As trending topics in local pop culture, gender and race can be vapid. Tired lambasts of South Africa’s patriarchal, racially oppressive, hegemonic society often make me want to renounce my certified Brown Girl status, and concentrate on thinking like a white man. I imagine that being min gespin about empowerment or transformation is a sweet life.
I was depressed by identity politics in Cape Town before I hung out with artist Dope Saint Jude for the first time, but meeting her gang of mixed-race vegan lesbian activists made me laugh so hard. I had infiltrated a cell of rainbow nation optimism! Everyone had a bicycle, spent Fridays at The Waiting Room, but turned their noses up at Woodstock’s rapidly gentrifying Biscuit Mill and talked feverishly about social justice. It was really sweet.
The dichotomies of the City of Cape Town are not always that sweet. Lethargic apathy is a popular aesthetic, competing with cheery touristy vibes to give credence to this being a place of trippy binary oppositions – super rich kids and Khayelitsha, Coon Festival jubilation and forced removal desolation, the sparkling MyCiti Bus station at the top of Buitenkant Street and the Grand Parade (that smells like pee) at the bottom. As the origin point of the colonial project in Southern Africa, with all its marvels of multi-million wine markets and dop tot systems, it is also the place where binary oppositions most need to be replaced by a multiplicity of new approaches to development. Identity politics, jejune thought they may, is a good place to start.
Saint Jude is a nightmare for anyone stuck in the gender/race void of simplified constructions of identity. She unravels assumptions of how individuals can be regarded and socially located. Zero Magazine recently gushed about how she “bares different sides of her personality by seamlessly transitioning from masculine stances, to Queen-like regality and youthful hyper-femininity.” ABC advocated: “listen to her drop gems to twist your wig back and wonder if your world view is indeed in need of updating.” The Yomiuri Shimbunis (the most circulated Japanese publication) also had amazing things to say, but I can’t read Japanese.
There are clearly many layers to Saint Jude’s hype – ranging from praise for her work at The Intombi Workshop to her founding of South Africa’s first Drag King Troupe, Bros B4 Hoes. But in honour of the drop of her latest video – “Keep in touch” featuring Angel-Ho, I have been thinking about the hype she most deserves – as a media innovator.
This is a big thing to say, but there is something Kanye-esque about how she has been consistently working to thrust her medium into a whole new sound with more dimensions than ever imaginable. Already this diligence is paying off and her fans have been steadily increasing, as well as the new slew of female rappers on Cape Town’s cool scene. It is interesting to observe her ‘brown girl power’ performance art at the same time as the hip hop world slays the supposedly diametrically opposed identity politics of white women rapping. (I’d luhhhh to see a collaboration with Push Push, just saying). In this highly politicized climate, Saint Jude’s social commentary is a treat, with fun lines like:
While you fight I’m out of sight
flipping shit and getting witches
and I’ve got five boys and they’re all my side bitches!
Lyrical prowess aside, the production of both her music and videos reveal that her ability to flip gendered and racial norms is not the real marvel here. It is the bringing together of disparate dichotomies like “GAYLE” as a valid dimension of Kaapse taal with queer black voguing as a universal mode of motion. It is like she is simultaneously parodying and parading positions of power.
In the video, Saint Jude showcases an elaborate identity spectrum as a natural connector of masculinity and femininity, like a channel of peace for sexuality manifest as gender. Because that’s really it: gender and race are simply constructions. She is in control of how she lays the foundations of both – working two jobs to support her music-making and NGO-running. It is this sort of can-do attitude that shouts louder than most contemporary activist jargon about youth development in the Western Cape.
Sometimes I still roll my eyes at race and gender. But while writing this, I realized that identity politics in the arts aren’t always arbitrary indulgences. Coupled with determination to develop talent into technical skills, they can be progressive in the truest sense – a means to focus on future goals. Her namesake Saint Jude, patron saint of Hopeless Causes, only became a saint because nobody invoked him for anything since his name so closely resembled that of Judas. He was so hard up for work he’d jump at the chance to intercede on your behalf. Saint Jude the artist is at once the embodiment and antithesis of this. Last year, she sent me Dropbox link for her first video, as always, shouting in CAPS:
YOU HAVE TO WATCH THIS. I MADE IT IN 3 HOURS WITH MY BRA, JENDRIK. BUT STILL, IT’S THE START OF MY CULT OF PERSONALITY.
2015 marks the further manifestation of this, Saint Jude’s embracing of multifaceted personalities in one blazing identity as a constantly evolving narrative for agency. Watching her delve into herself in this video, one cannot ignore her skill at manifesting intangible things in tangible ways, a joyful middle finger to stiff and stirvy Mother City dichotomies. Boring race and gender binaries must #KeepInTouch.