Fri. 28/09 —- Disofeng Dobsonville
Sat. 29/09—– Club Ozone (N. West)
Sat. 29/09 — Panyaza (with Zinhle)
Sun. 05/10 -– Panyaza
Sat. 06/10 — Vintage life style (pimville)
Sun. 7/10 -— Mofolo Park Stadium (w/ Nick Holder)
Sun. 7/10 -— Pandora Chesa Nyama (Ekhuruleni)
Sun. 7/10 -— Liquid Chef (Rosebank)
(also published on This Is Africa.)
At once after touch-down i noticed the modern, international air of Johannesburg, which looked wealthy and stable; and of the friendly, smartly dressed and hip Africans around me, who seemed as informed as anyone in the East Village or London. But soon a more complex picture emerges.
One’s experience of any city can be of course very different depending on where and with whom you spend time. For the grumpy travel writer Paul Theroux, arriving by bus from Botswana, Joburg was scary; for a media person i met in Berlin prior to the trip it was boring, having experienced only the affluent suburbs; for me, it was charming, exhilarating, sad, endearing, informative, familiar, strange, challenging, inspiring, frustrating, and awesome.(part of the) Paint of Coloured Streets team – bigup bigup bigup bigup!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!dude on the right is kwaito star Professor’s brother.shot of city center (close to business district) from inside a taxi, parked outside of a shop which was blasting Dj Cleo. outside of Chaf Pozi (below), a club/restaurant located underneath and between the 2 painted towers, from which you can also bungee jump.This was a water-testing show… went pretty well, and as an educational experience it was very valuable as afterwards i had a much better feeling for SA crowds.A Chinese person in Soweto must be an extremely rare occurance; and i have been assured that i was the very first to ever enter a local club, not to mention on stage, behind dj decks. Yet the most extreme reaction from strangers to this very odd anomaly were curious glances, welcoming smiles and delightful disbelief before my sets started, and high fives, cries of joy and hugs when my different but surely recognizable sounds begin. Nearly everyone i met were friendly, inclusive, warm, and open minded; the only garden variety asshole who did not shake my hand when offered, rude and almost hostile, was this dj who spun, perhaps not so incidentally, top-40 American Rap. my main dude Mpho. Bongani with a wicked MC Hammer haircut!A soul singer which i regrettably did not end up jamming with… next time! Soweto TV interview, which aired weekend of 29 September. Also did a short interview with CCTV (funny enough they just happened to be at Chaf Pozi because it was National Heritage Day), as well as Channel-O “Basement” show: 1 hour live video mixing, first time manual beat matching in 6 years, classic Kwaito and Mzansi House 1 take at 10am after 3 hours sleep the night before… will be on rotation all over Africa in the coming weeks. this was a rather cheesy club located within a casino, the only mixed crowd i played to during the entire tour.mixed crowd, unified response!Among the live acts was Family Business – sweet and groovy original dance pop, SA’s answer to D’banj and P-Square? 5 hours at the Museum of Apartheid rendered razor sharp the reality of life under the system named by this Afrikaans/Dutch word, a word which was only an abstraction for me before. The systematic oppression and violence against South Africans in every sphere of life continued in broad day light until 1994: slave labor, abject work conditions and low wages; suppression of education and erasure of African culture; lack of health care; forced segregation; forced relocation of entire communities; normalized hunger, disease, depression; routine degradation, humiliation and violence – a system in which “people were arrested, abused, beaten and banished for trifles”. People who fought for equality and justice (including a few coloureds and whites), who were imprisoned, tortured, and murdered by the police, were nothing but Terrorists in the eyes of most world governments, until as recent as 2008 (when Nelson Mandela was finally taken off of the US Terrorism Watch List). Many nations continued to not only tolerate, but collaborate with the “followers of Goebbels” (Nadine Gordimer) which was the Apartheid regime, until the very end.
All such official edifices to crimes of the state against humanity, be it a museum like this or streets named after civil rights leaders, tell 2 big lies at the same time as acknowledge and commemorate. The establishment makes the struggle seem 1. a part of the past, instead of very much ongoing, and 2. a part of itself, instead of its actual enemy in real life, as it has always been, and currently is. As i absorbed the collection of photographs, films, recordings, text, and objects in this museum (yes, owned by a white guy) which document but a tip of the Apartheid iceberg, i kept in mind of the fact that many injustices continue and that the struggle is far from over.
in 2012, 10% of the population in South Africa is white, yet own 90% of the land (info from a director at the Museum), and hold most of the high paying jobs. With the influx of refugees and impoverished immigrants from other African countries, and add to it corrupt politicians, there is a high level of income inequity. And where ever there is uneven wealth distribution, there is of course crime. in Soweto, which is obviously still very poor, it is actually very safe because of tightly knit communities and their brand of tough street justice. In the rich areas it is also relatively safe because of high security. But in the black suburbs between Soweto and city center and many other areas, where i stayed, it is not good to go out alone at night, as muggings, robberies, and car-jackings are fairly common.
During my 3 week stay close to Soweto, besides the malls in city center (Sandton), a cheesy mixed club within a casino, and tourists in the museum, i saw 6 or 7 white people (who comprise 10% of the population), and 0 East Asians (despite there being hundreds of thousands living in the city). In Sandton groups of friends were nearly always of the same ethnic background, and i saw no mixed race couples at all (but many flamboyant pretty boys holding hands, which was refreshing). The separateness of social spheres in Johannesburg along lines of class and race seems, in my estimation, significantly more pronounced than NYC or Paris.The legendary Panyaza is a world famous spot where people eat fresh braai (BBQ) and rock to pumping South African House and Kwaito delivered by a constant rotation of DJs. An outdoor area enclosed by shops under a huge tent holding 1000 people or more, every Sunday the party starts at noon, gets packed by 2pm, and good vibes flow steadily late into the night. The best sets i heard were deep, techy and tribal house: funky, driving, and percussive, sometimes with vocals in Zulu and other languages, and that unmistakeable South African oomph: “woza woza wozawozawozawoza”. The patrons are very picky, and are known to shut DJs down after the first 5 minutes. The music policy basically boils down to the phrase “no mainstream”, but the word must have slightly different meaning than in Europe and America, as a few played tunes infused with Kenny G type smooth jazz, or cliche R’n’B crooning. My set around dusk of mostly classic Ngoma mashups and edits in the 125bpm range, which included Yoruba Ritual Singing, Ghanaian Jazz, traditional South African drumming and Ethiopian funk all underpinned by Afro-House beats and bass, won over not only the crowd but the club owners and resident djs – the booker welcomed me back any time, and told me on Facebook 1 week later that people were still asking about it. Some mistook the Cameroonian, Pigmy derived flutes of Francis Bebey on one of the edits for Chinese music, which was funny but also makes sense: thise flutes do have an unmistakeable East Asian feel. The sun set as the rhythms got heavier – an unforgettable night.
In a place where the parents of people my age nearly all love Kwaito and new House Music (quick to enter into a discussion of Dj Clock’s recent releases, for example), the “underground” and what constitutes it is also different from the West. Without much generational gap or cultural fragmentation, In South Africa the word seems to mostly mean “music which has not yet made it big”, including the freshest sounds in the streets (Sgubu, for instance, is a new breed of house music stemming from the Mujava camp in Pretoria) I was very disappointed to find out, after searches in vain, that distribution channels for such new sounds simply do not exist in Joburg, often the only access is directly from the artists themselves, at their gigs. In a country so rich with rhythmic and musical ideas it is sad to see so little infrastructure, compared to the rows of neatly stacked white label just-out-this-week dance 12 inches in the specialty shops of rhythmically impoverished Europe. In fact Independent record shops are themselves a rarity in Joburg; there are only, often not well stocked, chain outlets. proper party at Club Ozone in North-West Township, a few hours from Joburg – madness! At this i was able to drop the hard and up-tempo crazy bass set (with plenty of NGOMA percussion edits of course), and the place went bananas! This big outdoor event had a “retro” theme, to which some local fashion labels came out to represent. Mixing up traditional African tribal decorative motifs, patterns, and jewelry with classic western designs and contemporary global trends, the funky outfits from chic and elegant to eye-brows raising unusual were just as deliciously creative and wonderfully varied, often as refined and polished, as style on the hippest streets of Tokyo. One girl pulled off a stunning Goth B-girl Lolita Glam outfit the way only an African beauty can, and next to her a handsome dude in a well fitting thin tweed jacket, Keffiyeh and knee high boots, successfully combining professor, outdoorsman, and international hipster protest. But the sad thing is they told me their brand was “Ancient Reality” (which particularly resonates with me), and that all i have to do is google to find contacts — but later when i tried many searches there was not a single mention of them on any web pages at all. (apologize for lack of more and better photos of some of these great outfits, but if you look closely at the photos above, you can see 1 or 2 indications of what i’m on about)
Althought there is a LOT of great music in Joburg, people’s general taste reflects the business and industrial nature of the city: more commercial compared to places like Pretoria or Durban. But much more troubling is that, judging from my new friends who are really into music, other djs and everyone i spoke to, people in Joburg all know and accept mainstream American ( c )rap and generic Euro Ibiza fodder, but have very little to no idea about new movements in other parts of Africa such as Angolan House, Kuduro, Hiplife or Naija; and no exposure to underground sounds from the West such as UK Funky, Juke, or Moombahton (there are now parties which play Dubstep and Drum’n’Bass, usually of the predictable variety). And when it comes to the incredibly varied and bottomless wealth of African traditional music, South Africans generally seem just as ignorant as Europeans or Americans, having never even heard of Soukous (!). And like many Post Colonial theorists have pointed out, the South to South communication lines desperately needs to be opened: South Africans seem entirely disconnected from India or South America: when i mention Cumbia, Tribal Guarachero, Baile Funk or Bhangra, the response is blank stares.
Glossy US exports with high production value is generally valued more than local culture, which is to me, without a doubt, artistically, intellectually, much more sophisticated, beautiful, and rewarding. When i asked for Shangaan music people in the shops all thought it was HILARIOUS, and start to do little sarcastic rump shaking dances. Even though it is clear that they all enjoy it, they have to make fun of the music because it is not “cool” at all, being perceived as rural and backwards – no one knows that in 2011 the Shangaan tour rocked Berlin’s Berghain, one of the top 10 most famous and prestigious dance clubs in all of Europe.
Life in South Africa is saturated with Kanye and Beyonce, Cosby Show and the Fresh Prince, McDonalds and KFC. Agents like these make up the current tide of insidious cultural imperialism, which asserts dominance with pure economic might, while marginalizing, replacing, and destroying local narratives, melodies, and forms. Between 2 reputable book sellers in Joburg, they had exactly 2 books by black South African writers, while Eurocentric versions of history is taught in schools. With the now adult generation largely deprived of higher education under Apartheid, and the quality of the current under funded education system being among the lowest in the world, US hegemonic brainwashing is particularly effective.
Between 2 reputable book sellers in Joburg, they had exactly 2 books by black South African writers. i picked up one of them by Zakes Mda, (the other one being rare and expensive), along with Jay Naidoo, Rian Malan, and several by Nadine Gordimer. Luckily was given a biography of Julius Malema, and found some titles from other parts of the continent: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Osita Okoroafor, Ferdinand Oyono, and Nozip Maraire. What i was told is that books by black authors, especially the conscious, which is to say often outlawed or exiled ones, were never printed in large quantities if not banned altogether, often circulating only in the underground, and many or most remain out of print.
if the world is living in “the long intellectual shadow of the Age of European Empire” (Satya Mohanty), South Africa is reeling in the immediate aftermath of Apartheid. Yet despite ongoing segregation and injustices as well as foreign cultural infestation, vibrant and strong forms of local cultures survive, mutate, and thrive.