posted: 07-08-04
interview: quote35 (g.lehrl) of
We spoke to Godessa, a Hip hop Trio from Cape Town, South Africa. Godessa is Shameema Williams, vocalist and activist in the hip hop Community in the Cape, EJ von LYRIK, vocalist and producer and Burni, a spoken word poet.
They want to make effective contributions and changes in their communities, they stand for that certain political approach in hip hop that made this culture so powerful; also beyond the borders of its origin. Is it an old-school approach? In certain ways it may be, but we still need it. We need this political commitment to possibly create social change. Change always starts in small circles but it has to start somewhere.
Godessa was formed in February 2000 under the auspices of Shameema Williams, a longstanding activist in the hip hop community in Cape Town. EJ von LYRIK who has worked with South African's four times DMC Champ, READY D and performed with Prophets Of The City in Norway. Burni is a notorious spoken word poet. The aim was - unlike for most crews - an all female crew who are not new to the culture and are lyrically as tight as their male counterparts. And who are interested in utilising hip hop to make effective contributions and change in the communities - not just to rhyme, perform and record.
Godessa - please explain the science behind the name.
Burni: Godessa comes from two words namely the word Godess and the word Odessa - the ancient Egyptian City.
For the people who don't know, could you introduce yourself?
Burni: We are a female hip hop group from South Africa who focuses on social, economic and political issues which directly and indirectly affect our communities as well as our role in the larger global village.
Where did you grow up?
Burni: We all come from various different areas on the Cape Flats. I am from Steenberg which is well known for violence , gangsterism and a high crime rate. However, this is a community which is very closely knit. In spite of the economic difficulties which in certain cases drive people to act out there frustrations by turning to drugs, alcoholism, violence, etc.
Eloise is from an area on the Cape Flats called Mitchell's Plain, which was one of the largest dumping grounds of non white people during the Apartheid era. Shameema grew up in various areas on the Cape Flats, including Mitchells Plain and now resides in Woodstock.
We come from quite similar backgrounds in terms of our parents being economically disadvantaged and it being a struggle to put us through school and providing us with the bare necessities.
Were you confronted with prejudices for being an all-woman hip hop crew?
Burni: I think that it has been very challenging for us to be in such a male dominated industry. However we have received as much encouragement and support from our male counterparts as we have received flack from those who feel that women are less powerful than males. We learnt early on in our careers to take things with a pinch of salt, not to be too proud to take other peoples advice and learn from their mistakes. And I think that this is a quality which sets us apart from the other crews in South Africa.
You are releasing on African Dope Records (ADR). What's the story behind this co-operation?
Burni: We have only released "Social Ills" through this independent label in South Africa called African Dope Records. The reason was that we needed to introduce ourselves to the music industry and at the end of the day to have a product which we would be able to add to our profile as Godessa. As well as a product which could reach a broader base than just the hip hop community, but would be able to be available to the masses.
"Social Ills" was you debut single and came out in 2003. What was the reaction to it?
Burni: "Social Ills" was a hit in South Africa in terms of the general public, Godessa peeps as well as with the music industry. It was climbing the charts on both community as well as national radio stations and is still till today play listed on these stations.
Who produced it ?
Burni: "Social Ills" was produced by Grenville Williams who was also the producer of our debut album "Spillage" which will be independently released by Godessa under High Voltage - a label set up and run by Grenville Williams and Eloise Jones.
What can you tell us about this album?
Burni: That it is a diverse reflection of all of our influences combined. It is an expression of hope and sadness of things in our society and it is a journey of how we have grown as women and as emcees.
Who produced the tracks on it?
Burni: Most of the tracks have been produced by Grenville Williams - our bassist and former member of Nine and Firing Squad. And some of them by Eloise from High Voltage - which is their production label.
Which social ills need to be changed in order to get a better life?
Burni: Mainly it is the mentality of the older generation in South Africa as well as the mentality of the youth all around the world who are really walking with blinkers on. The physical ills - I guess - are still issues like gangsterism, drugs and HIV, which are killing the youth like flies.
When writing lyrics, which topics are important for you?
Burni: As Godessa, we try and focus on social issues from things such as AIDS, globalisation, health care, politics and even normal everyday things which affect us. So I think that to a certain extent we are the mouth piece of our communities and therefore we try and be as up to date with our comments.
Your approach to hip hop is a traditionally political; you want to change certain things. In which way are you using music to create social change?
Burni: By speaking about issues we are generally afraid to talk about. If we look back at groups like Public Enemy and Prophets Of The City and see the impact that they had on the youth through music. Through their influence I learned a lot about the political situation of my country and the world and hope that through our music we can have the same influence on the youth.
South Africa is often described as the 'Rainbow Nation'. When I was there in '99 it seemed that the minds of the people are still strongly segregated. What led me to this conclusion immediately, was the street you are driving when coming from the airport and entering the city: on the left hand side you see a huge golf resort and on the right hand side you have endless townships. What's your view on the Rainbow Nation in 2004?
Burni: That we still have a long way towards true freedom. As the mentalities of most people are still pretty racist. The divide between rich and poor is still too big and there are still too many people uneducated and homeless. The best thing about South Africa right now is that the government is trying to take care of the people that have been neglected for so many years. But it is a trying experience to undo over 300 years of colonialism.
In that context, what do you think of the elections that were held recently?
Burni: I think that it is amazing that the ANC has won by such a massive landslide; especially in the Western Cape. Because previously the Western Cape was governed by the opposition and it certainly shows that the mentalities of people are slowly changing.
How has daily life change in the last 15 years?
Burni: Life has become more expensive. It is difficult to survive in South Africa if you do not have good jobs or rich families.
What were the biggest changes?
Burni: The fact that we can vote and that we are allowed to go anywhere we want. Before that we were restricted from going to places.
You help fighting the fight against AIDS. Please tell us about the projects you participated in.
Burni: We participated in a project called HIVHOP initiated by Bush radio and NIZA - the Netherlands Iinstitute of South Africa - where we spent almost a year attending workshops relating to AIDS education so that we could write and produce politically correct rap songs about HIV/AIDS.
Oh yeah, I read that EJ wrote a song for an initiative against AIDS. What's the name of it?
EJ: I have written two tracks for the YAA2000 compilation. The one is called "Reasons" and the other is called "Now You Know".
The first track is basically just going more in depth on the virus, it's causes and effects on different levels, and is encouraging the youth to be more responsible with their lives. The second track is about the importance of information and how it can be instrumental in the prevention of AIDS or anything negative in our lives. It speaks about how easy it is to be informed, if you're open to finding out more, as well.
EJ, you also performed it at the "Youth Against Aids" concert. What can you tell us about this concert?
EJ: The YAA2000 concert was the culmination of a project where artists were asked to participate in workshops to clue them up on the virus and to write songs around this subject. The concert was held in a ghetto area called Mitchell's Plain at a school hall. Many youths were invited to come and see the performances. The turn-out was amazing and all the songs that were written around AIDS and HIV were performed at the concert. So the idea was to give the youth information packaged in a more entertaining way, in order to captivate them. So they could learn more about AIDS, without getting bored and losing interest.
And personally I feel that it was a success, simply because so many youths came up to me after the concert and was interested to know more about this subject and others just thanked some of the artists for doing the project.
That sounds good. Shameema Williams, your were a youth worker on contract in youth correctional institutions. What did you teach the kids?
Shameema: I went in to do hip hop workshops - to teach them to write rap lyrics. But it always turned out to be like a big sister situation where kids in prison needed someone that they can talk to about everyday life, get advice on certain things and having fun listening to and writing raps. There is not much that you can teach a 15 year old kid who has been through hell and back, except really be there for them and show them that you care about their lives.
You are living in Cape Town, what's the Hip Hop Community like?
Burni: It really brings the community together especially in the coloured community. Because that's where hip hop in South Africa really flourished - the Cape Flats are synonymous with the Bronx. In this day and age in South Africa where people are still divided it is up to the youth and movements like hip hop that can unite; especially the youth, as the cliché goes. We are the future.
Is it as big as the Kwaito Scene?
Burni: The Kwaito scene is dying out and the hip hop scene is growing. Hip hop has always been pretty big but it is only starting to get recognition by the entertainment industry.
Oh I didn't know that Kwaito is getting less importance. So, which Hip Hop events are to be found in Cape Town?
Burni: There used to be great hip hop parties like Boogie Down Knights and Ghetto 3000. Lately most parties happen when a certain groups decide to throw one so you always gotta check the paper.
When visiting Cape Town, which clubs shouldn't we miss?
Burni: "Mercury Live" and "Lounge". If you check in the paper what's hot, they usually have nice bands playing or cool gigs with dope DJs. As well as the "Independent Armchair Theater".
Word associations, just write what pops in your mind: Love.
Burni: Life
South Africa
Burni: Women
Burni: Discrimination
Burni: Peace
Burni: Hip hop
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