Africa is a Country

South African Hip Hop Series: Rap Songs About Weed

Hip-hop’s love affair with marijuana is a much-publicized affair. Artists such as Cypress Hill and Snoop Dogg have built careers by co-opting the good ganja crop and working it into their public personas. Of late, the likes of Wiz Khalifa and Flatbush Zombies continue to model themselves in line with stoner tendencies. South African hip-hop hasn’t been as vocal/showy about its habits, although a fair deal of emcees do indulge. We went on a hunt for some South African rap songs about marijuana and emerged with a list ranging from Cape Town’s Youngsta; to Gauteng-based Mothipa’s Mpharanyana-sampling three-verse letter to a love deferred; to rap troubadour Hymphatic Thabs’ rally to just grow a crop.

Artist: Deenodee & Swish 8 – 8
Song: Norwegian breakfast
“It’s another whole year where I was pedaling school/ meddling to understand what does it all come to” raps Deenodee on the introspective ‘Norwegian breakfast’, a song about weed’s capacity to have you thinking big, but also about the mind’s ability to drag you head-first into reality. “I take another pull and start to see it from a different view, the rent is due” says Swish, countering himself after going on a philosophical trip about equal opportunity, and a self-motivational wank about training one’s brain to master what they’re good at. Play this one very early in the morning!

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Artist: Blaze 5th

Song: Who Got The Bud?

Album: GreenHouse Project EP
This is a directive in the mechanics of communal weed smoking uttered amidst the haze of jazzy horn samples and lazy beats. “Inhale/ exhale/ two puff, pass to the left and chill” says Cape Town-based Blaze 5th. This song is equal parts autobiography and mythology. Blaze shares his journey with the lady he calls Ms. Juana from the first day he ‘saw’ her (“and then the weed came/ good look, hooked from the first kiss”), and traverses the stars while name-checking the Dogon people of Mali as well as XXL Magazine.

“Like Snoop said ‘You are what you smoke’/ light up and get ghost/ let’s see who smokes the most/”

Youngsta-01

Artists: Arsenic & Youngsta
Song: 3rd Avenue Trippin’
Album: Deurie Naai Alliance
Towards the end ofArsenic and Youngsta’s 15-track scorcher DNA is this little seed of weed plantation music. With Bob Marley and Bone Thugs as composers, it’s no wonder the outcome is so smooth. Youngsta reps the green-tinged leaf through detailed descriptions of his exquisite outings to other universes. Arsenic’s swinging drums and lammed-out synth pads provide the impetus necessary to transcend the physical and descend into astral galaxies. Play this one while chasing all your worries away at the end of a stressful day.

I don’t care about brands and the promotion/ as long as it’s pure green and it’s potent/ weed became ‘cheese’ and Swazi became golden/ but I don’t give a fuck what it is, I just smoke it

Artist: Hymphatic Thabs
Song: Just grow a crop
Album: Perfect Times
Hymphatic Thabs is a rap superhero. He possesses answers to questions which herbalists in the hip-hop community end up asking regularly, like “what’ll happen if I chain-smoke ganja?” Well, according to Thabs – an emcee who was pivotal in setting the template for indie rap success in South Africa through his prolific work in the early 2000s – it’s bad to smoke a lot. Why? Well, because you’ll end up talking total kak! This one’s for the heads; for the ciphers; for the moments where you just want to spark up yet be present in the here and now. Of course Thabs’ fabulous rhyme schemes and specialist flow shine through.

To owe the cops a bag of weed just has to be the most fucked-up tragedy/ it dazzled me, but now at least I know what’s up

South African Rap Songs About Weed-02

Artist: The Temple

Song: Ntsango

It’s that echo at the very beginning that gets you. It catches you off-guard, wakes you up from slumber and locks you in= a trance. “Bem’Intsango” they chant, imploring you to light up; coercing you into their web of higher consciousness. These gentlemen know exactly what they’re doing; “ma-uganthayo abantu ba bemayo, wena u-insane” cautions  Kenny Mlambo of the rap duo The Temple. Along with his partner Jacky Mopedi, they form The Guru Group, “home to the subsidiaries Guru Apparel, Guru Photography and Guru Music respectively” according to their blog. Play this one as you prepare to leave the house at night.

Quote: “Ma ukathand’abantu ba bemayo, wena u infene/ mang’bemile ndi-strongo e-ncondweni my man”

Artist: Jam Jarr
Song: Space Jack
Album: Pura Obscura
Imagine this: dusk is quickly approaching in the Western Cape town of Worcester. After an unbearably-hot day which had temperatures peaking in the high 30s, a cool breeze blows over the extreme dryness of the karoo. The occasion is a three-day alternative music festival called RAMfest. On one of the three stages is a figure who stands at approximately no shorter than six feet; he’s rapping, and somewhere in the middle, he makes a pronouncement – something to the effect of his love for weed. His partner lets loose very mean electronic beats; the crowd gathered before this duo, Jam Jarr, treat every passing moment with sheer admiration. It’s a ganja party, and everyone’s invited. Now stop imagining; that’s how it really went down.

*Honourable mention goes to Thor Rixxon and The Exorsistahs, $tilo Magolide, pH and Towdeemac, Mothipa, and The Archetypes. Some of them have been included in the playlist we’ve created below.

**This article is part of Africasacountry’s series on South African Hip-Hop in 2014. You can follow the rest of the series here.

Goma Rap: The 9th annual Salaam Kivu International Film Festival

When the M23 militia took control of Goma, the capital of North Kivu in Eastern Congo, in late 2012, the premises of Yole Africa were quickly occupied by a large crowd of youngsters. Some of them were looking for refuge after their homes had been bombed; some others were there to make sure that the cultural centre was not attacked, recalls Congolese filmmaker and cultural activist Petna Ndaliko while he supervises the preparations for the closing ceremony of the 9th edition of the Salaam Kivu International Film Festival (Skiff). “Even the police jumped the fence and broke into Yole! They were also seeking safety for themselves. They knew that the community would never allow an attack to this place”, he adds, pointing to the ground littered with volcanic rock. “This is a magical place, a place for the people, respected by everyone. Every year Skiff summarizes our work and brings everyone in Goma together.”

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The 9th edition of Skiff closed last Sunday by the shores of Lake Kivu with a fashion show showcasing the work of Congolese-American designer Eric Ndelo and a group of young Yole members, a concert by songwriter Fonkodji and with the awards for best film of the Goma Focus category for local directors, and for the winning troupe of the dance competition, a festival highlight that gathered several thousands the previous day at a downtown sports ground. Other guests for Skiff’s 2014 edition included Canadian filmmaker Mathieu Roy (director of  Surviving Progress), Howard University scholar Chioma Oruh, Ugandan hip hop archivist Gilbert Daniels of Bavubuka Foundation, British filmmaker Jeremy Gilley, and local community leaders such as Samuel Yagase of GOVA Organisation, among others.

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Petna Ndaliko founded Yole Africa in Kampala in year 2000. He had gone into exile in Uganda shortly after he was briefly kidnapped, twice, while he was a radio presenter and community leader during the armed rebellion that erupted against President Laurent Kabila in the late nineties. “At that time in Kampala you had rebels and refugees from DRC, Rwanda, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea. Within a year our centre became the place where all these people from different backgrounds would come to work in artistic projects, make movies and create dance pieces. That’s when I first witnessed the power of art, transforming hatred and frustrations into a creative force”, he says.

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But in 2002 the Nyirigongo volcano erupted and buried Ndaliko’s family house, and large parts of Goma, under lava. Ndaliko helped his family resettle in Uganda, but realized that many of his old acquaintances were going through desperate times. “Their choices were either to join a militia or be killed by one”, he says. “But I had already experienced the way in which art can transform a community in this kind of situation. This was the time for me to come back, when all the NGOs were running away from this place. And all those people of different groups who had threatened me in the past were gone too because of the volcano’s eruption. In those days the joke here was that the true Commander in Chief of all these armies was that volcano –he says waving a finger to a point behind the hills and the clouds of dust– under whose command they all had to run”.

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That is how Yole Africa started in Congo, under what Ndaliko calls the basic premise to ‘decolonize the mind’, encouraging the youth to express themselves through art in order to achieve social change. “The education system here, even up to now, is the one that was drafted by Belgium, during the time when they were comparing Congolese to monkeys. We still don’t know our true history, and Yole offers an alternative to that, through filmmaking and alternative TV, music and computer literacy programmes, and through community discussions and creative workshops with guests from different parts of the world when we have the opportunity”.

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An assiduous follower of Frantz Fanon (whose face has been painted next to Angela Davis’ on the wall outside his office at Yole), Ndaliko argues that his cultural and social project fits into his global view of progressive Pan Africanism. “We need to start thinking of Africa as a matrix, and whose people and history are scattered all over the world. The general connotation, when Fanon speaks of nationalism, is to consider a nation, not as a piece of territory that has been carved by colonialists, but as an entity which has traditional and cultural values that go beyond the borders we have now. This is the kind of notion on which Yole Africa wants to start building on, reconnecting all these branches of our history and our people”.

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Some of Yole’s young members have also been members of armed groups operating in the region, and many others are at risk of joining one, but in Ndaliko’s view Yole Africa provides an alternative space in which the youth can be exposed to different aspirations through artistic expressions in a context in which many people are struggling to survive. After decades of armed conflict, he believes in long-term healing strategies and local empowerment more than in foreign aid with strings attached or Western celebrity campaigns for peace, of which he is openly critical.

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Paradoxically, or perhaps provokingly, Skiff 2014’s programme included the film The Day After Peace, which documents the quest of British filmmaker Jeremy Gilley to convince world leaders of establishing a global ‘Peace Day’, and which ends with a successful one-day ceasefire in Afghanistan in 2007. However, the film (featuring Jude Law and Angelina Jolie) was received with certain scepticism from the audience. Through his organisation Peace One Day, Gilley plans to repeat the experience of a day of no-violence (including a free concert of American rapper Akon at the Goma airport) in Eastern Congo next September.

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But Petna Ndaliko highlights the lack of local input in this kind of initiatives. “Everybody talks about peace in the DRC”, he says, “but who has ever asked for the opinion of the local people? As long as the international organizations don’t listen to the local agenda these projects are going to fail and the state of chaos here will continue.” His criticism extends to the numerous NGOs working in Goma and that often approach Yole Africa to promote their campaigns. “They want to use us because we draw a lot of people. But we can’t buy into that”, he says, “that’s how you start corrupting the creativity of artists, who stop representing their community and start representing what those organisations want.”

Live from Grahamstown

Every winter, for 11 days in early July,  the sleepy South African college town of Grahamstown comes alive with art. Artists from all over the world swarm to the tiny town, and every nook and cranny is packed with theatre, dance, performance art, film, comedy puppets and face paint with the sweet sounds of jazz spilling onto the streets. The National Arts Festival, that celebrated its 40th anniversary this year, is the second biggest arts festivals in the world. For the last couple of years, a group of journalism students at Rhodes University cover the festival through a pop-up newsroom called CueTube, where they interview a variety of artists, choreographers and directors. Here’s some samples of the work.

CARGO: Precious

Sara Baartman was taken from South Africa and shipped to London to be exhibited as the Hottentot Venus, to be ogled for her African physique. CARGO: Precious is a dance collaboration between producer Georgina Thomson, Sylvaine Strike, PJ Sabbagha, Concord Nkabinde and Fana Tshbalala to portray the journey of the young Saartjie Baartman.

Report by: Lilian Magari, Noxolo Mafu and Aneesha Ndebele

 

Local Jazz Muso Kyle Shepherd delivers

Jazz pianist, Kyle Shepherd talks about his music, his background and and the state of Jazz in South Africa.

Report by Cindy Archillies & Megan Flemmit

 

Jazz Legend Louis Moholo-Moholo

The last of the legendary The Blue Notes, Louis Moholo-Moholo performs at the National Arts Festival for his first time. Born in Cape Town, he lived in London for most of his life as exile during the Apartheid era. Moholo-Moholo is extremely passionate about jazz and talks about the current state of South African jazz. He performs here with the 2014 Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz, Kyle Shepherd, as well as previous winners of this award.

Report by Cindy Archillies, Megan Flemmit, Deneesha Pillay

 

Unraveling the mysteries of Islam 

Bismillah and Salaam Stories two theater productions that delve into Islamic identity. The former depicts a father ritually preparing his son’s body for burial, while the latter production dramatises a selection of stories. Both directors reject westernized representations of the faith and illuminate its fundamental aspects to audiences at the National Arts Festival.

Report by Deneesha Pillay & Megan Flemmit

 

Marikana The Musical

Aubrey Sekhabi’s explosive new production, based on the Marikana Massacre of 2012 is adapted from the book ‘We Are Going To Kill Each Other Today — The Marikana Story’. This powerful musical gives names and faces to those who lost their lives during the massacre.

Report by Olona Tywabi and Anna Kharuchas

 

Hasan and Husain Essop’s Unrest

Twins, Hasan and Husain Essop, talk to us about winning the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for 2014 before delving into their latest exhibition, ‘Unrest’. Rooted in Cape Town, the twins explore various forms of unrest in Cape Town, touching on themes of violence, gang warfare and identity.

Report by Lilian Magari and Campbell Easton

Please credit: Louisa Feiter, CuePix.

Facebook and Politics in Zimbabwe: Who is Baba Jukwa?

Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, is buzzing with the arrest of Edmund Kudzayi, editor-in-chief at the Zimbabwean Sunday Mail. Together with his brother Phillip Kudzayi, the editor stood accused of administrating the faceless online personality known as “Baba Jukwa.” Since early 2013 the popular Baba Jukwa Facebook page has been posting allegations of scandals and corruption, mainly against politicians and state officials, but also predictions of what was going to happen within the political landscape, many of which turned out to be true. For this reason one could suspect Baba Jukwa to be (or be connected to) a mole within Zimbabwe’s ruling Zanu-PF party. 

On Sunday of the same week the police released a list of ten more people they intended to arrest in connection with the case:

At least 10 people, including journalist Wilf Mbanga and his wife Trish, are being sought by the police in connection with the shadowy Facebook character Baba Jukwa, who posted subversive articles aimed at inciting people to engage in acts of insurgency and banditry (The Herald print version, 28.6.2014).

Edmund Kudzayi faced charges of terrorism, sabotage and undermining the authority of the President, as well as an accusation of holding illegal ammunition.  Kudzayi was later released on bail.  One Romeo Musemburi (a student at the University of Zimbabwe) and one Mxolisi Ncube (a South-African-based journalist) have also been charged in relation to the case (Newsday print version, 1.7.2014).

In April of this year I got ahold of Baba Jukwa on Facebook, and asked him what he was up to:

I stand for truth, transparency, and the preparation of a renewed Zimbabwe, and a new Africa. This page is the people’s hope for freedom.

Said he. Or she. Or them.

Baba Jukwa has over 400,000 “Likes” on Facebook (409,071 earlier today to be exact), a significant number considering that only around 130,000 people “Like” Robert Mugabe’s Facebook page. “In a daily blizzard of posts, Baba Jukwa has waged a furious information war against Zanu-PF,” wrote BBC correspondent Andrew Harding in 2013:

The stories–some of them more salacious gossip than whistleblowing– include allegations of rape, murder and corruption by senior Zanu-PF officials, and are often accompanied by the mobile phone numbers of those accused, with calls for the public to bombard them with questions.

Now, however, it seems the Zimbabwean authorities are stepping up their game. Editor Kudzayi (who impressively managed to speak far and wide with the press from inside prison walls) claimed he had in fact been working with the government in their efforts to find the ever-elusive Baba Jukwa. In fact, Kudzayi claims to have been working with both the Ministry of Defense and the Police in trying to hack into the gmail account off, and expose, the “real” Baba Jukwa.

These allegations are not only laughable but a clear abuse of the criminal justice system by those in the corridors of power who are afraid that I can use my technological expertise to expose those who actually supplied the real Baba Jukwa…The State has missed the ball and is now majoring in minor and trivial things, yet the real Baba Jukwa is laughing off after the State has arrested an innocent man who has no connection to the Baba Jukwa page” Edmund Kudzayi to The Zimbabwean Herald (Print version, 26.6.2014).

There have been suspicions that the arrests of the journalists are in fact part of a larger, and much more complex, political game. As President Mugabe enjoys his 90th year upon this earth, the question of succession grows ever more pressing. With the end of the coalition government in 2013, ruling party Zanu-PF gained a stronghold, but this time it is a stronghold marred by the vacuum left by the death of the opposition (the Movement for Democratic Change, or MDC-T). Or, if not the death, the rasping gasps and signing of wills.

Anyway, the point is, Zanu-PF have been systematically targeting MDC-T for so long. And yet it turns out that the MDC-T’s downfall has made Zanu turn its fangs inwards, upon its own members. A shadowy Facebook character is just an easy way of vilifying whomever you find to be Enemy Number One, whether outside or inside your own party. Others think it is more than that; the Baba Jukwa case is a (more traditional) attempt to distract the population from more pressing matters like, for instance, the dire economic situation.

In all this, Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services Professor Jonathan Moyo is a bit of a wild card. As he came to office in 2013 he appointed a range of new people in the state-owned press, including as it happens, Edmund Kudzayi as editor-in-chief of The Sunday Mail. In the weeks before Kudzayi´s arrest, President Mugabe had a very public and well-publicized rant concerning Moyo, calling him “the devil incarnate.” Mugabe accused Moyo of appointing editors that were disloyal to the party, though some see this as Moyo´s attempting to open up for a little more press freedom.

Harare is (and has been for a while) a city of endless rumors, gossip and speculations.  In the absence of unbiased commentary, a city of speculators is what you get.

The Baba Jukwa case embodies this aura of speculation. What is interesting is that Baba Jukwa has continued to post on his Facebook page, even after Kudzayi was arrested. What is even more interesting is that, on June 13th, Baba Jukwa predicted that Kudzayi and two others would be arrested.

Great Zimbabweans the chief chipfukuto has decided to sacrifice his blue-eyed zvipfukuto, Edmund kudzayi (Sunday mail), Mduduzi mathuthu (chronicle) and Caesar zvayi (herald) who all came to zimpapers on nepotism lines without proper channels followed to push his 2018 agenda.
He is such a coward serving his own position and leaving his agents without jobs. I feel pity for obscure journo mathuthu and fake IT specialist kudzai who thought they were above everyone.
Information coming in after chief Chipfukuto apologized to his excellency. More to follow…
Asijiki!
Ndatenda
Baba jukwa (Baba Jukwa Facebook post, 13.6.2014)

Curiouser and curiouser as this becomes, what is certain is that the Zimbabwean press is having a field-day with the Baba Jukwa case.

Baba Jukwa is a strong symbol, and even if the ‘real’ administrators are caught, Baba Jukwa will remain a representative figure, capable of frustrating the State and challenging the powers that be.

The Baba Jukwa case shows us that social media offers an opening, even in a relatively closed situation. My concern is that before it is over, this nation-wide witch-hunt is going to lead to further arrests of media practitioners and further restrictions on information, freedom of the press and freedom of speech.

On July 17th, Baba Jukwa wrote on his/her/their Facebook page: “The mighty ‘Baba Jukwa’ will post until Jesus comes back.”

 

The Goal is Clarity: War, Sports, and the Dangerous, Delightful, and Disgusting Elasticity of Experience

In the weeks since returning from the West Bank I’ve been tuned into the news, the news that stays news, and the news that isn’t news at all. The top story in the The New York Times on Wednesday, July 9th begins “Israel and Hamas escalated their military confrontation on Tuesday. . .” Inches away, the World Cup story allows, “The final score was Germany 7, Brazil 1. It felt like Germany 70, Brazil 1.” The juxtaposition of balance on one hand and the exaggeration of how unbalanced the World Cup rout felt on the other is too close to ignore. I dare say, with warfare again in the open in the region, it’s worth tracing its contours in our media, in our minds, and in our lives.

I know. It’s the oldest of old hats to note the distended shapes American journalism creates to preserve the Israel-first, false impression of some symmetry or parity between interests and powers in the contested territory split, shared, and struggled over by people known as Palestinians and Israelis. Even the names are disputed. Many Palestinians would refute the idea of “Israelis” and simply say Jews. Many Israelis have contended that, in fact, there are no “Palestinian” people. It’s territory—rhetorical, ethical, religious, ethnic, and geographic—so complexly, at times, hideously, contested that many people in the West, certainly in the U.S., simply look away. As a person who, since childhood, has lived a life athwart American racial codes and territories, I’ve always kept an eye on Israel / Palestine for the focused, if challenging, clarity it can offer one’s perspective on American experience. That might sound strange. But, it’s true. In a recent tour of the West Bank with the Palestinian Festival of Literature, in fact, I found much clarified.

Hebron Palestine

This clarity is not complete, of course. It’s based on my own observations as well as conversations with people such as Ray Dolphin from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in occupied Palestinian territories (UN OCHA), Dr. Tawfiq Nasser, Director of the Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem and Omar Barghouti, founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (BDS). While touring the region, I was also reading, widely and variously and, at times, all night long (jet lag): James Baldwin’s letters (one from Israel) published in Harper’s in 1963; Etel Adnan’s incomparable two-volume, To look at the sea is to find what one is (2014); Sarah Schulman’s great memoir of (Jewish American) political re-awakening, Israel/Palestine and the Queer International (2012); the report, East Jerusalem: Key Humanitarian Concerns (2011), and the Humanitarian Atlas (2012) put out by the UN OCHA; and the Legal Unit Annual Report (2013) from the Czech-run Hebron Rehabilitation Committee. The Hebron Rehabilitation Committee recorded over 600 violations of Palestinian human rights during the calendar year, 2013. They’re very thorough. The report contains month-by-month charts in which each violation has its entry. Incidents are tabulated by category: against people; against property; by settlers; by Israeli soldiers. This daily array of violence presents, for one, a background I’ve yet to see appear in American media reporting the abduction and murder near Hebron (in Arabic, Al-Khalil) of three Jewish teenagers in June.

There’s active and latent anger and violence everywhere in the region. But, according to these sources, even in so-called “Palestinian” territory (occupied by and often under the control of Israeli military personnel), there’s absolutely no parity in the legal, military, and social contests between Israeli power and Palestinian struggle. One is a contemporary bureaucratic state whose legal system vigorously operates to sustain and increase its hold on geographic territory and is possessed of a cornucopia of surveillance and weapon systems to back it up. The other is a disparate array of factionalized, anti-colonial resistance that uses smuggled and home-built weapons when not employing such high-tech systems as slingshots and cutlasses or simply throwing stones. Simply put there’s no contest here.

Looking around, say, at the closed-off, shut down and vacant business district in Hebron, Shudada Street, or at the scorched guard tower and murals of martyred and imprisoned Palestinian leaders at the Qalandia checkpoint in East Jerusalem, Baby Shuggs comment from Toni Morrison’s Beloved rang in my ears, “Lay down your sword. This ain’t a battle; it’s a rout.” Staring at children at play in the Hebron streets under the shadow of iron bars and barbed wire and under the watch of Israeli guards with machine guns, or, just down the street from there, staring at armed soldiers, near-children themselves, deep in so-called Palestinian territory at yet another checkpoint, this one stenciled with a mural: “Free Israel,” I heard June Jordan’s visions, in “Requiem for the Champ,” of Brownsville, Brooklyn in the 1980s: “This is what it means to fight and really win or really lose. War means you hurt somebody, or something, until there’s nothing soft or sensible left.”

downtown Hebron Shuhada

Let’s stipulate that the Palestinian Authority does its best. But, the reality is that the PA is, at best, Superintendent to Israel’s occupation. The people know it; many resent it. At bottom, they work for the landlord. They’re in dialogue with Baby Shuggs. Hamas, meanwhile, newly beset, again, now by el-Sisi’s rule in Egypt, and contested within Gaza by even more militant factions, seems to be playing out the gambit June Jordan observed in the blasted out Brooklyn blocks of the 1980s. At the core of the Palestinian struggle, however, is the fundamental—not to say universal—urge that the Israeli/Jewish people—from their point of view, the oppressor—will not lead normal lives while Palestinians live in cages of restrictions made of law, concrete, and razor wire and very often watched over my men with machineguns. That Palestinian aim, in fact, isn’t foreign to an American sensibility, not at all; it’s incoherently twisted deep in the core of what America is supposed to afford people (“freedom”) while at the same time it’s there at the crux of what the United States has inflicted on subordinate, mostly non-white, populations of people, within and beyond its borders, since before it existed and until today.

This is the basis of the disturbing power of clarity the situation in Palestine / Israel confronts an American viewer with. When and if, that is, one is allowed a glimpse. This is why the American media operate in the way they do and it’s at the heart of why most Americans look away. In order to admit the most basic, blatant facts in the one situation—and exactly to the degree one finds a home in the American “mainstream” (itself an incoherently contested mythology), or “dream,”—people would need to give up or radically adjust primary illusions about the country in which they live: “individual achievement,” “equality of opportunity,” “an open society,” etc. In short, clarity about Palestine destroys the mainframe illusions of American whiteness, no matter the color of the person who aspires to it. No wonder Palestinians identify to the extent that they do, and they do, with the African American freedom struggle, and with the history of American Indian quarantine and displacement, in the U.S.

Recently returned from Palestine, this week, I found myself re-engaged with the psychological gymnastics of contemporary life wherein media images of LeBron James’ free agency and Neymar’s fractured vertebra butt up against gruesome political and social intensities—massacres in Coastal Kenya, 82 shootings and 14 dead in Chicago over the 4th of July, and, of course, renewed warfare in the West Bank and Gaza—as well as duties such as teaching my five year-old to ride a bike in the parking lot across the street. The struggle is to keep some semblance of perspective and proportion.

So it was on Wednesday morning that I found myself reading aloud to my wife, Stacey, from front-page stories in The New York Times as she got ready for work. One story frankly depicts Germany’s rout of Brazil, 7-1, from Tuesday, July 8th plain enough. Another, though, just inches apart on the page, frames conflict between forces in Gaza and Israel as a “military” contest of some plausible parity. “Israel and Hamas Trade Attacks as Tension Rises” reads the headline over a photo of a sizable explosion in an urban era. The silent suggestion in the headline being that the photo could be from either an Israeli or Hamas attack. Is that really possible? Is it plausible? Do Palestinians have a “military” at all? One report in the article ominously held that one Hamas-launched rocket made it almost seventy miles into Israeli territory. No mention was made of exactly what kind of navigation/aiming system those rockets use and what kind of explosives are attached. The previous evening, CNN’s Erin Burnett interviewed Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. who described the near-total precision of Israeli strategic capabilities. His description served, at once, as assurance about limited “collateral damage” and also as a bold declaration of unassailable Israeli power. The Ambassador’s interview stood alone as CNN’s report on the increasing violence that evening. The scorekeeping continued. In the war.

downtown Hebron Shuhada

After the jump to page 8 in the Times, about the “military confrontation,” we’re told: “Israeli military said . . . that more than 150 rockets had been fired at Israel.” Meanwhile, the military reports that “Israel hit some 150 targets” in Gaza. So, at a glance, it’s a tie?

No scorecard was offered for how many targets, if any, in Israel were actually hit. One guess that, had there been hits, we’d know. Later in the story, confirming the Ambassador’s comments as to Israeli accuracy, or not, we’re told that targets hit in Gaza included, “five senior Hamas officials, ten smuggling tunnels, 90 concealed rocket launchers, and 18 weapons storage and manufacturing sites.” That’s 123. No mention of the other 27 hits in Gaza. No mention of how many firings were required to hit 123 targets. Elsewhere in the article the tie score diverges, “Palestinian officials said that at least 23 people were killed in Gaza on Tuesday” while Israel reports “two people were wounded in rocket attacks on Monday” though it doesn’t say exactly how these injuries occurred or note their severity. If you’re willing to actually follow the news out of the region in American media, these are the kinds of feigned attempts at balance that portray an evenly matched “military” struggle on one hand and, on the other, assure that one side has the unassailable upper hand and, of course, the unquestioned right to secure its territory.

So it is that equality, supremacy, and security all go together. Just don’t try it at home, these are trained professionals at work. Even so, exactly the same thing is happening at home, which is the whole point. Middle and upper class Americans are assured that everyone’s equal in the eyes of the system; meanwhile, they insist that their privileges and comforts (supremacy) are secure and that their right to safety is ensured.

When it comes to sports we’re free to feel the elasticity of the facts in pursuit of deeper truths, 7 to 1 felt like 70 to 1, we say, adding that “it wasn’t as close as the score suggests.” Such elasticity is delightful. No wonder why ESPN is what it’s become. Inches away, however, a story about an occupying power (one in violation of scores of international laws and accepted rules controlling political occupations) is told in ways that preempt and even invert a reader’s freedom to extend the facts into coherent feelings in order to understand the world. That elasticity is dangerous.

Hebron Children

As I wrote this piece, on the morning of July 10th, NPR reports, now, 80 Palestinian dead. Then, I woke up to reports of 100 dead and a report of one Israeli seriously injured at an exploded gas station. Now there’s been a fatality; an Israeli man delivering food to troops at the entrance to Gaza. Soon, there’ll be more. The numbers roll along, each a life, a death, each a blurring cloud of grieving and terrified people. In my morning brain, Baby Shuggs playing checkers with June Jordan, “king me, honey, will you please.”

Fully awake, it’s clear to me that when it comes to Israel and Palestine, for Americans, it doesn’t matter if the careful phrases contradict the most basic facts or if numerical equivalences depict “military” parity in one paragraph and describe unassailable supremacy in the next all the while affirming a people’s (one can’t but think, “all people’s?”) unquestionable right to security. No one’s looking that closely. They can’t. Close examination of Israel’s relationship to the Palestinians under their control, its quest for simultaneous supremacy, security, and the semblance of democracy or equality, would reveal more than Americans are willing to admit about our own towns, schools, states, and the filmy mythology that coats—whether with security or numbness no one investigates too far—our experiences of our own and each other’s lives.

South African Hip Hop Series: Interview With Khuli Chana

videoshoot-192

On the morning of 28th October 2013 – a Monday – South Africa woke up to news that rapper Khuli Chana’s vehicle had been shot at by the police after they mistook it for that of a kidnapper on the run. The incident occurred at a filling station in Midrand on Khuli’s way to a show in Pretoria.

The current bullet count on the blue BMW 1 series vehicle that Khuli Chana was driving is seven (7). All seven (7) were shot from the passenger side.  Khuli Chana was the only person in the vehicle at the time of the shooting. A private forensic ballistic report is currently being conducted and will be made public once received

read the press release.

In the same week that he got chosen among GQ’s best-dressed men, and the same weekend where he gave yet another impressive live performance in Soweto mere hours before the shooting, Khuli Chana’s life nearly ended. It was another blotch in a long trail of police-related fuck-ups, a trail whose perpetrators tried to cover up their own misgivings by laying charges of attempted murder against Khuli.

The investigations have been finalised, and the Director of Public Prosecutions’ office shall reach a decision soon.

It’s in the midst of all of this that we had a chat with him, at his recent video shoot for a song featuring Da Les and Magesh. Instead of discussing the particulars of his case, we tripped out over nineties hip-hop; broke down the science behind his flow; and discussed the recent resurgence of Morafe, the group he’s been a part of since the mid-nineties.

AIAC: Let’s talk a bit about your nineties influences. What shaped Khuli Chana?

Khuli: The nineties kwaito, the nineties feel, the nineties boom bap, the hooks, the colours – I’m about that! The nineties’ music was so authentic and so timeless. I’m down to experiment and try out some new things, but I’m still stuck in the nineties.

The Motswako movement wasn’t always as lauded as it is now. What did it take to get here?

The end in mind. If you don’t have a vision, you’re screwed, and that’s what we had.  Today, I just wanna say that we’re living HHP’s dream. Everything that’s happened, he predicted; it sounded like all kinds of gibberish back then. Big up to him.

There seems to be a Morafe resurgence going on, not that you guys necessarily left.  What’s the plan with that?

Like Towdee always says, ‘Morafe never left the game/ we just changed how we played the game.’ It got to a point where we were like ‘we’re not gonna be predictable.’ You’ve got three geniuses, three talented cats. Let’s start to dismantle and experiment. They experimented with me; I guess that was fuckin’ awesome!

You had no label support when you came out, and resorted to releasing the music independently.

When we started up, I wasn’t really down for the idea. It made sense, [but] I wasn’t down for it because I was scared. I just didn’t think I had it in me; Towdee was pushing for it. The guys that gave us that head start, big up to Skwatta Kamp, big up to Slikour and Ventilation. When we dropped ‘Futhumatsa’ on that [Sprite] Hip-Hoop mixtape [was] when I got that validation; that’s when I got that ‘whoa, you could do this!’ That was pretty much Towdee’s experiment. We worked on the joint, we sampled one of his verses. We did it, put it on that mixtape, and then boom, we were touring! We hit all nine provinces. That was an interesting time.

How did you manage to get Magesh on the song?

Khuli Chana: The song is inspired by a Magesh classic joint from his second album. That’s been my favourite joint, so I kind of merged “Hape le hape” with “Time and time again,” which is a Magesh hook. I used to always freestyle on that beat.

You’re one of the few mainstream hip-hop artists who never sacrifice when it comes to lyrical content. What’s the importance of lyrics, and how do you stay ahead of your own game?

Words man, words have power; they can either destroy or build. I don’t write everyday; I wish I could, I wish I did. I put so much thought into that process. I never really know when it’s gonna hit me, but when it does…it’s a spiritual thing. Big up to the lyricists: Reason, Tumi, Jabba, Tuks, Towdeemac! Ba re lefoko ga le bowe, go bowa monwana – words stick. If you’re gonna talk out of your bum now, think about how it’s gonna impact the next generation.

Who influenced your flow, and how did it develop?

In the beginning, it was the pioneers of Motswako, [the likes of] Baphixhile. There was this rhyme pattern that was popular; everybody who was down with Motswako had that same (*mouths a rhyme scheme*) I was like ‘okay cool, I’m down to switch’ because Prof (Sobukwe of rap group Baphixhile) was always saying ‘you’re dope, but I want you to try it ka Setswana’. But I didn’t like this pattern, this rhyme scheme. I’d like to hear a guy that has that Mos Def delivery, but spitting in Setswana. That’s when I started experimenting. I remember it was a day, [Prof was] like ‘listen, I’m off to Joburg, and when I come back, if you put me a hot sixteen, Imma put you on. I spat him a hot verse, and that’s when it started. I’ll be honest, ka Setswana it’s always more challenging. I’d go months without writing because all I’m doing is I’m finding new slang; new slang, words. Just trying to find an opening line sometimes takes me a month, and it depends on where we’re at.

You’ve had a very successful run over the past eighteen months or so, plus an unfortunate incident with the police. What’s your state of mind right now, and going into the future?

It’s a new chapter, we were talking about that le Towdee ke re you know what, sometimes you get to this place and you just have to acknowledge that everything you wanted to  achieve, my whole list of goals I’ve literally scratched everything off. I’m just starting all over; it’s a whole new journey now. Running a business is not an easy thing, and that’s where I’m at right now. A lot of musicians blow up and become businessmen, and then the talent suffers. I wanna be just like a JAYZ who still raps like an eighteen year old, and the business sense and hustle is just as crazy. That’s where I’m at.

What goes into preparing your live sets?

I wish we had more time. I’ve become so busy trying to balance fatherhood, work. I treat every show like a rehearsal; I’m always learning something new. Big up to my band – J-Star, Raiko, Maestro.

*Get Khuli’s music on iTunes

**This interview first appeared on Mahala

Obituary: Nadine Gordimer

My first introduction to Comrade Nadine was through her writing during my student activist days in the mid-1970s and later when I was serving five years on Robben Island as a political prisoner from 1979 to 1984. Her writing struck me so powerfully as it spoke of the lived experiences of people like me fighting the everyday trauma of the inequities and horror of apartheid. Alongside the writings of Karl Marx, Rosa Luxembourg, Samora Machel, Fidel Castro, Mariama Ba, Chinua Achebe and countless other revolutionary authors and thinkers, Comrade Nadine’s work occupied a pride of place in the reading and study menu of Robben Island prisoners and activists in the streets of townships, rural villages, exiled freedom fighters, or university lecture halls.

It was after my release from a year-long (1986-1987) State of Emergency detention that I met Comrade Nadine face to face in July 1987 when she and other comrades (Prof Njabulo Ndebele, Achmat Dangor, Andries Oliphant, James Matthews, Gladys Thomas, Nise Malange, Mavis Smallberg, Barbie Schreiner, among others) converged at Wits University to form the once-vibrant but now-defunct Congress of South African Writers (COSAW). She was, and continued to be, a live wire of COSAW until its demise in the late 1990′s. She was always ready to serve, through its regional and national structures, the course of empowering young up-and-coming writers by organizing and taking part in creative writing workshops, encouraging “barefoot publishing,” straddling the country distributing books through what COSAW termed “suitcase” libraries, fundraising, international writer-exchange programmes, interaction with other writers’ organizations on the African Continent and elsewhere. She even put her own money into uplifting an already accomplished musician’s knowledge of reading and writing music and awards to encourage short story writing in African languages.

A freedom fighter always looking out for the less-privileged than herself, she was a committed campaigner in PEN International‘s prisoner of conscience committee to support detained writers and journalists.

Comrade Nadine’s brutal honesty and consistency are legendary, from picking a fight with Amiri Baraka on the best socialist route to her shredding you to pieces until you got your writing to a modicum of acceptability, to speaking truth to power at every level, whether you are friend or foe…

I had the privilege, through Comrade Nadine, of getting Nelson Mandela’s endorsement of a book of poetry Richard Bartlett and I were compiling, titled Halala Madiba–Mandela In Poetry. It was quite a feat when my wife, Sindiswa, Comrade Nadine and I got an audience with the great Madiba to personally hand the book over to him. Comrade Nadine was very selfless in that and many ways.

As we bid a sad farewell to this gallant fighter, Comrade Nadine,we remember her uncompromising stance in her defense of her political homes in the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party.

When it was not fashionable, she reached out to people she may not have seen eye to eye with, including the PAC’s firebrand, the late David Sibeko, whose last stop before he and his family went to exile was Comrade Nadine’s house: she and her late husband, Reinhold Cassirer drove them over the Botswana border.

There is more, so much, to say about this indomitable freedom fighter and fine writer.

May you beautiful and forever revolutionary spirit rest in eternal and graceful peace, you, guerrilla of the imagination, Comrade Nadine!

Image Credit: Bengt Oberger (Wiki Commons)

South African Hip Hop Series: Ill Skillz In Five Videos

Cape Town’s self-proclaimed two dope boyz Uno and Jimmy Flexx are Ill Skillz. At the end of 2013 they released Notes from the Native Yard (NFTNY), a collection of songs steeped in the tradition of great storytellers with its lucid detail and raw emotion, and driven by stellar production from beat-gods Hipe and J-One, among others.

Melancholic in parts (without being dull), it’s a pocket handbook to give outsiders a hint of life as a black man in Kaapstaad, a city often criticized for its brash treatment of the poor and underprivileged. NFTNY is also upbeat; it’s a celebration of being young and alive, of being part and parcel of pivotal shifts in culture, of embracing one’s influences and learning from one’s mistakes. Ultimately, it’s an album about growth – both personal and artistic.

Ill Skillz have, since their full length debut Off The Radar in 2008, paid immaculate attention to their appearance. To them, the visual is as important as the music. To this end, they’ve managed to build a repertoire of videos worthy of envy, and they’ve managed to achieve it all by maximizing whatever resources are at their disposal.

To pay homage to their keen eye, we compiled five of our favourites and asked them to share stories behind how they were made. It’s all very compelling stuff filled with quotables such as “This video inspired Kanye West’s interest in ballerinas.” Have a look.

“Rocoflo” is our first video. It was a pretty big deal to finally have our first video at the time. We knew this [was] gonna be our introduction to a lot of heads. More importantly, we wanted [them] to bug out. We linked up with Garth and the team from GreenHouse Productions who were at AFDA film school at the time. They knew their stuff man and we made it happen – just having a good time in the CBD, guerrilla-style.

“Unbreakable” was probably the most challenging as it was part of The 24 Hour Project, Skillz That Pay Da Billz. We had to choose a song on the day and we went with Unbreakable. Greenhouse only had a few hours to come up with a concept and execute it all in the 24 hours. We were recording, mixing, mastering, having a photo-shoot, interviews a performance at the Cape Town Festival, and our launch the same night. This video inspired Kanye West’s interest in ballerinas. It’s about being extra-ordinary in the face of tremendous hardship [and] odds.

“We Are Over Here” made us most proud. It became a talking point; the bar was raised again. We enjoy working with creatives in other disciplines because we get to explore what else is possible after the song is done. This time, Echoledge came through with new tricks. You see these tricks in other videos - even commercials now - but it all started with We Are Over Here. [This is to] let the ladies know we’re over here, where they want to be, where they need to be.

Once again Echoledge came through, we wanted to have a bunch of ill skillionaires and at least one Bonita Applebum in the video, the rest is a gazillion cool kids in the ghetto.

Brown Sugar, I Used To Love H.E.R…we worked with ONS on bringing this to life the journey of the South African Hip hop head before rap blew up into what it is today in SA. Reminding people that Hip hop is really a street culture, no matter how many culture vultures come at it, for as long as there is young people in the townships and urban areas, inner cities. It’ll keep getting bigger and more consumer driven, but it’s core will remain raw. Real life.

*Ill Skillz’s album Notes From The Native Yard is available on bandcamp and iTunes. They’re currently in post-production for their third video off of their latest album. 

***This article is part of Africasacountry’s series on South African Hip-Hop in 2014. You can follow the rest of the series here.

Football is Politics in Nigeria

A few days ago, FIFA once again, suspended Nigeria from international football. On History Class today, we will take a look at the remote causes of that, and attempt to compare it with Nigeria’s politics. This will not be the first time that the big stick is being wielded on Nigeria, it probably won’t be the last. Nigeria is a serial offender at so many things, and the shenanigans in Nigerian football can’t be divorced from our bad behaviour. What is happening within the NFF, has strange parrallels to what happens on our political playground as I will show.

Remember that we failed to qualify for Germany 2006 losing out to Angola in a rather foolish manner. Following that failure, the NFA chairman at the time, Ibrahim Galadima declared that qualification wasn’t our birthright. As a result of that statement (made in July 2005), some football “stakeholders” had him sacked from office.

In December 2006, Galadima called for NFA elections in Kano, his hometown, and won. Those elections were conducted by Nduka Irabor. The sports minister of the day, Samaila Sambawa didn’t feel comfortable with Galadima, so a group called “stakeholders” fought Galadima. At the time, Amos Adamu was still a bigwig in FIFA, and he was, err, contracted to put the nail in Galadima’s coffin. He got FIFA secretary, Urs Linsi on board, and Linsi agreed to back the “stakeholders” in a congress which removed Galadima.

In July 2006, at a new NFA election, Sani Lulu cme first, 75/97 votes, Lumumba Adeh came second, Segun Odegbami came last 6/97 votes. Forward two years, and in July 2008, the congress changed the name of the NFA to NFF, and changed ‘chairman’ to ‘president’. The 2010 congress, normally meant to hold before the World Cup was shifted to August 2010, after South Africa 2010. Another twist was introduced in that state congresses were shifted to after the national congress of the same year rather than before.

The 2008 congress also amended the statutes so that the only way to get into the NFF is thru the state FA. So, let us ask a question, what were the implications of the changes made in 2008, how are they a metaphor for Nigeria?.

Under those new changes, the NFF president has sweeping powers since he constitutes both the electoral and appears committees. Note that he, the NFF president is a candidate in the elections of which he is the hidden umpire. Does that sound familiar? In Nigeria’s political dispensation, the President appoints the chairman of INEC, and is responsible for INEC’s budget. This makes it possible for him to pick a sympathetic party to be the head of INEC, sorry, electoral committee. Also, since the national elections are held before the state FA elections, he can guarantee that those loyal to him win at state level. That way, in the 2015 elections (blame my keyboard, sorry) in the August NFF election, his return is virtually guaranteed.

To be fair, it was not the incumbent that put those rules in place, Obasanjo started it. Sorry, I meant Sani Lulu. You see, OBJ in 2007 shifted state elections to April 14, so that his guy could take advantage of incumbent governors on April 1. I’m so sorry, my keyboard keeps misyarning. Sani Lulu wanted to stay beyond 2010, so he made sure that state elections were after national. As a sweetener, Sani Lulu’s board sponsored over 300 people (state FA bosses and their wives/babes) to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Unfortunately, fate intervened and the Super Eagles had a disaster in South Africa. It opened the door for new “stakeholders”. This new set of “stakeholders” led by Chris Green sacked the Lulu-led board, and held elections that produced Aminu Maigari.Out the door went Lulu and his henchmen, Amanze, Ucheagbulam and Ogunjobi. In came Maigari, Ogba and Green.

However, Goodluck Jonathan continued Obasanjo’s tactics of swapping election. I’m sorry, Maigari continued Lulu’s tactic of swapping elections. As it were, in the 2014 World Cup, congress members, and their hangers on, got a joy-ride to Brazil. Maigari even went a step further.

With the congress in his pocket, his more serious opponents were even banned from contesting. His second term was virtually in the bag. Rumson Baribote, is serving a 15-year ban from all football related activity. Even Luciano Moggi didn’t get that much. Taiwo Ogunjobi is serving a 10-year ban. Both bans began in October 2013. For clarity, neither man is a saint. Had the drama of the last two weeks not happened, Maigari’s second term was lock, stock and barrel assured. Barring any drama in the next few months, GEJ’s second term is lock, stock and barrel assured. That Baribote’s wife, has instituted a court case, and is backed by their, err, countryman, the minister, isn’t a shock.

All in all, the drama that has plagued Nigerian football, I hope I’ve shown, is a template that can be used in the 2015 elections.

The film about the small businessman who took on the bread cartel

“Crumbs–Toppling the Bread Cartel” is the inside story of a Cape Town businessman, Imraahn Mukaddam’s fight for social justice and the personal cost of blowing the whistle on corporate greed.  To fill you in: in late 2006 Imraahn Mukaddam, a local businessman, is told by his supplier that the price of bread is going up by 30 cents, and that all the other suppliers would also be raising the price by the same amount. Faced with possible destitution and the knowledge of the flagrant swindling of the public, he decides to report them all to the authorities, launching a legal battle that continues until today. The central theme of the documentary is that challenging the costing of bread has taken a huge toll on Mukaddam’s life, yet the bread suppliers continue to thrive, unhindered despite paying fines ranging between R45 million and R1 billion rand. 

“Crumbs,” written and directed by local filmmakers Dante Greeff and Richard Finn Gregory (and produced by , recently premiered at the 2014 Encounters Documentary Film Festival.

Here’s the trailer:

While focusing on Mukaddam’s personal trials the documentary tries to emphasise how artificial price inflation feeds into issues of corporate ethics and food security. We are told about South Africa’s entrenched history of corporate collusion and corruption—a system that really is built on a culture of theft, as one media expert puts it. This is reflected in the findings of the Competition Commission, which showed that “between 1994 and 2006 (local bread companies) Tiger, Premier, Pioneer and various independent bakeries increased bread prices “by similar amounts at or about the same time”, and between 1999 and 2001 agreed to close certain bakeries.”

The film also shows how price inflation disrupts the food security of the poor, revealing the ethical dimension to this sociological problem. They use vox pops to let ordinary working class folks tell us, in all colours of the Cape linguistic spectrum, about their dependence on bread and its burden on their pocket. There are solutions and alternatives. We are introduced to a community working plots of land cultivating greens for Abalami Bezekhaya, and talking heads who opine about food solidarity rather than food security, and government’s drive for one household, one garden.

The struggle over the price of bread is the struggle over adequate nourishment, and securing the right of the poor to flourish. Imraahn Mukaddam’s struggle therefore concerns a struggle for human rights. And it’s a task as monumental as the grain silos of Pioneer Foods in Salt River. But he finds help from a number of NGO’s lawyers and organisations who rally around him for change. They make for a refreshing cast of characters.

This is also a story about rampant inequality. And Crumbs succeeds in showing this by crafting its narrative against the stark mise-en-scene of social life in Cape Town. Images slice between the rust and dust of townships and the vintage chic of the inner city; shots of diners delighting in the cornucopia of artisanal food at the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock, and the hungry and homeless enjoying their basic, bland 5 cent meals, not far away at the Service Dinning Rooms in the inner city.

This angle is also the documentary’s weakness. Sometimes it comes off as smarmy, overwrought. And it does so through eyes familiar with a landscape that others may find difficult to interpret. The sentiment reaches its zenith in a religious theme explored towards the end, one that amplifies an appeal to morality that does not cut it when fighting corporate nemeses.

Mukaddam is a fighter. His is a story is about working the levers of the law to compel corporates unswayed by such appeals to sentiment. It’s about risking financial ruin in pursuit of changing an unjust economic system. It’s a story that resonates in post-apartheid South Africa.

And his struggle goes on. The bread cartel may have been toppled but economic justice was not equitably met. But there is a bit of a happy ending. In 2013, Mukaddam got a break when the Constitutional Court ruled in his favor for a class action suit. It opened the way for distributers and retailers affected by the collusion to sue the bread suppliers. Through pioneering this legal action they may yet force the hand of corporates unwilling to share their sometimes ill-gotten wealth.

* Go check out the film, the project online, and support Mukaddam’s work at Consumer Fair and Cape Town TV.

Another lazy South Africa ad

Africa is a Country has written plenty in the past on problematic advertising, particularly that which rides on racial and sexist stereotypes, and tropes about the African continent. Invariably, the common thread that runs through many of these ads—especially the ones that ostensibly promote a social cause, like SAB’s victim-blaming‘You Decide’ billboard or Woolworths’ black labourers-white consumers tribute to Nelson Mandela—is that the people who thought them up were incredibly lazy and uncreative.

Cape Town agency Ogilvy’s ad for a local NGO, Feed A Child South Africa, is yet another example of this phenomenon, which is why the agency was forced to withdraw the ad after an outcry. But, somehow, Ogilvy appears to believe all was well and that it was “controversy” that caused it to be withdrawn, not their own failings. Let me try to disabuse them of that notion.

In the ad, Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14 plays while a white woman is shown in different scenes treating a black child like a pampered dog: petting and feeding him while he rests on her lap; feeding him “treats” when he fetches her newspaper; letting him lick her fingers while she cooks. The choice of cast, which was no coincidence, inscribes South Africa’s racial dynamics into the ad’s message. The ad eventually ends with the pay-off line: “The average domestic dog eats better than millions of children. Help feed a starving child. SMS “child” to 40014 to donate R20.”

feedachild

Unsurprisingly, the ad was widely panned as racist, an affront to the dignity of the boy made to play the role of a dog, and a perpetuation of racial stereotypes. Richard Poplak wrote in the Daily Maverick:

We come now, as we must, to the question of gaze: who is looking at the black boy/dog? Is this advert meant for, um, black people? I’m sure Feed A Child would be happy to include the black middle class in its donor demographic. But I suspect that the images are meant to shake and shock white folk from their torpor—to remind them that their lifestyles are not just unethical, but unsustainable and cruel. But by employing this element of racial trickery, by dangling the bait of the black boy, the advert is not undermining but reinforcing stereotypes—it is simply anotherimage of black subservience fed to whites who have gorged on them for generations.

There’s also something to be said about how the ad continues a mass media tradition of presenting black bodies as those most suited to denigration and abuse.

But to reduce the ad to a problem of racial stereotypes only is to let the supposedly creative folks over at Ogilvy off the hook for their laziness.

It’s their laziness that led them by the nose to the racial stereotypes. They mindlessly called on a common trope that plays the well being of black people off against the well being of dogs, rhino, elephant, or whatever animal white folks are said to care more about at that moment. As a rhetorical device, this trope can be powerful in the right hands. But, as responses to Feed A Child’s ad show, it can also be, to paraphrase writer Athambile Masola, as awkward and prone to misunderstanding as a supposedly liberal white person showing how liberal they are by attempting to rehash Trevor Noah jokes.

To examine the laziness more closely, let me begin by calling bullshit on the ad’s claim that the average domestic dog eats better than millions of children. Maybe they mean the average dog in a white household, given the disparities in household income by race.

The average South African household gets by on $930 per month, whereas the average white South African family earns $3,000—almost six times more than the average black household. Thus, assuming an even distribution of dogs per household, the average dog eats how the average South African household that owns it eats: poorly.

avg hh income by race

Even without assuming an even distribution of dogs across South African households, it’s safe to say that the well being of domestic dogs is inextricably linked to that of the household that owns it. This is enough for us to conclude that Ogilvy’s and Feed A Child’s claim is very likely untrue. The truth is that a dog in an average white household is sitting pretty, like its owners. And a dog in an average black household, despite whatever efforts its owners might put up, suffers the same indignities as the rest of the household, including frequent, often hidden hunger, particularly in the former apartheid-era “homelands”.

The laziness is also apparent in false dichotomy the ad establishes between the well being of hungry (black) children and the well being of animals as a category of thing well off (white) people spend money on and direct empathy towards. Why not rich (white) people’s own kids? In fact, I think the ad would have been more provocative if Ogilvy had applied their minds and played the well being of rich kids off against the well being of poor kids, Hunger Games style. That would have established the moral complicity of the wealthy in the hunger of poor children, and it would have done so without any of the unnecessary noise in the current version of the ad.

But, no. Instead, the minimum threshold Ogilvy and Feed A Child chose to establish for what is just and fair for the black child is the same treatment afforded a pampered dog, not the treatment the better off afford their own kids. Guaranteed, on the whole, they treat their kids better they do their dogs.

Thus the false dichotomy guaranteed from the start that Ogilvy would be made to withdraw the ad. There’s just no way to look at it that escapes the equivalence of black kids to dogs. Considering how much Feed A Child likely spent on it, Ogilvy might as well have added a disclaimer at the end: No child was fed through the making of this commercial.

The least Ogilvy can do at this stage is refund Feed A Child for the ad, or agree to create a new, better ad for free. If they accept payment for this withdrawn ad, they are stealing food from the mouths of children.

All of that said, South Africa does have a troubling history with Inja Yomlungu (The White Man’s Dog). That’s the title of a documentary written and directed by Sipho Singiswa. The documentary explores the disparate ways in which white people treat their dogs compared to how they treat black people, and how white people use dogs as a fear-instilling weapon against black people. Parts 1 and 2 of the documentary are available on YouTube.

Christmas Day

We’re all poised for the World Cup Final later today (Elliot describes it as Christmas Day for football fans, just better). It’s been a magical month. But it is also basically the last time (till the next World Cup in four years) for journalists and pundits (yes, that’s a real profession now) to trot out cliches for a while about Messi’s “magic” versus the “German machine.”  Tomorrow we’ll all have a hangover, especially Brazilians especially as they have to pay for FIFA’s party. Bring on the a summer of expensive meaningless friendlies between top European club teams featuring their reserves playing in Asia and North America and the English media convincing us all over again of the superiority of their Premier League. Which is a good time to remind ourselves that must people play the game away from advertising boards or without pundits and close-ups. So it’s a good opportunity to posts these images of pickup game and players warming up or practising dribbling skills taken at various sites in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Senegal by photojournalist and Africa is a Country contributor, Ricci Shryock.

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Get Your Football T-Shirt On

Last year, while on a visit to LA, Sean met artists Carolyn Castaño and Gary Dauphin at a friend’s house in Echo Park. Of course, conversation veered to futbol. Sean had known about their work for a while (Back in the day, Gary–who also reps for Haiti–was one of the key figures at Africana.com–a sort of Africa is a Country 1.0, and Carolyn’s built a solid rep for her art exploring aspects of Latin American identities in LA). They introduced their project (actually, they showed him a t-shirt of Andres Escobar designed by Carolyn) , “CARGA1804 is Art, Politics, T-Shirts, Fútbol, Play, Repeating Islands.” Of course they weren’t new to this. Carolyn had by then already held an exhibit in LA built around t-shirts of assassinated footballers, Asesinados United, and was later part of LACMA’s critically acclaimed exhibitions, “Fútbol: The Beautiful Game and Phantom Sightings” and “Art After the Chicano Movement,” which traveled to the Museo Del Barrio, New York City and the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo Rufino Tamayo in Mexico City, amongst other venues . Sean was interested. The idea was to collaborate on working together on producing a series of t-shirts with the World Cup in mind, one which includes a healthy representation of players from the African diaspora. The shirts are here now. Available for sale on Etsy. Each shirt is silkscreened by hand by Castaño and come in men and women’s sizes. Africa is a Country will get a cut from every shirt sold. So you won’t just look good, you’ll feel good about yourself too. Go on, buy your shirt. 

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We collaborated on a few: Mohamed Aboutreika (most probably Egypt’s greatest player, who defied FIFA bans on players making any statements–apart from declaring your undying love for Jesus, like most of the Brazilian players–by declaring his support for the embattled Gazans),  Didier Drogba (the lodestar of Cote d’Ivoire’s greatest generation and now inspiration for Turkish protesters), and  Mario Balotelli (“I am Italian, I feel Italian, I will forever play with the Italy national team”). There are also shirts for Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi, Faustino Asprilla, Carlos Valderrama, Radamel Falcao and Jozi Altidore.

The Final Report

Today the 2014 World Cup in Brazil ends. It was a fun ride, and I don’t think that anyone will disagree that this has been an unforgettable month of international sport, politics, and drama both on and off the field. The video below is my attempt at showing another side of Rio de Janeiro and a few of the contrasting faces of this megacity. It takes place in different locations in the city on three different days of the World Cup:

In doing these periodic reports from Brazil on Africa is a Country, I set out to try and show a side of the country that perhaps would go under covered in the mainstream media. I suspected back in February that visitors to the country would be perplexed by its unique local nuances and many contradictions. Luckily there have been some great local projects and organizations working to amplify underrepresented voices in the country. However, while there has been some great reporting on the ground, the country’s inequality (especially evident in the areas where FIFA activity was concentrated), its team’s ugly and violent play on the field, and their embarrassing loss to the Germans have contributed to a growing unease with Brazil as a growing global super power (and perennial footballing one.)

I, for one, can’t help but feel that feelings of unease towards certain more-visible aspects of the country just work to continue to marginalize those less-visible aspects of the country that we may learn from or find solidarity with. Brazil has been described to me by friends as the country of a future that never quite seems to arrive. This is what the mainstream media is referring to when they say Brazilians are mourning the death of a dream in the wake of their loss to Germany. But, we’ve been here before.

While some Brazilians use the Minerazo as a place to channel their frustration, for many others their government’s deals with an international body like FIFA in the run up to the Cup was all they needed show that the dream wasn’t being realized. For even others yet, the death of such a dream is a reality that renews daily, regardless of any mega event, as they come up against a host of impermeable social boundaries. The collective inferiority complex that seems to continually characterize Brazil is something that I can relate to in my own way. Ultimately, in the game of (both personal and national) global belonging I am not just ready for some new winners, I’m ready for new rules. Because those dreams that plague the Brazilian people often cause a state of limbo. The dreamer is stuck between heaven and hell as they await their ultimate judgement from those who made up the rules. Tomorrow, after everyone else has gone home, that’s the state that Brazil will be left in, again.

Did Cameroon’s police interrogate Samuel Eto’o and take away his passport over the World Cup? Who knows

Did Cameroon’s police really quiz national soccer team captain Samuel Eto’o and seize his passport in connection with a government investigation into the terrible performance of the Indomitable Lions at the World Cup? After brouhaha of claims and denials in recent days, the answer seems to be another question: who knows? But Far less ambiguous are an insider’s perspective on the raging frictions, bags of cash and political considerations that define the outlines of national soccer in Cameroon, and elsewhere in Africa for that matter.

The idea that the General Delegation for National Security (DGSN), a branch of the Cameroonian police, questioned Samuel Eto’o on June 27th and confiscated his passport does sound like a fitting Kafkaesque twist to the decision by Cameroon’s ruler of 32 years, Paul Biya, to order a government inquiry into the poor performance of the Indomitable Lions at the World Cup. The report first appeared on the front page of the June 30th edition of leading independent daily Le Jour before spreading to international news outlets and eventually social media. Eto’o’s lawyers immediately denied the allegations in a press release, criticizing Le Jour’s reporting as “the fruit of the fertile imagination” of political desk editor Jean-Bruno Tagne, the author of the article, “and his masterminds hidden in the shade.” In response, Tagne’s editor, Haman Mana, issued a press release of his own defending his journalist and standing by the reports: the information was crosschecked by four sources, he said. On July 3, Tagne appeared on leading independent station Spectrum TV as the guest of broadcast journalist Thierry Ngogang’s evening program “Entretien” (Interview). Tagne firmly defended his reporting and his integrity.

Thankfully, the discussion on the Eto’o sideshow was the shortest segment in the program. More interestingly, the program offered a TV moment for Tagne to very publicly go through the dirty laundry of Cameroonian national soccer.  The journalist is a respected authority on Cameroonian soccer based on his years of intimate access to the team. He followed the Pride to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the African Nations Cup in Angola that same year and most recently to Brazil. In 2010, he published a book about the Lions entitled Programmés Pour Échouer (“Programmed to Fail”).

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Tagne spread criticism evenly among every stakeholder in Cameroon national soccer: from the players’ egos to the Cameroon soccer federation’s interference with training schedules, to officials’ use of public funds to enjoy personal time at the World Cup, to the government’s failure to invest in stadium. “You cannot handle honey without licking your fingers,” he said, citing a local proverb to criticize the attitude of soccer federation officials tasked with distributing bags of cash payment to the players. He talked about the imposition of political considerations over training schedules, and the clashes of egos among the players tearing the team.

These practices will not surprise anyone familiar with the business of African soccer. After all, one of the iconic images of the World Cup remains that of Ghanaian defender John Boye kissing a stack of cash distributed to the players. The Ghanaian government has defended the practice of airlifting cashto players and Ghana President John Mahama has also called for an investigation into the circumstances of the Black Stars dramatic elimination from the World Cup amid a pay dispute and infighting. What is remarkable is how these embarrassing patterns are becoming banal, with African teams more entertaining off the field than on the field at the World Cup.

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An interview with director Takeshi Fukunaga of new feature film about Liberian rubber workers

Last month a friend posted a link to the Kickstarter page for Out of My Hand, a feature film shot primarily in Liberia. The plot follows a rubber tapper named Cisco who, after taking part in a heated labor dispute that goes nowhere, attempts to move to New York city where he becomes a cab driver. In the second part of the movie we see Cisco navigating the fractured Liberian community in New York, meeting characters that force him to confront his identity. Or something like that. It’s not finished yet. The Kickstarter was to raise funds for the American portion of the shoot. Here’s the Kickstarter video: 

The trailer, since taken down, had a beautiful melancholic quality I’d never seen in a film shot in the country. Most films about Liberia are gritty documentaries focussed almost perversely on the horrors of the civil war, or Johnny Mad Dog, a fiction film that does basically the same.

There are some other intriguing things about Out of My Hand. First, it’s based partially on an unfinished documentary about labor activists on the Firestone rubber plantation. Firestone, a “state within a state,” is the largest contiguous rubber plantation in the world and has historically played a nasty corrupting role in 20th century Liberian politics, manipulating national finances for its own ends and relying on forced labor—see the famous account by W.E.B. Dubois in Foreign Affairs. More recently, Firestone was cited for relying on children to meet production quotas. I tracked down the filmmaker Takeshi Fukunaga in Brooklyn to chat about the project. Here’s an edited version of our talk.

I’ve seen a lot of stuff come out of Liberia and it usually has the same narratives about war and trauma. Your trailer had a fresh look to it. Are you consciously working against narratives?

Well, yes. We were consciously being more unique, not just an “African narrative.” It’s a fiction movie. We know about harsh realities in the world. And while this movie is also based on very severe working and living conditions, the goal for me and my partner who wrote together, was to always portray people them the same way we portray ourselves. To be an outsider looking in, of course, it’s challenging. When I was writing it I’d never been to Liberia.

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Why Liberia?

I first knew about Liberia and the world of the rubber plantation from working as an editor on a documentary made by my brother in law, who unfortunately passed after we came back from the shoot. But what I saw in the footage was the strength and dignity of people there despite really hard situations. That was really moving to me. So that was a connection I made. It wasn’t particularly about rubber. It was always about human beings. Those were the people I was moved by so I needed to go to Liberia to tell this story even though there are many other places that have huge rubber plantations.

What is the status of the documentary?

The doc has never been finished. But we will finish it.

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I notice on your Kickstarter page that some of the scenes are recreated shot for shot.

One is a rubber tapping scene and another was a union meeting scene. I shot it in a way that was almost a recreation of what was in the documentary. The story starts from that setting but then goes in a totally different direction from what happens in the documentary.

The documentary was specifically about the workers and the actions taken by the union. Particularly in the Firestone rubber plantation. We never wanted (Out of My Hands) to be unnecessarily political. In the film we don’t intend to make any political statement per se. Simply, we are trying to tell a universal story. Of course Liberia is a big part of it and the rubber plantation is a big part of the story but it’s not about criticizing mass production or whatever. The focus is always human nature and a guy who is trying to go beyond his limit.

What is the Liberian movie union?

I was lucky to be connected with a Liberian living in the US who had worked on the first international narrative fiction movie made in Liberia, Johnny Mad Dog. About child soldiers and made by the French director (Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire). He connected me to the Liberian movie union. Basically, to conduct any shoot you need to get permission from the government. All that stuff went smoothly through working with the movie union.

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Did they connect you to Liberian actors?

They helped us by setting up auditions. They made all the announcements on radio, TV shows and consequently many hundreds of actors came to the auditions. I was really impressed by how many talented actors there were there. It’s just unfortunate that there’s no way you can make a living by just being an actor in Liberia because there’s no industry really.

So everyone is a professional actor?

There are also a few actors for whom this is their acting debut. They never acted before. We made the call open because we knew that the options would be limited if we made it for people with experience. So it’s a mix of actors and first time actors. For example, when we shot in a village we often casted people who were living in the village as an extra or taking a small role and there’s this particular scene featuring this really famous guy named Joshua who is known for his name General Butt Naked.

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Yeah, I wanted to ask you about him. How’d he get involved?

Well, Liberia is a small country so when I told the movie union and the assistant I had there that I wanted to meet with him it was easy. He tours around preaching. That particular scene he is basically being himself. We just set up the environment and brought in extras but what he did wasn’t really acting. He was being himself within this environment that we created.

Were you filming on the Firestone plantation?

No, it was a plantation run by a French company. Firestone never gives out permission to shoot in the plantation. They’re very sensitive about media.

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In the movie it’s Firestone?

No, unnamed. Although the cup to catch the latex attached to the tree is red and people see the red cup and recognize it as the Firestone plantation but in reality there’s some other plantations that use the red cup it just seemed cinematically that it was the best option visually. It’s not like we had the intention… It’s tricky. At the same time the documentary was shot in Firestone and is about the workers who work in the Firestone plantation.

How does the plot move from Liberia to New York?

The main character is working under these severe working conditions. They unionize and call a strike. And basically it doesn’t go anywhere and he just kills time with a bunch of his friends. And then through his cousin who has been living in New York for many years he decides to move to New York to become a cab driver. But just as many Liberian people think of America as a land of milk and honey, so does the main character. Once he comes here there’s of course other struggles and challenges that he has to face. But the main thing that happens is he meets with two Liberians. One is a former child soldier and another is a wealthy businessman who put him in a situation basically to confront his own sense of self. His own identity. It’s all very character driven.

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Did you do research in Staten Island?

Yeah, a little bit. Well, I read the book (Little Liberia) and visited Staten Island a couple of times. Read articles about it. That’s how I found out about the situation where former child soldiers and their victims live next door to each other and the complicated situations they face.

Do you consider yourself a Japanese or American filmmaker?

It’s hard to say. Of course I was born and raised in Japan but I started my career here. The reason why I’m so attracted to filmmaking is its universal nature. I always want to tell a universal story no matter where I’m shooting or what kind of subject matter I’m tackling. So like aesthetically of course, it’s my Japanese aesthetic that is going to be there but to say I’m a Japanese filmmaker or an American filmmaker, I don’t know.

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Did you see any Liberian films while you were there? 

Yeah, the domestic films just aren’t up to international standards. It’s like a soap opera and the production to be honest is like a student film. Although there is some demand for it—there are people there who still watch it—it’s not a movie in the international sense. They have extraordinary talent they just need to be exposed to a different type of movie to develop their sense. There’s not even a single movie theatre in Liberia. I mean there’s one run by an Indian guy that plays Bollywood but it’s not really publicly known. I only found out about it when I came back here.

* Images Credits: The film’s Twitter and Kickstarter pages.

This Studio Of A Life–The Tale Of A Great Producer

Inyambo Imenda is the birth name of producer Nyambz (or Nyambo). He went to high school in the proverbial ‘middle of nowhere’ — a small town called Harrismith in South Africa’s Free State Province where him and a rapper friend started making music. “There wasn’t any hip-hop scene; nobody was making beats,” he says of the place. Necessity, therefore, birthed the behemoth Nyambo would later become.

He met Thapelo Ramatlhodi, a fellow hip-hop head who ran an independent label called Fro-Pick records, while in university in the early 2000s. “He was running his production company called Haunted Fort productions with [the rapper] the Sceptre,” recalls Thapelo.

Together, they set about building a mini-empire which connected emcees from different corners of Pretoria; Mamelodi, Sunnyside, Arcadia, and Brooklyn converged at the altar of Nyambo’s beats. Fro-Pick released PTA Unlimited, a two-disc compilation which featured the scene’s mainstays such as Malik (of the group Ba4za), Urban Militia, and Damola. Rappers Sifiso Sudan and Tumi’s seminal ‘Once upon a time in Africa’ was also featured on the compilation.

Nyambo invited me over to document a recording session in Brooklyn, a formerly whites-only, ironically-named suburb east of Pretoria’s CBD, recently. He became somewhat of a beat-god in the mid-2000s, producing for every one one of the troika of South African hip-hop — Tumi, Proverb, and Zubz — at pivotal points in their music careers. ‘Microphone sweet home,’ Proverb’s melancholic lead single to his debut album Book of Proverb, remains the most leftfield rap single out of that era to have received any widespread recognition.

Nyambo’s knack for crafting head-nodding yet soulful soundscapes wrapped around muted bass lines, with expert sampling to boot, put him right at the centre of most heads’ sonic palettes. I will still lose my shit to his beat tape from 2006.

Nowadays, the beat prodigy spends his time supervising music projects. It’s always something he’s been into — he oversaw aspects of Tumi’s albums at one point, and also crafted an identity for an entire city (he ‘put Pretoria on the map’ so to say). He’s not too comfortable with that last point.

“Pretoria always had different sounds. [There were ] people [in] Mamelodi, Attridgeville, or Sunnyside that had different sounds to what…the camp that we worked with were putting out. That’s what people were exposed to, but for Pretoria there was always a variety,” he points out.

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Located 60 kilometres north of Johannesburg, Pretoria’s the last place anyone would expect to find a thriving hip-hop scene. It’s there that producers like Nyambz and Mizi (Mtshali, one-time editor of Hype Magazine); rappers like Maliq and Hakeem (now Flexx Boogie) of Ba4za; and many more deejays and event organizers gave their souls to build a movement. The city became, if for a short time, the focal point of South African hip-hop.

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“[Pretoria] was like this little gold-mine [that] no one knew about. The Joburg deejays would never come out; the scene was on its own level, with its own people,” says DJ Kenzhero of his days in Pretoria during the early 2000s. He now owns an exhibition space in Newtown and remains a highly sought-after deejay.

The way Kenzhero feels about Nyambo hasn’t changed since the two first met through rapper Sifiso Sudan.

“He would come to my place and play me his beats. I’d never heard anyone make music like that in this country, ‘til today!” declares Kenzhero.

He isn’t alone. Mizi stresses the importance of Nyambz to the Pretoria rap scene: “What happened was that [every producer] would be at Nyambz’s place. He basically set the tone of hip-hop in PTA…he made the beats.”

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A different set of characters are in Nyambo’s presence today. He’s overseeing a studio session for Drop XVI, a one-shot viral video platform which aims to showcase a cross-section of South African hip-hop artists. All of the emcees present have either been working with him on-and-of for the past ten years or more, or were directly influenced by the music of Nyambo. Goliath Studio’s vocal booth is in the basement of an elegant building located opposite the Brooklyn Mall.

When the already-recorded tracks are played back, necks snap and everyone lets go of any hold-backs the prim and proper space may have induced. Mycbeth, a well-respected emcee and one-time member of the indomitable duo The Anvils with N’veigh, has recorded a song. Emcees in the room haven’t heard a Mycbeth verse in forever, so everyone’s elated. Clenched fists knock the air in tandem with the drums’ pattern; faces contort into unimaginable shapes and forms. In this moment, Pretoria hip-hop becomes alive again.

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Ask anyone familiar with South African hip-hop, anyone who was active in it — even from the sidelines — in the mid-2000s about Nyambo and they’re going to attest to his genius. Alas, he couldn’t keep giving forever. The scene collapsed into itself once him and other stakeholders decided that life was leaving them behind; that hip-hop wasn’t going to pay the bills; and, most importantly, that people can be weird and thankless.

He tells me that he tried to make a beat just the other day but couldn’t; I joke that maybe it’s time to pass the tools onto his children.

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I’m not interested in rapping that much anymore. I figured that telling stories about the artform I love and capturing hip-hop moments as they unfold, and displaying that as honestly as possible across many media — I figured that doing so was a better idea than being a rapper.

The session by Nyambo felt like a continuation of the journey I inadvertently set on all those years ago in Maseru when studio-hopping was a part of me.

I sometimes wonder how South African hip-hop would’ve shaped up had Nyambo and many others not been made to feel that their capacity to sacrifice their time to build a scene had been exhausted.

*Thank you to Sara Chitambo. Her interviews with Mizi, Kenzhero, and Thapelo Ramatlhodi were an invaluable source to writing this article.

**This article is part of Africasacountry’s series on South African Hip-Hop in 2014. You can follow the rest of the series here.

There’s something about the Youtube “ghetto prank” genre

On the Ock YouTube channel, two young men introduce themselves and say “they’re going to the hood” to play pranks. These pranks consist of things like fake farting on peoplestealing peoples’ phones to check the time, stealing people’s gas, or just yesterday, “Selling Guns In The Hood Prank!” Combined, the videos have been viewed close to a million times. While the prank genre has always been popular in the U.S.–from the 1990s slapstick humor of ABC’s America’s Funniest Home Videos to MTV’s elaborate Pranked to the latest homemade, endless iterations on YouTube (what we’re writing about now)–a disturbing trend has emerged. Increasingly, the most popular “pranks’  on YouTube all go to the “ghetto”–which seems to translate solely as black, working-class neighborhoods.

The “pranks,” all essentially pass themselves off as “social experiments” to see the reactions of ‘poor black people’ when an outsider threatens or provokes them. In the Ock YouTube farting video, the guy approaches a young woman, asks her where he can find a bathroom and then makes a loud farting noise. She responds that the man is harassing her, and asks him to stop–yet he continues to make farting noises and engage her.

At other times, the pranksters appear to celebrate being attacked. It makes for more views. Take the “Selling Guns” video which ends with victims of the prank punch and, worse, pull a gun on the pranksters:

A few frustrated commenters suggest some of these pranks are staged.

In general, these prank videos are about black people proving themselves as either freaking out (this seems to be the point of the videos and is presented as the norm) or in the minority of cases laughing it off (but this coolness is presented as exceptional, despite that like all prank videos, they’re being selectively edited for the most extreme reactions).

And then there is the popular Roman Atwood’s N-word prank, viewed 976,318 times on YouTube. In the video, Atwood (we presume; he also did the stealing gas prank) sets up the prank: “I’m going to go around and introduce myself in the neighborhood by using the n-word – neighbors.” Atwood is white (like most of the pranksters), with a dirty-blonde Mohawk and tattooed arm sleeve. As he walks down the street, a soundtrack of hip-hop beats blares. At every black person he encounters, he says, “What’s up my neighbor,” but dropping his voice at neighbor or speaking quickly as he walks by – so that the black people interpret it as “What’s up my nigger.” Then he waits for the response, and to let them know they’ve been pranked on film.

Isn’t that funny?

Film Review: “The Good Man” and relegating good intentions to the dustbin

In Chicago literary scholar Lauren Berlant’s formulation, cruel optimism describes an object of desire that is, in her words, “actually an obstacle to your flourishing.” This optimism becomes cruel, she explains, “when the object that draws your attachment actively impedes the aim that brought you to it initially.” One example she gives, drawing upon the 1999 French film Resources humaines (director Laurent Cantet), involves a son whose father urges him to do well in school to avoid the menial path to factory work taken by his father. Yet precisely in excelling at university and gaining a foothold in a managerial position, the son undermines his father’s already precarious employment. His task, presented of course as technical necessity, is to carry out what we now understand as a typical regimen of neoliberal restructuring. The result? His father’s termination.

But what happens when the object of desire involves the fate of another in such a way that it doesn’t affect the fate of the desiring subject? Let’s call it the liberal paternalist inflection of cruel optimism: precisely in attempting to uplift another, one undermines that individual’s own capacity for flourishing. Or maybe it’s better understood as a case of simple irony, finish and klaar.

In either case, imagine this scenario, and let’s take the welfare of “the African” as the liberal paternalist’s object of desire. This might play out collectively, such as in cases of US-provisioned famine relief: The dumping of American agricultural surplus drives down prices and reproduces precisely the conditions of starvation intended to be overcome. Meanwhile, Americans can pat themselves on their backs for their open-handedness and generosity.

Or take private sector “development” projects. Imagine a scenario in which an isiXhosa-speaking boy on the Cape Flats is scheduled to receive formal housing from the state after his family has been on the waiting list for years or even decades. Evictions and electricity disconnections are proceeding apace in his neighborhood, to the point where land invasions and illegal reconnections appear to be the only solution, however provisional.

Meanwhile, a man working at a firm — let’s say an Irish firm, as Irish real estate capital really does have substantial holdings in Cape Town — presides over the building of a factory in a peripherally located township. He is convinced that this will uplift the boy, saving an African child from a life of misery. Yet while the Irishman celebrates over a drink with his coworkers in Belfast, the Xhosa boy’s housing project is put on hold to make way for the factory. Hopes dashed, he’s again stuck in his shack. Meanwhile, the Irish project manager toasts the boy — “To Sifiso!” — assuming that his work is helping him out.

This is the marvelous intervention of Irish filmmaker Phil Harrison’s low-budget film The Good Man, shot over the course of a fortnight in Cape Town and Belfast.

In many ways it’s the perfect corrective to the orgy of ersatz postracialism on display in a movie like Crash (2004, director Paul Haggis). Rather than that film’s obsession with rendering racism about personal affectation, Harrison does a proper job of relegating good intentions to the dustbin. History and, above all, white monopoly capital are what matter.

As in Crash, seemingly disconnected narratives coincide. The Irishman in question, played by Littlefinger from Game of Thrones (Aiden Gillen), is convinced he’s responsible for the death of another man. He nabs another man’s taxi, and the poor guy goes running after him, right into the road. He’s immediately pummeled by a car and dies on the spot. Michael (Gillen) witnesses the entire thing. He goes into a stoic depression, to the point that his wife nearly leaves him. In proper masculinist fashion, he doesn’t tell her what he’s seen — at least not for a while.

Michael can’t overcome his guilt until finally he makes contact with the deceased’s parents. Initially furious, they finally make peace, explaining that the dead man had been supporting a child in Africa — South Africa, it just so happens — his entire life: little Sifiso. Michael takes on Sifiso as his personal project of expiation.

Meanwhile, throughout all of this, we see Sifiso’s (Thabang Sidloyi) struggles in school and above all, in his informal settlement in Gugulethu. (While filmed in Gugs, the site appears to be Khayelitsha, as Mandela Park is referenced once or twice. I wasn’t certain.) Rather than the flat figure of the African child imagined by Michael, Harrison presents what must be the most nuanced account of post-apartheid housing politics on film — documentary or otherwise. We see how South African housing delivery works, get a taste of the disarming experience of life on the waiting list, witness the politics of the Anti-Eviction Campaign, and more. Sure, the AEC is presented a bit too individualistically, less as an organization, and more as a single individual rallying the troops in his area. To be fair though, if Harrison caught the AEC amidst its dying gasps, it’s unfortunately probably an accurate representation. And when security forces are called in to remove a shack and evict its occupants — Red Ants? Anti-Land Invasion Unit? — residents get into a fistfight with these storm troopers. This is probably an overly dramatized version of very mundane relations that occur on daily basis. Absolutely, they are violent, and absolutely, fights break out, but the real tragedy is the dull relations of eviction and forced relocation rather than the occasional conflagration.

In any case, Sifiso and Michael finally meet — never face to face, but through relations of cruel optimism. This is the greatest strength of Harrison’s film. Michael knows a single photo of Sifiso, and he’s convinced that his firm’s development project is going to lead Sifiso to a better life. Yet as in most cases of capitalist development, profit wins the day, and the factory leads to displacement. The state-provisioned home promised to Sifiso and his family is indefinitely deferred. Sifiso is back on the waiting list.

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While Harrison’s portrayal of the intersection of the two life trajectories is quite striking and I couldn’t get enough of the South African scenes, the last third or so of the Irish plot suffers from needless flattening. Perhaps this was intentional: it’s not the African child who turns out to be the cookie-cutter figure, but the clichéd liberal paternalist from the metropole. But there are times when I wished for a less lifeless account. What is this factory they’re building? Why in Cape Town? There are also a couple of scenes related to the project that made me cringe. “Municipal land? But doesn’t that belong to the people?” one naïve coworker asks Michael. This approach struck me as out of place, oddly unimaginative, given the robustness of the rest of the film.

But these are minor gripes. My biggest qualm is that the film is a sparse 74 minutes, and I was left wanting more. With an extra half hour, the expedited scenes at the Irish firm could have been given time to develop, and the film could be a masterpiece. But I have to say, for a film shot on a shoestring budget in two weeks, it’s pretty damn impressive, especially for a director without formal training. If you have the opportunity to see this film, don’t go alone. Be sure to assemble all of the “Save Darfur” types you know and bring them to a screening near you.

Photoscapes in Accra: Ofoe Amegavie Speaks

As photography in Ghana continues to gain recognition, Ofoe Amegavie is definitely one to watch. At 26 years old, Ofoe’s work has quickly gained an international audience with folks across the continent, Europe and North America, checking for his latest additions. The photographer is still finding his voice and evolving into his craft, but this freedom is also part of his aesthetic.  Ofoe shoots in a state of unlimited inspiration, working with what currently intrigues him and avoiding what he finds repetitive and tired. With projects like “Studio of Colors”, an ongoing photo series dealing with diverse representations of African print, he aims to show subjects in a fresh way, distinct from how “Africa-ness” is commercially marketed. Ofoe instantly knows what he does not like. This opens the portal towards a constant, adventurous search for what might break the mold.

Below are excerpts from a conversation ACCRA dot ALT had with Ofoe where we discussed the evolution of his work, the current state of photography, and the role he plans to achieve, undoubtedly, as one of the most prominent figures in Ghanaian art. Like his photography, the introvert artist is very aware of what is not working in the country’s creative industry. By using the lens of his camera, Ofoe hopes to find out what might.

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Tell us who you are as a photographer. What do you photograph?

I think I’m still exploring. I’m not boxed up so I don’t really describe myself as a particular kind of photographer. Based on how I’m feeling, where I am, what I’m seeing, I just photograph.  The project I’m working on right now is more spiritual. So I’m kind of like drawing away from everybody. I don’t go out much.

I prefer black and white images any day. I feel there is too much going on with color. But when it’s black and white, it’s straight to the point. You get exactly what you want whereas with color there is so much taking your mind away from the main story being told. 

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Can you talk about some of the Ghanaian photographers whose work you admire or find inspiring?

I don’t really follow the Ghanaian scene because to me it looks stagnant. Not to say it’s bad, but they all stop at the kind of equipment to use, the right lighting and all of that. I think it takes away from creativity. I don’t have a lot of equipment. I have just a 5D and a 50MM. I just work with it. So I don’t really follow what is perceived as ‘happening’ within the circles.

But the person who got me into photography was Bob Pixel. I’m not really moved by the present cadre of photographers. A few people are working hard but there is also a lot of copying and fluff. Everything is “the girl standing by the tree in the nice light”. It gets boring. I like stuff that is original, stuff that is fresh. Not stagnant.

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How are Ghanaian photographers reshaping perceptions about who Ghanaians are? Or is this even happening?

Slowly it’s happening. Even I was lost when I started. I was photographing without any thought to the process. All that changed after I started paying attention to how my images represent my space and environment.  But now a lot of people are going towards the documentary thing. That’s what I feel tells the true story. But yeah, slowly it’s changing.

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The photography industry in Accra is so dominated by men. Who are some of the females that Accra should know about?

There’s Charlene Asare - she shoots for Christie Brown, a fashion designer. There’s Teresa Mika–her name sounds Nigerian but she’s Ghanaian.

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How can you, as a Ghanaian photographer, make your work more diverse and sensitive? How can we have some gender balance within the Ghanaian photography circuit?

Well for one – let’s get down to the basics. I don’t think even the male photographers are together. Recently, there was a meeting. Insta-meet is just a platform for instagrammers in Ghana to meet. We go on a photo walk, we take pictures, we upload them. We talk about how we can use the platform to promote whatever business we are in, and just one girl showed up. Even then, she only came the first day.

For years, photographers have been trying to put together a group so it would be more like an organized collective. It has not been working because everybody feels somebody has to do it, but nobody does. If you put out a call for a meeting, it’s the same five people that show up. Out of the five, it’s the same three that started before. So now we have an account on Instagram called IGERES Ghana. We recently did one down town, Danquah Circle. I think four girls showed up If we promote this more it would develop that interest for people to get into it and gradually the women would come. But I think there has to be more than just one community. If there were more groups like that, not just for professionals but also for anybody, people would develop an interest to get into it.  Personally I would love to see more women participation and that means women need to start seeing photography as important work not just for historical archiving but as a means of making a proper living.

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Very few photographers are exhibiting their work in public spaces. A lot have a great presence online. Is that deliberate?

In answer to your question, I’ll share a story:

I’m organizing an exhibition in August, and it’s not easy. I’m trying to get a big space. Usually you call about the spaces and either people don’t get it or charging ridiculous money or are not interested. I tried to do this project. See, when there is construction in the city, they put up barricades. I just thought, put up pictures of random people on the barricade. I wanted to do something like the “Inside Out Project”. Basically, you take a statement. Say, you are against racism. So you take pictures of random people that are in support of it and then you put those around. So kids need education. I want to identify kids who need education. I would go to Nima [a famous Muslim settlement in Accra] take a picture of a kid who’s not going to school, put a picture on the wall where he lives. That’s going to be the statement. There’s a child here that needs education and there he is on the wall.

I wanted to do it on those barricades, cause all you see is these churches being put up. I just approached them and they were like, no. I don’t think it’s just about exhibitions. It should be free. I think art should be free. It’s kind of frustrating, sometimes.

I want to go to Sodom and Gomorrah [shanty town of rural migrants from the North of Ghana] and take pictures of the people that live there. Not put them outside but inside. Make the place look beautiful. If they’re not going to do anything, then make the place look nice. Get a bunch of paint – do the City of Colors thing. First I want to start by putting pictures on the wall – just random stuff, like everything. I want people to feel the presence of photography in their community.

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Knowing how young Ghanaians are struggling with their identity, how can photography reshape perceptions about who we are as people? 

That can only happen when photographers show people something outside of what they see on TV. People here [in Accra] know weddings look a certain way. There is a beautiful bride in a white gown, the most expensive shoes etc. I don’t think that’s us.

I went to the Volta region [Eastern Ghana] and shot a very traditional wedding. It was nothing like what I see in Accra. They used kente, beads, Shea butter. Personally I think that’s nicer than what I see in the city. That wedding took less than 30 minutes.  The drinks were presented to the bride’s dad to show you can take care of the daughter. Everybody then shares drinks to show it’s our responsibility to make sure the marriage works.

As opposed to Accra where everybody comes and drinks expensive drinks and eats expensive food. I thought it was beautiful.

That’s what it is, that’s who we are. If stuff like that is shown more, people will be able to move away from what they see on the Internet. People will have a different side of what they see. I think we need to show the other side. Go outside Accra. Sometimes when I go out, I don’t want to come back. It’s void of what somebody tells me life is supposed to be.

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What projects are you working on at the moment?

The main project I’m working on is just putting stuff together for my exhibition. Right now the space I’m in is looking to be very spiritual.

At the moment, majority of Ghanaians are Christian and Islamic, but what about the other side? What did people believe in before all of these religions came in? Over in the Volta region, they have ceremonial dances that evoke certain deities. The people are transformed right when they put on a costume. It could be anyone, but the minute they put the costume on, they take on the essence of whatever deity the dance evokes.  I want to experiment a sort of form the shows how it works.

I’m going be doing installations there, so it’s not just about me. Say I work with a costume designer. Whatever costumes we use will be displayed there.

Basically the theme is spirituality. I’ll also be doing a short film. I’m working on something with a musician in Ghana. So I’m gonna take the aspect of the spiritual dances so they dance to music. The music is more like the bridge, the movement and the costumes. Those are what transform the humans from being normal beings into deities. Then, there are the pictures. The pictures I haven’t figured out. But I’m working on it.

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