Monday, April 14, 2008


By Nick Kaoma

Lee Kasumba is one phantom lady. She’s one of those people that put numbers on the scoreboard without much fanfare. In her time at YFM, colleagues such as Bad Boy T, Sbu, Khabzela and Fresh always hogged the spotlight while she kept doing her thang far from the gleaming cameras.

In the past couple of years, she has quietly positioned herself as the First Lady of Mzansi Hip Hop; she’s the one that punted new songs from then little known acts such as Skwatta Kamp, Proverb and Amu. She’s the proverbial mother of the game; MCees are quick to run to Lee when the industry has shown its ugly side. She's one of the few celebrities who is always willing to lend a helping hand to up-and-comers without first asking, "How much am I getting for this?".

From being Editor of YMag, host of various YFM shows, MC at various hip hop gigs and now host and presenter of Emcee Africa on Channel O, you’d think that the lady would be ready to retire off to a pad on the beach on the West Coast where she can enjoy the fruits of her hard labour. But NO, she’s still rearing straight ahead!

After much struggle, we managed to track down this busy lady. As the first woman to feature in Encore’s Sistas in Music Week, we speak to her about her fulfilling gig as host of Emcee Africa, her new slot on YFM and what the future holds for her or rather what she holds for the future, ya dig?

Hey Ms. Lee, what’s good? Thanks for taking time to chat to us. First things first: is 2008 proving to be as great a year as people were saying it would be?
I can’t really speak for everyone but from where I sit at the moment my life is really good; the year has started out like a dream getting to travel the continent on “official” hip hop business so to speak and getting to meet people I had interviewed from the “Harambe” days in person and actually experiencing hip hop beyond just the music on this continent.

To add to that, awesome doors in hip hop on all levels that I never dreamt of have opened up for me. God is good! I feel I am living someone else’s life and I’m not giving it back, I am so thankful…The year is only a quarter in and I feel like I’ve had a great year already, I am excited about the rest of the year going into next year too..

We’ve been seeing you on TV a lot these days; tell us about the Sprite Emcee Africa tour, how did it come about and what is the rationale behind it?
The show was an idea that was created after Channel O sent out a brief wanting a hip hop show and the genius director Josh came up with a concept that would combine mortal combat with emcee battles complete with character selects etc. So I was brought in to host it and also to bring in some of my content and knowledge cause if you recall I did a lot with African hip hop “Harambe” days and I’m also part of African hip hop radio, so I guess I was asked on those basis.

The show is an hour long and features emcee battles. In addition to that it also features a mini-type documentary on each country so that we can all get our eyes into the flavor of hip hop in that particular country. The show goes a huge way towards bringing African hip hop together.

How has the experience of travelling through a myriad of African cities in search of dope MCees been?
It’s been a dream come true and an eye opener. I mean while travelling we got to check out all elements of hip hop and we tracked where it started in certain countries; we went to slave forts, had hip hop round tables, got a whole lot of music, saw some hip hop fashion and so forth. It was great kind of like taking my paintbrush and a canvas and in each country dipping it into their paint box and watching all these beautiful shades come out. The continent itself is beautiful and the hip hop reflects that too. The diversity in the different scenes has been interesting too.
I realized also that hip hop is the CNN of the streets. In Africa, we may not all understand one another but hip hop is understood by all and you can get the history of a country by listening to a track. Hip hop can get the whole African renaissance thing really started on a street level.

How would you compare SA’s hip hop scene to that of our brethren in other African countries? Any tips that SA cats can pick up and vice versa?

Hahaha, comparing is hard because well SA had an advantage in terms of the language factor and we have regular sessions you know; some countries don’t host as many battle sessions as we do. But each country loves and expresses their hip hop in a different way so I cant really compare, I mean Kenya is the hip hop colony you know, and SA well, all elements are alive and there is mad studio access, facilities and infrastructure etc; Tanzania has a rich history and they are kings at Swahili raps without a doubt.

The scenes are different; you can’t really compare and I’m not even being politically correct, just honest.

You’re considered by many as the First Lady of SA hip hop (including here at Encore); what is it about hip hop that makes you a fiend and a slave to it?

This always makes me shy because I appreciate the props but I just get strange about titles cause I feel if I don’t live up to them then cats will dethrone me! The way I see my role is similar to anyone else, the only difference is that okay I grew up on hip hop and coming from another country in Africa (Uganda) you know how hectic Xenophobia was and to an extent is in SA.

For a long time I never felt I belonged and the SA Hip hop community made me feel like I belonged you know, and so I decided actually I prayed that if I ever got the chance I would use what I had to get African youth to understand each other and help create as much of a platform as I could and so yea I am just a fan a head who has a mic and so I see my role as someone who just tries to bridge the gap and hopefully play a role in opening doors for other people in the game across Africa onto a global scale and across all aspects of the hip hop culture.

So it’s a labour of love, I enjoy it! Most of what I do is for free, unless there is a corporate involved; the slave part comes in when I have to deal with media (the station I work for included). Or when I have to explain “what is hip hop” although still I realize that is necessary.

The slave part also comes in when some cats blame me for something wack that goes down or their music not getting on radio - I don’t have that much power at YFM at all and each day the hip hop fight is a huge one.

Stay logged on Encore for Part 2 of this dope interview.

No comments: