6 March 2011

Entering the Arena: Manqoba - The Winner

Long before the latest Internet gimmick where winning has to be typed accompanied by a hashtag in order to be put in context, a young man from Khayelitsha, Cape Town claimed to be the winner. Firstly, that’s how his stage name Manqoba translates, but it’s not just his word, actions speak a lot louder since he won the Pioneer Unit and Kool Out Lounge organised emcee contest last year. And this was no ordinary competition as the preliminary rounds were organised in many of the Cape Town’s townships and the final, finally in the city and he was the one who walked out of the club victoriously into the studio – not quite directly, but soon after – and recorded an EP under the Pioneer Unit production umbrella. That was the trophy. And the EP is out and it’s called The Winner.

The EP has been out for a while actually and I have been listening to it for a while. So I am not writing based on one listen, but a couple of weeks having it in the rotation with some other recent as well as older releases. It is a very strong introduction. I wonder how old the kid is, but he certainly has a lot of fire in him. Perhaps unfairly, it’s too easy to compare him to many already tad more seasoned artists from the same Spaza genre. Especially when the EP has features by many of them; naming names Driemanskap and Rattex, and the collaboration with three fourths of Driemanskap is one of the highlights of the EP for me. In this track, however, Manqoba stands his ground which is no small achievement next to the older statesmen of Spaza rhymes. The melancholic instrumental sets the mood and the lyricists intertwine their raps effortlessly with natural skill. I remember when I first heard Driemanskap on Battle of Gugulethu Volume 1. where, to me, the stand out track was called Itsho Into. The guys must have been quite young at the time and what they lacked in experience they made up – and then some – with their passionate delivery and hunger. They sounded hungry for all that music could bring and at the same time dying to scream their lyrics for the world to listen. I don’t know if the world did hear the lyrics and that is not the point. Now after years they are at least starting to, but Manqoba has that same hunger in his voice.

On top of the track with Driemanskap, Passop, another song that really catches my attention is the opening track with its haunting background chanting and confident flow over hypnotic sounds. To be honest, this is all around solid EP. I am not going to lie and say I suspect it being on the top of my list in the end of the year, especially when there’s going to be a tough competition it seems, but I never expected him to become my new favourite rapper anyway. At least not yet. That kind of heroic narratives are actually quite boring because brilliance is a result of years of dedication. So as great as the EP is and as hard as the rhymes are, I'd imagine this is not him peaking – yet – it is him showing infinite potential and in the meantime delivering a good package. Production standard is high and the beats are on point – hardly a surprise. Manqoba’s flows are hard hitting and I really like the fact - for some reason - that he’s made a song for his parents. I doubt this is the last we hear of him.

But don’t take my word – have a listen and support proper fair trade African Hip-Hop.

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