Cape Town lyricist Ndlulamthi (also known as iNdlulamthi—a giraffe in IsiXhosa) recently blessed his followers with a new EP titled The Substance, a follow-up to his 2018 sophomore album Hard Livings. The Substance is yet another edutaining project by the revered orator who’s known for sharing the adversities faced by black people in the townships of Cape Town in his music.
In The Substance, Ndlulamthi sticks to his specialty of addressing social issues through songs of discontent. He delivers his message using compelling storytelling skills and Xhosa raps focused on the harsh realities faced by the black working class, particularly black men.
The Substance sees Ndlulamthi engaging the listener in a 25-minute-long conversation about substantial issues—gratitude, disappointment and failure, and gender-based violence—focusing specifically on the unique experiences of a black man particularly in Cape Town townships.
He starts the project by expressing his gratitude to his childhood friends. In the song “Amajita” (the guys), he reflects on the various homies that were crucial in his life and musical journey. He briefly touches on how they helped each other overcome struggles such as the loneliness that comes with having absent fathers and growing up in humiliating poverty.
On the EP’s outro, “Dankie Star”, he gives thanks to his followers for their support. He retells some of the stories from the followers and uses a compilation of voice notes from supporters. In addressing the listener as “star”, which is a positive alternative to “dude” or “brother”, it reflects the audience he had in mind; his fellow black man.
On disappointment and failure
Using both his personal story and nuanced generalisations, Ndlulamthi depicts the black man’s manoeuvres of strife, disappointment and failure on tracks such as “Ithawtha, “eRANKIN” and “Dreams”. These songs aren’t pity-parties, but rather paint a holistic picture of the complications of being black in The Mother City’s townships, which are microcosms of other black townships countrywide.
In “Ithawtha”, Ndlu repeats and closes the phrase “we didn’t choose uba-stout” (we didn’t choose to be troublemakers), listing several situations that forced him into trouble-making. Ndlu speaks from the perspective of those seen as troublemakers in the community, from school dropouts to petty crime offenders. He describes how it was his situation that led him to find immediate means of income, as school was not helping with his hunger.
LIVE PERFORMANCE OF eRANKIN by iNDLULAMTHI
He then transitions into a taxi driver on the track “eRANKIN” (at the taxi rank) and details the day-to-day struggles of being in that industry (an industry that is run by and employs mostly black men). Challenges range from having to reverse into oncoming traffic to avoid traffic cops, to dealing with customers who, one day, praise his driving and then complain at his employer the following. The track highlights that being a taxi driver might not be the fanciest job ever, but it puts food on the table in these tough economic times when unemployment is rife.
The topic of work and careers extends to the track “Dreams” in which he speaks of how it’s hard to chase certain goals on an empty stomach. He also highlights that he would’ve loved to pursue a more illustrious or politically affiliated career, but, “politics ain’t shit if I still have poverty to conquer,” he raps.
On gender-based violence
Not mincing his words or protecting the male ego, Ndlu tackles the burning issue of gender-based violence in the song “Too Attached”. He takes lead and paints vivid scenarios that gents should refrain from. An excerpt:
“…heh akafuni into e-serious, usistaz, uyayaz’ if she does, akazukwazi u-cut’ i-ties nawe/ So, ncoske ungam’frayz’, umenz’ umfazi, otherwise, k’yawuchitheka igazi, xa um’bone i-true colours, ’cause u-too attached…”
(“she doesn’t want anything too serious, because if she does, then it’ll be hard for her to cut ties/ So, it’s best you don’t ask for marriage because once you see her true colours, blood will be shed, because you’re too attached”)
The song is a much-appreciated effort as it comes in the backdrop of a spike in gender-based violence incidences involving the tragic rape and murder of countless women and queer people across South Africa.
Though the song doesn’t extensively cover the whole topic and sticks to romantic relationships, it is useful for addressing how flawed men’s thinking is.
Ndlulamthi’s approach offers an understanding of the situations that could lead to physical confrontation because of men’s entitlement to women. He chooses to speak directly to black men and makes it a male issue. Many times the topic is addressed from a woman’s point of view, stripping away the responsibility that is upon men to change their behaviour and thinking.
The lockdown has helped expose the magnitude of gender-based violence attacks by South African men. For example, the government GBV and femicide command centre alone recorded more than 120,000 victims just in the first three weeks of lockdown. This alone is an indication of how men have made all spaces unsafe for women.
In each of the scenarios painted in the song “Too Attached”, Ndlulamthi encourages gents to rather just walk away from situations that could yield disastrous outcomes.
With such substantial content, The Substance lives up to its title and seeks to add value to its listeners. Ndlulamthi beautifully covers each topic and delivers his messages in a way that will provoke thought and evoke emotion. The project seeks to help people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack without downplaying anything.