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Meet Iain Thomas, the 36-year-old South African poet who is famous all over the world except in SA

Renaissance Man: The Busy Life of Iain "Ewok" Robinson

2010-09-07 11:39
I meet Ewok at Corner Café – literally, the wooden heart of Glenwood. He’s wearing a Wesley van Eeden T-shirt and dark shades. He couldn’t look any more “Durban” if he tried. Everyone knows him. From Nev the barber, to Jen the cappuccino waitron and John the chain-smoking lawyer.

For the past 10 years, Ewok’s kept himself busy. From hip-hop, graffiti and mural work, to stage acting, spoken word and poetry. In-between, he started Life Check and the annual All Elements Battle of the Year. And, as you’ll soon find out, one thing Ewok’s never short of is words.

What's new with Ewok?

Me and Veranda Panda – Liam from Spitmunky – just finished a recording project called Cats From Underdog Country. I just launched Pimp My Poetry. And myself, my wife Karen and Liam did a new show this year called Ewok Is Live! We took it to Grahamstown and we’ve been invited to the Uppsala International Poetry Festival in Sweden, which I’ve done a couple times…

So busy, busy, busy?

Ja… And when I get back I go into rehearsals as Little John. We’re also working with the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal on Frontlines: The Remix. So much happening, so much bro…

What's Pimp My Poetry all about?

All the shows I do are spoken word pieces. I publish them as chapters. So it’s the last two shows: Bombstyle and Ewok Is Live! I also swept out my writing cupboard and pulled out some stuff. It’s a collection.

Is acting something you'd like to focus on more in the future, maybe a role on Isidingo?

No, definitely not. I’m a musician for life. I tell people I’m a hip-hop flavoured spoken word artist. I do act. People know I act. It’s paying work. I enjoy it. I’ve played Iago in Othello for the past two years. The year before that it was King Lear. Nothing on screen yet. I was in a TV ad for Mr. Price: my big debut. Ha ha…

How come you haven't written your own 8 Mile?

Funny you should say that. Myself and Karen are writing a show called Seriously. More narrative-based. How I ended up becoming a professional rapper, in Empangeni. It’s about how you find that thing that you dig and how it pushes you. That’s my 8 Mile.

With Spitmunky, the lyrics seem less poetic, more party orientated; do you keep the content light on purpose?

I would challenge that. I would say listen to them again…

Yeah, but I mean lyrics like “It’s off the chick-ity chain, it’s off the hook man, let it cook man…”

The delivery’s very hype. Very party. We’re writing for dance floors, which is something I’ve never done before. But for me, the content can’t really change. It’s almost like I don’t have time to indulge in something new. I like to think the content hasn’t changed. It’s the flow.

What was your first band called?

Dwarf Project Crew. Crossover stuff. When Limp Bizkit was really big. When Korn was really shining. Illuminating Shadows is the oldest crew I’ve been involved with.

Do you remember the first song that got you into rap?

“I Wanna Get High,” by Cypress Hill. Not because of the obvious. It’s the way it leads in, with the siren and the kick drum. That heavy, warm… It’s glowing, man.

You're also into street art and graffiti, does that come with the territory?

That’s how I got into hip-hop. I’ve always been into graphic novels and cartooning. And one of the guys I was skating with was an aspiring graf artist. I was like, “Oh my God, I wanna try it.” Those guys were listening to Rage Against the Machine, KRS-One, De La Soul…

Do you follow South African street art?

Definitely. I keep an eye out. I remember when Senyol blew up. Seeing some of his wheatpastes, going, “Wow, what’s that?” and reading up about it. Then this whole thing in Cape Town where graffiti started to separate from hip-hop, which is vital. You didn’t have to walk around in your hooded top shaking a can to be an artist. Faith, Wealz, Kronk, Wesley van Eeden, Skullboy… I collect stickers and books as well.

What about Life Check, how was this year's All Elements Battle?

For me, it was the best one yet. It was very obvious that the level had gone up.

Who won, any rising stars to look out for?

A 12-year-old kid won the beat-box battle, which is crazy. This kid Bryan – he calls himself TDT – from Westville Boys High won the MC competition.

And what's going on with Durban hip-hop, who's keeping it going?

Jet Wentworth, he’s got such a genuine and authentic voice. Black Moss, he’s got a very cool lyrical style. Skye Wanda, very clever, very sophisticated. And all these krump crews that are coming out; The Warrior Knights Crew, D’Gafa Squad…

Nationwide, who are some of your favorites?

Ben Sharpa and the whole Pioneer Unit Records movement. Tumi’s new stuff is amazing. Gini Grendith…

What's kept you in South Africa, instead of trying your luck overseas?

I’ve been pretty lucky here. I haven’t really had a need.

Top five raps of all time?

“Witness the Fitness” by Roots Manuva, “The Next Movement” by The Roots, “Everything Is Everything” by Lauryn Hill, Arsonist’s “Halloween” and “Method Man” by Method Man, “M-E-T-H-O-D Man…”

Last question, I've always wondered: why Ewok? You couldn't have watched Return of the Jedi and thought, "Now that'll make a badass rap name?"

It was given to me. In standard six, I was the fat American kid. They called me American Cream Puff. Creamy. Half way through the year, I was messing around in English class and the teacher said, “Stop messing around, you look like an Ewok.” That was it. Everyone was like, “Ha ha… Cream Puff. Creamy Ewok.” Then when I started graf writing, I used Ewok and it stuck. Then Lord of the Rings came out and everyone was like, “Curly hair: you look like a hobbit.” I’ve always been into comics, so I wanted the full superhero name. To avoid copyright, I spelt it Baggends. Like that last little bit of weed. That last bit of change that you thought you didn’t have: Creamy “Ewok” Baggends…

Pimp My Poetry is available now online and from Exclusive Books and Adams book stores around the country. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

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