If anyone can say that they’ve come out of this year relatively unscathed, it’s Focalistic. Also known as the Pitori Maradona after the great Argentinian soccer phenomenon, the Ga-Rankuwa-born wordsmith has had quite an impressive year.
Taking note of his determination at a young age, his cousin gave him the moniker of “Focalistic Cataclysmic”; which he simplified over the years to just Focalistic. It seems, then, that the name change was a game-changer.
And then there are the nods. Focalistic recently earned the coveted spot atop MTV Base’s Hottest MCs List, as well as best freshman at this year’s SA Hip-Hop Awards.
He was nominated for best breakthrough act at the MTV Africa Music Awards, alongside BET-winning Sha Sha, Columbia-ordained streaming queen Elaine, Diamond Platnumz-backed Zuchu, Uganda’s brightest dancehall-er John Blaq, and Nigerian trailblazers Tems and Omah Lay.
When I catch up with Foca, he’s on his way to OR Tambo airport in Joburg for a flight to Lagos, Nigeria. He is set to represent us in the best way he knows: through music.
“It’s the first time I’m leaving the country,” he says. “I’m seeing all the snaps and folks dancing to Ke Star, loving a sound that comes from Ga-Rankuwa ... for me, it’s amazing. I want to take this all over Africa. I want a Grammy. I know it sounds crazy. It’s what every one of the greats before me wanted.”
With an amapiano rendition of Joeboy, Mr Eazi and DJ Neptune’s Nobody released in August, Nigeria’s finest thought it appropriate to fly him up to one of Africa’s largest cultural hubs.
Exuding a kinship between melanised folks in conversation and concert, Focalistic has graced numerous stages – from Zone 6 Venue, the Lockdown House Party and LiveAMP to Ballantine’s In The Round.
He has collaborated with everyone from Moonchild Sanelly and Cassper Nyovest to Major League DJz.
In a solid power move, he dribbled his way into a collaborative push with Vth Season to establish his own record label, 18 Area Holdings, on which he releases EPs.
As the national lockdown started to bite in April, the Quarantined Tarantino EP had done enough to cement his place as one of the most charismatic artists around, racking up millions of streams and tons of attention.
Thereafter, he began filling his YouTube and SoundCloud pages with content that raised the bar and eyebrows – appearing on the lockdown edition of Sway’s 5 Fingers Of Death as well as Slikour on Life Spaces.
As tough as this year has been, “The African Prince of Nice Times” is undefeated. His single Blecke surpassed gold status and Ke Star has gone platinum.
Focalistic is what happens when you take the past 20 years of South African life and hurl each experience – for better or worse – into focus.
In a combination of dynamism, thoughtful lyricism, nostalgia, pride and fun, Foca has earned his way into South Africa’s – and Africa’s – hearts with the sweat and dust of ’piano alongside playful and bright wordplay that is consistently gritty, frank and, most important of all, familiar.
“In terms of music today, there’s a huge need to go back. If you listen to amapiano, you can hear how it’s heavily influenced by kwaito. Kwaito came when people needed a voice! It was their voice. This year, the youth are obsessed with hearing music in their own voice. We are showing people that our voice is as important as Kanye West’s or Drake’s.”
If you are new to these stylings, Sghubu Ses Excellent (released in full on December 4) is a treat to unpack.
“I named [the EP] Sghubu Ses Excellent because at first it seems like it’s a paradox; a juxtaposition,” he explains. “People don’t think Sghubu can be excellent – even with its heavy bassline and high energy drum pattern, it’s excellent. It’s on the same pedestal that you’d put Afrobeats and trap on.
“We’re valuing ourselves more – and it’s not just us, it’s the rest of Africa too. We are tired of saying things in other people’s languages. As someone who doesn’t understand what I’m saying ... you can feel it, because the confidence that I exude from using my own voice is contagious.”
The EP features some heavy-hitters, including Vigro Deep, Mas Musiq, Semi Tee, DJ Maphorisa and DBN Gogo, making it a tremendous stretch of amapiano – and for Sghubu Ses Excellent.
Where many emcees before him have battled it out over what’s “real” and what’s not, trading US insults on African soil, Foca faced a backlash for his attempt to “water down” the amapiano wave.
Like so many kasi-born greats have, he fully embodies the fighting spirit of kwaito, rap and amapiano music to show us that our voices, cultures and lives do matter.
“You see, as a musician, you’re basically a journalist,” he posits.
“Studying political science sharpened my lyrical skills and made it easier for me to relate to people. I’m basically reporting what’s around me, just like any journalist would. I just use more of my own opinion.”
Even from behind tinted shades, Focalistic sees us with clearer eyes than most musicians we idolise. And even during the darkest days, the future of South Africa is brighter with him in it.