Kwaito Disses: Part I

In the early 90s the late Great Thula Kekana aka Senyaka wrote a song entitled AmaGents, taking a swipe at Brenda Fassie and Yvonne Chaka-Chaka. This song blew up towards the end of the bubblegum era and surreptitiously ushered in a new genre of music, which was later known as kwaito.

Ama-Gents was dissing the late Brenda Fassie and Yvonne Chaka-Chaka for not liking AmaGents, a popular term used back in the day to define cool guys; guys with style, and likers of things. The song was not throwing any heavy punches at the Queens, but was merely made up of wordplay over an energetic bassline. This called for a response; nobody disses MaBrrr and gets away with it. She penned a song with the same title “Ama-Gents” and told Senyaka where to get off in such a melodic manner that the song got the whole nation singing along. Anything Brenda Fassie touched became a national anthem, so dissing her was similar to taking your music career to an early grave.

Yvonne Chaka-Chaka was too much of a lady to respond, and this move kept her reverence intact. It would have been awkward had she tried though, come to think of it, the only song that ever did that sounded kwaito-like was Umqombothi. A massive hit that catapulted her into one of the greatest artists this continent has ever produced. She’s not called Mama Africa for nothing; Mama Miriam Makeba passed the baton on to her.

Senyaka’s and Brenda Fassie’s songs, though diss songs, did not have animosity unlike the usual diss songs in the rap game where every second line is an insult, theirs was a friendly gesture between two established artists. They were on good terms until their last days.

When kwaito finally took over, there were a whole load of artists from different parts of Gauteng cooking up a beat, writing lyrics, and starting labels. Where there’s competition beefs are imminent, and they came in all shapes and sizes. There were beefs between stables, between artists, and between former group members.

TKZee vs Mdu Masilela

This is probably the most notably beef in the history of kwaito music. Tokollo and Kabelo were part of a kwaito group known as Mashamplani which was founded by Mdu Masilela. Their debut album, Hey Kop, became one of the greatest kwaito albums of all time and it also happened to be the last album they worked on as a group before “creative conflicts” emerged. Business dealings went wrong, and the original band unceremonious split. The song Masimbela is a merge of a Zulu word masimba – which means shit – and Mdu’s surname Masilela. The real story of what really happened remains an urban legend but when you listen closely to the lyrics of the song you will learn that they are venting at Mdu Masilela, who was the group founder, for not giving them their dues.

TKZee’s debut album did not take off but Phalafala, which features this diss song, brought them out of obscurity and solidified their place in the kwaito space. Mdu responded in a song he recorded with newly assembled Mashamplani outfit. The song was called Lost and Found and it he mourns the loss of his toothless dog named Stokoloko. It’s not hard to realise that Stokoloko is derived from the name Tokollo.

BOP vs Trompies

Some beefs are born out of creative conflicts, as in the case of BOP (Brothers of Peace) and Trompies. These two groups didn’t know each other from a bar of soap but had heard of each other’s works through the grapevine. BOP came up with a song entitled “Traffic Cop” and Trompies came up with a song entitled “Sigiya Ngengoma”. Both these were their debut singles so in essence they were fighting for space in this new house called Kwaito. The songs had a similar bassline, one produced by Oscar Mdlongwa aka Oskido from BOP and the other was produced by Mandla Spikiri.

Their beef got so bad that it escalated to physical confrontations to an extent that they came close to exchanging blows a few times at different shows. An angel from above must have whispered some sense into both group leaders, when they eventually decided to stop fighting and join hands. This union gave birth to Kalawa-Jazzmee, one of the greatest kwaito stables to ever exist, and to this day continue to give us smash hits. I guess not all beefs result in wars and multiple body bags, something can come out of it if people want the same thing.

BOP – King of Kwaito

Once upon a time, there was a brother named Arthur Mafokate, a dancer, a model, and a kwaito artist. He had a smash hit, a monster of a song in 1994, when the new South Africa was still an infant. On this song called Kaffir he laments a racial slur, which is a derogatory name for black people. The album which also came out the same year with the same title was one of the biggest kwaito records. It did not only have the nation singing, but it also served as a struggle song that appealed to young people. Struggle songs were big in the Bubblegum era and somehow disappeared along with the genre. He stayed on top of music charts for weeks and the album was selling like hot cakes. He made one mistake, as most artists of the most often do, by crowning himself the king of kwaito.

Blowing your horn is not a problem, in fact it is encouraged, a healthy dose of arrogance helps an artist secure his/her spot in the music food-chain. It is also a message to the fans that I’m not going anywhere. Having said that, your work needs to back up such assertions. People will believe what you said for a moment. It gets their attention but only good quality works keeps it. You cannot declare yourself a king of the castle and not have anyone taking shots at you. BOP wrote a song dissing Arthur Mafokate as a king of biting people’s work. For a while he was notoriously known as an industry thief, from forming similar kwaito bands (Boom Shaka versus AbaShante) to borrowing another artist’s bassline without consent, and emulating popular street dance moves, some even making them into songs. BOP was basically telling him off and how he needs to get his act together without mincing their words.

Since then, there have been many other kwaito beefs. Some are funny, while other are vicious. Look out for part 2 of the Kwaito Disses series.

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