The debate that rapping in English widens an emcee’s listenership more than rapping in their vernacular language is a convoluted one. In principle, rapping in a language only spoken in your own region – or country – limits your fanbase to local listeners, and rapping in English opens you up to international audiences. Swazi rapper, Kena believes rapping in his mother tongue, Swati doesn’t limit him but sets him apart. “Being real, being who you are when presenting your craft actually attracts more listeners,” he says. “For example, look at the late Pavarotti. I think that presenting my craft in my own language doesn't confine me but rather sets me apart and allows me to impact a wider demographic as a unique creative rather than a drop in the ocean of what is seen as ‘normal’”
Kena has run his lane well in the Swazi hip hop scene. Performingin reputable events in the Swazi entertainment calendar such as The Swaziland International Trade Fair, The Hipnotikand Bushfire festivals is not a feat many up-and-coming rappers have achieved. He does kasi rap (township rap) – a sub-genre of hip hop pioneered by the likes of South African rappers Pro, SiyaShezi and more. The sub-genre is characterised by braggadocios lyrics delivered viciously in TsotsiTaal (township slang). The use of witty yet simplistic punchlines, similes and metaphors takes center stage even though storytelling also makes up a reasonable part of kasi rap.
Though a humble and approachable guy off the mic, Kena oozes confidence evident in both his voice projection and stage antics. His music focuses on him; if not effetely telling you how good he thinks he is on the mic, he’s telling other rappers how hard it is for them to get on his level. “I do kasi rap, my music is inspired by my life, the things that surround me,” says the rapper.“My music is centeredaround me.”
Like most kids, Kena fell in love with hip hop and found himself trying to write his own rhymes. “It all began in Mobeni, Matsapha when I was a young boy,” he says.“I fell inlove with music then started a group with my friend Lwazi aka Inborn. I then went on to work with one of Swaziland's finest producers,Deeflava who launched my career.” After topping the SBIS 2 radio charts and scoring performance slots in big events, Kena made the decision to release an album. “I am currently working on my album, with my friend Ghetto Villah being the main producer and it’s nothing but a great experience working with him on this project,” says Kena.
Like all Swazi artists, kena attests to high bandwidth rates stalling the Swazi music industry’s growth. He states that he is forced to compress MP3 files to be lower than 5MB – which deteriorates the quality – before uploading them online for fans to download. “Swaziland is a growing economy and the high bandwidth rates are making it harder to accomplish as much as we would like,” he says. He’s appreciative of every fan who spends their hard-earned money on downloading his music. Television and radio are still the main platforms in which he showcases his music. “I appreciate everyone's support, for every download and view on YouTube,” says Kena.“Due to the high bandwidth rates, our fans enjoy my music on radio and TV rather than getting it for themselves online. But it's a great feeling when my fans show love and appreciation for what we're able to supply under the current situation.”
Check out as well the other parts of our four-part-series on Swazi-Hip-Hop.
First published: The Rise Of Swaziland’s Hip-Hop Scene