There is a new hip hop collective in town and they are looking to change the scene in Cape Town through the power of collaboration.
Contra Gang formed unofficially in 2015 – but they started working together long before that – and released their debut EP #TheCode earlier this year.
The members of the collective are all from different backgrounds and this, they say, is reflected in their sound.
The collective comprises Unathi July (Uno July), Samora Siwundla (Camo), Stanwin Abrahams (Stan1), Jabulani Lephoma (J1TheGod), Simphiwe Peta (Simmysimmynya), Mthunzi Sibisi (M’tunez-i), Ahmed Khalid Dahab (Psyc’ AK) and Loyiso Mzamane (Don Loyiso). They are set to launch their new EP at 91 Loop Street in Cape Town on Saturday June 3.
J1 said he got his stage name from his older brother. He started rapping as a child and eventually started making beats. J1’s contribution to the tape included beat-making, writing and rapping. “I represent everywhere I go. I’ve grown up in five different cities but originally I grew up in Lesotho.”
Camo started rapping in high school, and in addition to being an MC, he is involved in managing the band. “We used to go to sessions in Green Point. That’s where my career started. We have to have direction, visually, who we’re trying to speak to and general organisation.”
Don Loyiso, a producer and DJ, said there was a lot of music around when he was growing up, and he fell in love with house music.
“I became a DJ and wanted to make the stuff I wanted to listen to.” He then started making beats with Fruity Loops and made connections after sharing a house with AK. “I found out he was also doing music so was like cool why don’t we do something together.
“We became The Native Drums. From there we were making music together.”
When it came to making the Contra Gang mixtape, most of it was done at a studio in the Mowbray flat that Psyc’ was sharing with J1.
“It became a thing to put our collective minds together and that’s how Contra Gang came together,” said Don Loyiso.
Simmysimmynya, added: “I started rapping since a kid. I always had music around me and I’d listen to the music my older brother would leave in the car. I never took it seriously until high school and started writing poems. I started recording and joined a band when I was in Grade 12.”
Simmysimmynya, who is originally from Pietermaritzburg, said his career got off the ground when he moved to Cape Town. “Before I even knew everyone else, I was introduced to Psyc’ and gradually everyone from there.”
M’tunez-i said he also started rapping in high school. “I enjoy performing and I went in with that passion that I needed to prove myself. I decided to study a sound technology course because they had advertised that there was free studio time.”
In January 2013 he came to Cape Town where he was introduced to J1 and Uno July and from there, everything just unfolded.
“We are a group of guys on a journey together musically,” said Camo. “In the crew there are guys from different generations and we all have different interests. To have that on the tape would only be right because it reflects the dynamic of the crew.
“We were making a lot of music together so we had the content,” Simmysimmynya, added. “Then we decided to make it one project. In KZN everyone is championing each other, I know that I will hear songs from people I’ve never met. I heard Nasty C before he blew up. Cape Town doesn’t have the same sort of championing. Like when there is a big gig here, the artists usually aren’t Cape Town artists.”
Camo said part of the issue in Cape Town was a socio economic one. “Cape Town is already divided as it is and that is infiltrating into the culture.
The solution is to work together and collaborate across the lines. The potential is there and there is a lot of talent.”
And Don Loyiso believes there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
“Everyone is collaborating with each other. Back in the day everyone just kept to themselves and there was a point where Cape Town hip hop was stagnant because there wasn’t a unified movement. Things are changing and people are working together.”
M’tunez-i added that one of the advantages of growing up in Durban was that there was a central place where everyone went when they wanted hip hop and said something similar could be beneficial for Cape Town artists.
“What Contra Gang have shown to people is that the big thing is collaboration. We took all of that and said rather than separating because we are different, let’s work together. Nobody is compromising their style and everyone is doing their own thing.
“If we can do anything the goal is to inspire people to be true to themselves.”
Camo agreed, saying, “As soon as guys could have bedroom studios or park jams, there wasn’t that one place that people could go to for hip hop. I think that’s been the stagnating part of the Cape Town game.”
Contra Gang’s EP launch takes place at 91 Loop Street and tickets are R50 at the door.