Ifani “They stole everything”

Words: Mooketsi Nthite
Photo right: Chris Saunders

The Umtata-born isiXhosa rapper survived a car crash, depression and a hijacking on his way to winning a 2014 South African Music Award for Best Rap Album

In 2010, Mzayifani Boltina, a Port Elizabeth-bred UCT graduate, boasted degrees in computer engineering and computer science and a cushy job at brewing multinational SABMiller. But a year later, he quit his desk job to pursue a musical career as a comical emcee called iFani who raps in his Xhosa mother tongue.

His debut album I Believes in Me [1st Quadrant] won Best Rap Album at the 2014 South African Music Awards after a spate of national chart-toppers and awards, but iFani’s rise to stardom has been far from smooth. He has been hijacked at gunpoint, lost R200,000 when a publicist went AWOL with his money, endured a tempestuous relationship with his label, Sony Music, and, most recently, had all his equipment stolen when criminals cleaned out his home studio.

“iingoma Ezimnandi”

The sixth single from his debut album I Believes in Me [1st Quadrant]

THE RED BULLETIN : What lead you to study at university?

IFANI: There was a director at my high school who gave me ideas for career paths, like medicine or chemical engineering. A BSc is what I studied after matric and I got a bursary from De Beers to do so.

Sounds like you were quite the nerd. ​ 

I was good with books. I was that guy who got straight As. After a BSc in computer engineering, I studied computer science, earned an Honours degree and ended up working as a process control engineer and software developer at SABMiller in Joburg from 2008 until 2011, which is when I decided to finish with engineering and become a full-time rapper. 

When was your studio broken into?​ 

It happened on Boxing Day last year. I was returning from a show in Phalaborwa and came through to my place to fetch some clothes. That’s when I noticed the missing equipment and the window they broke. They stole everything. That’s how badly people want my next album. Sad thing, is I couldn’t even call the police immediately because I had to catch a flight to Port Elizabeth.  

What else have you lived through?

Firstly, my grandmother umam’Thembu passed away in 2010. Then I was involved in a car accident on my way to Durban and was hospitalised. I was discharged, went back to work, but then was back in hospital again, this time for depression. I came out of depression, resigned from SABMiller, and then my Golf 6 GTI got hijacked. I beefed with Sony over contracts and had a baby while I was broke. Fortunately, I started getting booked for shows again, became a millionaire and now we’re here. 

“I’ve performed in LA where they don’t understand what I’m saying, but they feel it”

Tell us about rapping in isiXhosa.

The market gets smaller because people can’t understand what you are saying, while the ones who do understand might not approve because they think you are now the ambassador of the language, so if you say a word a certain way, they get upset. But I get to do what I want to do regardless of what anybody says, and I’ve been lucky enough to perform in Lesotho, Botswana and Los Angeles where people don’t understand what I’m saying, but they see and feel what I’m saying.


What was your beef with Sony?

I signed a deal with Sony at the beginning of 2012 and though my single Shake was No1 in SA by year end, the agreement was that I’d have multiple songs out. By February 2013 I still had no shows, and I was broke and in debt. I couldn’t afford rent and I had a baby son who I couldn’t even buy nappies for. Sony eventually released me as they could see that I was serious about leaving. But I don’t see anyone rapping like this in Xhosa and I want to see it go bigger, so I went back to Sony and said, ‘If you guys are happy to forgive me for what I said, I’m willing to come back and work for you.’

What about the publicist who stole your money?

I decided to focus on becoming a millionaire instead of chasing Arnold Mhlamvu. Karma will deal with him.

How do you keep going?​ 

Things get stolen from people every day, but the thing to do is what takes me away from things that got taken away from me. 

What can fans expect from your next album, I Believes In Me [2nd Quadrant]?

Dopeness all around. 2nd Quadrant was done in my home studio, but since my equipment got stolen I had to start again from scratch, and that’s what you see me recording in the studio right now. At this stage I can’t reveal who I’m working with, but the album is dropping soon.

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