Feature Interview

Andy Mkosi Gives Hip Hop A New Shape

Andiswa ‘Andy’ Mkosi makes music for herself. As a photographer, she uses art to reflect and interpret life as it exists both outside and behind her eyes. Her music is an extension of this reflexive exploration of the world around her, a way of understanding her own lived experience, and she presents her observations with a startling sincerity.

Andy delivers a critical view of modern life, side by side with a deep exploration of self. She holds contemporary society up to the light to see where the holes are, investigating how our chaotic world affects herself and her peers. On the more introspective tracks you’ll get a window into her life, following her thoughts as she negotiates her internal sphere. As personal as each story is, the pure honesty she indulges in when revealing herself means that only Dorothy’s tin man would struggle to relate.

Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela

Her musical style sits parallel to hip hop, weaving around the genre’s defining elements. It has much of hip hop’s typical facets – spoken word, cyclical melody loops, chorus breaks – but she explores the medium with a unique sense of adventure. One of the most notable deviations to any hip hop head is Andy’s rhyme structure. “Sometimes I write stuff and it doesn’t necessarily rhyme, but it has some sort of message… Hip hop is poetry, basically, whether it rhymes or not,” says Andy.

All this she manages in English, her second language and a constant reminder of the continued colonial dominance in SA’s culture. There’s a clue in Mnxim (“I really find this funny / expressing myself with the oppressor’s tongue / when my forefathers felt the whip of their chain”). “You’re sitting with this master tongue, trying to express all these things that this language speaks down to, or doesn’t have space for,” says Andy.

But the messages in her music need to be heard – she’s struggling through the often clumsy and impersonal language so that lazy bastards like me can be privy to her revelations. “Everyone needs to understand, and English is the one language that I know that can speak globally or universally. I don’t want to block people out, people need to hear what needs to be said.”

My first encounter with Andy Mkosi was when I heard Background featuring Maurice Turk, from her iPressure EP. A big, unashamedly hip hop beat underlies two fiery verses promoting individualism and feminism. It’s a beautifully bold track, full of socially conscious poetry that you can bob your head to.

This is the nature of Andy’s recorded music. The beats pull her squarely into the realm of hip hop, maintaining a solid verse-chorus format and creating a structured canvas for her to paint her words onto. “How I got into music was through hip hop… the community that I was introduced to was the hip hop community. They’re the people that said ‘come through, you can use my bedroom studio, here’s a free beat.’”

Photo by Noncedo Charmaine

But the flip side of Andy’s musical coin is her live performance. In 2016, she decided to explore the flexibility and spontaneity of playing with a live band. She put together a small group of like-minded musicians, quickly landing on the dream team – Nkosinathi Matomela on keys, Ayanmo Ntsikelelo Mafu on bass and Tatenda Wekwatenzi on backup vocals.

“When people start making hip hop, it’s almost like you’re confined to this genre, and people don’t explore it much,” says Andy. “I feel like I shouldn’t be one of those people who are like, ‘ah, nah, I don’t wanna do this, I don’t wanna make this type of sound’ – I just want to make music.”

Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela

With the band, the music is decidedly softer and jazzier. There are no drums to force the structure, so the piano and bass drive the rhythm with a gentle nudge. Andy can afford to freestyle, make mistakes, and let the performance follow its own organic direction. “Performing with a beat, you’re restricted to three minutes or whatever, and if you fuck up, you fuck up, there’s no turning back,” she says. “But [with the band] it’s flexi, because you can twist and turn the music however you feel, and you still get what you want… the message still comes across.”

Andy has just dropped a new EP called ‘This Audio is Visual’, and as she talks about it she gets visibly excited. Again she has left her comfort zone to explore the outer limits of hip hop, seeking new sounds and collaborating with new people to bring her vision to life. “There’s growth within that as well, knowing what you want and going for it… To date, I can listen to that EP and be like, actually I’m proud of myself.”

Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela

This Audio is Visual will be unique in that Andy will be marrying her twin loves of photography and music. The message of each song will be translated into a photograph, and the EP launch will take the form of a multi-media exhibition. She’s also putting together a book featuring the photos and lyrics side by side.

Andy Mkosi’s music is honest, graceful and raw in equal measures. It’s a true insight into the workings of her mind and heart. In a scene bloated with American accents and MTV ideals, Andy blows a breath of fresh air for anyone who values candid music that pushes against an unequal world and bares the artist’s soul. Long may she continue to create and inspire.

You can listen to Andy’s music on Bandcamp and Soundcloud, and keep up with her on Facebook and Twitter.

You can also check out her photography on Behance.