This interview appears in issue 20 of our monthly ezine available for purchase here.
As Xhosa rap has its moment, Fundi Ntshwanti’s podcast What Happened to Spaza? uncovers the history of the sub-genre that started it all.
In the mid-2000s, spaza gave Cape Town hip-hop a distinct identity. Rappers such as Rattex, DAT, Driemanskap, Kanyi Mavi and Backyard Crew were key players in the spaza scene, characterised by socially conscious Xhosa raps, boom-bap beats and a reverence for hip-hop as an artform and culture.
Spaza got coverage on platforms like HYPE, community and campus radio stations and, occasionally, mainstream platforms, but it never fully went national the way, say, motswako did.
Spaza’s time in the spotlight in Cape Town came to an end towards the late 2000s, even though the music is still being produced today. Spaza rappers, producers and all members of the ecosystem made sacrifices, and often the rewards were more cultural than financial.
Fundi Ntshwanti, who has managed spaza artists and got to experience and contribute to the scene in real-time, is also a radio host and event MC, among other hustles.
Her latest venture, a podcast that uncovers the story of spaza, is steadily gaining popularity. What Happened to Spaza? is a series of in-depth interviews between Fundi and spaza legends and key players. Ndlulamthi, DAT, LadySlice and Emage are among those she has had sit-downs with.
What Happened to Spaza? is an informative podcast that documents a sub-genre of South African hip-hop that influenced one of the most popular sub-genres right now.
In the interview below, which has been edited for length and clarity, Fundi shares her experience of creating a podcast that seems to be resonating with fans.
Why did you choose the name ‘What Happened to Spaza?’?
At events I attended with my partner Buzwe Ekapa from Khaltsha TV, people would recognise me from the spaza era, when spaza was prominent. I used to manage artists as well, so people would ask: “Wena, what happened to Phoenix?”, “What happened to so and so?”, “What happened to your company?” … “What happened to spaza?” And I was like, “Guys, I’m doing a hip-hop show on radio, and I still have spaza cats submitting, so maybe we should have this conversation with spaza artists.” There was a lot of this “Spaza is dead” talk going around. Even artists who rapped in IsiXhosa were distancing themselves from it. So, Buzwe and I had the conversation, “Is it dead?” So, we were like, maybe we should do a podcast and chat to the people who were there during the spaza days and pose the question to them: “Is Spaza dead?” Let’s ask them what happened to spaza.
Do you consider the new-age Xhosa rap from Cape Town an extension of spaza? Will you be featuring them on the podcast?
What I know and understand is that spaza is a sub-genre of hip-hop, so we cannot say “people are not doing spaza, so we’re not going to talk to these people”, because, at the end of the day, we are talking hip-hop here. So, yes, we are going to do an extension of What Happened to Spaza? with the new artists. And I feel that the wave they are bringing and the way they are using the internet, which is working wonders for them, is something that the elders did not have the advantage of. They are rich in terms of numbers and it’s making spaza evolve because now there’re other people from other places knowing about these artists because of the internet. I would love to chat to them and get their perspective and, of course, all of this is for the love of hip-hop.
One of spaza’s most progressive rappers, Kideo, can be credited as the bridge between spaza and the new wave. Interestingly enough, people were not so warm towards what he was doing at some point.
Look, Kideo is brilliant. Brilliant. And it’s so unfortunate that abantu only recognise the brilliance of Kideo as an after-thought. He is so brilliant; he will start something, and no one will understand until everyone else follows. Kideo has been doing trap since the time of strictly spaza. And I’ve been so fortunate to have worked closely with him and I know his thoughts; it’s so amazing to watch Kideo write and come up with ideas. It’s like you’re watching a robot. And he didn’t just influence the youngins; the likes of Ndlulamthi, with whom I had a chat in season 1, have said they were inspired by Kideo.
In one of your episodes, someone you interviewed raised a very important point; they asked why this generation and the OGs don’t collaborate. Do you feel like they are not working together enough?
Definitely, they are not. I have had chats with both of them – the young ones and the old, both on the radio side and the podcast side. There’s a bit of negativity from the OGs when it comes to the young ones. The OGs feel like there’s no message; they [the new generation] rap about alcohol, about girls. And you get the same feel with the youngins when I chat to them. They are trying to out-do the OGs. They want to show that they can do better than what the OGs have done. Yes, they respect that there’re OGs, but they feel now is their era. So, I don’t know if that comes from the fact that the youngins feel like they have not been received well by the OGs. But there’s definitely a gap. But I was actually very happy to see Phzo reaching out to Holy Alpha – he’s trying to do a track with her.
An artist with whom you have worked closely – Phoenix aka SPAZAGOD BACKYARD – is one OG who has always worked with young producers, like Yung Ozi, and made great music.
He evolves because he’s always worked with the youngins. He’s always worked with Empire. Empire is young; he started young in the spaza scene, and he’s worked with OGs as well, but also with his own age group, which has helped Empire to stay relevant.
So, Phoenix would also get that experience from Empire because Empire involves him, and Empire’s like “I’m on this tip now”, then Phoenix gets on that tip, and it has really helped him. And you are right, he’s one of the artists who’s never had issues with working with the youngins.
The podcast seems to have been received well. How do you feel about the response?
The first time I realised we were onto something was two or three months ago when we went to an event we were invited to. It was youngins – like Dee Koala – performing there. And the youngins were like, “Oh my god, that podcast!” and I was like, “Oh, okay,” because I didn’t realise they were listening. I’d had this long, deep conversation with Bravo and he told me, “You don’t understand how much that podcast has taught me, and it’s put a lot of things in perspective that I was wondering about.”
So, it was very heart-warming to find out that this is how they are feeling about the podcast. They are appreciative of the information and the stories, because the important thing is that we want to get the OGs to tell their stories.
I got to learn that people were really worried about the beef between Madness and Slash Mind, and the whole Naked Mind thing. And, for them [Naked Mind] to unpack it like that, people are now like, “Oh, okay, so this is what happened.” Now, they are able to understand that Naked Mind will never be the four guys again. They now have their answers. So, the podcast’s been received very well, the reviews are amazing. We take all of the reviews – good and bad. They help us fix whatever we need to fix. People are even requesting artists, and we are like, “Look guys, everyone you’re thinking of, trust me, we’ve approached.” We are getting declines from some artists.
Yeah. Driemanskap declined because they felt they didn’t want to talk about their past. They don’t want to talk about what happened between them and their one member who we all know is no longer with them. They also said they don’t have a rosy past within spaza. And I was like, “But you were just celebrating 20 years of its existence, so you want people to hear you out when you say you’ve been doing this for 20 years, but you don’t want to tell the story behind those 20 years.” And I don’t think anyone in the spaza movement had a rosy journey, so I didn’t understand that.
They don’t like to speak out much.
I said, “It’s like you want people to think that things are okay, and you don’t want people to see the reality of your journey or your story. It’s okay to say, ‘We were on a high and we failed, but we’re right back on track now.’ People must know you’re not robots.” Things happened, just like they happen to anyone else, but I don’t know what the story is behind them not wanting to talk. And they even said they want to be part of the podcast, because they said: “We’ve been watching your podcast and, wow, we like the whole thing, but can you change the questioning for us? Can it not be, ‘What happened?’” And, I was like, “No, I’m not going to change the content for you guys. If you don’t want to talk, it’s okay, I’ll respect that, but you need to respect my thing as well.”