#MyJoburg with S'BO GYRE, rapper and performer

16 May 2024
In our #MyJoburg series, we speak to people who add something unique to Joburg's creative mix and get the lowdown on what enthrals them about this city.

Rapper S'BO GYRE first came to our attention in his work with Nkoli: The Vogue Opera, a groundbreaking production by Philip Miller that debuted at the Market Theatre in 2023, focusing on the life of Simon Nkoli, an anti-apartheid gay rights and HIV/AIDS activist. 

"Be yourself, boldly and authentically" – S’BO GYRE’s message is clear. Through music, S’BO GYRE inspires listeners to embrace their truth and live courageously. Rap is the tool S’BO GYRE uses for "expressing my bravado as a black queer man; my queerness shines through." It's a refreshing change in the world of hip-hop, that for so long has been dominated by a singular view of masculinity.

Originally from Empangeni, KwaZulu-Natal, and now making waves in Johannesburg, S’BO GYRE is a pioneering artist whose debut album, Queernomics, was a breakout success, setting the stage for a highly anticipated second album, Altar Call, released this month (May 2024) ahead of Pride Month in the U.S. and International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia on Fri, May 17. With a distinct fusion of genres, S’BO GYRE is a rising star in the global music scene, poised to leave an indelible mark and inspire others to embrace their authenticity.

"I think patience is a virtue that gets all the airtime, but it really does begin with courage."

Rapper and entertainer, S'BO GYRE. Photo: Supplied.

As a co-lyricist of Philip Miller’s Nkoli: The Vogue Opera, you contributed to a production that celebrates the life of Simon Nkoli, a prominent figure in the fight against apartheid and a champion for LGBTQIA+ rights in South Africa. How did you navigate the complexities of portraying Nkoli's multifaceted identity and experiences?
I just had to be authentic to his story, flaws and all. As long as I was living and writing in truth, consistently considering the nuances of being a human being, I could make his life, story, and spirit feel real. I learnt a lot from the experience.

Your latest album is titled Altar Call. In some Christian churches, the altar call is time spent after the sermon for prayer and to invite people to make a spiritual commitment to God publicly. Why did you choose this title?
Beautiful question. The biggest change in my life as S’bonakaliso Nene [real name] between my debut album, Queernomics, and Altar Call, has been my journey back to God: God that is true to me, that I have found and not [been] given by my parents or society. I learnt that loving myself courageously didn’t mean I could only do so in God’s absence, but that true courage was to love myself with God courageously. I heard the calling.

Altar Call is about inspiring your listeners to heed the call of courage and to speak and live one's truth authentically. In many ways, it reflects your own journey of self-discovery. Tell us about this.
It’s been a challenging journey. Courage is something we hardly speak about as people. I think patience is a virtue that gets all the airtime, but it really does begin with courage. It took me to create Queernomics to propel myself into a position where I had no choice but to show courage. To this day, there are many aspects of my life I’m still looking to be more courageous in. Courage is the greatest catalyst for self-discovery.
The tracklist for Altar Call, S'BO GYRE's second album. Photo: Supplied.

What are some of your favourite spots to perform at in Joburg?
I love Constitution Hill. Any time there’s something there – I live. I haven’t done Untitled Basement in Braamfontein yet, but I would absolutely love to. I think we’d eat it up. Another thing I’ve never done is Zone 6 in Soweto. I’d love to do that. It’s time.

What queer-friendly places in Joburg do you enjoy frequenting?
I’m really a homebody. If not at home, I’m at the pub watching football. I guess my local pub is Santis Bar & Grill [in Sunninghill]. I love it because it’s owned by an Arsenal fan and I enjoy the Arsenal games there. It’s also been very queer-friendly in my time. It’s not your regular pub, a bit goofy, and that’s why I like it. Otherwise, I like to hang out at Mamakashaka & Friends in Braamfontein.

Here's our list of where to watch sports in Joburg. 

"I am South Africa's hip-hop’s remontada [a Spanish word meaning comeback, usually used in football], and that is something worth celebrating for Pride."

You've chosen to release your album ahead of Pride Month in the U.S. How will you be celebrating?
By performing my butt off. I want to celebrate it by being seen and making sure history remembers Pride 2024 as the S’BO GYRE Pride Month. I am South Africa's hip-hop’s remontada [a Spanish word meaning comeback, usually used in football], and that is something worth celebrating for Pride. Hopefully at many queer spaces. [Ed's note: South Africa celebrates Pride in October, commemorating the first Pride March held in Johannesburg on 13 October, 1990]. 

Your music is a fusion of many sounds, mainly hip-hop and kwaito, reflecting the fusion and melting pot that is the city of Johannesburg. In what other ways has Joburg inspired you musically?
Joburg is in my blood. I was born in Empangeni, raised in Esikhawini until I was six and have been in Joburg ever since. The streets are the courses of my blood. I’ve even accepted that ngumZulu waseGoli [I'm a Zulu person from Joburg]. The many sounds of Joburg have influenced me. For instance, Brassy Sounds's work on Sonini Extended [from Altar Call] takes me back to memories at a show in Alexandra as a teen. The grit and swag of Braamfontein and skating into the rooftop parties in Maboneng. I could go on and on. My biggest influences for Altar Call were AKA’s Touch My Blood, Kabelo Mabalanes The Bouga Love Album, and Dreams Do Come True by the band Sankomota. They were all recorded in Joburg to my knowledge. 

Your favourite Joburg suburb, and why you choose it?
I want to rep my hood and say Turfontein, but I’m not gonna give out municipality credit where it’s not due. Otherwise, I’ve always liked Houghton because of the privacy. Gun to my head, I’d say Parkhurst because it’s a diplomatic answer. 
The popular 4th Avenue in Parkhurst, one of SB'O GYRE'S favourite Joburg suburbs. Photo: Supplied.

Home is...
Now, it’s Johannesburg North, but I was raised in the South.

What is a surprising thing people might learn about Joburg by having a conversation with you?
The many short cuts both as a driver and a pedestrian. I’ve driven on the street, but I’ve walked them even more. There isn’t a shortcut I don’t know.

"Joburg is in my blood. I was born in Empangeni, raised in Esikhawini until I was six, and have been in Joburg ever since. The streets are the courses of my blood."

What three things should a visitor not leave Joburg without seeing or experiencing?
A play at the Market Theatre, any pub for a major sports game, a S’BO GYRE show, and 
Calisto’s restaurant in Gillview... [Ed: that's four, but we forgive you].

Your favourite Joburg author or favourite Joburg book?
Welcome Mandla Lishivha’s Boy On The Run without a doubt.
Welcome Mandla Lishivha’s Boy on the Run documents life as a queer South African. Photo: Welcome Lishivha via Instagram.

The most memorable meal you have eaten in Joburg?
Calisto’s prawn pasta.

If you could buy one Joburg building which would it be?
Ponte City building in Berea [visit Ponte with Dlala Nje]. 

If you were the Joburg mayor for one day (average tenure) what would you change?
Implementation of a long-standing, effective, and grassroots anti-littering campaign.

Favourite Joburg label, and why?
Thebe Magugu.
Thebe Magugu's latest collection, titled Lobola Negotiations, showcases 18 of South Africa's most prominent figures. Photo: Thebe Magugu via Instagram.

What makes someone a Joburger?
Hustler energy levels.

What do you love most about Joburg?
The people.

"[Joburg] is vibrant, energetic, and beautiful."

What do you least like about Joburg?
The litter.

Your number-one tip for a first-time visitor to Joburg?
Request your Uber in the building, memorise the number plate, and go out when the car is  "arriving now". Do not request on the sidewalk or take your phone out on the sidewalk.

One song on your Joburg soundtrack that either is about Joburg or makes you think about this city?
Run Jozi by AKA featuring K.O. That and an unreleased song of mine.

One Joburg personality whom you would honour with the freedom of the city if you could, and why? 
Dr Bev Ditsie for her outstanding work on queer liberation in South Africa [Ditsie is a South African lesbian activist, artist, and filmmaker].

The perfect weekend in Joburg includes...
My bed, groove (anywhere it’s fire), and Kwa Mai Mai.

Three words that describe this city.
Vibrant, energetic, and beautiful.

Check out some of our previous #MyJoburg interviews for more insights into the city:

#MyJoburg with Phil Thurston, Mara Lounge founder
#MyJoburg with Hugh Fraser, architect and tour guide
#MyJoburg with Nick Hamman, radio DJ

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For all the latest news of what to do around Joburg, keep up to date with our weekly events and exhibitions guides.


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