Four African Musicians And Their Hairstyles

Doubtless, Cassper Nyovest (cover image) is one of the biggest rap artists we’ve seen in recent times. His live performances in and outside of South Africa are acclaimed. He’ll routinely fill up stadiums in Botwana, Lesotho, Zambia, and shut down halls in Malawi. Currently, he’s aiming at filling up The Dome, a performance venue in Johannesburg, all on his own. How did a ponnytail-donning rapper become so big? That dangling answer lies in the cult kasi classic Kickboxer, whose VHS copies were hot commodity in the hood during the nineties. The villain, Tom-Po (he always appears, albeit briefly, in Bloodsport) spots a similar hairstyle. Cassper remixed the idea; he let his hang lower, perhaps as a technique to level out his centre of mass so an not to fall over while doing the Taxi Driver dance. A picture of one toddler donning a similar hairstyle surfaced on the Internet earlier this year. The Cassper-style ponytail has made it past gimmick stage and now waits on the other side for its owner to release critically-acclaimed music.

siya mthembu of the brother moves on at their album launch (image by Tseliso Monaheng)
Siya Mthembu (of The Brother Moves On)

The Brother Moves On’s frontman had dreads. Then he didn’t. A year after losing his brother, Nkululeko, Siya had to let go of the hair as part of his healing process. He associated the dreads with “the memories and consciousness” of the in-between; the grey area between the shock of loss and the serenity found through mourning and eventually healing. To him, removal was symbolic of a depature; a “need to move on.”

“I’ve had dreads for 11 years on and off, this was my second crown and I felt it was time for change,” he says. Removal seems to have presented another dilemma as Siya now spots short-cropped hair. “People who don’t know me think I’m in marketing and can’t believe I sing.” It’s the young hipsters whose “it’s your brand” comments he finds problematic. “Older cats are proud of me for embracing change,” he says.

Nagrelha (screengrab from the documentary "I Love Kuduro"
Nagrelha (screengrab from the documentary “I Love Kuduro” 

Coming out of Angola and continuing the legacy (or is it ‘hair-gacy’?) of Sebem, Nagrelha is the most striking out of Os Lambas. The Kuduro group’s breakout song “A Dança dos Lambas o 4” launched them into superstardom in their country ten years ago. In one scene during the documentary Kuduro, Nagrelha (affectionately known as Estado Maior do Kuduro), arrives in at a show on a motorbike. The scene cuts to what appears to be a pre-performance ritual in front of an outside venue filled to capacity. With mic in one hand, spotting a cocaine-white t-shirt and matching hat, he announces: “Daddy’s arrived!” and “Hunger’s over!” to rapturous applause.


M3nsa Ansah, the genius producer, impeccable musician and brilliant thinker he is, has embarked on a new project called R3dR3d with collaborator Márton Élő (of Hungarian band Irie Maffia). Some days before their performance at Balaton Sound festival, I caught up with him to talk about his electronic music project, described as “a joint enterprise between M3NSA and ELO.” It’s a departure from not only his solo work, but the work he does with another collaborator, Wanlov, as Fokn Bois. M3nsa also cut off his dreads. Asked why, he responded: “they’re in the bin along with [memories] of my girlfriend.” New beginnings, it would appear.

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