a company called Yired (Pty) Ltd. which owns Y FMwhich runs Y Mag, so everything is internalised, the Y shop as well would form under the Yired Group. I jumped aboard in 2002 as editor of Y Mag and I’ve just been having fun ever since.

aryan kaganof: Is it a black owned company?

rude boy paul: Yes, a large percentage of the company with the rules and regulations in South Africa about black empowerment is basically sort of more or less a larger percentage of black people who sit up there. We do have one or two you know a couple of white people who sit in there but I mean generally it’s about black empowerment.

aryan kaganof: So Y is not like traditional magazines such as Bona and Pace which are directed at a black audience but owned by white companies?

rude boy paul: Yes Y is distinguished from these magazines, I mean we won an award just towards the end of 2002, Best Consumer magazine in the country and Best Youth Publication and for us coming in under Yired which is a company that’s basically unknown within the media circles or publication circles, for us it was wow! What have we done? But I think at the end of the day we can attribute those two awards to the content because we speak directly to the youth in a language that they can understand and we serve their interests very well.


aryan kaganof: I notice that in the magazine you never use “South Africa” but always “mzansi”.

rude boy paul: Mzansi is actually a Xhosa word, one of our eleven official languages that we have in this country, when you say mZansiAfrica in Xhosa you say Southern Africa, so umzansi means down south. So we like to use that term because again it’s become some sort of a slang term that is used within the townships in and around Gauteng. So it makes more sense to say mzansi than say South Africa. Young people can identify with that. So it’s little phrases like that I think that make YFM and YMag what they are because young people can identify and say when I talk to my friends and I refer to our country I say mzansi.

aryan kaganof: So there’s no relationship between that word and Azania?

rude boy paul: Not really. That’s just a straight cut Xhosa word that means Southern Africa. But in the townships it’s always referred to as a slang term.


aryan kaganof: Now what is kwaito?

rude boy paul: Kwaito is a platform that serves to drive thoughts, ideas, gives kids from the township a voice in which to speak on what their concerns are, social ills happening around them, the fact that they can’t find jobs out there, HIV and AIDS awareness as well. It really kicked in round about 1995 when the likes of Oscar, Arthur, M’du, who are the main kwaito producers in this country, came about and there were all these sorts of messages around young people on what their aspirations are really. It has since taken off and filtered through to overseas, I can mention a few groups like Bongo Maffin, who are great, who have spent the better part of last year touring overseas. In fact I bumped into them in the Netherlands at the Lowlands Festival and I didn’t even know they were there, I was like, what you guys doing here? They were like, we’re here to perform! So kwaito is a voice of the youth and really it serves to voice out their concerns about what’s happening around them. Obviously being a form of music that has taken the country by storm.

aryan kaganof: Where does the name kwaito actually come from?

rude boy paul: If I think back as far as I can, not that I’m too old, but back in the Sophiatown days where a lot of musicians and sense of dress code and the cars they used to drive was influenced by this American culture. You had certain gangs within the Alexandra township they referred to themselves as the Harlems and whatever, there was one particular gang or segment of people which was referred to as Amakwaito. They loved to have a good time, they would mash up anyone on the street at any point in time so they were rough you know they were pretty much well respected within the community and I think that’s where these guys derived that name from because really kwaito is not refined in any way. It’s rough it’s rugged but at the end of the day it’s mission is to get that message across to the masses and especially to the young people.

aryan kaganof: It seems obvious to me that kwaito first emerged in the townships around Joburg and Pretoria and then spread to other townships in the country.

rude boy paul: True enough. It had to have started within the realm of Gauteng as a province within South Africa which would be Pretoria, it would be Johannesburg, and maybe just a little bit further afield, because a lot of these producers, though coming from other areas, they were able to connect within Johannesburg, within Gauteng. This was the connecting point because this is where all the record companies are and this is where they were trying to hustel and get this music through to the people. At first I think they had a difficult time because doors were being shut right in front of their faces and they had to ultimately go to the taxi ranks with their cars and sell their product out of the boots of their cars. So as you can see it started with a very humble beginning but I think at the moment it is a force to be reckoned with and a larger part of the revenue that the music industry locally in South Africa generates can be attributed to kwaito.

aryan kaganof: What is the relationship between kwaito and on the left hand house, and on the right hand, hip hop?

rude boy paul: In the South African context kwaito is very big and obviously kwaito has been somehow derived from the house music element because back in the day in your early nineties that’s what we were listening to. And a lot of producers began to sample the house music that was coming through, maybe from the UK, maybe from the States from Chicago where house music was big. But what they did is they began to slow it down just a little bit because it was too fast in terms of tempo and pitch for South African audiences and that’s how they started putting across the element of our lingo of our township talk to be able to get that message through. As far as hip hop is concerned in this country I think it’s still a genre that is not really well grounded at the moment, we’re still trying to find that formula that will kick start it and I think we’re on our way there because the formula really is to rap in our own languages. You know we’ve got eleven official languages so we can play around a lot. You find a lot of mc’s or rappers coming in here and they want to twang like DMX does or they want to rap like Jay Z does and they want to talk with a bit of a twang in their voices and for us really we see it in a context that you can’t do it better than the Americans so maybe try and get inspired but do it in Zulu, you know what I mean? And so far I think we’re well on our way there because they understand this sense that people have got to identify at grassroots level with the message they’re trying to bring across. If you’re twanging and trying to be an American no one will give a fuck about you.


aryan kaganof: Talk about the nineties and Yeoville please.

rude boy paul: Yeoville I think for many years stood as a very rich night life circle within Johannesburg, obviously that would stem from your Hillbrow area, it soon was run down with crime and people starting moving, there was an exodus of people moving from that end to Yeoville. There were great clubs such as Picadilly’s, and Tandoor to name but a few. Tandoor was well respected for their ragga sessions which they hosted every Thursday night. Any international act coming to South Africa you had to take them through to Tandoor and most of them came out of there sort of amazed. But within the streets of Yeoville that’s where you see the true street culture and diversity of South African youths about their business, whether it’s business, whether it’s play, whatever. They are there, they’re hustling, they trying to do something. It’s a pity at the moment a couple of the hot clubs closed down in the Yeoville area but I’m sure with the whole rejuvenation of Johannesburg City and what the government is doing putting in money to rejuvenate it from your Newtown Precinct which is a cultural centre within the City, where there are theatres, there are dance factories, where there are venues for huge live gigs, I’m sure that rejuvenation will move on and at the end filter into Yeoville and rejuvenate that whole street culture again. If you looked at Yeoville ten years ago just the diversity in terms of racial circles, their were white people and black people living in Yeoville and then there was an influx of black people you know getting accomodatio, renting flats, and somehow I have a feeling that white people began to feel a bit insecure about petty little things like the crime rate and whatever and they started moving out. That’s why when you look at Yeoville at the moment it’s not as diverse as it used to be. And I think that is part of what killed that rich street culture within Yeoville because back then you would see black kids skateboarding with white kids on the streets you know, that’s where I saw my first couple of interracial relationships going on where a black man and a white woman were just strolling down the street holding hands and for me it was like, wow where am I, is this South Africa? But slowly that’s changed because a large number of white people have sort of moved out and that’s why Yeoville sort of lost its touch.


aryan kaganof: So how come thousands of white kids identify with Mandoza’s Nkalakatha but they don’t want to live around black people?

rude boy paul: You see that’s what beats me and it’s great that you mention Mandoza because he’s been one kwaito artist who’s managed to break ground in terms of having a mass appeal with white people and black people as well. We see him getting a lot of airplay on white radio stations in this country he is featured on white tv shows in this country and really they love him to bits. What I can’t stand or understand is the fact that how can we not you know, being black people and white people, get together in one place and have a good time, listen to a bit of Mandoza, little to a bit of Springbok Nude Girls. There’s one element though that I’ve seen in the past two years, it’s a festival called Oppikoppi that takes place in Pretoria every year. It was initially a white festival but we’ve been seeing a bit of diversity lately and last year you sw the likes of Mandoza, and Zola performing there, amongst groups like Just Ginger, rock groups you know. Just being there within the grounds and seeing the diversity of black and white people together for me was great and we need to stage more and more of such festivals in this country.


aryan kaganof: Let’s get back to radio. Is there a parallel to be drawn between what Y FM does now and what Radio Freedom was doing back in the day?

rude boy paul: Radio Freedom was the underground station of the ANC, it used to broadcast into the country from transmitters in Tanzania and Zambia and of course listening to it was not legal. Its main purpose was to broadcast information through to the masses of South Africa on the struggle, on projects which were being undertaken by the liberation movement and basically to mobilise young people at that time to come in and be part of the struggle and I think it helped a great deal because a lot of people would listen to it underground but you knew that at a certain point in time you’re there with your comrades an you’re listening to certain messages that were filtering through and I think Y FM is similar in that context but then it’s a different fight that we are fighting now. It’s ironic because before Y moved into this glamorous mall in Rosebank our studios were in a place called Bertrams where the Radio Freedom institute used to operate from. Somehow technical people that we used to work with were fully involved with the running of Radio Freedom so for us as deejays it gave us some political mindset of saying you know what we’re here and we’re not these glamorous deejays but we need to make a seerious contribution out there for the development of the country and the youth. I mean we would sit there for day listening to old tapes of radio Freedom when they used to broadcast underground and it was amazing we used to hear the freedom songs, we used to hear the chants and the slogans, speeches by some of the greatest politicans today. So for me personally this gave me a sense of listen we’ve got to take on the struggle now as young people. It’s a different struggle but we’ve got to take it to another level.

aryan kaganof: Let’s get back to the print media. Traditionally always the role allocated to black people has been music culture and sport. So how does Y Mag broaden the spectrum of what black people allow themselves to become good at?

rude boy paul: As much as there is a sister brother relationship with Y FM, Y Mag is aabout developing young people, not only within the music and the arts field and sports as you’ve mentioned but we’re trying to broaden that whole corporate scenario. For young people to say you know what there is a corporate industry out there and we can make our way in there. Because at the moment if you look at black people in this country , pollitically yes we might have attained that liberation and the power, but economically really we’re not running corporate industry. Thewre are only a chosen few like your Cyril Ramaphosa’s and your Tokyo Sexwale’s who were both part of the ANC and have diverted to business, having shares within the gold industry and whatever. But that’s only really just a tiny segment I think economically we need to still make inroads and attain that sort of economic empowerment and I think we are well on our way in doing so. As far as Y Mag is concerned I think those are the type of messages that we need to bring across.

aryan kaganof: Let’s go back to the early days of the magazine when it used to be edited by Ithumeleng Mahabane and S’busiso Nxumalo, it seemed in that year that it was more political, more overtly political and somehow when S’bu left writing and Thumi moved to the Financial Mail Y Mag became more fashion orientated and less political.

rude boy paul: Yes that’s correct. S”busiso Nxumalo, as far as I know him, is a really sort of politically orientated being, so quite naturally there was a more poltiical stance. He’s of a generation slightly older than I am so 1976, and I was born in 1977, so 1976 he was there and well aware of what was going on and I think from that end from his experiences he still had a lot to let out, a lot to question through his experiences at the time. Ithumeleng as well age group wise they were more or less on the same level, so that was their drive, it was a pollitical drive, when they jumped ship Y Mag turned around and it was this whole fashion Elle magazine thing, and as soon as I came in we tried to balance things out in saying ok you know young people like to look good and feel good and have the trendiest clothing but let’s not forget the messages, so at the moment we’re still just trying to strike the right balance in saying yes we still have political problems in this country, we still have to obtain economic empowerment but then again you can look nice.

aryan kaganof: Who are the kwaito writers, the kwaito novelists, who are the people who are going to deliver the great literature of this period?

rude boy paul: There’s one gentleman that springs to my head at the moment he’s a journalist and his name is Bongani Madondo. He’s a youth activist, he provides certain workshops around the Windybrow Theatre in Hillbrow. I think he’s been very instrumental as a scribe in trying to uplift kwaito in a sense. He’s an elder but he’s able to come down to our level and so you know here’s a musical genre that is spreading positive messages to the youth and somehow it’s helping in developing the youth. The likes of Themba ka Maathe as well is contributing although he’s more diverse you know.

3 Responses to “the kwaito story: rude boy paul interviewed by aryan kaganof”

  1. Mrs P.M.Mnisi Says:

    Rha I love Rudeboy. Just didn’t know he was so clever yall

  2. Y Magazine « Africa is a Country Says:

    […] Before Y Magazine existed there was no print magazine catering to young people in South Africa.  Y Magazine was founded in 1998 as part of the Johannesburg-based YFM radio station’s brand. The idea was a “club magazine” and an attempt by the publishers of a magazine aimed at white young people, Student Life, to capture the black market. Basically an infomercial for the new radio station which became synonymous with kwaito, the soundtrack to new South African black youth culture. But the inaugural editors–S’busiso ‘The General’ Nxumalo and Itumeleng Mahabane–had other ideas (as the short film above, shot by Aryan Kaganoff, shows). Instead, they turned the magazine into a space for critical ideas and innovative writing, hired great writers like Nicole Turner (see her essay in the Chimurenga Library about her experiences with Y) and thought about their place in the new South Africa. Nxumalo and Mahabane eventually left and the magazine had at least eight or nine editors since then (a mixture of journalsts and music DJs). The writing and content got worse (take this crit by one of its former contributors, for example), it resembled an infomercial after a while and aped their industry-driven North American counterparts, Vibe Magazine and XXL. […]

  3. Ntyatyi Says:

    Thank you PAul and aryan. Very intelligent conversation.