From Africa to Regina, hip hop artists dream of blazing trails
Up-and-comers like Bonfice hope to follow success of Def3 and Pimpton
They come from all corners of the world, including Congo, Nigeria, Uganda and Trinidad, but Regina's hip hop scene is increasingly growing with an influx of musical styles, as rappers like Bonfice set their mind on stardom.
"I got sauce in this music business. I feel like I know I'm the best rapper in this city," says Bonfice Kazungu, who goes by one name. The 19-year-old is one of several hip hop artists out to carve a name for himself in the Queen City and beyond.
Bonfice, who was born in Congo and grew up in Nairobi, said he always knew music would be his ticket.
"I knew I'll come to Canada, I'll get the opportunity to find a studio and make songs."
His mother saved money for nine years to bring her family to Regina, with Bonfice arriving in the city at the age of 13.
When his cousin first brought him into a recording studio, he was wowed by the setup, thinking "This is it."
I went crazy, I think. I was just hyped.- Bonfice on response to first single
"Since I know I love music, and I know I can create music, I'll just start from here," he recalled.
When he put up his first single on SoundCloud and reached 1,000 listeners, he lost his mind.
"I went crazy, I think. I was just hyped," he said. "I'm like, I guess I'm the best now."
His highest viewed video on YouTube, Really Fast, features the Regina downtown skyline and Victoria Park with a gritty, urban look, racking up more than 80,000 hits.
"No one from Canada really sounds like him, in terms of underground rap so I definitely think there's a big market for his type of music," says Kalen Jankoski, a recording and mixing engineer who works with Bonfice.
Jankoski notes that a number of artists from the Queen City are blazing new trails, including more established names like Def3, also known as Danny Fernandes, and rapper Pimpton, who's taken tens of thousands of YouTube views and converted it into a music career and merchandise sales.
That's the dream for artists like Bonfice, who said his closest friends and collaborators like Clement Lights support him.
"They all believe I can make it, because they see me, they see the talent that I put in this music that I make," he says. "I believe I'll make it and be rich."
For Abiye Ukachu, who goes by the name Maro, his reason for coming to Canada from Nigeria four years ago was to study at the University of Regina. At first, he felt lost in a new city and country, but finding other hip hop artists helped him define his own passion for music.
"When you're growing up, and you go to a new place, you also have to find yourself. And I guess that's what happened to me," he said. "Different situations put me on the path I'm on right now. And I'm just going to keep going with it."
While hip hop music videos usually show a typical U.S. urbanscape, Maro's video "Don't Care" features him driving through wheat fields, and a familiar-looking Regina neighbourhood.
"I live in Harbour Landing, it's my community; so why not shoot a video there?" he says with a chuckle.
If we're going to be one of the first people doing this here, why not?- Maro
Talent of all kinds exists in the city, with artists, engineers and directors collaborating to come up with their own unique sounds, he says.
"This is North America, this is Canada," he said, adding he feels the opportunity is only waiting for the people that can reach out and grab it.
The scene is growing, and there's an appetite for hip hop and Afro-pop sounds are worldwide, he says.
"If we're going to be one of the first people doing this here, why not?
"There's nothing stopping us."