Make Them Believe in Something – Q&A with Brain the Tool (Namibia)
Brain the Tool, an artist from Windhoek, Namibia, has released a new single, “Delusions”, in November 2016. Already a popular figure in the Namibian hip hop scene, he is looking to expand his sound – and his message – to a global scale.
Across all of his work, Brain the Tool never shies away from touching on politics, spirituality, or personal relationships. On Delusions, he has confronted all of these topics on the same track. He speaks without fear about coming to terms with people who have doubted him, and the battle to stay positive and focused in an uncertain world. This song, like the rest of his music, is heartfelt and intensely personal. “Delusions is dedicated first of all to the greatest man I’ve ever known, Axel Zeppy Ishtile, who left us when I was 13, 13 years ago”, says Brain, and notes that the song was made with those in mind who have ever lost someone special in their lives.
After losing his father, Brain the Tool moved out of the Pioneerspark area of Windhoek and bounced around various parts of the city. “All these different neighborhoods gave me a lot insight into different levels of social awareness from the people who lived in these places –people within kilometers of each other experiencing totally different realities.”, he says. Most recently he has landed in Soweto, a part of the Katatura township which endured severe political tension and racial segregation during over 40 years of Apartheid policies. “I dedicate [Delusions] to the people who are constantly looked down upon in this very confusing world,” he says.
Some readers might associate the name “Soweto” with the neighboring country of South Africa — a town of the same name near Johannesburg rose to international attention during Apartheid as a center of opposition to the white supremacist government’s policies of relocation and racial oppression. Brain the Tool’s Soweto, the one in Windhoek, went through similar tribulations during Apartheid — Namibia was a part of South Africa until gaining its independence in 1990. A nearby area, Okuryangava, where he lived nearly half of his life, was subjected to the same treatment.
“Africa is the future of Hip Hop”, Brain told me in an email. After listening to his 2016 EP BlackAsian: Rising is Imminent, it’s hard to disagree. Over eight lush, boom-bap beats cooked up by South Korean producer OVtxtRY, he weaves rhymes around the snare with a steady urgency; like he’s chasing something that he knows he will catch, if only he keeps up the pace. “Hip Hop has come such a long way in our country.”, he says, noting how much work it took to gain recognition as a serious scene with their own identity. After the long road to a growing prominence, the future looks bright in Southwestern Africa. Put simply: if you aren’t paying attention to Namibian hip hop, and Brain the Tool in particular, you might be missing what’s next.
Here is the full Q&A:
What neighborhood in Windhoek are you from? What was it like growing up there?
Currently I live in a neighbourhood called Soweto. Soweto forms part of a bigger settlement called Katutura, which means: The place we don’t belong/want to be. It was used as a place to resettle people during the apartheid era, created for the oppression of people of colour.
Over the years it has grown to have its own subdivisions of “lower to high middle class” areas. I’ve been living in Soweto for just over a year after moving from Okuryangava, which is one of the most impoverished locations in Katutura and Windhoek in general, located at the edge of the city. I spent half my life in that neighbourhood and truly it felt like the people we elected to govern the interests of the people forgot about us in that part. The predominant dwelling setup is made up of corrugated iron shacks.
My mind and heart couldn’t fathom how we as people were made to live like congested livestock in a country full of land. What’s ironic is that some of the greatest talent we have ever produced has come from these impoverished places. These are the beautiful dynamics of life, the ability to transform your circumstances. Living in Katutura required vigilance and tolerance for all the undesirable and uncontrollable factors around you in your environment such as alcohol abuse and crime. Despite those problems it is a place of genuine energy where the sun shines and people are hopeful of realising their potential.
How has life in Namibia changed since you were growing up?
One of the things I value the most about being Namibian is our deep rooted culture. This has definitely been a great pillar in keeping many of us sane and grounded in a fast paced world that is constantly churning out things for us to need.
Things have definitely been taking a total 180 over the years. With the ever-growing advancements in tech and soft culture, the youth have been less involved in having a full over-standing of their cultural heritage. This derails them, because their purpose is clouded by the synthetic world they have inherited. I was very fortunate to grow up in a generation which was at the cusp of good cultural practice and the “new world”.
We are really at a dangerous point, in that we are on the verge of losing all the teachings that stem back through time, teachings that helped to give us purpose, to make us true human beings. The disease of artificial human development is infecting all age groups, penetrating even the most sacred of places that we would use as an escape from this mechanical type existence. Rigid corporate entities constantly wanting to “develop” our beautiful country only damage it even further. We are faced with poverty like we’ve never seen before. Things are only getting worse and worse.
People who come from outside our country enjoy our beautiful haven more than we do because we’re kept at bay from receiving from our own land and resources.
Can you tell me about your earliest memory of hip hop music?
Man, I’ll have to take you back to like 1996/7. My older brothers would always be playing cassette tapes which were predominantly from Hip Hop artists. One of my brothers had quite the collection and he would always write out the lyrics of songs he liked and he would keep them in a book. I would sometimes sneak into his stuff and play his tapes, which he usually didn’t like young clumsy kids touching.
What made you want to become a hip hop artist?
To be honest, it’s not something you really get to process like that. Life is very much meant to be felt, and so for me at the age of like 10, I felt that this particular genre of music really moved me and had this high resonance – similar to that of reggae – it just sweeps you off your feet and before you know it you become immersed in the culture. Hip Hop music doesn’t take much to move someone.
What is the most meaningful part of making music for you?
I love the feeling of being able to convey my thoughts and feelings on a range of things, the ability to inspire someone through my interpretation of the world. One of the most precious gifts in this world is inspiration – knowing that you have inspired someone to do even better than before.
How do you see the world differently since you became a musician?
It’s been a tremendous shift in my consciousness. Being able to actually see how your actions and projections as a whole from a creative stance can shape people and circumstances in the world. It’s absolutely quite breath-taking to see how much artists can shape the collective consciousness of people. To make them believe in something.
What is the future of hip hop in Namibia?
We just had our biggest year as a collective in 2016 since this country’s inception. It really took us a long time to gain the attention of the community through years of persistence. I wouldn’t say we’re there yet, but we’ve made tremendous strides and can be proud of what we’ve built with our own volition. The future for music in this country and the continent is definitely a hopeful one. I project more involvement from organisations and citizens at large. We all just need to make it ours, and not so much a projection of a western version of what we consider Hip Hop and music as a whole to be. I’m hopeful that those who will come after us will propel it to new and unimagined heights.
On Delusions you deal with the topic of doubt, and of rising to the challenge when people doubt you. If you could say something to the people who doubt you, what would it be?
I would say “Thank You”. I think the underdog doesn’t like to be an underdog because he/she doesn’t get the appreciation they deserve. Until something happens when the underdog realises that they must embrace the resistance they have faced for it helps refine them. He/she realises that throughout the history of people of their kind, which is a creative being with something different to offer, resistance was important to bring out their best.
I value it all, it’s made me resilient, more creative, and most importantly it’s made me believe in what I have to offer even more. And to all people that have been doubted or maybe even doubted themselves – know that this is only an illusion to help you believe even more in what you do and the way you see things.
What are your future goals with your music? What do you hope to accomplish?
I would like to take my music and art to the entire world; Europe and Asia have been calling. All I ever wanted was to inspire people, to show them that anything is possible, I wanted to show the world that with the correct tools, both physically and spiritually, one can create whatever it is they imagine. Naturally the world is filled with more naysayers than believers, and we as artists have this constant internal debt to inspire and bring belief back. All I want to do is realise my potential by inspiring others to realise theirs through my interpretation of creation.
Any future projects you want to give a hint about?
I will definitely be putting out an album later this year. It’ll be my first full studio album. I feel like releasing a lot of music this year and truly there no limitations as to how and when I share my art with the world. There will be a lot of surprises. Creatively I have so much to offer and it’s not only limited to music. Possibilities are many.
Brain the Tool plans on releasing his first full studio album later in 2017. At this point, he feels like he is at the height of his powers as a creator. “There are truly no limitations as to how and when I share my art with the world”, he says. “There will be a lot of surprises”, he adds, hinting that his creative offerings are not limited to just music.
For updates on new projects and other surprises, follow him here on Twitter and Facebook, and by searching for Brain the Tool on Instagram. Alternatively, get in touch via email at email@example.com.
by Aaron Fuchs (for World Hip Hop Market)