Etienne Nkun Abui Kabwasa Green, or better known as Kabwasa, is among a new wave of hip-hop artists. Kabwasa, however, stands out not only as an artist, but also as an individual who grew up in a small town along the central coast called Watsonville, a name and place you will often hear about in his lyrics. Watsonville, although near big cities such as Monterey and Santa Cruz, is often overlooked and only spoken about for the immense amount of fields. To Kabwasa and the people from Watsonville, it is so much more than just that — the people, cultures, and even the conflicts in this town have shaped Kabwasa into the very creative he is.
Kabwasa, assumingly, is a name many of you may not have heard before, but it holds a very special back story. The name derives from his grandfather's last name and mother's maiden. His Congolese culture and family have played a big role in his life. His parents have always been vocal about the importance of art and the power of expressing yourself leading Kabwasa to have always been around all forms of art, along with his older brother and sister. Kabwasa was enrolled in a charter school in the 1st grade, Watsonville Charter School of the Arts, where he was able to express himself whether it be through music, drawing, acting or writing, ultimately leading him to his journey of music.
At the age of 9, he secretly began to make rap songs and compose them through Garage Band, even making “music videos” for his own songs. At the time, he didn’t know it but this secret he kept would later be his outlet to creating his own sound and sending a message his parents inflicted in him to the world.
Listening to artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Goldlink and most recently JID, motivated and gave him the push he needed to vocalize his thoughts. In high school he began to upload his work on soundcloud and later he began to perform his own songs in talent shows. After graduating Watsonville High, Kabwasa began to attend USC where he began to get more serious about his creations and began making real production.
It was at USC where he was able to make a lot of connections and through the music production school he met, and eventually joined a group called LFO Collective. LFO Collective is a support group made up of several musicians (Clarence the Kid, AZU, NAIVE, and Nina Ann, Steady Cam) who support and help one another. Each helping the other in areas of their own individual specialty. The group helped Kabwasa get serious about music by sharing their knowledge on mixing and mastering songs. After gaining more knowledge on the production aspect of his music, during his second year of college, Kabwasa released something for the first time through Spotify and Apple Music; an EP titled Groovy Kid. After Groovy Kid was released, Kabwasa continued to release music more frequently and it began to gain more recognition especially from his hometown.
Most recently, Kabwasa released a song along with a music video in collaboration with the Digital NEST for a song he wrote called “Workers Truth”, which embodies everything he has experienced and seen growing up as a minority. The music video was shot in Watsonville, by some of the towns most talented videographers, Jose Godinez and Angel Diaz. The video was written and filmed to go hand in hand with the Digital Nest's upcoming film, Service With a Smile; a film about minority workers and standing up for your rights.
In a town full of minorities, Kabwasa has become a powerful voice for all those that are are afraid, and unable to speak up.
I recently got the opportunity to hold an interview with Kabwasa and was able to get more of an insight to his journey.
When exactly did this love for rap, and music in general begin?
I have always had a passion for art and expressing creativity through different ways, the most prominent being rap. Ever since I was little, my parents have incorporated art into mine and my siblings lives. I even went to an artistic school from 1st to 5th grade called Watsonville Charter School of the Arts . This passion for art turned into a passion for music and rap as soon as I was introduced to it. The fast tempo and high energy that’s in Hip Hop matched me and my energy so naturally, that's what grew on me the most. But rap music itself has been a part of my life since I was a baby.
Why did you feel music specifically was the route you wanted to go in terms of pursuing "art"?
I have love for all types of art, but music specifically is almost like an obsession for me. I can't go a single day without music or imagine my life without it. So creating it almost felt like it was always supposed to happen, it came so naturally. Music brings so much joy and purpose to my life and if I can bring that to anyone else with my music, then I will do and create as much as I can to make that happen.
When or what made you realize the power in your words?
The power in lyrics comes from relatability. I rap about my experiences and my thoughts and feelings. I find that many people have had similar life experiences to mine, my music is very relatable, that to me means power. If I can show people and make the feel that they aren't alone in their struggles and experiences then that to me, and I feel to the listener is something very powerful.
What is your inspiration behind your music?
Most of my songs are inspired by an event, an experience, or something personal about myself. I always write my songs based on real things that were/are a part of my life because I feel that by doing so it makes the lyrics more passionate and heartfelt when I rap them.
What is "Workers Truth"?
Workers Truth is my newest song about the hardship that migrant workers and minorities face on a daily basis. The idea is that as minorities we have to work twice as hard as anyone else just to receive half of the benefits that non-minorities have. I was lucky enough to work with a non profit organization called Digital NEST to create a music video for this song that was based on a short film that they are creating which follows a similar concept. The hard work of minorities is what makes real progress in the world.
Why do you incorporate your hometown so much in your music?
I want to give a voice to Watsonville. My town is almost never mentioned by any media and when it is it’s always shown and spoken about in a very negative way. I want to show the positive side of watsonville and make it clear that we are not to be overlooked. We are a small town but we are full of countless creative individuals and future leaders. We should all be proud of the town that we came from.
You seem to speak about your name a lot in your music, what is the idea/reason behind that?
My full name is Etienne Nkum Abui Kabwasa Green. The name “Kabwasa” is my mom's maiden name. It comes from congolese roots. My moms father was a political leader in the congo, he fought for the people of the congo. I want to showcase my roots in my music and in my identity so I chose to go by the artist name Kabwasa.
Do you feel there are any influences from your cultural background that influences your songs?
The culture that I identify with is all over the place. Growing up in Watsonville where the majority of my friends have a mexican heritage, I feel myself identifying a lot with hispanic culture. In addition being a black american there are aspects of the african american culture that I heavily relate too as well. And then lastly I sometimes identify with french culture being that my mom spent a large portion of her life there along with so many of my cousins and relatives. My cultural background is kind of a mix and influence of everything.
Is there any new projects or songs you have in store that you can tell us about?
For now I'm just excited to see where the work I have done so far takes me. I am always creating and making new music but there’s no telling exactly what the future holds! Hopefully a new EP though. I have been putting songs together in hopes of dropping a new project later this year.
With all of the positive feedback he has received from not only his town but countless others, Kabwasa was able to put out a music video for Worker's Truth on August 3rd. As for upcoming projects he hopes to release his first EP including his new song Workers Truth in late September.
Before the songs were put out and Kabwasa was in this rap scene, I personally knew Kabwasa, as "E.T", my classmate from the 1st grade. As someone who has seen this unravel first hand, and as a listener from Watsonville, I can tell you that the passion and the creativity have always been there. From the school play, to the talent show, and now through your headphones, Etienne Nkum Abui Kabwasa Green is a name you want to remember, and soul with a voice and message that will make a strong impact in the world.
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Photos by Marcos Fregoso (@mjfcphotos)
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