Roots and rhymes: Sista X’s mission to promote African consciousness through rap and poetry

The world in the past week on May 25 commemorated Africa Day, which celebrates the rich tapestry of our African cultures, histories and achievements that have defined the African continent.

The world in the past week on May 25 commemorated Africa Day, which celebrates the rich tapestry of our African cultures, histories and achievements that have defined the African continent.

Sista X whose real name is known as Melody Dhliwayo delivered a powerful new offering with her latest release, My X which is all about African heritage.

This track is more than just a song; it is an anthem of reflection, pride, and a call to protect the heritage and identity that Africans hold dear.

It reflects where we stand as Africans and seeks to protect what we are celebrating.

While Africa is still recovering from the effects of colonial rule, its biggest handicap remains the greed of its self-serving leaders, and it is the continent's biggest virus since HIV.

Believing that the ballot box is a possible antidote, My X confronts this virus by asserting the value of each vote (X) inserted on each ballot paper during elections.

 My X is thus a song to call on African leaders to recognize the value of the X or vote. It is a demand for them to execute every duty and meet every expectation that is represented by every vote cast.

I can comment that My X is a song released at a pivotal time, as it urges Africans everywhere to pause and consider where they stand in their journey towards unity and empowerment.

 The song intricately weaves together rap and poetry, showcasing Sista X's unique ability to blend powerful messages with compelling artistry.

Dhliwayo is a female Hip Hop artist, creative writer, poet and cofounder of the Slam Emporium PLK, a spoken word movement that hosts spoken word events in and around Polokwane (South Africa) where she is based.

Sista X, formerly known as Xtreme Sanity, has performed on platforms ranging from poetry sessions and hip-hop shows to literary fairs, festivals and corporate events on stages between Zimbabwe, South Africa, Uganda and Sweden.

“Sista X, is a name that I was sort of given. It is shortcut for Sista Xtreme. When I started rapping in high school everyone had an alter ego, and it was natural for me to find one, or at least a stage name.

"When I resorted to Xtreme Sanity, there was nothing deep to it. It was just a way of hyping oneself. Xtreme is an expression of how deep and extreme I believed myself to be, and “Sanity” represented that voice of sanity that I have always tried to embody. With that, those within my poetry and hip-hop circles, referred to me as Xtreme, and with the passage of time, just X. And then I gradually evolved into Sista X,” Dhliwayo said.

In explaining the emotion that drove her to pen the song My X,  Sista X explained:  “It is easy to get emotional when you look at the state of our lives as Zimbabweans. We have our day-to-day challenges that frustrate us especially when you consider how hard some of us work and how nothing seems to change despite the hard work you put in. Then there are those emotional situations that make you realise just how dire the situation is."

She said for example, when one is faced with the illness of a loved one and they are not on medical aid because they cannot afford it, they have no other option but to rely on the public health system that is currently in shambles.

"The opening lines of the song My X began as a freestyle that just popped into my head during a power cut and I recorded it on my voice recorder. When I later listened to it and tried to construct proper verses out of it, emotions and frustrations that I endured trickled in to create the song as it is now.”

Dhliwayo also explained how she was a pan-Africanist as she naturally subscribes to the fundamental principles of Pan Africanism which relate to African unity, freedom and autonomy in the political, social and economic aspects.

In this retrospect, she also appreciated the role pan-Africanism played against slavery and colonialism.

However, she also recognises that many of the pan-Africanism fathers have become avaricious dictators and oppressors, antagonizing the precept of true liberation.

Explaining the relevance of taking part in elections in African contexts characterised by contentious electoral processes, she says:  “It is true that the integrity of the electoral system and process has been greatly compromised hence it would make one think that voting serves no purpose. Voting is and will always be very relevant. Not voting will not do the people any good. We need to continue voting in our large numbers, in particular Zimbabweans that are outside the country."

She says Zimbabweans in the Diaspora have not yet adequately played their role in issues of elections.

"Voting occurs once in every four years and despite the financial challenges of travelling home, it is worth the sacrifice to save for for years for a ticket to go back home and vote in the next election," she said. 

Sista  X also explained how she has a job that manages to pay her bills and she is able to enrol her daughter in a decent school, which is not the reality of many struggling Zimbabweans.

She acknowledged that even though she has a good job she has to support her parents and siblings.

Her biggest heartache is to see her mother still hustling at her advanced stage.

“It breaks my heart each time we speak on the phone, and she tells me that she is “in town” with other women like her, and some even older than her, selling wares at around 11pm an hour before midnight because this is the time people actually start buying things.

"It is even worse when our old parents get sick and there is suddenly a need for them to seek medical attention, but the public hospital system is broken down and you cannot even afford private hospitalisation. The fact that that I even have to be in another county for me to afford a decent form of living is an anomaly because only a handful of people in Zimbabwe are flourishing.  That is why we need to go back to vote. So, everything I rap about in My X is something I either personally encounter or witness around me in everyday life."

With regard to challenges, she explained: "The biggest challenge that immediately comes to mind is being disrespected, undermined, and even duped by fellow artists and people in the music industry who masquerade as producers."

She says she has been sold a dummy by unscrupulous producers several times.

"You pay for a service upfront because they always demand 50% deposit before recording you, and the other 50% after recording.  But afterwards you then spend months chasing after them for the final product.  To my fellow female rappers, I would like to say that it is okay to be different. You are under no obligation or pressure to conform to any norms.  And sometimes, it is okay to wait until the circumstances are right for you to make your music on your own terms."

Dhliwayo’s critique resonates with broader discussions on governance in Africa.

Scholars and activists have long highlighted the detrimental effects of electoral fraud and corruption on development and democracy.

 For instance, studies by Transparency International have shown that corruption undermines public services and economic growth, exacerbating social inequalities.

By addressing these issues in her music, Dhliwayo aligns herself with a larger movement advocating for democratic reforms and good governance across the continent.

In My X, Dhliwayo uses her platform to deliver a powerful message against corrupt leadership and flawed electoral systems in Africa.

Her incisive lyrics and compelling delivery not only critique the status quo but also inspire hope and action.

By highlighting the urgent need for integrity and accountability in governance, Dhliwayo contributes to the ongoing struggle for a more just and democratic Africa.

  • Raymond Millagre Langa is a musician, poet, orator, independent researcher and founder of Indebo edutainment Trust. You can follow him on Facebook @Millagre Ray Langa, on X you can follow on #Millagre Langa, email. [email protected] or [email protected]

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