Kanyi is a hip hop performer based in Gugulethu, Cape Town, South Africa. Her solo album, “Iintombi – Zifikile”, was released in 2012. She has also featured in the performances of other hip hop acts, most notably with Cape Town-based Driemanskap. In this interview conducted in Gugulethu in 2012 she talks about inspiration, interdependence and perseverance as an artist and performer. My interview with Kanyi is what inspired me to start my blog. Thank you Kanyi.
Tell me the story of one of your most inspiring moments, from any part of your life? What happened?
When I was in high school I decided who I wanted to be, instead of just going with friends. The things that I thought were cool were not their sort of thing. I pretended a lot in terms of trying to fit in. It’s not always wise to be different. It’s uncomfortable being different.
When I met other people who were different and were cool with that, it triggered something in me. It triggered something in me to just let go. I grew up being the weird kid and was cool about it. There were only ten other black kids at my school, and some of them did not want to speak Xhosa to me.
At school everything was expensive and posh, it was easy. But I had to get on the bus and go home, and when I would get home, it was a matter of rushing to the house. On the other side you can just stroll home and it’s fine. The kids were rich over there and I wasn’t. At home kids would make fun of me because I went to a rich school. You’re the target, the coconut.
The experience brought me out of my shell. I held back a lot before that time. I was expelled from the school because I couldn’t take it. I started breaking out, and doing things that were wrong, but I felt like I couldn’t do otherwise. I went to another school. It was mixed, but even those kids saw me as someone from the rich school, and for the first week no one spoke Xhosa to me. Then eventually they sort of went into it. I spoke Xhosa to them, but there was an expectation that I won’t want to speak Xhosa. That school was like a new page. You could just be you, because they don’t know who the hell you are. That sort of freed me. It taught me that it’s cool to grow. I lost some friends, and I had to pick up new ones. I felt courageous, because it takes more courage to be liked or hated for who you are, than to fake it.
How do you stay inspired?
I allow myself to be uninspired for the time that I am uninspired. You can’t force inspiration, but you can help it out. I listen to music a lot. I go to places where I can breathe, like a mountain, or a beach, or places filled with people who inspire me, like hip hop shows, or with artists. They have nice energy. There are people who have a sunshine energy within them. It just rubs off. I’m inspired by hip hop. I love hip hop, I really do. I’m inspired by seeing other people go for it. Seeing them fail and get up. This is not just musicians, it’s people in general.
When you were writing Ingoma, how did you feel?
I felt frustrated and blocked, like I couldn’t move. Very frustrated. I translated that frustration into a concept that would best showcase the frustration. You take the emotion and you put it into a concept that can best frame it. I had to take it out on something. I knew the beat that I wanted. It was hard, it was angry, it was graveyard, it was aaarrgh! Even the delivery was raw! It’s about the two characters. It’s like, “how do I help you, because you aren’t helping yourself?”
This song was quick. I knew what rhythm I wanted. I knew what to tell the producer. Around that time I heard a beat used by some kid on stage, and I asked him where it came from, and he introduced me to someone else, and then to another guy, an MC called Bones, and then I met Manenz. I told him I needed a beat, and how I wanted it. Two days later there was a monster of a beat! It was perfect. Big up to Manenz! On the album, some tracks are old. Old to me anyway. Some are new. Other tracks I wrote in the studio with the beats made right there.
Tell me about a time in your life when you weren’t inspired. What happened to get things started again?
I was working as a writer for magazines, and I had known that I wanted to leave the 9 to 5. I knew in my heart that I couldn’t do it, but I really like writing, and doing it was the “good step” to take. A nice job. And then everything out of nowhere just turned sour. My relationship at the time broke. The magazine shut down, and I was staying in town, far from home. I wanted to just stay on my own, so I got a place by the beach. The rent was high, but I just wanted to stay there at the beach the whole day. I was freelancing, but I wasn’t meeting deadlines because I didn’t want to do it. Life was just terrible. I was sick, depressed, just lost. I would close the door for days, I wouldn’t eat. I would just be there. There was a time when it was a dead end and I decided I had to move back home. Things were completely dark. Music wasn’t happening. Nothing was happening. I would wake up and just be awake.
To break through the barrier…I was trying to avoid a fight, and when something is destined for you, you cannot avoid it. When I was going through that change I couldn’t understand it. When I accepted that this change was going to happen, and this is around the time when Ingoma was written, I was thinking about how to make people understand something, and it was hard to convey. It became overwhelming, so I was sick, and had gone home to the Eastern Cape to have my ceremony done to help me through this change. I came back, and things had never been clearer, like everything is just flowing. Literally everything just flowed, as it is now.
Tell me about the form of your inspiration. Where does your energy come from?
I’m inspired by my mother. The name of the album is her name. It means the young woman has arrived. My Gran had eleven kids. It was just girls, and she was the fifth or sixth. They were just all, “She’s here!” I’m inspired by my friends, from experiences, by just living. There is so much to draw from. You are not alone.
How does your relationship to people shape your music?
That’s where you draw from. These are the people you live with. It’s part of your life. It’s not a separate entity. I like to surround myself with people who are of the same energy. Bright spirits! Spirits that are opened, and that are wise and knowledgeable. It doesn’t mean that one has to go to school to be that. It’s just the person you are. Different people draw out different parts of you. I like being in those spaces with those people because they help me be me. I don’t think you can find them intentionally. It’s a natural connection. It’ll happen. Everyone that you need to know in your life you will know. You know them for a reason, and that reason will eventually reveal itself. It happens with time, and with age, and with life. The reason unfolds.
Driemanskap featuring Kanyi
What about difficult people? How have the difficult people in your life influenced your approach?
Not everyone in your life is there for the good. They aren’t there to help you along. They are there to make sure that you don’t go any further. There is no way of running away from that fact. They come disguised with lovely smiles. You can’t let them handle the situation. You must always handle the situation. You can only deal with how you are going to do it. You can only deal with yourself. You can only just be you. I don’t like playing around. If I know we can’t work together I won’t force the issue.
How do you see interdependence as an artist?
You must give as much as the other person gives. It will help the relationship automatically. If all you do is take, they will run out of things to give. You must share. I try to give of me, as much as I can. I don’t always know if I am giving the right thing, unless someone says, “this is what I want.” Now is the best time for me, because I have tried to give as much as I can in terms of helping others. Others are helping me, and helping together. It’s like combined powers. I helped them one by one, and now they have come together helping me. Everyone is behind me, lifting me! I didn’t give as much as I am getting right now.
What are the keys to perseverance?
I mean…you know somewhere inside of you that you are destined for something bigger than your situation. Even in the darkest days, the reason why you cry is because you know you are not supposed to be here. There is something better that you are supposed to have, otherwise you wouldn’t cry so hard. You know that this can’t be it. We all have dreams, but sometimes it takes longer for some than for others to realize their destiny. Anybody can dream, and the destiny will catch up with you. You pursue whatever dream you have, and you will have a shot.
Who has taught you the most about perseverance? What did they teach you?
My mom! My Mother! She’s a warrior in my eyes. Just her life, the kind of person she is, and the way that she raised me. She was strict but open, I don’t know how she got that balance together. She would never hold you back on anything. She would go to the sports games I was in that mattered. She would come to theater things. She would be there! She does things on her own. She raised me as a single parent, but it was complete. She’s very independent. She’s taught me a lot about the inner journey. Sometimes someone doesn’t have to tell you. Actions speak louder than words. She’s an action person. Sports people are performers. They perform in front of an audience. My mom was a tennis player. I just liked the idea of that. I would watch her play, and you see how each person has their own way of moving. Each person has their own style, their own showmanship.
Bringing our themes together, what is the relationship between inspiration and perseverance?
It’s magic, or God’s will. They work together to make me, really, like a person who wants to learn more. I like the idea of going out there and learning more, and even teaching. I’m not a teacher, but we teach in different ways. Music brings it all together and gives me character. That’s my character. The warrior with the light! That character is my alter ego. I wanted something different for my album cover. I didn’t want a picture of myself. I didn’t know what kind of picture to put there. There is too much to portray. Artwork can say things better than a photograph. The picture has other women at the back, hordes and hordes of women.
All drawings ©2013 Point Blank Evumbi