About 2 months ago, the filmmakers Rod Stanley and Chris Saunders posted a video entitled “JOBURG PARTY! A snapshot of South Africa’s new youth underground” on video sharing site, Vimeo. The video was accompanied by this description: “Over two days and nights in Johannesburg, South Africa, we travelled to illegal rooftop parties, warehouse raves, street fashion shoots and poolside jams to meet some of the young musicians, DJs, zine publishers and artists set on taking the SA scene global, and asked them how the city’s youth culture is changing.” The 8 minute video features music by a range of Johannesburg bands, performers and artists, including Dirty Paraffin (who talk about all “tribes” meeting up in Johannesburg), Richard the Third, Desmond & The Tutus (one of them is grateful to the police for security at their party), MJ Turpin (he talks a lot about “individualism” and “choice”), Jamal Nxedlana of the CUSS Collective, Khaya Sibiya (AKA Bhubessi) as well as a gabby rapper, Chocolate, who makes the comment of the title right at the end of the video. The video was soon shared on social media with very little commentary.
There you have it. Since we can’t miss an opportunity to talk about pop culture, we convened an “office seminar” (for those who don’t know that’s when we send a topic around to some contributors of AIAC for comment). So here it goes.
I saw this a few weeks ago. Besides having a “Chris Saunders” filter all over it, there’s a lot I found problematic about this. It actually only features one group of people (Dirty Paraffin) and their friends. This isn’t a snapshot of anything, it does not give the idea of anything larger than cool kids drinking in their parents homes, or white people in the CBD or central business district (look how cool we are) which does this “scene” a bit of injustice.
No-one has been able to look at what is happening in Jozi holistically. Most of the people who look at it are either trying to paint it as a “trend” or they’re focusing on the “Arts on Main“ and Braamfontein vibes. The whole creating pockets and island of “safe and cool” in the CBD.
Also, what’s with the comment by one of the Desmond and the Tutus band members that “we got some police downstairs,” with no sense of irony?
That said, another short documentary on Dirty Paraffin, gives a better representation of who they are.
Creativity and cultural consumption filling a kind of void in political consciousness.
A friend would describe the sentiment of…uhm…of particularly the young black kids in that video as part of the successes of the national stupidification project, a lobotomizing of historical context from South African society, particularly pop culture and the ethos of those at the coal face of creating it. I struggle to think up another reason for why a Zulu boy from Soweto would describe “the new Joburg,” his craft and that of his peers as having “no stigmas” and “not being caught up on Apartheid.” It sounds, weirdly enough, like how that guy who created the ‘Jong Afrikaners’ photos, Roelof van Wyk, imagined the neutered-of-history young Afrikaner image he depicted.
There’s also some economics at play here. I don’t know Khaya/Bhubessi (the aforementioned Zulu boy from Soweto), but there’s quite a bit of commercial success to be had in punting rainbow nationalism using revolutionary rhetoric and figures and claiming cred as the authentic voice of urban (read: black) Joburg (because who is your audience otherwise? what purchasing power do they have?). This watered down, non-aggressive, individualist, look-what-I-done-did-son version of a “transformed” urban Joburg fits comfortably within the vice-grip of neoliberalism pervading every other aspect of this country’s imagination. In its conceptualization, we live in a meritocracy, where your hustle more than anything else determines your rewards. Sadly, that’s not reality, but for this all not to come crashing down, we’ve got to believe that we’re self-made. There’s enormous, unspoken pressure, I imagine, on South African artists to toe this line, especially when looking towards the United States for inspiration and models of aspiration.
I think T.O “K.O.’ed” this one, Lindokuhle too…
However, I will say the film is disjointed and and seems like a by-product of (a few) other things–photo and music video shoots, etcetera. While I am a fan of most of the people in the video, a more holistic picture of Joburg youth culture needs to be done. It is very very presumptuous of the filmmakers to present this as the “Joburg scene” … To their credit they do call the video “a snapshot”, an apt disclaimer.
SHOUT OUT TO GOOGLE! SHOUT OUT TO FERRARI!
This Bhubesii (Zulu from Soweto) cat reminds me of an anecdote I heard at one of the first seminars I attended when I got to South Africa. The late critic Lewis Nkosi was, I think, launching a novel or something at Wits University. He was talking about his early days in the US; this one day he was in a loo, peeing, when this American guy said to him, “you must be Zulu.” Perhaps he had seen his penis, or he happened to look different to the Americans he saw around and in the American imaginary, any African (whether he speaks Lozi, Kikuyu etcetera) is a Zulu…
Isn’t it strange how we all think our generation has got it better than the one that came before it? Of course, that’s nonsense: every generation more or less gets it good or bad, more or less. But that’s part of the self replicating logic of capitalism that makes you think, if you work hard at it, you will make it. And these Model C kids have been force fed that doctrine. Look, race is so last year, if you work hard, you can fill up the dome. In general, I generally dislike cars, so this comment must be taken with a huge shovel of salt, but I don’t take anyone seriously who thinks a Ferrari in Africa is a sign of progress. So there.