Q&A With Esinako Ndabeni

Co-author of  Born to Kwaito

by Ezekiel Kekana

Esinako Ndabeni was born in 1997 in Mthatha, Eastern Cape. She founded a blog called ‘Don’t Call Me Kaffir.” Her love for Kwaito music saw her and Sihle Mthembu co-writing a book called Born to Kwaito in 2018. In this exclusive interview with EW Blog editor, Ezekiel Kekana, Esinako opens about her love for Kwaito music, her favourite Kwaito album of all-time and why women should be allowed to live their lives without being policed by society.

Question: Take us through the first time you heard Kwaito music, what went through your head?

Esinako Ndabeni_resized

Answer:

 

I can’t know. I was young. It’s one of those things I was just born into as someone who was born in 1997.  I remember it as one of the lighter parts of my childhood; doing iguqa ngamadolo to Mzekezeke, the fun conspiracies about who Mzekezeke is… When I listened to it again in my young adulthood, I was transported to that time. And I loved the bass. I do not enjoy house music in its original form or its other experimentations. Kwaito is that beautiful bridge. It’s slower. 

Question: With all different music genres in the country, what specifically made you fall in love with Kwaito?

Answer:

 

I love music in all its forms. Just two days ago, I was getting down to the Lusanda Gospel Choir. The week before, Shwi no Mtekhala. I think, as a writer, I am drawn to writing and thinking about certain South African music forms more deeply because, well, I am South African. So I gravitate towards those music corners that aren’t as explored as I would like them to be. Kwaito was incredibly symbolic for me as a post-apartheid sound and felt like a great starting point. The unbridled creativity of just fusing different types of music and expressions together to create something that is that fresh. To make a soulful kind of electronic beat… That’s cool to me. Plus, the bass.

Question: You co-authored your debut book, Born to Kwaito, what inspired you and Sihle Mthembu to finally put a book together about Kwaito?

Answer:

 

Both Sihle and I shared a love for Kwaito music and we just thought it would be a cool idea to have a book that documents our relationship with kwaito and reflects on the genre’s importance.

Question: In the book, you mention how former President Thabo Mbeki referred to Kwaito as a ‘distraction from real issues’, how would you describe Kwaito?

Answer:

 

Truly, I wouldn’t. I have no idea how to describe kwaito music. Because it’s also not just music, right? It’s a subculture. And it means different things to different people now. The South African Music Awards have a “Best Kwaito/Gqom/Amapiano” category now. It seems rather elusive to me now. When I try to explain it to people from foreign countries who have never heard of it, the words that I use a lot are “bubblegum, house music, slower BPM”, “bass”, “township”, “post-apartheid sound”

Question: A lot of Kwaito artists were/are always at the wrong side of the law, either accused of violence against women and rape, do you think that reinforces the idea that Kwaito is music for amavuilpop?

Answer:

 

A lot of kwaito artists aren’t, though. I think this question renders a lot of women who made and participated in kwaito invisible. Violent men exist in every part of society; there are just certain people who are read as more violent than others because of what they represent. The idea that dressing and expressing yourself in a certain way, representative or reminiscent of a certain place, makes you more subject to scrutiny and labeling is part of a long legacy of the othering of black men.

Question: Let’s talk about women in Kwaito, do you think the likes of Lebo Mathosa, Brenda Fassie and Thembi Seete changed how society viewed the genre?

Answer:

 

Women in kwaito, particularly Lebo Mathosa and Thembi Seete were right there in the advent of kwaito music. They did not arrive one day to change perceptions. They did not sanitise the genre. And they too faced criticisms of their own.

Question: One of the most contentious and never-ending debates is whether Kwaito is dead or not. Do you think Kwaito, as a music genre, will ever die?

Answer:

 

We could be the people who kill the debate by not participating in it! I think there are more interesting questions to be asked: what’s the infrastructure that makes it difficult for so many South African subcultures and their originators and creators to thrive for a long time? What do these different short cycles in South African popular music tell us? Are we doing enough to preserve black cultural legacies? To honour the people who participate in them? Are artists well equipped financially to grow in sound and genre? .

Question: Which is your favourite Kwaito album of all-time?

Answer:

 

“Halloween” by TKZee. A very obvious answer but I just never get tired of it. It’s one of those albums that are lovely beyond the time within which they were made. It’s nostalgic but it’s also right here. Timeless.

Question: If you had to invite five Kwaito stars to perform at your birthday party, who would that be and why them?

Answer:

 

Mshoza, Boom Shaka, TKZee, Joe Nina to perform Ding Dong and Ding Dong alone, and Thebe.

Question: Should your readers expect a second book from you soon?

Answer:

Haha. No. 

Question:

What message do you have for people who seem to have a problem with how the likes of Zodwa WaBantu break societal normalities?

Answer:

 

I think as long as someone is not doing something that harms other people, we do not have the right to prescribe to them how they should be. In “Born to Kwaito”, I spend some time discussing that I believe that women are free to express themselves how they please with their bodies. In fact, that’s often a kind of resistance.

Question:

Which book are you currently reading?

Answer:

 

“Racism as Zoological Witchcraft: A Guide to Getting Out” by Aph Ko. I am fascinated with the idea of black veganism right now. Aph Ko writes about understanding that white supremacy has placed any being who is not a white man lower than him on the hierarchy of being. She encourages us to think about animal commodification (therefore violence) and consumption as part of the white supremacist capitalist system that oppresses black people (and often animalises us too).

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More