Ntukuza, KO and Ma-E believe they are kasi action heroes and this is reflected on the cover of their latest album, Number Number.
The artwork from a dark, apocalyptic comic strip, has the three in gas masks. However, one of them is looking out the window over a green field. The other two are getting ready for battle, but the picture shows that there are green pastures on the other side. In the reflection of one of the masks there is a taxi driving into a township.
“We broke the shackles of poverty,” explains KO. “But we don’t forget our roots. By us doing that, we are also doing it for our people. It will be an inspiration for others to do even better.”
“Number Number means we are on a mission. It’s a local saying in the township,” adds Ma-E. “Hence the artwork. It has an urban feel. We wanted it to look tough to say ‘that’s where we come from’. We gotta work hard.”
The album features a few well-known artists including Nigeria’s 2Face. “We became industry friends and we chilled with him at the BET Awards last year in Los Angeles where we were both nominated,” continues Ma-E.
“Our friendship grew from there. We sent the track via e-mail and when it came back we didn’t change it at all. That’s how talented he is. We are fortunate enough to have worked with Africa’s great.”
The album takes a feminine turn when they feature both Lilly Million and Toya Delazy. “KO did this beat and said we needed someone with an open soul. We heard Lilly record at our label, Electromode. We were like ‘wow, what a talent’. We gave her creative space and she delivered.
“With Toya she is a young talented pop artist who has made an impression on the industry. She comes from a different background to us,” says KO. “The song is motivational and conscientising. It came out just as we envisioned it.”
Liquideep’s Ziyon adds his vocal skills on another track. “Ziyon is that guy who is so humble. We worked on the Hansa track, Born For This. What a talent,” smiles Ma-E. “He’s got that soulful sound and the track is a ladies song and the ladies love him and the ladies love Teargas. The chemistry in the studio was amazing. I love that he took house music and made it more about the artist than the DJ. He changed the game.”
Aside from their massive popularity, Teargas is also known as one of the hardest working acts in the country. This includes a strong relationship with Hansa Pilsener who have invested in the Hansa Pilsener Number-Number Tour. Teargas have also been part of Hansa tours in the past as well as opening for Usher when the SAB brand bought him out.
Having accompanied the group on some of the performances including in Umlazi and Soweto, it is remarkable to see just how crazy the crowd goes when they perform.
They are immensely popular around the country.
“The Teargas call is the music thing. Anything beyond that is miscellaneous. We don’t want to be famous for the sake of being famous,” says KO.
“I want to be known as Ma-E who is in Teargas,” adds Ma-E. “None of this mediocrity. When we decided to do music the one thing that drove us was the love of music. The main focus was the passion. Even on stage it’s passion. Our calling might be hip hop but our music is bigger than that.”
KO believes it stretches further: “We have a different audience to other rappers because we have a lot of lyrical content that reaches society as a whole, from pastors to nurses, and that is something that very few artists can achieve.
“We got to number one on the Musica charts, beating Zahara’s new release and the Mahoota vs DJ Vetkuk,” smiles Ma-E. “That is amazing because most hip hop fans love American hip hop and those who like local music like house, so we’re basically f*****. We have to work extra hard to win the hearts of the South Africans with our home-grown lyrics.”
Well, that hard work by the kasi action heroes has certainly paid off.