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Sharp Sharpa

Sharp Sharpa

by 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.

Sharpaganda

“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!”

Ben Sharpa

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.”

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RESPONSES (27)
  1. Phalafala says:

    Ja, but you got to admit his stuff is way off-beat… just saying he shouldn’t be complaining about South African audiences not digging his vibe and buying his records when he makes very different and largely inaccessible hip hop.

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  2. swetted says:

    yes, serves him right to be pushing boundaries when he knows full well that south african audinences aren’t up for that shit. i sincerely hope europe treats him better. Thanks for the article.

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  3. djf says:

    Phalafala – why shouldn’t he complain? We’re a nation of almost 50 million people – are you suggesting that none of us should have the capacity to appreciate what he’s doing? By your logic then on-one on the planet should be making music that is different and (by your standards) inaccssible.

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  4. Andy says:

    Phalafala, i’m glad you’ve heard of him and know what he does. The problem is that most South Africans have had no exposure to Sharpa’s music so they’re not even able to make up their minds how they feel about it. But much of Europe has and they’re hungry for it… Spot the problem?

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  5. Tara says:

    phalafala, this article is about ben sharpa.
    but it is also a wise commentary on the industry or lack thereof.

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  6. Dplanet says:

    The only thing that’s ‘inaccessible’ about Ben’s music is the fact that it (and all non-mainstream music) gets ignored by the media. The music itself is universal. South Africans are being conditioned to accept lowest common mediocrity in the name of ‘what’s popular’. It’s a vicious circle that leaves us with a very poor selection of readily available music.

    We’ll keep doing our thing anyway though.

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  7. ICEDOCTOR says:

    I agree with Andy…. because we so closed a lot of us aint heard of the brother… and He is absolutely right about the powers that be in the Music Biz.

    LOL@ Planet..i love the break down man…”South Africans are being conditioned to accept lowest common mediocrity in the name of ‘what’s popular”….on point right there yo!

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  8. Don Dada says:

    Sharpa is a Don and has mad respect in the heavy ciphers, you lil baby heads don’t know and maybe will never know – true pioneers will never dumb down their style just to run with whats in fashion. I’m glad he’s calling out the ‘industry’ on their bullshit – it’s been going on for too long and we will shut you suckas down.

    ‘My Culture is not your Whore’ – to quote Neon Don’s track ‘Alleyways’ on
    Cape of Good Dope Vol2

    More fire to Sharpa and Raiko and all my souljahs refusing to fall for the okie doke.

    D

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  9. Slick Wonder says:

    I think he has a point. South African audience still need to learn to listen to not only beats but message given in the music and that is what Hip hop is all about. I think its not about off beat as one critic mentioned. Ben Sharpa has so much skill that some People dont notice. All is just about selfishness and arrogance.First of all those (South Africans whho dont feel him), do you even understand Hiphop? They need to still be schooled. Ben Sharpa continue raising the flag of our country and ignore hungry, selfish and greedy individuals. One.

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  10. candibee says:

    phalafala your closed mindedness in saying that sharpa’s work is “off beat” is exactly why music in SA is struggling the way it does.
    Its not off beat – its different to the commercial “crap” we often hear on radio so often. mindless and thoughtless. its not music that took five minutes to make. its conceptualised, if anything.
    and im not even a hip hop head.
    non commericial artists are needed in SA to fulfill the developing landscape that we are creating song by song.
    shamefully too many people have your opinion. open your minds – and your pockets – and before you know it, we will be able to expand our musical taste to something beyond bubble gum.

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  11. Tomas says:

    “How – by any possible means to jump obstacles means
    I gotta do what I gotta for cream – stick you like Scorpion teams
    They don’t care if he’s a hero like Steven Biko
    Or high strung on a killing spree, like Asanda Baninzi
    Cops all over the city ready lock you if you’re dark-skinned
    Easy for the Boer to moer you if you look poor and got comments
    I’m a hardcore hot-head – conform not to any pork chop
    I mind control swine patrol in Jedi mode –
    and bribe your whole ride with cold drinks
    then flows that sink like Jose Cuervo raw shots
    On the rocks or neat, everytime I walk the streets
    Pigs wanna ‘bleep’, stop me, stomp my feet constantly
    ADT, Securcorp, SAPS, Armageddon Security –
    Come fe test – duel with me, Fuck you up with impunity
    The purpose of the sirens is to pump fear in nervous systems
    Circus clowns of society who police but deserve prison…” – Sharpa

    I rate this dude all the way up there with the W and even Quasimoto.

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  12. Applez says:

    nuff respek to sharpa – sta up!!
    @tomas:”i rate this dude all the way up there…even Quasimoto”…hhhmmm, best check yoself … as dem said: only the great get compared to themselves, cause they cant compare me to anybody else

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  13. grim says:

    sharpa is way ahead. the alpha male while the rest bigger like pack rats with prostitutes.
    check his lyrics. if you dont know him, find some of his music and decide for yourself. I’m proud to work with this visionary. He is one man who understands a new global culture. big up Kap. take your message to the world. you have alot of souljahs backing you up. I know you got nothing to lose and everything to gain. mad respekt from day one. one blood. one love.

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  14. Dplanet says:

    While you’re at it, check out Ben’s new video for ‘Callin’ It Quits (We’re Here)’ – the track deals with exactly these issues….

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQb8y-QjpfU

    Prod. Milanese.
    Art direction and post production by spo0ky.

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  15. Mosteel says:

    Just checked out the vid…. Maaaaad Dope!
    The Captain must not worry… We’re Here!!!!!!!!
    Big ups to the Unit

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  16. Moose says:

    It’s quite simple. Do what other countries (Brazil, France, Australia etc) do…
    All Radio and TV should be 60% local content. Period.

    Then the promoters and media bosses have no choice but to look and promote locally. Right now its way easier, cheaper and less risky to take pre-packaged music and TV (complete with all the marketing, posters, art and jingles) off the shelf from the US of A and to a lesser extent the UK and Europe.

    The result is we get foreign packaged content rammed down our throats and all sit and wonder why we aspire to be rich Americans/Brits and whatever.

    That’s why I love Mahala. Its really one of the ONLY sources and promoters of local content.

    If we want more change, we have to change the law. As it stands, we do have a percentage of local content on our mass media, but filler and jingles count, so you can play 100% USA content and pad it out with SA made promo material. woop de doo.

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  17. Bla Bla says:

    look at that pretentious, predictable gibberish quoted by tomas. no wonder these self-righteous slopmunchers aren’t given their dues. “ooh, i just mentioned a bunch of security companies, i must be making a hardcore social statement!!” er, no, you just wrote a really boring letter to the editor you whiny little bitch.

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  18. Oh Yeah says:

    um… look at Bla Bla’s retarded reply to Tomas quotation of Sharpa’s lyrics, which make a fearless statement on the hegemonic international police state economic system we all find ourselves slaves to.

    And all of the radio stations in south africa suck. At least Soweto tv had the balls to play the video for the above mentioned track…

    yona ke yona when you chillin in your sauna. where is your revolution now?

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  19. djf says:

    Moose, radio airplay quotas alone will not make any difference. All that will happen is that the likes of Prime Circle, Steve Hofmeyr and Mandoza will get even more rotation. It is very unlikely that more “marginal” music will get exposure because the companies that run the stations are not prepared to risk a loss of listeners if less familiar fare is played. This is because the vast majority of South Africans do not have a taste for such music. This will not change in the near future – we have inferior education, poverty, social deacy and the residual effects of Apartheid mentality to thank for that.

    The question should rather be whether more effective niche marketing could expand the listenersips for such music in a cost-effective way. Mahala is a fine example of how this works in web/print format. The other thing to consider is that artists need to exploit the new electronic media as best possible to get their product out there. The old-school mentality of printing up expensive CDs for distribution in shops or via snail-mail at a high cost to the customer seems ludicrous under the circumstances. Unless you are a well-established and respected artist, no-one will even pay a nominal fee to download your music. The bottom line is that aspirant artists in SA need to give up any hope of making money off their recordings and should view them purely as promotional tools.

    Would I have checked out more of Ben Sharpa’s music if he had made it available for free download? Damn right I would have. Would I be discussing the merits of his craft with more friends if this had happened? You bet. Would I be making a point of going to his gigs if he played in my city as a result? You get the point…

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  20. Tshepiso says:

    Yo where can I cop Ben Sharpa ‘s muso don’t matter what it is full album, ep or mixtape jus wanna support U.S.A period sick of this shit local folks not supporting their own..any1 with the 411 as 2 where i can cop get @ me tmot@ananzi.co.za matter of get @ me with any local artist that needs support sick of this shit man 1!

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  21. Dplanet says:

    @ Tshepiso
    You can check out where to buy Ben’s music (and all the other Pioneer Unit artists) at http://www.pioneerunit.com/

    @ Bla Bla
    I think you’ll find that Ben’s contribution to social consciousness goes beyond just mentioning a few security companies, but I guess you prefer flaming to discourse.

    @djf
    I totally agree that the day when music is given away for free is coming, but at the moment we do actually recoup some of our costs through CD sales so they are not obsolete yet. For now it is possible to listen to Ben’s music online (and there are plenty of pirate sites if you want to download the album for free). Digital is not big enough in South Africa for us to give up on old-school physical distribution yet. Maybe in another 5 years we’ll be able to do that – I look forward to that time, believe me!

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  22. Dplanet says:

    also @ Bla Bla…
    It’s not that Ben isn’t given his dues – the BBC’s Mary Anne Hobbs described him as “one of the most inspired and agile lyricists in the world today” – it’s that he isn’t given his dues in the country of his birth… and this is precisely what the article is about.

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  23. djf says:

    Dplanet, I’d be interested to hear how many of those recouped costs could have been saved if you had avoided pressing CDs altogether. And if it’s only “some” of the cost, that means you’re actually losing money by distributing his music in that format? Then there’s the additional stress and cost of physical distribution and dealing with meatheads in record stores. Why bother?

    Digital by its very nature is actually equally big all over the world. You can post files on Rapidshare, Megaupload, Meidafire etc etc at any place and at any time. For those who don’t have their own computers (or new generation smart cellphones), they can just as easily pop into an internet cafe as they would a record shop – and you will never run out of stock.

    The reality is here and now – let’s not cling to antiquated ideas as if they still hold value.

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  24. Dplanet says:

    @djf

    The cost of pressing up 1000 CDs is only about R12k so that’s not really a huge expense in terms of all the costs involved in producing an album. Distribution itself is not that much stress – it’s all handled by the distributor. It’s definitely not a perfect process but we don’t deal with individual record stores (apart from the independent ones like The African Music Store who are a pleasure to deal with).

    The fact is that some people still want CDs and that lots of people don’t have access to the internet (in SA). We also need CDs as promos and giveaways. That’s why we still bother.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an anti-progress Luddite, but there is still a (small) market for CDs. Ben’s music is available online too: http://www.cd1d.com/ben-sharpa-p-17893.html

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