Chisenga Katongo has to be one of the hardest working MCs in Perth. As CRISIS Mr. Swagger, he’s released three albums of old school hip hop (including Zambia’s first rap release in 2005), opened for Akon and Sean Paul, founded Diamond Chain Media, and rapped about Morley. He chats to ZOE KILBOURN ahead of his Beaufort Street Festival gig, this Saturday, November 15, from 1pm at the Astor Stage.
Chisenga Katongo is an MC in the old school tradition – Keith Sweat samples, a dedication to Rakim, suits, youth work, an entrepreneurial spirit and a healthy dose of confidence. It’s no surprise he’s a Dre appreciator, although the extent he’s taken it to might raise a few eyebrows.
“I am a big Dr. Dre fan,” says Katongo. “I’ve gone as far as giving him a shout out on a song saying ‘It’s time to negotiate with Dr. Dre’ to going as far as living in LA just to get access to him. I didn’t get to meet him or Jimmy Iovine – I was told not to pass my business cards around in the office or I’d be thrown out. Anyway, I ended up stumbling onto a phone number as I was searching for an answer on Google. I needed to get my music to Dr. Dre, so I called this number at the label. A lady answered and, she accidentally gave me names of some relevant people at Interscope Records and even put my phone call through to the man that receives all the demos that are sent in. I’ve since forged a relationship with this man and also become friends with Dr. Dre’s son, Curtis Young. I promise I’m not obsessed by this man – I admire his work ethic!”
Work ethic’s the word. Katongo may be low on the radar in Perth, but he’s toured extensively in Europe and Africa, opened for RnB gods, mentored young Australians while dropping some dope rhymes (some, as in Translation, multilingual). He’s got a clear and deep respect for his rap forefathers – everyone from Grandmaster Flash through Snoop – and a classically East Coast rap persona, a main thematic element in his next double-disc project, Quiet Don – The Chosen One.
“The concept of this is partly drawn from within me,” he explains. “The Quiet Don is often used to describe a man that is really powerful but acts like he’s not. People even disrespect him and not know that his humble attitude is simply allowing them to get away with it because, he refuses to reveal his power. It is only to be used in self-defence. The concept may sound tripped up but, if you believe in yourself and your capabilities, sometimes, it’s better not to lay all your cards on the table. Let people find out as they get to know you. That’s the path I have chosen to take. I will let my work and power speak for itself.”
Katongo is Zambian, and, although based in Perth, maintains a keen interest in the Lusaka’s music scene. In 2005, he became the first hip hop artist to release an album in his home country.
“The music scene in my country is very urban based,” he says. “It’s very westernised but also driven by a Jamaican feel There are also lots of studios so music is served like fast food. It’s a very localised scene and I suppose some people like to keep it that way. You’ll find that those that are cut from a different cloth will have dreams so big that society does nothing but discourage them. People will always tell how to do something they never did themselves.
Katongo paid tribute to his musical roots with Translation, a 2014 track with a psych-rock vamp, percussion reminiscent of footwork and vocals courtesy of legendary guitarist Paul Ngozi.
“The thing with that song is I always wanted to do it,” he says. “I had this idea from the time I was about 12 years old. I just didn’t know how to execute it.
“One day, I had an hour to spare in my schedule, so I drove to a part near the Swan River and played the beat I made the previous night which was a sample of The Ngozi Family’s Nizaka Panga Ngozi. The title translated means ‘Don’t make me lose my mind. Please keep the respect mutual before you make me take strong action against your failure to respect others as they respect you’.”
“I got into the studio, set the tempo, listened to the original song for parts that I liked, chopped it up and, to my surprise the sample went right into sync with the tempo I set. Anyone who makes music will tell you, it’s a good feeling when that happens, and it just feels divine.”
He’s also payed tribute to Morley, the suburb he’s represented since marrying his Aussie wife. M.O.R.L.E.Y (We So Fly) includes shout outs for the rec centre, the Cheesecake Shop, and the Galleria, which makes it pretty satisfying listening for a Perth suburbanite. 92.9 also had a lot of love for it.
“I had just gone back home from releasing my Designer album under Clavel Music Management, and I decided I wanted to go back to London,” says Katongo. “I started raising funds, and one of my clients happened to be the Australian lady that is now my wife. So, I’m a sucker for love. I travelled to the end of the earth, just to be here with her and my daughter. I know… the circumstances under which our relationship was forged sounds unprofessional. Well, we have a beautiful daughter named Tia-Larae. She’s three years-old and, she’s Australia’s next princess.”
“I love the Perth hip hop scene. Not just performing but supporting events like the Hey Muso Urban and hip hop night at Universal Bar. I’ve heard some amazing acts take that stage. It’s a great way to get everybody involved. The vision is meant to unite – it’s not about one individual. It’s about the force of many that form a common voice.”