Sharp Sharpaby Quincy Jones Tsatsi / 11.11.2009
South Africa is awash with starving artists. If you’re a local talent don’t bother looking for love or appreciation here. You’re not likely to find it, even in death. And local Hip Hop is no exception. Take Ben Sharpa for example, one of SA’s finest and most original hip hop stalwarts, who despite garnering serious international interest and being invited to perform at the Glastonbury Festival twice, was so broke back home he was sleeping on friend’s couches and couldn’t afford his diabetes medicine. That’s the coldest serving of the ol’ SA indifference.
But Sharpa survived and just kept going. Kept his fans close, (3000 of them on the ol’ Facebook), and this year, along with his long time collaborater DJ Raiko, they were invited to represent the country in this year’s Hip Hop Collision Tour. Along with a line-up of esteemed international counterparts, Sharpa and Raiko ripped shows in seven countries and 10 cities throughout Europe. Had it not been for the artists’ insistent self promotion through web-based channels such as Facebook and Vuzu TV, we would’ve been none the wiser. Because this major feat, no doubt, was given the silent treatment by the major media players back home.
“The Hip Hop Collision Tour was organised by Jarring Effects which is my French sister-label.” Says Sharpa. “It consisted of 18 shows. We toured with the likes of ODDATEEE, Bleubird and K-the-I???. Other artists such as High Tone, Under Kontrol (a four-man French beatbox crew) and Wu-Tang’s Raekwon ‘the Chef’ were featured in our tour as well. In fact we had the honor to open up for Raekwon in Germany. It was very special indeed,”
“It was bananas,” says Raiko. “We left a mark on that bitch. And hopefully people will realise that South Africa has got some great music to offer. We carried SA’s name throughout. We proud of being from Africa and to express that on stage is the greatest achievement I’ve had to date.”
Although we boast a very active and vibrant Hip Hop scene on the ground, this has not translated into serious album sales and profit for most of the culture’s finest artists. It remains a labour of love.
“To put it simply, the places where I have toured are better organised, more attentive and innovative (especially for fringe subcultures) and more respectful to artists/musicians.” Sharpa spits. “Here I find that the industry is polluted with greedy businessmen, uneducated (but arrogant) promoters, and event organisers with not much vision. Everyone is trying to do ‘what works’ instead of creating new pathways for the artists. There is far too much opportunistic greed and parasitic back-biting going on, too much selfish intention and carelessness.
“Maybe poverty has something to do with it, but I think it’s really because of perception and misdirection about what is really going on in the world today. My message to them, who run things in our music industry, is stop using the people’s kind hearted trust and goodness, we are not as dumb and ignorant as you think!”
Raiko was a bit more sanguine. “While a lot still needs to be accomplished, a lot of progress has been made. I think what’s at fault with Hip Hop down here is that our standards are too low. No one believes in ‘paying their dues. Instead every tosser an their momma have got an album or mixtape, without mastering their craft first.”
“Overseas, the focus is bigger, more specialised, not everyone wants to rap or make beats, but they are total heads.” Adds Raiko. “So they utilize their skills in the areas that need be and it works out for everyone, we getting there, it’s just gonna take time.”
“Our aim was to leave a mark and make our presence felt.” Says Raiko. “Our music gets overlooked at home cause we don’t follow industry formulas and make ‘commercially viable’ music, whatever the fuck that is, there’s a market for any and everything! If we have to go overseas to get recognition then so be it. It’s a pleasure anyway. Sooner or later they gonna have to pay us some attention. We won’t be easy to ignore.”
No doubt, but Sharpa’s not waiting around for South Africa to sit up, take notice and start paying his bills. He can’t afford to. And he’s already off on another European tour.
Hip Hop Collision Tour Highlights
“Working with Raekwon the Chef, ODDATEEE, Bleubird and K-the-I??? (I also recorded several tracks with him). A freestyle performance with DJ Netik (3-time DMC Champion). Eating lunch in Venice, killing it in Paris, rocking Budapest on a humungous boat, performing in a Dungeon in Poland, recoding at Jarring Effects Studios with K-the-I???.”
“Meeting Manda in Paris (she sings and tours with Morcheeba) visiting one of the biggest and oldest cathedrals in Europe (in Prague, Czech Republic), and of course performing at the internationally acclaimed Riddim Collision Festival in Lyon France.
“Also, just kickin it with the JFX family in general. I also performed at club Kapu in Austria – and slept in the same hostel as many legends including Aceyalone, Mikah9, Kurt Cobain, Hootie and DJ Vadim. I also did numerous radio interviews for about 26 different radio stations in France.”