Upholding the Culture of Hip Hop – The Roots and Philosophy of Zeus
By Ryan Blumton
In this week’s Echo Arts, we speak to recording and performing artist Game Goabane Bantsi a.k.a Zeus about his music, inspirations, African music and career highlights. Zeus is among Botswana’s most celebrated and awarded artists. He has made a mark on the African continent as one of Southern Africa’s biggest Hip Hop artists. Zeus said about how his career began; “How I began my career has always been a hard question.
Do you begin your career when you are sitting home as a kid watching TV or listening to the radio and you hear or see something that inspires you that pushes you to that craft or is it the first time you walk into studio or the first time I went to rap activity jam or the first time I got into a cypher at school. For me it’s all those things.
It’s a long period of time that I wouldn’t really put down to any one specific moment but rather the collection of those things.” Zeus said that being a child in the late eighties his earliest memories have been the influence for his art and that the name he chose was inspired from the animated movie Hercules where he first heard of Zeus, the king of the Gods and Greek mythology and Zeus’s ability to walk amongst men and leave a legacy.
Zeus said about African identity; “I believe Afrocentricity is important and to express African identity in the things we do as Africans. It’s not just for us as artists but all of us even in business and architecture or in any sphere of life. I always give an example of the east, if you look at eastern philosophies and how they have found a home in contemporary spaces, so no matter what field you are in the African identity can shine through.”
Looking back on his career highlights Zeus cited some important and inspirational milestones such as his track “Imagination” being nominated for a Channel O award, his first major nomination though he did not win that, the following year “Gijima” from his official debut album after he went independent won. “That was a huge one because Best Hip Hop Music Video for the Channel O African Music Video Awards in 2009 was mind-blowing, looking at how we bootstrapped that whole project.”
Zeus won the award going up against huge household names in Southern African Hip Hop such as the late greats HHP and Pro-Kid as well as MI Abada, seemingly against the odds and worked with manager Tshepo Sikwane and Tshepo Seeletso, the video producer. Zeus said that winning that award remains one of the biggest sources of motivation for him and had advice for those facing the seemingly insurmountable; “I know that feeling and trust me your work will carry you further than you think at times.”
He cited Stevie Wonder as an influence and Nasir Jones as his favorite artists and locally credited Nomadic, who was the first person he heard rapping in Setswana as another major influence.
Zeus also highlights Kwaito and its transition to Motswako as well as Bongo Muffin as other influences of his music.
“The biggest lessons of my career are to believe in you and to have a vision and begin with the end in mind. You have to have a good sense of where you want to go before you get there. If I could do anything differently I don’t think I would because I appreciate everything, I have been through from the highs to the lows and where it has led me today and the insight this has given me. I like who I am complete with my limitations and shortfalls as well as the challenges I seek to overcome. I wouldn’t want to change anything, I saw a Kobe Bryant interview where he has said ‘If you could do things over it changes the specialness of each one of those moments’ so I think I am good.” Zeus said.
Zeus said collaboration is important and that Hip Hop is a fusion genre, great for fusing different talents together be it emcees together or emcees with vocalists or with instrumentalists and producers. “For me it’s just the vibe, in terms of what I look for in collaboration. I look for something that I like to begin with. With a lot of young artist I will just ask them to send me something and if I like it I will go with it. Also the individual, I may be a bit old school but there is something to being able to connect with that creator as well, I think it helps the process,” said Zeus.
Zeus said he is revamping his website which should be up in a matter of a few weeks and will release “Draking” as a free tape. “After that there will be my official album release since I left Sony.
Zeus said he is very much into film and television as well now. He did a post-grad in motion picture film and television, majoring in producing at AFDA Botswana. “I grew up loving cinema and television as much as I love music and that’s across formats from film to animation to comedy, drama and sports,” said Zeus.