I have lived in the heart of the ghetto for years now. Much of what I found there I expected: bitter poverty, crime, broken families, the dark underside of life. Overcrowding is commonplace: one small house might have several families living in it. Plumbing broke down, and human waste is thrown in the streets along with the garbage. Contagious diseases spread rapidly in such cramped, unsanitary housing. People are always hungry. Kids wearing oversized costumes because their parents can’t afford the new fitting ones are seen chasing over Nyau or Gule masquerade ballers when they should be in schools. Their parents run businesses that are geared toward personal services: mobile vendor markets, barbershops, cleaners, liquor stores, garages, bars, etc.
The above narrative is usually what appears in the press and indeed an indisputable reality on the ground. But, if we are to put two and two together, one will find that the ghetto is also a community determined that life should win over death, hope over despair, pride over poverty. Kids do not stop playing with toys. Some have beloved dolls or trucks. Others make toys using whatever bits of cloth and wood they could find. I’ve seen children turning the tops of empty cigarette boxes into playing cards.
It’s true that in the ghetto only the strong survive — and I don’t mean just physical strength. I mean the strength that is in quick wits, friendship, family, religion, love, and hard work. Those two worlds — life at its worst and life at its best — exist side by side, beginning just outside my window.
So I wasn’t quite hit with a shock value when I watched the ‘Kilimanjaro‘ music video by rookie hip-hop artist Kae Chaps. It’s not like he’s telling a different story. It’s the same old ghetto tale with cliches like; they don’t care about us; the system is corrupted by power-hungry creatures who play political football with our lives; government agencies and politicians only come to us during electioneering time and promise to make admirable efforts to change our destiny but they never do anything; we are from the ghetto, but we are smart and confident and yet they don’t give us equal opportunities…yada yada yada…
And yet despite how familiar the storyline is, the video embodies a particular energy found in rarity in the modern urban music landscape. What hit me by surprise is the unique and unfiltered delivery and profiling of what I have come to know as a hackneyed subject matter. With a magnum opus yet to be written, surely Kae is very much aware of the palpable fact that several artists throughout the Zimbabwean music history have attempted it, but only a handful of them achieved anything above a mid-tier level of stardom or reach. Most end up rebranding or repositioning in an effort to gain more proliferation. Thus, he aims for positivity with Kilimanjaro.
Directed by JP Clear Vision, this four minutes thirty-five seconds stream of consciousness details the thought process of a young man growing increasingly discontent as he learns more about the world he inhabits but somehow grew up to empathise with his community while trying to come up with ways to improve it, thanks to the matriarch that bore him.
“I’m no longer trying to fit in ‘cos I find refuge in my skin/Amai vainditi never lose yourself for money and the bling,” he raps in one verse.
With transitions that I’m sure epileptic seizure activists will strenuously object, the video sees the rapper aiming for political awareness, trading out his clever rhyme schemes for more clarity over a light and melodic accompaniment with thumping reggae drums providing the rhythm.
It features unwary kids with indubitably undeveloped political context showing placards with demands for a better future with economic, financial, mental and even “electrical” freedom. By addressing ongoing contemporary issues head-on, it shows his fearlessness in telling it like it is with a voice and a flow barely distinct enough to be instantly recognisable just yet. There’s no margin of error for Kap here as he excels in using a minimised song as a thesis paper that tries to scan as many injustices as possible.
While he still has to develop and evolve, in public, after already setting a precedent for himself as an ambassador for the unadulterated, endlessly despised and long-lamented hood culture, this song and video place him in a space where he can snatch the crown from his contemporaries. But if that next level’s within reach, there has to be one obstacle to overcome: Firsthand truths take longer to sink in when they’re delivered with secondhand styles. He better be about that life.
Check out the video below and reflect.