Settling in Grahamstown, South Africa

My name is Lena Weissbrot, a rapper and digital media artist, currently living in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Grahamstown is a small college town with passionate students and professors, and a lively nightlife full of music from all genres. For the next 9 months I will research women in Hip Hop in South Africa. I will conduct video interviews with local Hip Hop artists, film live performances, and find other artists to collaborate with creatively. As a rapper, I am interested in making music with other artists. As a digital media artist I have experience creating music videos, animations and graphics for my own music, and would like to create visuals for the artists I meet here.

There is also an academic element to my project. I have been sitting in on an Ethnomusicology course taught by Dr. Lee Watkins at Rhodes University. Dr. Lee Watkins’ body of research focuses on the socio-political power of Hip Hop around the world, specifically in South Africa and China. With his guidance, I will be writing a thesis examining the challenges in visibility and inclusion for women in Hip Hop in South Africa. I began my research at the International Library for African Music (ILAM), to collect different sources for my thesis. ILAM has a collection of many beautiful traditional African instruments. I also found some great books to begin my research.

African drums

An assortment of African drums at ILAM.


Kalimba’s on display at ILAM.

Here is my reading list:

Lives of Courage: Women for a New South Africa by Diana E.H. Russel

Home Girls Make Some Noise: Hip Hop Feminism Anthology edited by Gwendolyn D. Pough, Elaine Richardson, Aisha Durham and Rachel Raimist

East African Hip Hop: Youth Culture and Globalization by Mwenda Ntarangwi

Music, Space, and Place: Popular Music and Cultural Identity edited by Sheila Whiteley, Andy Bennett and Stan Hawkins

Hip Hop Africa: New African Music in a Globalizing World edited by Eric Charry

Before arriving in South Africa I had contacted rappers who are women from Cape Town and Johannesburg, to participate in my project, namely Push Push and Miss Celaneous. Larger cities in South Africa have an abundant Hip Hop culture for both independent and commercial artists; however, in Grahamstown there is not a defined Hip Hop scene. I definitely plan on traveling to different cities in South Africa to collaborate with Hip Hop artists, but my first goal was to find locals in Grahamstown to participate in my project on a more immediate, ongoing basis. I had a lot of difficulty finding women in Hip Hop in the area, and was informed that it was simply because there were not many women involved.

My first contact was Azlan Makalima, a Hip Hop artist from the township just outside of Grahamstown. I spent an afternoon teaching Azlan Adobe After Effects, so he could create motion graphics for a documentary about his music. Afterwards, he sat down with me for and interview, where he discussed the inspiration behind his raps, why it is so difficult to pursue Hip Hop professionally in the Eastern Cape, and why he feels there are not many women participating in Hip Hop in South Africa.

Here is Azlan’s latest track, “Akulungi Neks,” about how his music career is not going as he planned.

Next month I will be traveling to Cape Town to interview Miss Celaneous and brainstorm a creative collaborative project with her. I plan to integrate music video production and animation into my project, and will be blogging about the creative process and posting progress pictures.

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