How AKA set smartphone trends ablaze in South Africa

Published Feb 17, 2023


"You can't touch @akaworldwide this year… This guy.. It's only March."

The excitement. The awe. Even possible disbelief. All rolled into a single tweet by @ElleLiraGobeni on 26 March 2019.

Not many know or even remember this day, but this was just one of the many reactions to one of South Africa's greatest (albeit short-lived) smartphone rivalries, spurred on by one of the country's most beloved musical rivalries.

A bout comparable to some of the greatest - Ali vs Frazier, Vegeta vs Goku, or even Mayweather vs McGregor resulting in a love letter from two of the world's most notable smartphone manufacturers to SA HipHop lovers.

In March 2019, Chinese manufacturer Huawei introduced the country to its flagship P30 Pro smartphone. The very short-lived face of smartphones was none other than the late Kiernan Forbes, aka… AKA.

The move seemed to have been in response to Samsung's prior announcement that Forbes' long-standing industry rival Cassper Nyovest, would be the face of its brand - and further solidified the rivalry between two of the country's best rappers, and the smartphone brands themselves.

Forbes' announcement of his new venture with Huawei was simple, with the hashtag: "#RewriteTheRules" across his album cover for Touch My Blood, the same hashtag Huawei used to promote the smartphone device it had launched.

Given the announcement's timing, just weeks after Nyovest's announcement with Samsung, Forbes trended in the country on the day of his announcement across Instagram and Facebook, spawning dozens of reactions to the rivalry of both the rappers and the smartphone makers.

Despite the hybrid hip-hop-smartphone rivalry's short lifespan, the series of events led to one of the most significant moments across both industries, forever etched in South Africa's social networking history.

While it might not be apparent immediately, some social media digging will reveal the carcass of what could have been a bout that could have spanned years, keeping the country in anticipation of the next smartphone or hip-hop announcement.

It was barely a day before Forbes announcements were removed for undisclosed reasons. However, this didn't mark the end of his contribution to the local smartphone industry.

Months after the announcement, Forbes was ready to set smartphone trends in South Africa again - this time on his own.

In May 2019, the AKA Model A smartphone was announced, a very basic smartphone but affordable for all South Africans. The added benefit of purchasing the smartphone was that Forbes' opted to include his entire album, Touch My Blood, on the device, indicating his strong intuition for the music industry.

Much like announcing his involvement with Huawei, Forbes once again trended when he announced the AKA Model A.

During the same period, a digital shift was experienced across the industry, brought on by the popularisation of short-form video through apps like TikTok. More artists began releasing music directly to digital and social platforms throughout 2019, making Forbes one of the first to do so.

While his music may never be forgotten, credit is also due to AKA for his role in the smartphone industry.

As South Africans get ready to gather for the Kiernan 'AKA' Forbes's memorial on Friday afternoon, it is important to remember how he has impacted not only the music industry but other industries.

The multi-award-winning rapper was tragically killed on February 10, along with his friend Tebello “Tibz” Motsoane, outside Wish restaurant in Florida Road, Durban.

* Kyle Venktess is a freelance content producer for IOL Tech.

** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of Independent Media or IOL.

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