Rapper KG can’t stop caring for young people

DANIELLE NOHRA visits the Mitchell studio of a rapper with a reputation for his music, youth work and a low-cost dance studio.

Kagiso “KG” Ratlhagane… “I know the importance of the arts, it keeps kids out of trouble and it’s a safe space to express themselves.” Photo by Danielle Nohra

CANBERRA rapper Kagiso “KG” Ratlhagane has been the support act for musicians such as Bruno Mars and Ice Cube, and has been chosen to open for this month’s Spilt Milk festival in Canberra.

But he believes it’s important to use this platform to speak for the minority.

While he can’t speak for an indigenous Australian or a black American, he can speak, or sing, about his experience as a South African refugee in Australia. His new single is the politically charged “Mabo Martin Mandela”.

“I created the song to educate people on who they are and get an emotion of pride from the black community as well as a reaction from people of all races,” Kagiso says.

“In the current climate and fight for equality worldwide, it’s important that we learn from the past.”

As a nine-year-old Kagiso didn’t realise the gravity of his father’s decision to leave Australia and return to South Africa before the Freedom Day election in 1994.

But as he grew older and after a trip to visit his dad in January, KG was inspired to write the single.

“When I went to South Africa I saw the racism that is still so potent over there,” says Kagiso, 32, of Ainslie.

The new song, which features Australian indigenous rapper Philly, was created to give pride to the black community as well as get a reaction from people of all races.

“‘Mabo Martin Mandela’ is my tribute to three of my favourite black leaders in history,” he says.

Kagiso’s father decided to return to South Africa after Nelson Mandela came to Canberra and called on educated South African people to help rebuild the country.

At the time South Africa was racially segregated because of apartheid, which was responsible for the imprisonment of KG’s grandfather and the rape of another family member.

KG’s father was the chief of a village, but growing danger in South Africa forced the family to leave for Canberra in 1987.

It was Kagiso’s English teacher in years 11 and 12 at St Eddies who sparked his passion for writing.

That, coupled with Kagiso’s basketball trips away, where the team would rap songs on the bus trip, was the starting point of his future music career.

After high school Kagiso and his mate Shaka, under the name the KASH Boys, would perform at parties.

“From that we had a little bit of a following and then got into the club scene early,” he says.

“We were scouted by a dude in Melbourne and ended up signing a deal and moving there.”

But Kagiso grew tired of answering to labels who didn’t understand his vision, which was to fill his music with cultural emphasis, so he started his own music studio, Freedom Music, this year.

“I wanted to create Freedom Music for that exact reason, I wanted to be free,” he says.

Kagiso is using the label as a bridging gap for musicians who are in the early stages of their careers.

Before starting the label he asked: “How can I do this for myself and at the same time help other people?”

And, “help” seems to come naturally for Kagiso, who has worked as a youth worker for 10 years and still currently works as one at a local Canberra school.

“I’m passionate about helping young people. It keeps me grounded. And I had a great youth worker who helped me when I was younger,” he says.

Kagiso says it’s important to have someone outside of the family network for support.

He also is the owner of a dance school called Passion & Purpose Academy, where he mentors and teaches positive dance to Canberra children.

“It’s not predominantly a dance studio, it’s more of a movement to engage young kids,” he says.

“I try to make my price-point for the dance school affordable so it’s not exclusive to certain families.

“Arts is becoming this exclusive society, it’s almost like racism via financial ability.

“I know the importance of the arts, it keeps kids out of trouble and it’s a safe space to express themselves.”



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