Out Of Africa: TBB Talks To… South African Recording Artist Kebidoo

Kebidoo (pronounced “kee-bee-doo”) is a South African artist whose music blends various international influences.

Her musical style combines iconic South African hip-hop and kwaito with international genres and music cultures such as UK underground grime, K-pop, and electro-pop. Kebidoo represents a new generation of South African artists incorporating global influences into their music.

Born in Mahikeng, in the North West province of South Africa, Kebidoo’s upbringing was uniquely shaped by her father’s career in the South African Airforce, which led to extensive international travel. These experiences exposed her to diverse cultures, inspiring her to blend genres in her music. Her professional moniker came as a phonetic spoof of the Setswana word for the colour red, “khibidu”, paying homage to her Tswana heritage.

Following her stint at a US-based artist development programme, Kebidoo released her first mixtape under independent music imprint Highlight Music Label, made an experimental hip-hop song with local Afro-Rock legend Tshepang Ramoba, and most recently she has attracted attention from South African record label Ossia Records. Some of her singles include “Agoiweng (Let’s Go)”, “Ke Nna Nna”, and more recently, “Do The Work.”

We spoke to Kebidoo where she opened up about her background, artistry, previous career in advertising, and the cultural nuances that influence her craft.

Your Instagram feed gives off the vibe of you being a girl next door, with an edgy personality. It sets you apart. Is image important to you in your world? 
Image isn’t everything to me personally, but it does seem to be pretty important these days. As an artist, or anyone trying to promote their work, I think it’s necessary to have an “image” of sorts. But you don’t have to be this meticulously well-thought-out thing from the beginning. There’s a lot of pressure to be a version of someone else or to fall neatly into a certain aesthetic. Just be your authentic self and the parts of you that catch the eye or pique people’s interest will naturally form an “image” for you. 

Collaborations seem to be a key part of your journey as an independent artist thus far. Your YouTube Vlog series, The Journey, shares behind-the-scenes footage of these collaborations and how they’ve affected your craft. Can you tell us more about how you approach collaborations and why they’re important? 
Collaboration is a tricky space because it’s trial and error. What works for me might not work for you. So it’s about being clear on what value your work creates and brings to the table so other people may see where they fit in. It’s also important not to be selfish in collaborations. Plans, people and conditions are constantly changing and you have to give room for growing pains. I have been lucky to work with people who see a place for themselves in a far bigger picture, and we collaborate as a means for all of us to realise our own goals simultaneously. I hope to take the lessons that I’ve learned from these projects thus far and apply them to my career path as I diversify and grow moving forward. 

Your voice has been used in television adverts across Southern Africa for brand commercials, and through sync representations, you’re starting to stretch into placing your music on television shows and movies. If you were to choose a series to place one of your songs, which one could it be? 
Locally, I’ve always wanted to get on those Blood & Water episodes. They’re known for very “meme-able” moments so it’ll be cool to see where my songs would fit in the storyline. That show’s soundtrack is really loved and supported by the viewers too so it would be an honour to be on such a platform. Internationally, it has to be Selling Sunset. Mainly because I binge-watch it every season, but also because my music is very bold and confident with lyrics about being ambitious and motivated like a lot of the women on the show navigating their careers in luxury retail. I can imagine my songs playing right after they get into a fight in a multi-million-dollar mansion or something like that. 

COVID-19 was a challenging time for many artists, but you saw it as a catalyst to make a bold commitment to being an artist. Can you share more about this decision and how it has shaped your journey? 
Before 2020, I was working in marketing and advertising, mainly as a researcher and strategist for small companies. The effect of the pandemic on local businesses in South Africa was really harsh, so a lot of people like myself lost work or clients. At first, it was scary, but I realised that there was no better time to hit the reset button on life. With the world changing around me, I felt like if I didn’t try then, I would never get the chance to try again. It has shaped my journey because I’ve had to prove that I am very sure of this decision to pursue a long-term career in music under unfavourable conditions. In terms of decision-making, I move in a way that allows my professional experiences to come into play. I think it’s been helpful in helping me understand the music industry on a global scale and navigating through it as an independent artist in Africa. Also, Rule Number 1 in strategy is “Do Not Rush.” So I think I’m more patient and I don’t put unnecessary pressure on myself because I understand that building takes time. 

Coming from the North West Province in South Africa, known for its strong traditional values, do you feel a tension between embracing your pop star identity, staying true to your roots and navigating this balance? 
It’s not really that hard. I know that Tswana culture loves pageantry. It was very important for the government of Bophutatswana (during Apartheid) to invest in art education because it was valued by the Tswana people across generations. To this day, when you go to any Tswana family function, there are traditional praise singers, marching bands, choirs, spiritual leaders, poets and dancers. We respect the art of performance and we really try to back our artists here (in Bokone Bophirima). My love for performance is only magnified by my Tswana heritage. Tswana women are bold, confident, strong and will tell you everything they need to. As long as I stay true to that essence of gratitude and see my talent through a lens of lineage rather than capitalism, I think I’ll always stay true to my roots even as my visual concepts evolve and change. 

Your live performances are known for their energy and passion. How do you channel your background in digital media to create engaging performances for your audience? 
My main goal in music is to be a powerhouse performer that can fill stadiums around the world. In my head, it’s not just me getting on stage, it’s me what makes up a solid performance. So the wardrobe, sound, graphics, props, fan departments, etc. all need to come together. I think that has made me a “less selfish” performer, in that I understand that everyone needs to feel like they get something out of each performance. I’m still finding my perfect structure and ideal team to really show my full potential. So far it’s been fun experimenting and finding what works for the crowd. I hope that soon I’ll be able to put on my own solo concert or perform full sets at music festivals, so I can do bigger things on stage. 

Social media has played a significant role in your career. How do you use digital platforms to connect with your fans and showcase your music? 
Social media is an easy and convenient way for listeners or consumers to find you and connect with your vibe. Working in digital media, I spent a lot of time on these apps, but I didn’t always put myself out there. So when I started to make music I had to learn to get comfortable sharing more of myself. My producers have hounded me a few times to post more consistently. So I had to change my mentality back to when I was just posting for fun as a kid. Stop looking at the analytics and think about the people who may discover me in the future. I want them to see my authentic life, so I don’t have to keep up any lies or posturing when I get more famous.

You have previously gushed about your love for K-Pop, has it influenced your approach to music? 
I admire how that ecosystem has taken the world by storm while remaining very authentically Korean. I started researching K-pop when it was still a “micro-trend” nearly a decade ago, so I’ve been able to track and witness its expansion as a fan and as an industry professional. What I’ve learned by watching their trajectory is how important structural support is in the global music and media game. You don’t have to bend to the whims of other foreign markets if you make sure that the domestic economy retains involvement and keeps benefitting the local system first. I think K-pop inspires my approach to craft and navigating the industry rather than my music. In South Africa, we don’t have an entertainment company with private facilities or global networks like those in South Korea. In fact, the industry is largely unregulated and the government department which runs it is always in the middle of corruption scandals. So I started to subconsciously look to other markets for inspiration.  I look up to entrepreneurs like JYP (of JYP Entertainment) and Teddy Park (of The Black Label) as inspiration; they both built businesses with so many investors, sales and fans by having their own signature sound that infused global influences with indigenous themes. That’s what I try to bring to my career and music. 

As you continue to evolve as an artist, what are some of the themes you hope to explore in your music? 
I hope to make music for all moments of life. I don’t want to put a limit to what I am or am not willing to express. But I want to my music to be something that always fits on your playlist. Need a song to listen to on your way to a big pitch meeting with a client? I’m there. Need a song as you head out on your way to yet another Bumble date? I got you. Need some lyrics to scream into your pillow on one of those hard days? That too. I hope to work with more producers who are open to experimenting and are interested in creating an eclectic soundscape that really comes alive on stage.

Kebidoo’s music is accessible via Spotify and YouTube.


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