WORDS BY LESIBA MANKGA
PHOTOGRAPHY BY XAVIERREBELLION
One fateful day at the office, an email came in with the subject line “Holy Alpha Interview Request”. I don’t know if I should say this but I’m going to anyway; we receive a lot of interview requests (these days), very few of whom I get excited for… Although I may come off as ungrateful, it is honestly a pleasure to listen to music for a living, but it also comes with its downsides, like every other job. Once you start clocking in thousands… and I mean literally thousands of hours of music a year, you’re inevitably going to come across some underwhelming releases.
Artists all start to sound the same and your general pleasure in music kind of gets sucked away by all of the mediocre songs you have to will yourself to grind through. However, every now and again there comes an artist that gives you that spark. The kind of song you listen to and think to yourself “actually, this is kinda hard’; ‘this is why I wanted to do this for a living”.
I usually write these introductions chronologically. I start in the office, describe the Uber journey, describe the venue… Maybe let you know how I feel if I experienced any memorable emotion-grabbing moments but if you have heard Holy Alpha before then you’ll know what a huge personality she is. So I’ll save you the time and jump right into the interesting bit.
Upon meeting Holy Alpha, she stretched out her hand and said as seriously as she could, “Holy Alpha, nice to meet you!”. I could feel her wanting to let out her full personality and say something like “I’m Holy Alpha le way!”. But this overly serious demeanour did not last all too long. By the end of the interview, she had completely opened up to me but I wanted to see if I could manifest “Mama Ghost” out of her. To unleash the full personality I know her to be… so I made a request. For my final question, I asked her to act out her response, rather than simply answer it and after hearing the question… She happily obliged.
The diminutive figure became the biggest person in the room. Strutting back and forth, pretending to be on stage, raising her imaginary Grammy award and making chanting noises to replicate people applauding her as she walks off the stage. At that moment, Holy Alpha brought out the child in me. I couldn’t help but smile. She had so much life, and for her, she could already see herself on stage. It’s the kind of spark I had lost for my career. She was brimming with so much energy that it was near impossible for it not to rub off on you.
Before I departed I stretched out my hand to shake her hand and she opted to give me a hug instead. I don’t think anyone could only use words to describe a conversation with Holy Alpha, but this is as close as it gets. Meet Mama Ghost and Holy Alpha, all in one.
So I watched a few of your previous interviews to find out a bit more about you and I came across the fact that you grew up around boys. What was it like being the only girl in a house full of boys?
I didn’t know what it meant at the time, but a lot of people referred to me as a tomboy. I was just spending time with my siblings so I didn’t really see myself as any different to them. Now that I’m older, I definitely understand why people called me a tomboy. I remember a time my brothers and I were walking down the street and there was a woman walking in the opposite direction. She was significantly older than my eldest brother so you could imagine the age difference between her and I. Naturally, you would assume that one of my brothers would say something, but no, it was me instead… I remember shouting out, “ekse baby!” [laughs]. So yeah, I grew up around a lot of boys and to this day, I feel more comfortable around them.
Despite striking a diminutive figure, you are a huge personality and that got me thinking… How would they describe you at home?
I believe that I am a blend of both my mother and father. They are both extroverted characters and I took that characteristic from them. My parents were well known in our neighbourhood. If they walked down the street, people would stop and greet them. Those memories shaped the person that I am today.
Would you say that you have always been free to be a big personality?
I think that I have always been allowed to express myself. I was never told that I had to act a certain way, but for most of my life, I was just following my older siblings, just like any other younger sibling would. I would say that I really started to come into my own when I entered High School.
Self-expression is encouraged in the messaging we receive today, but the acceptance of self-expression is a different experience. What was it like being, as you say, i’nigga ekasi?
I feel as though everyone should be able to express themselves freely. Personally, I have never had a problem with people referring to me as “i’nigga”. It was never an insult to me. I have always been this way. Ngiyas’accepta le way!
I find Cape Town artists interesting because their music has a different quality to it. What is it about Cape Town and the music scene that shapes you as an artist?
There is one thing that separates us eKapa and that is our bringing… There are rappers from the suburbs and then there are rappers from eKasi. Xa ukulele ekasi, you won’t rap like us. Rappers from the hood have islolo… uline. Having grown up in that environment, I can tell you first-hand that there are experiences that force you to grow a thick skin. That’s really the element that separates us. What makes me unique is the fact that I am so deep in isiXhosa. You can’t sound like me or rap like me unless you are that deep in the Xhosa culture.
In a previous interview, you said that once you stopped rapping in English, you started to gain more attention. When did that moment happen for you?
I was rapping in isiXhosa prior to that moment but it wasn’t as prominent as it is in my music today. You have to remember the climate around that time (2015/16). Nasty C was starting to really boom and I was influenced by his success to rap in English. Around 2017, a lot of people started encouraging me to rap in isiXhosa but I was hesitant to rap in isiXhosa because I didn’t want people to say I’m rapping in ispaza. When I started to incorporate more vernac into my raps, I wrote ‘Ghost’ and it was well received… That’s when I realised the power that comes with rapping in isiXhosa. That’s when I realised that there is only one Holy Alpha.
You are known for your aggressive raps but you have this softer side of you that comes out on songs like ‘Wena’ and ‘Iqhawe’. I’m curious to find out what the reception is to your softer side because it’s a complete 180 from what we’ve come to know and love you for.
Think of it this way, I have two sides to me… there is Holy Alpha, which is the softer side of me; then there is Mama Ghost, which is my aggressive alter ego. uMama Ghost uzakuhlafuna ke!
Having grown up in that environment, I can tell you first-hand that there are experiences that force you to grow a thick skin.– Holy Alpha
In your songs, you talk about Amashumi a lot. What is Amashumi and what does it mean?
Let me explain this with a story. Back in 2017, I was in my matric year and I was as healthy as any other kid my age and then out of nowhere, I got sick. It was strange because I had never experienced anything like that before. I lost a lot much weight in a short period of time and I started to go pale… Now this is the strange part. I went to the doctors and they told me that they couldn’t find what was wrong with me. That’s when I started to suspect that there was an element of spiritual warfare… So I turned to the church. The Bishop at the church told me that a close neighbour was the one behind my falling ill and it all started to make sense, and through the power of prayer, I came right.
I want to touch on your experience in the Sportscene Put Me On competition. Can you tell me about a time when you had to really dig deep during your time in the competition?
I think that moment came at the very end of the competition. I knew I had to impress the judges and the people who’ve been supporting my journey till that point. All of the artists at the performance were doing their thing but I had to tell myself “this is my moment”. I just went out there and gave my all. I reminded them (the judges) why I stood out at the Cape Town road show to begin with…
What was the one piece of advice that stood out for you?
There is no formula for this. You just need to be consistent and put your creations out there for the world to see. You can’t expect to get work from brands or bookings from promoters if you don’t consistently put in the work.
There is no formula for this. You just need to be consistent and put your creations out there for the world to see.– Holy Alpha
Can you describe what it was like to work with the likes of Zoocci Coke Dope?
I was so nervous going into that studio session. When I saw him outside the studio, I could feel the butterflies in my stomach but at the same time, I was really excited. I mean it’s Zoocci Coke Dope… He’s the dealer! [laughs]. Zoocci was a pleasure to work with. He gave me the creative freedom to explore the track in my own way. He even helped me out with my pronunciation of a few words… That time I’m the one that’s Xhosa!
It seems like Zoocci has a knack for bringing out the best in everyone he works with.
Absolutely… Did you hear the adlibs on ‘iNkunzi’? Did you hear how my voice sounds? It’s kinda putting me under pressure for my next single because now I’m thinking, “who else can do that?”.
Can you describe what it was like to shoot your first big-budget music video?
If I can be 100% honest with you, it was a struggle from day 1… I mean I’m not complaining, but it was tough. On the 1st day of shooting, the weather was really bad. It was raining and I was feeling sick, but I had to show up. I had to perform because this is my job. You see the scene where I was on top of the shipping container? It was freezing! But I’m grateful that this is my job and I was really happy with how the music video came out in the end.
You gave quite the performance on the ‘iNkunzi’ music video. Would you ever consider venturing into acting?
Actually… That would be crazy! I would love to act and get that acting bag. Entlek Lesiba… What’s your clan name? Who sent you? [laughs]. You’re my good luck charm now.
Okay, let’s end it this way… You’re on stage accepting that award you have always wanted. What are you going to say in your acceptance speech?
Thixo wami! Wow! As i’medie esuka eKapa. Look at me now! Ndi lapha ku lendawo ngoku, ngizo thatha iGrammy lam. Angiwo okqhala, I’m not the first black person to take home a Grammy. Black Coffee did it. Doja Cat did it. Sibaninsi… So I want to say, to all black people out there, it is possible. They didn’t believe in me but mama did. [walks off].
Ltd. All Rights Reserved.