Singing Mandela’s praises

A TEENAGED Grahamstown imbongi and Xhosa rapper is earning widespread public praise and recognition for his rousing tributes to the late Nelson Mandela.

Small in stature but big in heart, Grade 11 pupil Akhona Mafani, 17, is part of a burgeoning movement of praise singers, rappers and poets in the City of Saints who are recording self-penned tracks on an ancient computer in a friend’s backyard shack.

ROUSING TRIBUTE: Teen Grahamstown rapper and praise singer Akhona Mafani records his tribute to Nelson Mandela in friend Lonwabo Gwente’s one roomed shack, which also doubles up as a popular township recording studio Picture: DAVID MACGREGOR

The homemade sounds – recorded and produced in Lonwabo Gwente’s outroom behind his parents’ Vukani home – are fast gaining fans around the province, and can be heard in local taxis, on community radio stations and even Umhlobo Wenene.

Mafani, whose mother Zisiwe does domestic work in Grahamstown, was recently praised by world famous storytellers Gcina Mlophe and Sindiwe Magona at the Puku Story Festival in Fingo Village after he delivered his Mandela tribute to roars of approval from the crowd.

“Praising singing and rapping are very similar as they both use rhyme and poetry to get the message across,” the well-spoken youngster told Saturday Dispatch.

Although American rap has a reputation for promoting the Thug Life, Mafani and his friends’ rhymes have a more positive message.

“Our tracks are conscious and try to reflect the reality of life where we live. We want to give people hope and feel we cannot do this if we spread a negative message.

“I practise with my crew every lunch break at school.”

They attend Nathaniel Nyaluza Secondary.

Mafani and his Fire Sound crew are Sunday regulars at free rap and poetry gigs at a taxi rank and have performed on the Fringe programme of the National Arts Festival.

According to Gwente, who runs his own Shizzo Manizzo record label from his shack, Mafani is one of more than 40 rappers, poets and imbongis he has recorded in six years.

“I have recorded and produced more than 100 tracks of mine and other people’s material,” he said.

Although Gwente earns his daily crust working as a security guard, his passion is rapping and producing.

“We all dream of becoming stars one day.”

The tiny recording studio is also bachelor Gwente’s bedroom and sometimes as many as 10 people cram in – sitting on his double bed and sofa – to record beats.

“One of my artists Nqontsonqa has had tracks from his Ayindim Ndanzani compilation played on Umhlobo Wenene,” he says.

Gwente charges a small fee to produce and record the albums, which are then sold around the township in taxi ranks and by rap crews.

Standing below a battered mike tied to the rafters of Gwente’s shack, Mafani gets roars of approval from other poets when he recites the last few lines of his rousing Poem to Madiba in Xhosa:

“A mark that cannot be removed/ A footprint that cannot be erased/ Rest in Peace Tata!” —