Originally published on Superbalist The Way of Us here.
Photography x Anthony Bila
It’s a sleepy Saturday morning in Blairgowrie and I’m sitting across from Anthony Bila at the Happiness Café, debating the neighbourhood as ‘next in line’; he reckons its prime ‘hipster’ real estate, quiet, central, and good value for money. I’m pulling a face when in rolls Khaya Sibiya on a little black BMX, Woolies packet dangling from the handle bars, and rare Losers sneakers on his feet. I swallowed my tongue.
Known for his part in building the Boyzin Bucks brand, and more recently his own mobile fashion truck and label, Punk And Ivy, started with wife Bianca, Khaya Sibiya (38) is a jack of all trades. Stylist, artist, father and musician, there isn’t anything the man can’t try, do, and transcend. ‘I’m a polymath right now. People always say you do so many things but do you master them, and I think I’ve actually gotten to a point where I’ve mastered them. The music, on it, the fashion, on it, I also go into the design space and fine art. Kudzi (Kudzanai Chiurai) once commissioned us to do something for his magazine, he was doing a magazine for his exhibition Black Presidents, and he commissioned a bunch of different artists to create their interpretation. So we did an assassination, we did three pieces for him actually. One was a human throne. I painted myself gold and took pictures in different poses and then put them together in post to form a human chair. Kudzi spazzed over it, so the Goodman Gallery was like “yoooooo, let’s actually make it”. So we made it. It’s in Switzerland right now. I only saw it once with my own eyes. I wanted to put my blood in it, hair, DNA and everything, make it a real human chair, but unfortunately I didn’t get to be part of the process of making it which was kinda weird.’ I’m tickled by the nonchalance with which he talks about dabbling throughout his career, and it dawns on me that I’ve never really sat down to chat to him before. We never get more than a brief exchange of greetings and warm hugs at the spattering of weekly branded social gatherings, and it’s setting in how important so much of his work is. I’m fan girling.
Traversing fashion, music and fine art has become almost second nature for the culture chameleon. A stalwart in the industry, his impact has resonated from popular hip hop styling, to Kwaito music evolution, making it new and interesting for the modern African consumer. ‘Fashion was the come up. It basically started in highschool. Me and the homies were really on the mpahla joints, the Italian joints, the Spitz, the Carvela, it was heavy competition with the gear, we were on the pantsula joints. Homies were rocking some flamboyant shit. I remember this one homie, he used to fail on his ass at school, but he would wear labels as school uniform. Dunhil grey pants, Boss white shirt, he was killing them! I started seriously though when I dropped out of varisty at Wits, studying business economics, and went to Diesel working retail. I was freelance styling as well at the time, so I had to work under an alias to avoid a conflict of interest. I went as Justin Case at SL Mag.’ Anthony and Khaya laugh a private chuckle I have no reference for, ‘it’s an OG skater mag’ Anthony offers me as context. ‘Wow, we’ve really been in the game,’ I laugh too in an attempt to hide my youth, ‘she was only born in the 90’s, she won’t remember.’ Thanks Ant.
For a time, Khaya produced music, which he proudly announces he owns the masters for, under the name Bhubessi, a musical alter ego. Now though, he seems to have evolved out of who that personality was, and emerged as a more contemporary, multifaceted version of his musical self, under a new name; Kobayashi. ‘You know The Usual Suspects? Kobayashi is the advisor to Keyser Soze. You know with like Boyzin Bucks I was like okay, who’s the main ou, who’s the advisor to the main ou, he’s really the top guy. Cuz everyone wants to be Keyser Soze, but I was like nah, I want to be Kobayashi. Kobayashi is just different, he’s moving with the times. I’ve always rapped in vernac. I used to go to syphers and everyone would be rapping in English, and I decided that if we are going to rap in Africa, we gotta rap in our own language. It reaches more people, so that hasn’t changed.’
Khaya echoes in his actions, the sentiment of culture being a moving, breathing and changing thing. Taking parts of his heritage and welding them to the material aspects of the west, has become an integral part of creating a unique perspective on what it is to be an African creative. ‘I feel like I’ve outgrown Bhubessi. Bhubessi means lion in Zulu, I actually got it from some crazy guy in the hood, he said he always saw a Lion when he thought of me. Bhubessi has gone through so many different phases of the music; we went through that jazz moment with the samples and the riffs, the punk raps, and then we started experimenting and the sound changed. Even the crews I was working with like the Black Sunday homies, just kinda fell off. So it was like, okay, the sound’s changed. So I took a break on some “fuck this rap shit”, and did the fashion thing for a while, that also helped with the transformation. I even started getting beef from the hip hop guys cuz I was a fashion guy now, rocking the red skinnies now, so I did this diss track to hip hop called The Thrill is Gone. I was even singing on it, it had different beats, so I was like yo, let’s make a fashion album. So yeah, with Kobayashi, it’s different to Bhubessi. He was very African and very “power, power,” and Kobayashi is a little “live a little, chill a little,” and it incorporates the fashion side, I think it’s more holistic.’
What I hear as he talks about his own work, is an archive of local and international references that burst through the seams of his mind and out into the world through his art. The music itself has a lot of history, the art, so much politics, and the passion with which he describes those things, so much heart. ‘I read this Bubblegum Club review of my last EP, and that dude just nailed it describing my sound as “future sci-fi Kwaito” it’s kinda like vapour-wavy, obviously hip-hop based, but I fuck with the Kwaito vibes heavy. It’s future Kwaito because it’s got almost the same kinda of elements but then flip it on it’s head in terms of references.’ This push and pull between history and modernity, heritage and popular culture, is what allows Khaya to play with these various mediums to create his own personal version of the chronology of contemporary South African creativity. Check out his latest track below.