On the surface, there hasn’t been a change. But underneath, nothing has been the same since the Namibian hip-hop trio released their superb EP Remember The Future in 2013, through the Capetonian indie record label Rudeworld Records. While most hip-hop music in the 21st century doesn’t make that much of an effort on lyrics, Black Vulcanite’s music is packed with layer upon layer of eloquently dished out food for thought. “We felt like there was a lack of a real voice for urban youth in Namibia,” says one third of the crew Okin about the crew’s early days. “But the music started going further than Namibia. And when we came to South Africa and started doing shows, we saw just how much [it had travelled], from the support we were getting.”
Three years later, Black Vulcanite return with a new full-length album titled Black Colonialists. Despite the fact that the underground classic Remember The Future produced no radio hit single, there hasn’t been a change of scope. The idea is still to make music that makes sense to the trio which consists of rappers Mark Mushiva, Ali That Dude and the poet Okin. The music on Black Colonialists, just like on Remember the Future, is still analog, reminiscent of 90s hip-hop, with warm basslines and soul samples. The album’s soundscape is monolithic – Black Vulcanite aren’t trying to be everything at once. “You’ll never hear none of that trap shit from us,” Ali That Dude said at a meet-and-greet with the crew in Cape Town last year.
I ask the crew via email about their bravery to make music that isn’t favoured by mainstream media and the general public at large, also given the fact that kwaito in Namibia is still the youth genre of choice. “I don’t even think it’s artists being brave,” says Okin in his signature baritone via a voice note. “A lot of artists right now are going with whatever is popular. We’ve never been those types of people. We just make the music we want to hear, and convey the message we feel is not being conveyed. We are just being who we are, telling the stories we know, we need these stories to be told.”
The stories on Black Colonialists vary; there are some light-hearted songs (Friends and More), love songs (Jupiter’s Love, Beautiful Melancholia), self-introspection songs (High School Cool, Clan of the Dragon Fist, Do It Again featuring Cape Town rapper Youngsta) and some about the crew (Smooth as a Mutha, Black Future Super Computers) and the music industry. The intro, a poem by Mark Mushiva, sets the tone for the highly political content the album is replete with. He starts by acknowledging that black people need to fix themselves from the plights brought upon them by racism: “Who we are is a forest-worth of unwritten books/ A people slouch, upright, just now again finding form/ Stretching fields, human bamboo stalks, losing sense of self in a maze I call the diaspora.” But Black Colonialists is different to typical conscious hip-hop albums in that it somehow offers a solution, or rather an optimistic outlook to the human condition. Mushiva, towards the end of the poem, quickly suggests black people use the displacements to their advantage: “Losing sense of self, but we chose to see this as an opportunity, we are the black colonialist, you see.”
Further explaining the meaning of Black Colonialists, Mushiva says to me, “The title was to set the theme for the album which pronounces a massive economic occupation of our artistic, economic, cultural, futuristic [and] historic spaces which have been traditionally overtly white.” He adds that the album salutes all people of colour who are taking over these spaces.
He continues, “And we also wanted to upend the dialect of a coloniser and shed this cloak of victimhood that we’re always draped in, and saying we are viewing all the tragedies that happened – the transatlantic slave trade, Haiti, Jamaica, Portugal, Spain – not as tragedies but as unique opportunities for the diaspora and African people to go out and influence the greater parts of the world. In a way, colonise them.”
The trio is walking the talk, as they have amassed fans from all around the globe, through the Internet, a tool they use to the fullest, be it for distributing their music or meeting like-minded artists. The Swiss producer Maloon Da Boom, who they met online and worked with on Remember The Future, produces most of Black Colonialists, among other producers such as Namibia’s Becoming Phil and South African producers such as Kita Keetz and Johnny Filter.
The group consists of well-read individuals, who have mastered their crafts well. Mark Mushiva and Ali That Dude are skilled emcees, who switch flows and accents effortlessly. Ali also doubles as a vocalist, crooning some of the hooks. Okin’s poetry is a necessary addition, setting the crew apart from your average rap crew. His poems usually come towards the end of the songs, offering some form of commentary that’s not bound by the confines of rapping, thus not limiting his expression.
It’s this combination of skills and points of references that make sure when Black Vulcanite explores issues such as colourism (Playing with Dolls), racism (Reparations), sexism (Waiting for God), the stereotyping of Africa (Rapping About Africa – a nod to Binyavanga Wainaina’s How To Write About Africa), they don’t do it in a tired manner.
The message on Black Colonialists is clear – as a black person, the odds are against you, but while addressing those plights, use them to your advantage.
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