In the next bus coming from the Eastern Cape to Cape Town is likely to be at least one ambitious, talented person who is embarking on a journey of self-discovery. Many creatives leave this largely rural province for big cities, due to lack of opportunities in their field, and Bongekile’s story is not any different.
Bongekile Nqiyama, who is twenty five, hails from one of the most remote rural areas, Engcobo, in the Eastern Cape, and yet is now both a recognised rapper and author.
“There aren’t many opportunities there. You don’t see any development. You need to go to either Cape Town or Jo’burg if you want to realise your dream. I’ve seen gifted guys turn to drugs because there’s nothing much to do,” says ‘Homeboy, The General’, as he’s affectionately known to his fans.
He says that back in Engcobo soccer was the only thing that helped him stay focused, and kept his eye on the ball. “I played soccer when I was growing up and that’s where the name ‘general’ came to be. Football kept me disciplined because my gym sessions kept me preoccupied, so that I never had leisure,” he recalls.
Once he had made the move, and while he was still trying to figure out the Mother City, he discovered a few things about himself and his values, as well.
“I started writing and rapping when I came to Cape Town, towards the end of 2013. I do understand that some people do not listen to hip hop for their own reasons, and that’s why I began to also convey my message through short stories. I’ve just released my first project title Kasi Library Ep.” This consists of daily kasi stories, as the title suggests.
“I believe if you are gonna rap or write about something, it has to be worthwhile and it has to have an impact in the community. This is why you only find positive messages in my music and my writing. I am not about the hype and the violence that you often find in hip hop,” he adds.
His project was produced by the prominent and respected producer Aylo, from Purple Beats Records. (It is available at the African Music Store in Long Street for a lousy R50.)
Bongekile believes that while his national career will grow immensely, his rural roots are still holding him so firmly.
“My Eastern Cape followers request a copy of my CD and we post it to them. You can’t be telling them about fancy clothes and money in your music while they’re trying to make it out of that slum. I’ve offered them something they can relate to, hence the support.”
He’s not too happy about the people that leave their home towns and never go back to invest.
“There’s nothing wrong with seeking greener pastures but we need to plough back a garden that our future children will reap from. We need to give back because we’ve experienced how it feels to have nothing. Who’ll develop our province if we don’t? Charity begins at home!” he maintains.
With just a little experience under his belt, he was privileged to represent Cape Town in the SA Hip Hop Daily Vol 4 Underdog Edition. This recording project features rappers from all over South Africa and the neighbouring countries of Swaziland, Botswana and Lesotho.
Each rapper records a song which then goes onto the collaborative album, sponsored by the Southern African clothing label Mad Musician wear.
“Some Cape Town rappers weren’t happy with the fact that I’m a new artist from EC that has just represented their province in this huge project. I feel like my music talent has attracted me more enemies than fans,” he says as he bows his head, two fingers covering his eyes.
“But that never bothers me. There’s a quote that reads, ‘A tiger doesn’t lose sleep over the opinion of sheep’. I have affected their lives, but I won’t let them affect mine!” says the confident young rapper.
Bongekile has had to face all that negativity on his own as he has no-one close (yet!) in Cape Town, only a few older people in the industry who have given him guidance.
“I’m the only family I have in Cape Town. The only thing I came up here for was the desire to make it in life, and that’s what I’m still pushing for. I’ve nobody to bail me out when I need something. I don’t have friends. Writing is the only way I can escape my reality.”
He adds that he may be alone, but he’s nowhere near lonely.
“Friends can be harmful sometimes as they’ll talk you into bad habits. Look for a more mature person in your area who has achieved fairly a lot for themselves and ask for their guidance. You can never go wrong if you have a firm support structure. Befriend people who’ve had an experience in life because they’ll pave you back when you’re losing your way,” he concludes.
Bongekile is successfully branching out: last year he was nominated at the Spiced Beef Poetry Awards 2015 in the category, ‘Best poetic hip hop artist of the year’. This annual event is held at the University of the Western Cape and claims to “celebrate the soul of South African poetry”.
Then, Homeboy says his next mission is to publish a collection of short stories, titled Ivuthiwe Mawethu.
“The stories are fictional but they are influenced by things that I have seen in my home town of Ngcobo and here in Site C, which is where I am currently residing. There is a lot of drama and lessons to be learnt.”