Robert Sobukwe’s Children

The members of Johannesburg rock band, The Brother Moves On, see themselves as Pan-Africanists.

The cover of 'Shiyanomayini' by The Brother Moves On.

“Kancani kancani njayam’, kancani kancani njayam'”. Makhafula Vilakazi utters the words, the poet in servitude of the masses, echoing a phrase familiar to the innercity hustler, dweller, and worker. Little by little my guy, little by little, he says. The Brother Moves On are with him on stage, regulating rhythm, distilling this code of the streets, this thug mantra. The place? A club in the heart of eGoli, the city of dreams. The occasion? A joint gig with the Blk Jks for a once-off project called The Blk Rabbit. Makhafula’s donning a t-shirt with Robert Sobukwe’s face on it. He is backed by a band which understands Sobukwe’s significance and, I assert, see themselves as the pan-Africanist children who are here to realise his ideals. The overall impact of the performance razes through the conscience, like a paper cut which leaves deep-seated scars. After the poem, the lyrics.

Guitarist Zelizwe Mthembu’s (Zweli) voice takes charge and the band follows his lead. He narrates the story, the all-too-familiar tale, of getting mugged in Jozi. You hear it all the time how people’s phones, wallets and dreams get snatched real quick quick in a city that’s always on a giddy prowl for an opportunity to take ownership regardless of who the owner is. Zweli’s letting the music guide him in telling every person’s worst nightmare: Jozi’s street regulators will jack you of your only source of income, ask any musician.

“Ai dude, like me, I kinda got ticked off about it and I thought I should write a song about it, ’cause I got mugged like four times.” That’s Zweli speaking. The location of the conversation? Jazzworx, a renowned studio where the band’s been camping for the weekend to record songs which’ll either make an EP or end up on some project. They were unclear at that point, still in talks which would hopefully enable their music to transcend the circle of followers which has been expanding as a result of the band’s regular, expertly-executed gigging.

Jazzworx is a rap fan’s ama-kip kip store. Framed album covers by artists such as Proverb, Pro-kid and HHP line the walls from the moment one enters the studios, grappling for space from one end, right through to the living room where the conversation with Zweli’s happening. He almost got his guitar taken during one of the mugging attempts. “I was like ‘yho, no this can’t keep happening man, I’m gonna complain, maybe the universe will hear my cries’,” he says.

The song gets into the why of robberies by letting the mugger speak for themselves. “Each verse [introduces] a different character. First verse is the guy who describes how he got robbed. The second verse is from the perspective of the criminal; he’s saying ‘yo man, you live this indulgent [lifestyle] and wherever you are, you’re just showing people how much money you have while we’re sitting here hungry’ so I’m gonna take your shit,” continues Zweli.

The third character is inspired by Ma’leven, a familiar name given to hardboiled thugs in the hood. In this particular case, it’s a robber Louis Theroux meets while out on one of his out-there field experiments. “I took some lines from him and I put them together to show you the mind of a criminal. And the fourth verse is just an older man complaining like ‘this shit needs to stop!'”

Ultimately, then, Shiyanomayni’s a song about wealth distribution. It’s the seemingly-hollow dream of the realization of an equal society where breaking bread equally becomes the norm as opposed to a daily cry on protesters’ placards.

So, shiyanomayini sbali.

Further Reading

The United States is not a country

The US federal system is a patchwork of states and territories, municipal and local jurisdictions, each with its own laws and regulations. This complex map provides ample opportunities for shell games of “hide the money.”

Growing pains

For all the grief Afropunk gets, including its commercialization and appetite for expansion, it still manages to bring people, mostly black, together over two days for a pretty great party.