The African Dope Sound System (album number 10) represents another first from this small record label which has consistently been punching above its weight in the South African music industry. The album is the first ever compilation of homegrown ragga, dancehall and bashment coming straight from the Rastafarian communities of Gugulethu on the Cape Flats. Ragga and dancehall are modern, more hardcore manifestations of reggae, born in the tenement yards and ghettoes of the Caribbean, and increasingly popular worldwide due to the MTV pop success of artists like Beanie Man and Sean Paul.
African Dope\'s co-founder and producer, the bedreadlocked whiteboy Fletcher, says that he and producer Juan Thyme were working on producing dubs because of their own love for the genre when they came across some of the ragga MCs on the Cape Flats and made the immediate connection between the music they were producing and the vocal talents of the Gugulethu Rastafarian community.
\'What it has revealed is the depth of talent that exists out there.\' Says Fletcher, \'I started scratching the surface and suddenly there was a gazillion tunes. I now have 74 finished tunes not to mention the unfinished dubs. Everyone on the Sound System has basically got the makings of an album. And that\'s not to mention anything new, any new tunes that have come up since we finished the album.\'
The artists featured on the ADSS (African Dope Sound System) fall into two distinct categories. On one hand you\'ve got your old school ragga MCs (known in Jamaican parlance as DJs) such as Teba (formerly of kwaito group Skeem), Zoro aka Zolile Makatinca and Black Dillinger known to his mum as Nkululeko Madolo. These guys have been culturally active since the 80s, and toasting ragga since the early 90s. On the other hand of the ADSS one will find ghetto youth talents such as G (Lungile Buwati), Crosby (Siyasanga Bolani) and JJ (Vusmzi Ngubane) the 17 year old prodigy of the Gugs dancehall scene.
Many people might rightly wonder how come the musical output of a small island halfway around the world has sewn the seeds of a musical culture in the ghettoes of Cape Town. In order to understand this one must realise the extent of the Rastafarian influence in the townships.
\'I been there in Gugs for many years up until I link up with some rasta people,\' says Black Dillinger, \'because in my area there was one of these rasta shacks selling fruit and veg - that was that time when this thing get born. I was lucky to be born in the area where there\'s Rastafarians around. That\'s where we get hooked up with this musical thing.\'
Zoro continues. \'My musical career started early, going to church and singing with different choirs. In 1989 I got into an accident, where I was shot by police. And ja at that point I wasn\'t really taking my music as a career, I was only doing it for the love of it. But when I came back from the hospital after a year and a half, the grace of the most high and the spirit of Rastafari came into me. I guess for me ragga has been a strong influence in my life. A positive way to live and express myself.\'
\'You know reggae is nothing new.\' Says Teba. \'It\'s songs of freedom. It is songs that liberate us, that motivate us, that make us to keep the fire that can purify our thoughts and spirits so our physical existence can withstand this pressure we find ourselves in. We just find that what was expressed by those brothers and sisters in that third world country called Jamaica in the Carribean, we could relate to it. Like the teachings of Marcus Garvey which got spread further by guys like Sobukwe and Steve Biko. So in the music it always had those thing. I can remember at the dancehall they used to play a whole hour of just Mandela related songs. So it has all the relevant issues that the ghetto youth needed to hear.\'
On the African Dope Sound System you will find many tunes sung in a Jamaican patois accent. However unlike local hip hop where rhyming in an American accent is an anathema, the use of patois is not seen as an impediment to the localisation of the dancehall genre.
\'To us the voice is an instrument, just like the drum,\' explains Teba, \'and it is funny how I feel more liberated and expressive when using that instrument which is patois.\'
\'Patois is this language that has been derived from an African way of speaking English.\' Says Zoro. \'Way back the slaves in Jamaica could not communicate because the slave masters would not let them speak their original language. So they had to form this patois. This English that the white man cannot hear.\'
Teba continues. \'And it\'s quite funny how if you went to a model C school, the way you speak English is pretty English, its acceptable, you can hear me nicely. So with patois we\'re dissing that, saying fuck English, fuck Shakespeare and the queen, we create our own thing. Patois is a black creativity.\'
Zoro steps in, \'They say that music is the universal language, and dancehall music, reggae music, is one of those languages that has been used for years and years by the African people. And here in South Africa, many people have been asking us why do we sing in a Jamaican accent, which always brings me to the question \"who is the Jamaican?\" the black brother that is in Jamaica is the same brother who is here in Africa, just taken away. The language that he is using \"patois\" is what we here call \"broken English\". Because we cannot speak like Shakespeare or the Queen wants us to speak.\'
\'Most of the English we speak, we want to please people\' Teba continues. \'When I come to consciously think about it, when you look at media, you look at presenters and all these people who have middle class jobs, look at their accents. The better the accent the more you feel that you are accepted by those who are economically superior than you. It\'s a kind of brainwash.\'
But at the same time as using a Jamaican patois, some of the ragga on ADSS are sung in Xhosa and Zulu.
JJ enters the fray, \'Ja because a lot of people wouldn\'t know what we are saying, especially people from here, especially at school, they wouldn\'t hear what I am saying when I\'m singing in patois, they would know the rhythm and the flow but they wouldn\'t get the message.\'
So the question is can you do ragga without the patois?
Zoro thinks so. \'Ja man definitely, you can take it out completely and do it in Xhosa. Just listen to the Sound System.\'
Crosby disagrees. \'I don\'t think you can take patois completely out of the ragga we do, because we want to be more on an international tip. How many people know Sotho? If I want to release in the States and Japan and I\'m singing in Xhosa and they don\'t understand nothing, they\'re not going to buy it. But if you use patois they would understand and get the music - then when you flip it in Xhosa they get where you are from.\'
So what exactly is the message?
\'There\'s a lot of issues we\'re dealing with in the ghetto.\' Says Crosby.
\'Talking about the social issues, the poverty, the crime, religion.\' Adds Zoro
\'Our music is basically saying that we must liberate ourselves from these circumstances we find ourselves in. We use the music as the instrument to spark that mentality amongst the ghetto youth.\' Teba finishes.
So what do the rastas from Gugulethu think about the success of Sean Paul?
\'I think it\'s just made things easier in terms of dancehall and getting into the industry. He\'s opened the door.\' Says Crosby.
\'Ja it\'s good and bad in a way.\' Says Zoro. \'The good side is that it brings more ears to the dancehall scene. It\'s bad because it is commercial and that\'s what the media wants. They selling the bling bling thing. If you come out and talk about champagne and cars and ice, that\'s cool, but if you want to come and wise up people and teach them about how the government is misusing funds and how the prime minister he is a batty man. They don\'t want to hear the facts, they don\'t want the kids to hear about what\'s really happening in the world. They want these things to teach the negativity to the kids. Let\'s drink champagne, let\'s sniff coke and lets buy some more stuff we don\'t need. So that\'s the low and high of Sean Paul. That\'s why we choose to keep it real, keep it to the hard stuff.\'
\'Isn\'t Sean Paul a bit like a rich boy from Camps Bay doing kwaito?\' Asks Fletcher.
\'Strictly.\' Answers Dillinger. \'Sean Paul is one of the rich man, coming not originally from the ghetto. From bling bling to bling bling, y\'understand? So there is rough music better, 100% better, than Sean Paul.\'
So unlike Sean Paul, you see yourselves on a mission?
\'Definitely I and I is prophets and teachers and priests.\' Says Zoro.
\'It\'s social work.\' Says Teba.
\'I and I is come for teach.\' Says Zoro.
\'You know in the ghetto either you give up, or you start taking your life as a mission.\' Adds Teba definitively.
\'That\'s why we give thanks to the man like Sean Paul,\' says Zoro, \'for getting people to listen to dancehall and hopefully that\'s opening up doors for us, who are underground, to come up. To say, \"ja we are South Africans and we do it too\". We on the same level, we international.\'