Locals crafting safe spaces
By Megan Kelly, Kyle Prinsloo, and Sam van Heerden
Music creates a safe space. Or at least, it should. Breaking through the monotony of Grahamstown’s night life, local musicians are creating music and events that are innovative, and that attempt to heal both artist and listener. We caught up with rapper Kearne Human and DJ Nandi Jakuja.
Music is Jakuja’s therapy. It is her safe space. “It’s healing,” she says, “I’m not good with words, but I’m very expressive. When I’m struggling with something, I’ll make a mix.”
Exploring melancholic and dreamy beat-scapes, Jakuja’s mixes include genres such as hip-hop and downtempo electronic music.
Although born in Port Elizabeth and a current resident of Pretoria, her musical interest began while studying a Bachelor of Arts at Rhodes University.
In 2014, her musical endeavours were inspired by Newfolder, a Grahamstown-based music event that features alternative hip-hop and electronic genres.According to Jakuja, it was established as a rebellion against Grahamstown’s limited nightlife scene, offering a place for those who felt “in-between”.
“When I got to Rhodes I could relate to that because I had no space where I could [ ] feel comfortable in. That’s why I felt so aligned and connected with Newfolder,” she says.
She started mixing and playing at Newfolder in 2015 before taking charge of the event in 2016.
“Music is a safe space for me. It’s healing.”
Jakuja also started a female-only event, “Stay Low, Keep Firing”, to challenge the toxic masculinity that mars Grahamstown nightlife.
The event was inspired by the #RUReferenceList protests at Rhodes University, which exposed how women are still vulnerable in a male-dominated society.
“It’s important to have a safe space for women,” she says.
Males still dominate the South African music scene, according to Jakuja, who says that female DJs are rare and that they are often under male management. “It’s important for black women to start their own.”
Jakuja’s aspirations are not Grahamstown-bound. After establishing herself on Soundcloud, Jakuja gained exposure and started DJing at events in Johannesburg and Pretoria.
She also hopes to expand Newfolder and spread the event to other cities. Although she says she is still finding her feet, she plans to produce music, and has been invited to play at an event in Seattle.
“It’s important for black women to start their own.”
Jakuja is excited about the burgeoning South African music scene. “There’s been an eruption of young [creatives]. It’s sad how no-one is catching on to it,” she says. Jakuja seems to think that artists are taking on a new paradigm: If you can’t fit into established spaces, create your own.
What she’s listening to right now:
“As a black girl, it’s difficult being alternative because people think that being alternative is ascribing to whiteness,” she says, “Solange has made it a thing where black people can be different and rebellious.”
You can check out her mixes here.
Kearne “Dragon” Human
Human “spits flames” and oozes feeling through what he calls ‘Art Rap’. He breaks down words and plays with them, while his lyrics look inward and draw on his lived experiences and emotions.
“I don’t chase fame. I would rather have a song that touches people and that people can relate to, ” he says. For example, his track The Anthem is about learning to loving yourself.
His childhood friend, Pierre Stemmet, produces Human’s backing tracks which are varied and take their influence from folk music, hip-hop, and electronic music.
Human’s nickname, “Dragon”, comes from his first mix-tape called, “Land of the Dragons.” “They call me Dragon because I spit flames,” he says.
Born in Pretoria, Human’s musical ventures began when he started playing the violin at a young age. He was rapping and entertaining his classmates by the age of six, inspired by the Gorillaz’ ‘Clint Eastward’. He now lives in Port Elizabeth and is studying a Bachelor of Arts at Rhodes University.
What he’s listening to right now:
Human looks up to the South Africa rapper, Reason, because of his poetic nature. “The South African hip-hop industry is definitely moving in the right direction,” he says. Other artists that are currently fueling his flames are Isaiah Rashad and Saba. He enjoys artists that are introspective and poetic.
You can explore the Dragon’s creative flow here.