WHEN he broke into the cutthroat music industry with his hit, Bebengakholwa, in 2014, Bulawayo rapper Cal_Vin charmed the nation with his command of vernacular rhymes in Ndebele — and he ended up coining the phrase “Ndebele Rap”.
SOUND TRACK: Sindiso Dube
Although he did not found the genre, he had guts to own the sound and to take it to the same competitive platform with his counterparts from the country’s northern region.
He also dropped Z’khuphani. The track became a kasi (ghetto) anthem and managed to court Cassper Nyovest’s attention, leading to a collaboration.
In the last few years, Cal_Vin has been reigning with the Ndebele rhymes. Just last week, he released his eighth studio album, Nhliziyo, which has been received well.
Prior to the album release Cal_Vin told NewsDay Life & Style that he believed his new offering would inspire “the culture of Bulawayo”.
“I feel like we don’t have a Ndebele voice when it comes to music. Everyone wants to rap in English and other languages. The album will inspire Bulawayo.
I want Bulawayo to feel greatness in the music. I want to make Ndebele cool through the music,” he said, adding that this was deeper than music.
Cal_Vin was born Mgcini Calvin Nhliziyo. Nhliziyo loosely means “heart”, and the rapper poured out his heart in the album, rapping about his everyday life, music, Bulawayo his pride, his family and what other people outside the city think of him and the city.
In the album, he maintains his vernacular skills and seems to be saying there is no better way to explain yourself than through your own language.
The 11-track album takes off with the track Engiphumakhona (“where I am from”) The Luveve-bred artiste sings of his hood and other high-density suburbs of Bulawayo. The hood is where dreams are made, but some of them have suffocated due to the economic meltdown, peer pressure, drugs and illicit deals.
Despite the bad energy in the hood and Bulawayo in general, Cal_Vin contends through his music that there is still hope for Mthwakazi to rise again from the deep economic meltdown which has turned the once industrial hub into a pale shadow of its former self.
In uBulawayo, themed around the pride of the city, Cal_Vin features seasoned poet Albert Nyathi and GTI. The artistes take pride in their city: its beautiful women, its cleanliness, refreshing peace and rich history and culture. Nyathi puts the final nail on the last loops of the song with a poem, praising the city’s culture and questioning what happened to the former industrial hub of the nation.
Recently, Cal_Vin was in the limelight — albeit for the wrong reasons — amid reports that he had fathered two children with two different women in the same year. Perhaps, in a positive light, the development gave him a deeper appreciation of parenthood. He pays tribute to his late father and his mother whom he stays with in Luveve in two respective songs, Baba and Mama.
Rappers are known for champagne bottles, fast life, and mixing with beautiful girls. But the track Regret chronicles a typical urban night out which ends in regret and self-recrimination. It resonates with many young people, who go out with friends, but next morning they wake up to unfortunate situations they have to deal with. Some find themselves in police cells, due to their unbecoming behaviour they exhibit on the drunk nights.
Cal_Vin is also a victim of drunken nights. Speaking to the media earlier this year, he revealed that his first child was a result of a one-night stand, punctuated with heavy boozing, after his performance alongside South African star K.O at the Bulawayo Amphitheatre last year.
Cal_Vin’s album would not have been complete without a love song. Famous is the only song where he talks to his lover. Cal_Vin explains to his lover that the nature of his job requires him to be out and about, leaving him with little time for her.
The song, which features talented female vocalist Purple, resonates with Cal_Vin’s yesteryear song, Ngiyeza, featuring female vocalist Nozzy, off That Luveve Boy mixtape.
Cal_Vin has been described as a musician who is not level-headed and full of himself. But he puts it down to confidence in the song, Ulindentoni featuring Msizkay.
Ulindentoni means “what you are waiting for”. The rapper boasts of being hard working, having sweated his way from rock-bottom to stardom.
Cal_Vin’s career has seen him evolving from a secular musician, where he traded with the mimicker C-Dawg to gospel under the name Church Boy, and retracing his way back to the secular world as Cal_Vin.
In the gospel-inspired track titled 1 Corinthians, Cal_Vin gives credit to God for helping him regain his focus and move on with music after almost quitting the industry and for all the silverware that now adorns his trophy cabinet.
Controversy has become Cal_Vin’s middle name. And it is not surprising that he included the controversial track, Lamulela, on the album. It is directed at his rivals and the so-called industry “gatekeepers”.
The song digs deep into history, tied to another traditional Ndebele song which was sung by Ndebele warriors while fighting the white settlers.
The lyrics point to an unmentioned “cartel” working towards his demise and that of Ndebele rap, which he says is a threat to Zim hip-hop.
In the song, Cal_Vin insinuates that music players from the northern part of the country were pulling him and other artistes down for, he sings, “they don’t want to see uMthwakazi on top”.
Mthwakazi is the traditional name of the proto-Ndebele and Ndebele kingdom that existed until the end of the 19th century within the area of today’s Zimbabwe.
If we are to read much into the recent activities in the hip-hop scene, Cal_Vin’s song could be directed to Asaph — real name Tafadzwa Tarukwana — who is also riding high with his song, Mambo. After winning the outstanding hip-hop award ahead of favourite Cal_Vin at the Bulawayo Arts Awards in May, Asaph went on to crown himself as “mambo”, the king of hip-hop in Bulawayo, a pre-dominantly Ndebele city.
The two have thrown subliminal jabs at each other in different songs, despite the fact that they have worked closely together on previous projects.
Cal_Vin’s album takes you through the life of the rapper, father, son and Bulawayo resident. Unlike other previous albums where he does his own beat productions, in the spirit of collaborations this project saw him inviting other producers to help him with beats.
The album presents a musician that has matured with age like vintage wine. After listening to the tracks, one can surely identify themselves with the City of Bulawayo. Cal_vin gave us a whole body of his heart (Nhliziyo) and for $10 the album is a good buy.