Nona Vundla aka MC Black Bird, was the first female to release a hip-hop album in Zimbabwe (guardian.co.uk).
In a 2012 article on the internet site, reverbnation, Black Bird states she is a 28 year old single mother of 2 children. Her inspiration comes from women in various fields, but her main inspiration is from her mother, whom she describes was, “…a mother of 4, a full-time employee at the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, and also a part-time student…” But then she also explains that she admires Oprah Winfrey because she rose from a poverty-stricken background to become, in her opinion, “the world’s most valuable brand within the entertainment industry” (p.8).
Black Bird’s father fled South Africa in the 1970’s when Mandela was imprisoned, and went to Zambia where he met her mother. After her parents married they moved to Harare, where she was born. Then, in 1991 when Mandela was released from prison, her father returned to South Africa without her mother, who later died in 1994. Black Bird ended up in an orphanage in Harare, Zimbabwe (p.8).
In school Black Bird studied film-making, journalism and broadcasting, and she believes film and music go “hand-in-hand”, and she was 7 years old when she wrote her first musical ( p.8). She claims that while growing up in Harare she was exposed to a lot of hip-hop music, and began imitating her favorite rappers by age 10 (p.9). In “The Zimabwean” internet interview with Black Bird, she says that she began listening to hip-hop as a kid because her brother loved U.S hip-hop artists, Tupac, Wutang Clan, Nas, “and all the other greats”.
According to an article by Phillips, Reddick-Morgan, and Stephens, hip hop originated in the South Bronx section of New York in the 1970s (p.253). Black Bird’s imitation of U.S. rappers is clear on some of her music, in particular on the video linked at http://www.reverbnation.com/thablackbird entitled, “Ohhhhhh starring, Black Bird”. She sings in English, with an accent that sounds as though it is New York authentic, and her mannerisms are typical of many of the hip-hop artists in the U.S. Black Bird mentions her motherland, and the video almost appears to be in honor of her mother, who was able to fit everything into her day, the camera flashes on the clock on the wall. Black Bird portrays a glamorous woman returning from the market with a bag of groceries, then in the kitchen preparing food from her “Rappitizer cook book”. She is portraying the traditional, wholesome female, drinking milk and eating cookies. The lyrics though reflect that she is a strong female (like her mother was), as she references her muscles, and that she is superior to the boys. Many of the lyrics she uses to describe herself are common American slang, “Illest on the block”, “I’m blowin’ up”, and “I be on call”. The message in this video is a woman can do it all.
Some of Black Bird’s other music is very different. “Prayer for Somalia” has more of a political message and talks about the young children dying in Ethiopic due the food shortage, and says, “when it’s out of sight it’s out of mind”. Another song, “Black Bird Medley” talks about her confidence; making rhymes for a living and hitting the controversial jack pot; she refers to herself as Queen of the M C and Queen city. Then she compares how fast she is to the U.S. track star Marion Jones. The song that seemed most African authentic is called “H-Town Hustler”, with the H most likely referring to Harare, her hometown in Zimbabwe. She says she hustling her music for money, and getting people addicted to her music like a junkie. Then, unlike the other songs, she sings in an African language and says the land of her birth taught her well.
My opinion of Black Bird is that she is proud to be a female rapper, and admires the many American women that are successful; as she said in the article, her inspiration comes from women in various fields. However, it is also clear that she is aware of the importance of maintaining her connection to her Zimbabwean culture. In the interview with “The Zimbabwean” she understands that being a female presents certain social taboos, but the bigger challenge for Black Bird, because she does rap mostly in English, and not in Shona (her native language), is reassuring people that she does value the connection with her homeland. In her opinion hip-hop in Zimbabwe has an advantage over other African countries because of they are highly educated in English, so most of their rappers have a superior vocabulary.
Black Bird wants to dispel the myth that hip-hop is “American” and highlights some of Africa’s Hip Hop intellectuals as editor of the Hip-Hop/Urban Culture Magazine, “The Platform”: http://iamblackbird.wordpress.com/
Phillips, Reddick-Morgan, and Stephens, “Oppositional Consciousness Within an Oppositional Realm: the case of Feminism and Womanism in rap and hip hop, 1976-2004”. The Journal of African American History.