Africa is a Country

Artist Mohau Modisakeng: Probing Subliminal Violence

Those who are playing football there now are walking over dead bodies. Their euphoria and the deaths that occurred there during the hostel violence of the 1990s is a dichotomy that, even as the artist stands in his studio today, is too great to comprehend. He was a boy of about seven then, wandering around, as young children his age do, when he saw dead bodies on the ground on a football ground.

This is an attempt at paraphrasing a memory from Mohau Modisakeng’s childhood. It does not make the memory any less real. My only sin is that I have made the memory exist today as opposed to the past. At the nucleus of Mohau Modisakeng’s young career in the arts is the obsession to inhabit the contours of colonial and post-colonial history, deciphering its serpentine nuances, drawing out its violence, moulding them into aesthetically pleasing objects and prophesying the present and the future. The way in which he moulds the violence into sculptures, photographs and video has an almost romantic connotation to it.

“The work doesn’t start off with an attempt to portray violence. The work responds elementarily to the history of the black body within the (South) African context, which in most cases cannot be removed from the violence of the apartheid era and the early 90s. I think the work becomes mesmerizing because although we might recognise history as our past, the body is indifferent to social changes so it remembers,” Mohau explains.

It is not only violence that Mohau’s work concerns itself with, unlike performance artists who bash themselves about to no purpose at all, he understands the importance and effects of it. In 2013, at an exhibition titled Inzilo (mourning), Mohau commented that South Africa is a country caught in a state of mourning. It is caught between trying to remember, forget and move on.


‘Ditaola’, his debut solo exhibition, closed on the 12 of June 2014 at Brundyn+ Gonsalves after attracting visitors almost every other day. Explaining the name of the exhibition, Mohau says, “Ditaola is a Setswana/Sesotho name given to divination bones. The practice of throwing bones is an integral part of various indigenous African spiritual traditions. The bones work hand in hand with the mysterious realm of dreams and visions.”

Mohau not only moulds the history of South Africa into artwork but often he probes his own personal history too. The work was personal, like his earliest work, in which he had made an okapi about his brother who had been stabbed to death. The exhibition featured giant sculptures made of white material, which symbolised the bones and Victorian like sculptures, which symbolised colonial history. Ditaola, says Mohau, is both personal and political. The personal is the artist attempting to interpret his mother’s dreams. His mother is a prophet. When Mohau was a youth in Johannesburg, he would quietly sit, acutely listening, muting every sound around him, and only hearing his mother’s voice, whilst she explained her dreams to him, drowning him deeper and deeper into the spiritual world. “They way she told her visions to me, she compelled me to make art from them” Mohau said.

Listening to Mohau speak about his art, one is drawn, not only into his thinking process but also into his personality. He is not, like most artists pretend to be, obscure or aloof, or even trying to be. His work emanates from a deeper place within him. Somewhere where he exposes his own vulnerability and a place, in which he attempts to, though his art, make sense of the universe. Looking at the sculptures as they sit within the gallery, in their massive presence, the large sized photographs against the wall and the video installation loop, there is a sacred feeling that one shares with them, a feeling that is hard to explain to someone else without exposing one’s own personal stories that have been hidden in the depth of their being for many years.

“To a significant extent my work as always been cathartic to myself and surprisingly the audience has also engaged with the work along those terms.”


Mohau Modisakeng was born in Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1987, and now lives and works between the city of his birth and Cape Town. In 2011, he was awarded the SASOL New Signatures Award. His work has been exhibited widely, including at VOLTA NY; Saatchi Gallery, London; Dak’Art, the 2012 Dakar Biennial; Focus 11, Basel; and Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town.

Earlier in his career as a student at Michaelis School of Fine Arts in Cape Town, he trained and worked predominantly in sculpture. As a student and still now, he prefers large scale work because they allow him to work without constraints. His sculptures at the Ditaola exhibition were evidence of that view. They were as massive as they demanded to be, a process that appears to have gotten beyond his control, and one he cannot himself begin to understand beyond that he prefers them to be like that.

In a striking series of three photographs, a white dove with white dust hanging around it sits on top of an AK 47. First, the dove sat still. Second, the dove was taking off. And third, the dove had taken off. Mohau, the artist, is staring past the dove into emptiness. A country on the brink of freedom, owing its arrival there on a string of violence, whilst its citizens watch helplessly, without active participation in the process, is what I got from it.

From the Ditaola exhibition and his earlier ones, Mohau Modisakeng, not only is becoming a brave artist that probes the obvious that has been ignored but he also probes what mostly is subliminal in today’s society. To feel Mohau work, one has to be tuned with something greater themselves. It is commendable that he channels this through personal stories and uses his own body in the process. In his artwork, he offers us, in our different ways, small and large, an opportunity to face our past, interrogate it and deal with it.

The American Ending

There can be a logic to loss, but often it feels arbitrary. The ground beneath the losing party is unsteady, uncertain. To go by a number of recent pieces, American sports journalism wishes to fix football and steady the ground of loss. There is a longing for happy endings: an ending that is happy for the winner, but also less painful for the loser. Football, as it is now, the story goes, is unfair: it has rules, but too many exceptions to those rules.

It is easy to see what could be gained if football became more fair. Video replay could guarantee the accuracy of every call. Added time could be precise to the second. Penalty kicks could be given only for clear denials of scoring chances. Pitches could be made smaller to guarantee more goals and reward the enterprise of teams. These suggestions have all been made, in seriousness, by American sports writers in the past few weeks.

But what might be lost in this micro-managed new world? What if football, like a peak predator, is already perfectly adapted to its environment? Or, if not perfectly adapted, at least evolving at a rate congruent with its enormous audience’s needs? So: no. Let’s not rid the game of its vital strengths: the sense that anything is possible, the joy in getting away with an unlikely victory, the perverse joy in having been robbed (the intensity of a loser’s feelings, an intensity that, as in life, convinces you that you lost through no fault of your own, that you lost because arbitrary forces were involved). Few native speakers of this game would wish to lose the organic narrative that emerges out of its randomness, the way a good novel might gather seemingly unrelated facts and incidents into an emotional peak. If football’s “flaws” were as intolerable as American writers would have us believe, it would neither be the world’s biggest sport nor one of its biggest forms of cultural expression.

The contrary is true: it’s the messiness, the subjectivity, the imprecision that are the sources of the stories that are told years later: “Oh we would have won that game if not for.” And how precious and irreplaceable such stories are. Rules are needed, and they are applied most times. That’s enough. Too rigid an apparatus of justice would deny football fans of the feelings of justification that come with perceived injustice. You would have lost simply because you were no good, and that’s a far lonelier way to lose.

In the early years of the Danish film industry, different versions of the same film were sometimes made, depending on its export destination. The films sent to Russia were edited to end in tragedy, but a film with a happy conclusion was said to have an American ending.

Cote d’Ivoire vs Greece (in Harlem, NY)

It has been a relatively successful World Cup thus far for Africa, save a disappointing Cameroon. Nigeria, Algeria, and Ghana have all enjoyed crucial victories, edging them closer to a rare berth in the knockout round. Many of the European sides, too, have been carried by their players of African origin.

The Ivory Coast’s golden generation, enjoying their last spell on the international stage, have not gelled as expected. Led by grand statesman, Didier Drogba, and Yaya Toure, a midfield goliath that terrorizes the English game, Les Elephantes were poised to become the first African nation in this World Cup to seal progression to the knockout round with just a draw against an insipid Greece.


But Toure’s championship form for Manchester City has not continued in Brazil, leaving some in New York’s Ivorian community to question where his loyalties lie.

“African players never play the same for their European teams and their national teams,” said Cissé, a 27-year-old livery cab driver, at New Ivoire Restaurant in East Harlem, an intimate venue where loud banter in Pidgin French and the subtle spices of pepe soup create an Abidjan-esque atmosphere. “He loves his club more than his country.”


No one can question Serey Die’s commitment to the Ivorian cause after a tearful moment during the national anthem. That kind of passion has won over even foreign fans. “He goes hard!”, said Yohann Perruchoud, 24, a Swiss national who keenly follows the Ivory Coast.

Many in the packed crowed pinned their hopes on Gervinho, and, of course, Drogba, whose mere presence inspired a decisive turnaround against Japan. The first glimpses of the bearded Ivorian captain evoked a rapturous applause, akin to a royal salute to a man who helped end his country’s civil war.


Little was said of midfield enforcer Cheikh Tiote, his lazy back pass opening the gates for the Greeks to score a vital opening goal. Ivorian pace and power responded, but to no avail. “Joue, Joue!” chanted fans, often in futility as Ivorian attacks lacked verve and imagination.

At half-time, tempers frayed at the restaurant, with fans pointing fingers, raising voices, and attempting a scuffle until calmer heads intervened. The stakes were high against a team almost all Ivorians in attendance were certain could be beaten.


Substitute Wilfried Bony’s introduction inspired confidence, and his low finish from Gervinho’s square pass in the box restored the guarantee of safe passage.


It seemed conclusive, until Ecuadorian referee, Carlos Vera, gifted Greece a penalty in the 92nd minute after Giorgios Samaras appeared to trip on his own foot. 

But even poor officiating, which has haunted this World Cup more than once, did not deflate the orange-clad fans as much as the players’ complacency. “They were lazy,” said Cheikh Cissé, the manager of New Ivoire.


The Greeks, said airport worker Ismael Fofana, recognized the importance of this match, whereas his countrymen did not. “They needed the same thinking,” he added.

African hopes now lie with Nigeria, Ghana, and Algeria, who themselves have difficult ties and group table scenarios to negotiate.

But, on the bright side, no one in New York or Fortaleza got bitten.


Lesego Rampolokeng’s Elegy To Robo The Technician

“Raise your hand up if you’re a hip-hop head” said Lesego Rampolokeng, rallying a house full of poets at a gathering in Melville on a wet Sunday afternoon in 2013. I put mine up, as did a few audience members seated towards the back. The rest sat in the sparsely-occupied restaurant and gazed at the ones who were. We couldn’t be moved. We stood firm, resolute in our hip-hop-headness as one of our elders broke bread with us.

“I’m also an emcee” continued the street-smart spitter usually attributed the title of poet, but whose work stretches beyond that medium into novels (Blackheart), and theatre plays which then found a second life in film (Fanon’s Children).

When I last saw him, Papa Ramps as he’s affectionately known to the a-weh massive of the underground and yonder, was working on a film-cum-documentary of sorts which traced his journey in poetry through South African greats such as Mafika Gwala.

Back in Mellville, Papa Ramps has just begun reciting his Ode to Hymphatic Thabs. A head paying homage to another, how’s that?! “Mission emphatic,” he begun in his half-rapped, quick-paced style.

Barely a month had passed after the event when Robo the Technician passed away. Robo was instrumental in building the South African hip-hop scene; he was the link between the old school of Papa Ramps and the (new) school over which Hymphatic Thabs reigned supreme in the early 2000s. When Robo succumbed to illness, a legion of broken hearts were left behind. Papa Ramps recited a poem at his memorial service held at the Grayscale Gallery in Johannesburg. I arrived late and hence didn’t catch it, so I got in touch with the elder and asked if he’d let us reproduce the work.


Robotic Armageddon Lyricist profundity’s geneticist
Cold school Lyrical scrolls unfold in layers players can’t manifest….
Mental uranium to intellectual atom-bomb from underground innards
(break surface toxin awards talk – sin rewards
murder by hunger & homicidal starvation)
show me whores i’ll show you swine.
lil misogynist…go swing off a pole by your vas deferens!
Twisted that off the ROBOok of rhymes aligned
Sacred against the hatred materially created
No inspiration lines but intestines stretched out
Scratch my spinal-cord is a vinyl record
One stanza eat away is a cancer
Empty stomach heavy ruckus dreadie focus

Stake my neck on a train-of-thought-wreck lyric
& (flip it ruff, that pop stuff. gore on the prance-floor.
got a nightmare for a metaphor. muddy rhymes on bloody riddims…
oh lawd a messy…raw gawd of the ‘die…versified’)
While poison pulp pulse in joburg veins
Style it thus : that ‘poverty kills’ is no genius
& pervert the Jamaica thang:
‘mimic & live…create & the artist dead’
& that’s the shebang-bang
Like when the uniformed R1 / R4 rang

Sharpeville Soweto Sebokeng
(we pauseless rap thru the pores no metaphor that’s great white jaws & vampire laws’
shark progress blood-suck commerce draining life-juice off freedom verse
slime-time. universal / unique gawd-verse-cell
fanon-spawn/satan horn – gored vessel )
capital meal? mediocrity rules, for fuck:
word technician no condiment
but rapocalyptic vision embodiment
Of robo-tech wars against pro-gnostic whores
sprouting mainstream purulent sore-flows
what keep the fed in fat : s.a. version? :
they w/rap it in gore….skin of my brother, comrade, friend.
(mourning the microphone-god passing thru…
bow down, MAN’s the truth
the stamp is deep-ink imprint stays on. legacy-shine
rest easy lyrical angel word-warrior soldier-poet.
easy, robo-tech rapping it from heaven’s roof :
‘fuck serpent award ceremonies of filth
i gets more luv where the count is lyrical-riches…

beyond material wretches-
from here to wherever this thing called life stretches…
no coffin, casket, tomb talk…antiquity
you’re rhyming the womb from here to eternity
(& that’s a true line of poetry—


rap running past 2-1 crap lies
lined in paradise) & THAT ART this REALITY
the CORE you died for…opposite the grovel-floor
(verses aligned versus corporate prostituted ….executive perspective
sick-lie finance freakonomics in the mix, constitutes the retrogressive
posterity’s the genesis the END where it begin
no one line cretin-lyric….pioneer-spirit)
(we will yet see mahlathini growl turned
minimised cola-cola tinny as minnie mouse howl at devil’s end)
lyric-spit AK-spray oceanic pen-play
fuck who’s the televised best (keeps the fee
still no free-lip can they pay the sea?)
robo-tech poem-storm bomb-burst –
blast effects last beyond hiroshima genetics
itching for cullinan diamond shine
& joburg fame buried beneath mine-dumps
shaking soul-thief gold-reefed rumps sand-clogged
rectum itching for a Rustenburg platinum butt-plug
fantasise ‘up the aliment with a treacherous bone-/precious stone encrusted log’
toilet) bank-roll (selves) all exotic for tourist bog titillation
rust content rhyme on a dust-context rhythm
crapper-rappers got a bland crew rag joint
dumbed down to rap-n-fetchin’ clown pissy-blather-wack
(they made the move from ‘art of war’ to fart of gore when intellect-assault put mental to asphalt)
but) easy father tech, you got it slain on point…-pointing pain towards self-dignification!) respek


(This is one of the final performances Robo gave. Shot at The Bassline, October 2013)

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


So then, what does Blackness in Brazil look like?

With the increased attention on Brazil since the Cup started, I’ve noticed non-Brazilians trying to figure out what exactly is going on with Brazilian racial politics. I’ll tell you it’s not an easy task. It’s taken me months to grasp even an idea of what’s going on with race while learning the culture, the language, and the layout of my new city. A mixed raced person myself, one who is often taken as Brazilian on the streets (until I open my mouth), I’ve eventually come to understand the national myth of a singular Brazilian identity made up of different races from around the entire world. But if we outsiders look at Neymar Jr. and seem him as black, and he really is a disappearing donkey, than what does blackness in Brazil look like? Well it may look something like this:

This scene, that looks like it could take place in any U.S. city, is Baile Charme. The above video takes place in Madureira, a neighborhood with an historical Afro-Brazilian community in Rio’s North Zone, and the epicenter of the Baile Charme movement. The coordinated dances to smooth American R&B tunes seemed out of place when I first saw them in Rio. But after understanding that this North American expression of blackness was one of the few places for black-identifying people in the city to congregate, I realized that such a movement was actually somewhat of a political statement. The mission statement of the Baile Black Bom party at Pedra do Sal explicitly states that they, “are a Baile Black who’s purpose is to valorize black culture through music, literature, and afro-entrepreneurship.”

Granted, Samba is ostensibly Afro-Brazilian, and many of its stars are black Brazilians. However, with the help of the Estado Novo, it was fully appropriated by white Brazilians and became a symbol of a multi-racial Brazilian-ness. Funk music came out of a very similar Baile Black scene in Rio, but after co-option by drug dealers, and the focus on lyrics that depict sex and violence, an explicit blackness has been weened out of a genre that now represents the multi-racial favelas. So, what results is that expressions of blackness are done through the appropriation of foreign cultures, which can’t be appropriated as Brazilian by the greater population. Jamaican and the U.S. cultures, with strong histories of black empowerment movements become a convenient way to channel this identity.

To see the roots of the scene, check out my favorite scene from the movie Cidade de Deus, which takes place during a Baile Black/Old School Funk Party in that neighborhood:

In the states, the coordinated line dance style, isn’t as has hip as twerking today. But it, does still have its space in U.S. culture. Two of the biggest line dances of the last decade, and staples of the black Midwestern and Southern family reunion/wedding scene were the Cupid Shuffle, and the Cha Cha Slide. Of course the black fraternities on U.S. College campuses are the most fervent defenders (and innovators) of the tradition:

And in Oakland, the spiritual home of the hyphy movement (if Vallejo was its creative epicenter), a new hybrid twerk-step dance called Yiken has emerged (apparently merging with moves from the Gas Pedal.) Many of the moves are R-rated, what I initially called hyphy daggering, but this group of ladies really shows the creative side of the dance, and the energy of a place like the Town:

So there you go. It may not sort out all us outsiders’ understanding of racial identity in Brazil, but for me the connections are enough to satisfy — and even understand my place in my new home.

This post first appeared in modified form on Dutty Artz.

New Sounds from Mozambique

Most of Mozambique’s music stars and musical genres known abroad come from the south of the country and the capital Maputo. That’s why Wired for Sound—the mobile recording studio we wrote about previously—toured the central and northern regions of Mozambique to record some new sounds from young musicians, new and established bands, and more traditional choirs. What they returned with is a pretty diverse representation of musical talent: High school students, a women’s choir, traditional instrumentalists, bands using hand-made instruments, and a tour guide whose nom de guerre is Harry Potter.

With the help of South African musicians, Wired for Sound—consisting of Freshlyground, radio producer Kim Winter, and Freshlyground guitarist Julio Sigauque—produced an album with 17 tracks, all recorded between the central province of Tete and the northern island of Ibo off the coast of Cabo Delgado province. Every artist will receive copies of their produced tracks so that they can promote themselves through community radio stations and Soundcloud.

The songs feature musical genres from hip hop, African style zouk, and the Mozambican Marrabenta and Chimurenga rhythms. Most lyrics cover relationships between the young and the elders, relations among family members, and relationships between men and women. Marcelino from Furancungo, Tete province, and Harry Potter (aka Genitomolava Molava) from Nacala and Ilha de Moçambique, Cabo Delgado province, remind young people to respect what their elders did for them:

Mdy-k Raisse O Tesouro and Flay C Gazua Gazua from Pemba in Cabo Delgado urge women and families to speak up against domestic violence:

Academico (a teacher, but he explains that his name is a combination of the first letter of each family member’s name) and Pimento from Ibo Island wrote a song in English about “my most wonderful baby my wife… I want to marry you very well:”

And Nelito Lucas Meque and Armando Joaquim Sozinho from Catandica in Manica province complain about materialism poisoning love and relationships:

* The album launches today, June 24, on iTunes. You can also listen to the songs, watch a video of the recordings and listen to a radio documentary on the website Wired for Sound.

@ChiefBoima World Cup Diary Day 12 – Fatigue

I’ve stopped going to Fan Fests. I’m tired, I didn’t pace myself. A month is a long time, and new arrivals seem to come every day. World Cup tourists have an endless number of substitutions. They’re always feeling fresh for the party. The knock out stages start soon. Big European teams – former American colonizers like England, Spain, Portugal – will start going home, and American teams like Chile, Costa Rica, and Colombia will be on top. Somewhat knocked out by the party, I too will be leaving at the end of the week.

Last night I went on the town to see the U.S. v. Portugal. There were so many U.S. fans that the Fan Fest sold out. I’m not sure that’s happened for any other match but the home team’s. The traffic back up passing the Fan Fest made me miss the first 30 minutes of the match.

After the match I met a Cameroonian-American. I felt for him. His Lions seem like the least deserving team to be out here. Today they play Brazil in their last group game. I hope Brazil can use this match as a way to build some momentum for the knock out stages. My Cameroonian friend lives in D.C., and he’s one of a few visitors I’ve met that seem to have a genuine interest in exploring Brazil beyond the Cup. He took Portuguese classes before coming, and we talked at length about politics and social issues amidst the Belgian and U.S. revelry. It’s unfortunate he came here during the Cup because there aren’t as many ways to experience Brazil beyond that right now. At least in Zona Sul, normal life has gone on holiday.

It feels strange how much of an international city Rio has become. It feels like New York right now. It didn’t feel that way before. Hip kids from the states are here throwing private, corporate-sponsored DJ parties – they don’t really seem to care that much about football. The two parties I went to this weekend weren’t showing any of the matches that were happening simultaneously. It felt like SXSW. A parallel leisure global tourism is happening underneath the shadow of the sport infrastructure.

My favorite days here are when Brazil plays. Every time the Seleçao is on the entire country goes on holiday. Last week I watched Brazil v. Mexico from a favela in Zona Oeste. Again, it was a festive atmosphere. Average Brazilians are very much enjoying the matches in their normal ways: at home, in bars, fireworks, and Neymar shirts. Even though it was a scoreless draw, the bar I watched it in partied the night away to pagode, funk, samba, and charme. I hope there are lots of fireworks today.

Christopher Gaffney hopes otherwise. He thinks that if Brazil goes out early it will force a national reflection on their deal with the devil. It’s an interesting proposal. Read his highly informative post on the state of the protests in Brazil, which continue despite the lack of coverage in international media. Whatever happens on the pitch, after this Cup experience I want Brazil to win more than ever.


Neymar e o burro em fuga

No momento em que você lê este texto, é bem provável que toda pessoa do planeta já saiba quem é Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior. A imagem acima é de Neymar, 10 dias atrás.

Neymar, há um ano:

neymar cabelo

Esta é de três anos atrás:


Este é o Neymar de cinco anos atrás:


O pequeno Neymar com seus pais e irmã:


Você poderia chegar a inúmeras conclusões sobre a notável transformação de Neymar. Por exemplo, você poderia concluir que raça não existe no Brasil, frase favorita de uma “tribo” específica de brasileiros – todos liberais impecáveis, que coincidentemente são da classe alta, brancos e no topo da escombreira.

Ou poderia concluir que todo mundo no Brasil é de fato, mestiço – que é, a segunda frase favorita do mesmo grupo.

Ou, poderia se perguntar o que aconteceu com este menino.


É fácil demais condenar Neymar por fingir ser branco: a julgar pelas imagens, ele é parcialmente branco. É tolice acusá-lo de negar sua ascendência mestiça pois a mais simples das buscas regurgita centenas de imagens de sua infância, das quais ele não parece se envergonhar. Há isso: quando questionado se ele alguma vez havia sido vítima de racismo, ele disse, “Nunca. Nem dentro nem fora de campo. Porque eu não sou preto, certo? ”

A palavra que ele usou, ‘preto’, é fato significativo, já que, no Brasil, quando usado como cor atribuída a pessoas – ao invés de coisas, como arroz ou feijão – equivale à palavra ‘n’ em inglês (negro ou nigger); ‘negro’ e ‘negra’ são termos mais aceitáveis para descrever alguém que é de fato ‘negro’ (em inglês, black). E, ‘moreno’ ou ‘morena’ são os padrões para descrever alguém de pele mais escura, assim como, ocasionalmente, eufemismos para o ser negro). Tecnicamente falando, entretanto, a lógica de Neymar é irrepreensível – e até meio que interessantemente honesta: o Neymar que fez a declaração era um rapaz de dezoito anos, sem experiência forasteira e ainda não tinha morado fora do Brasil. E, no Brasil, Neymar não é negro (ou preto).


Em 1976, o IBGE realizou uma pesquisa que marcou uma mudança crucial em relação a exercícios de pesquisa amostral e censitária anteriores. A Pesquisa Nacional por Amostra de Domicílios (PNAD) não dava aos brasileiros um conjunto de opções predeterminadas para escolher uma raça; ao invés disso, os pesquisadores saíram e solicitaram às pessoas que descrevessem a cor que elas acreditavam que fossem.

Este foi o retorno.

1. Acastanhada
2. Agalegada
3. Alva
4. Alva escura
5. Alvarenta
6. Alvarinta
7. Alva rosada
8. Alvinha
9. Amarela
10. Amarelada
11. Amarela-queimada
12. Amarelosa
13. Amorenada
14. Avermelhada
15. Azul
16. Azul-marinho
17. Baiano
18. Bem branca
19. Bem clara
20. Bem morena
21. Branca
22. Branca-avermelhada
23. Branca-melada
24. Branca-morena
25. Branca-pálida
26. Branca-queimada
27. Branca-sardenta
28. Branca-suja
29. Branquiça
30. Branquinha
31. Bronze
32. Bronzeada
33. Bugrezinha-escura
34. Burro-quando-foge
35. Cabocla
36. Cabo-verde
37. Café
38. Café-com-leite
39. Canela
40. Canelada
41. Cardão
42. Castanha
43. Castanha-clara
44. Castanha-escura
45. Chocolate
46. Clara
47. Clarinha
48. Cobre
49. Corada
50. Cor-de-café
51. Cor-de-canela
52. Cor-de-cuia
53. Cor-de-leite
54. Cor-de-ouro
55. Cor-de-rosa
56. Cor-firme
57. Crioula
58. Encerada
59. Enxofrada
60. Esbranquecimento
61. Escura
62. Escurinha
63. Fogoió
64. Galega
65. Galegada
66. Jambo
67. Laranja
68. Lilás
69. Loira
70. Loira-clara
71. Loura
72. Lourinha
73. Malaia
74. Marinheira
75. Marrom
76. Meio-amarela
77. Meio-branca
78. Meio-morena
79. Meio-preta
80. Melada
81. Mestiça
82. Miscigenação
83. Mista
84. Morena
85. Morena-bem-chegada
86. Morena-bronzeada
87. Morena-canelada
88. Morena-castanha
89. Morena-clara
90. Morena-cor-de-canela
91. Morena-jambo
92. Morenada
93. Morena-escura
94. Morena-fechada
95. Morenão
96. Morena-parda
97. Morena-roxa
98. Morena-ruiva
99. Morena-trigueira
100. Moreninha
101. Mulata
102. Mulatinha
103. Negra
104. Negrota
105. Pálida
106. Paraíba
107. Parda
108. Parda-clara
109. Parda-morena
110. Parda-preta
111. Polaca
112. Pouco-clara
113. Pouco-morena
114. Pretinha
115. Puxa-para-branco
116. Quase-negra
117. Queimada
118. Queimada-de-praia
119. Queimada-de-sol
120. Regular
121. Retinta
122. Rosa
123. Rosada
124. Rosa-queimada
125. Roxa
126. Ruiva
127. Russo
128. Sapecada
129. Sarará
130. Saraúba
131. Tostada
132. Trigo
133. Trigueira
134. Turva
135. Verde
136. Vermelha

Lilia Moritz Schwarcz, antropóloga da Universidade de São Paulo, USP, tem uma variedade surpreendente de insights à volta desta pesquisa histórica. O artigo Not black, not white: just the opposite. Culture, race and national identity in Brazil [Nem preto, nem branco: exatamente o contrário. Cultura, raça e identidade nacional no Brasil], do qual a tabela acima foi retirada, é uma preciosidade. (A autora também analisa os primórdios da questão, em livro de sua autoria: “Espetáculo das Raças: Cientistas, Instituições e Questão Racial no Brasil 1870-1930“).

O trabalho de Schwarcz é repleto de análise original e refletida, e é caracterizada por um destemor incomum (incomum, para um assunto tão complicado). Ler Schwarcz é uma revelação; revela-se que existe um lugar real a se esconder embaixo da avalanche de clichês. Se você alguma vez já se perguntou como o racismo esmagador pode florescer em um país onde aparentemente a raça em si mesma foi esmagada, considere que tudo que define o Brasil – do lema “somos todos misturados”, a feijoada, a capoeira e o candomblé, até samba e o futebol – é o resultado de uma manobra política insidiosa, revisionista e perspicaz dos anos 1930, cortesia das habilidades combinadas do intelectual popular Gilberto Freyre e do populista Getúlio Vargas. O corpo maltratado da cultura da escravidão foi sequestrado pela cultura nacional para renovar a cultura branca.

Entre os muitos resultados de arregalar os olhos reportados na PNAD, o que mais me atraí é a do ‘burro quando foge’. Você pode encontrá-la na tabela no número 34. O tradutor do Google inexplicavelmente traduz a frase como ‘sela’, que é incrível, e demonstra que a Lusofonia ainda mantém alguns segredos além do alcance do monstro gigante. ‘Burro quando foge’ é traduzido para o inglês por Schwarcz, limitada ao espaço de apenas umacoluna, como the disappearing donkey e explicado como um termo cômico que denota uma cor inclassificável.

E mais. Ametáfora é singular ao Brasil: uma cor que possa ser inclassificável, indefinida, elusiva, ou feia – e, só para deixar as coisas mais claras, também castanho-amarelado, bege, ou uma sombra de marrom caprichosa. A ideia transmitida na frase é tão quanto interessante. Usada entre amigos, passa como piada. Caso contrário, quase sempre denota algo desagradável. É usualmente usada como insulto, embora, curiosamente, dadas as cores e os sentimentos – não é especificamente um insulto racial.

De todas as cento e trinta e seis cores de raça no Brasil, esta é minha predileta. É irreverente, factual e ficcional de uma só vez, e, como tal, serve-me perfeitamente. Raça não é um termo que tem muita expressão na Índia, país onde moro. É, entretanto, característica central de Johanesburgo e São Paulo, duas cidades nas quais trabalho ocasionalmente, e tanto quanto estou ciente de quão privilegiado sou de não estar completamente sujeito a ela, sinto-me curiosamente desprovido de raça em ambos os lugares. Certamente, cresci com cor: por ser a criança moreninha em uma família uniformemente de cútis clara, regularmente contendia com parentes bem-intencionados que beliscavam minhas bochechas e me ralhavam por “ter perdido minha cor” – como se o tom de pele fosse algo que eu tivesse trazido sobre mim mesmo por um ataque de distração. Não obstante, se devo escolher uma raça, indiano poderia funcionar para algumas pessoas, mas trata-se da denominação de meu passaporte e de minha residência, e isso basta. Castanho é genérico demais, e negro, seria um pouco demais inacreditável, considerando todas as coisas. Dado o tempo que gastei na minha infância lendo Gerald Durrell e sonhando com burros, adotar a cor deles parece correto de diversos pontos de vista.


E onde tudo isso deixa nosso garoto prodígio? Podemos começar com o Estado Novo, o regime autoritário de Vargas entre 1937 e 1945. Apenas alguns anos antes, Freyre havia publicado o maior sucesso de sua carreira, Casa Grande e Senzala, um grande sucesso. A teoria central de Freyre era algo que ele chamou de ‘Lusotropicalismo’. Narra a história reconfortante do passado (ao retratar os portugueses como escravocratas imperiais mais gentis e amáveis), oferece uma solução conveniente para o presente (ao tornar a mistura de raças em virtude) e apresenta uma conclusão atraente, nomeadamente, a ideia de que o Brasil era uma democracia racial.

Assim que publicado, o trabalho de Freyre imediatamente atraiu a ira da nação portuguesa ao sugerir que seus cidadãos eram propensos à miscigenação. No Brasil, no entanto, a tese se tornou o plano mestre de Vargas para o país que ele havia se apossado – e sua estratégia para sobrevivência política. Três quartos de século mais tarde, a concepção maior de Freyre permanece persistente de Brasil, uma ideia cujo apelo cresce a passos largos e faz eco pelo globo, e certamente, com frequência escapa das garras de seus criadores gerando efeitos deslumbrantes. Mesmo assim, considere a ironia: o sentimento que o país tem de si mesmo como democracia racial foi contrabandeado alma adentro por um autocrata.

O termo Estado Novo se refere a um período de ditadura, em si profético, já que as palavras também descrevem uma tarefa peculiar que compete a pelo menos metade da população brasileira. Essa tarefa, claro, é o afazer do branqueamento – transformar, de forma bastante literal, em um novo estado físico. (A despeito de sua defesa da miscigenação, Schwarcz chama à atenção em O Espetáculo das Raças, que Freyre, tal como seus críticos, era veementemente a favor de manter a estrutura do Brasil intacta: como hierarquia, a brancura no topo). Nesse sentido, Neymar é apenas a mais recente, em uma longa fila de celebridades e brasileiros de menor monta, que entende. Entende a letra pequena no contrato; entende que a identidade nacional se assenta sobre a harmonia racial, que, por sua vez, se assenta sobre um acesso potencial à oportunidade. Não a oportunidade de ser igual, tenha isso em mente, mas a oportunidade de ser branco. Podemos nos escandalizar com ele quanto quisermos, mas ao alisar o cabelo, esticando-o, e tingindo-o de loiro, Neymar estava cumprindo seu destino patriótico, exatamente tanto quanto confundindo os croatas e levando sua equipe à vitória no jogo de abertura da Copa.


Arrisco-me a afirmar que a cor de burro quando foge se encaixa a Neymar com exatidão. A final de contas, ele é ambos: tanto incontestavelmente quanto enganosamente, marrom. Sim, existe a questão da sua “ambição loira”. “O burro fugiu? ” Eu gostaria de pensar que não.  Por um lado, o rapaz tem apenas vinte e dois anos e uma vida inteira para mudar de ideia – e de cabelo. Por outro lado, tenho uma Copa do Mundo inteira para assistir. Tenha dó. Passo horas e horas, todas as semanas, estudando português brasileiro, tenho devoção ao país, e sou de Bangalore, cidade onde Pelé é deus. E não digo isso metaforicamente. Em um bairro de nome Gowthampura, pertinho de onde moro, os moradores erigiram um encantador santuário a quatro ícones locais: o Buda, Doutor Ambedkar, Madre Teresa e o ex-atacante do Santos.


Como você pode ver, minhas mãos estão atadas. Tenho meu próprio destino patriótico a cumprir, e ele envolve torcer para o Brasil, que quer dizer que preciso gostar muito do Neymar.

Eu consigo.

De qualquer jeito, burros são animais famosos pela teimosia. Eles são bons de esperar.

* Nota do Tradutor: embora alguns leitores do artigo em inglês argumentem em seus comentários que o termo “preto” em português não equivale ao inglês “nigger”, a maioria dos tradutores e especialistas fazem uso do termo na literatura e em legendas de filmes. No Brasil, especialmente nas capitais e cidades maiores, chamar um afrodescendente de ‘preto’ é considerado ofensivo, e pode ser enquadrado como injúria qualificada, crime previsto em lei, artigo 140, § 3º do Código Penal que trata de “crimes resultantes de discriminação ou preconceito de raça, cor, etnia, religião ou procedência nacional”.

[Translator’s Note: although a number of readers in the comments section of the English article argue that the term “preto” in Portuguese is not equivalent to the English “nigger”, most translators and specialists make use of the terms as equivalents in literature and film subtitles. In Brazil, especially in state capitals and larger cities, calling an Afro Brazilian “preto” is considered offensive, and it is prosecutable under Brazilian law as a hate crime - Article 140, paragraph 3rd of the Penal Code, known as ‘injúria qualificada’.]

Definition: “Scrounger”

Salma Yaqoob confronts Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith on poverty, austerity and the government’s labelling of those on benefits as “scroungers” | BBC Question Time, 12 June 2014:

So glad that Yaqoob said this. Like so many, I’ve been disgusted by the vilification of poor people under the current British government, and the political impunity the Lib/Cons have enjoyed as they wage their war on the British welfare system and the people it used to assist. Lord knows, back in 2012 that was basically all my tumblr was about.

I’m elated that Yaqoob says what she came to say despite being interrupted by three different white men in under two minutes. See how they flail about trying to shut her down? Trying, and failing to close ranks. Their language intends to belittle her intelligence, accuracy and question her political maturity. “What a lot of nonsense” says Iain Duncan Smith again and again, as she backs him into a corner. The dimwit David Dimbleby, whose sole public function is to maintain the status quo, (in a very gentlemanly fashion) orders Yaqoob to answer the question. Surely a person with his journalistic experience knows that politicians reframe the question they’re asked and give the answer they came to give? It’s alright when white men with party backing/influence/money do this very thing, but apparently not when Yaqoob does. I’m sure the question was boring anyway.

But she doesn’t let them to dismiss her! I cannot count the number of times I’ve been talked over and talked down to by white British men. My statements informed by education, research or experience are interrogated, picked apart, evengoogled when similar statements by a white man would be accepted as truths. Apparently, women of colour’s speech is always awaiting verification. I love that Yaqoob refused to succumb to all those familiar silencing tactics, and so quickly articulated a powerful case against austerity.

* This is a version of a post that first appeared on Tumblr

@ChiefBoima World Cup Diary Day 9 – Padrão FIFA

A four day national holiday that kicked off the cup ended on Monday, so the city has been attempting to return to somewhat of its normal routine. Brazilians have gone back to work, and over the past few days in Copacabana and Ipanema, we’ve seen a transition of fans, from a flood of Argentinians to a flood of Chileans. If the crowds in Rio are anything to go by, this cup definitely belongs to Latin America. Mexico, Colombia, Chile, and Argentina have all made their presence felt on the pitch, in the stands and on the streets. I find myself speaking Spanish on the streets here, much more than ever before.

Rio has also hosted the first two of its seven matches, as the famous Maracanã stadium opened its doors to the cup on Sunday. I was lucky enough to get tickets to see Argentina vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina play their first round opener. It was the first real international football match I’d ever attended, and it was quite an experience to see it amongst the throng of Argentinians. I’ve always heard the saying “football is a religion” but never really understood the levels of spiritual devotion that members of the Church of Maradona have. They sang and shook the stadium the entire match like they were being possessed by some kind of football holy spirit. When their Messi-ah scored they hailed their hands to him en masse. When someone from another church challenged the dominance of their very vocal prayers, the response would be swift and even sometimes physical. I saw several Brazilians, sometimes in Bosnia-Herzegovina jerseys, get escorted out of a section after getting physical with riotous Argentina fans. It seemed like the security came to rescue them for their own safety more than anything else. Beyond those few scuffles I witnessed, and a few rolled eyes when groups of singing and jumping Argentinians packed into public transportation (they altered their famous cheer against England to say “el que no salta es de BRAZIL!”), I get the sense the Brazilians have been nothing but gracious hosts to the many visitors from around the world. However, as I hinted at in my last post, the overall impact of the visitors on locals is different depending on where you are in the city.

“Padrão FIFA” or “FIFA standards” is a phrase that has been appropriated by Brazilian protesters to inventively sum up their demands from the government, flipping to say they want FIFA standard hospitals and schools as well as the stadiums they received (several of which won’t really be used after the tournament ends.) Padrão FIFA conveniently merged with an already existing slang here, “padrão gringo” previously used to explain the so-called superior quality of work and products (especially technology) coming from Europe and North America. The appropriation of the world isn’t always negative. There’s a playful Forro song using the phrase, saying my style of singing is of a FIFA standard which is quite funny:

But for the purpose of the World Cup in Rio, the phrase perfectly illustrates the consequences of a neoliberal development model, as the FIFA standard clearly extends beyond the stadium to reflect on the different parts of the city.

Rio is a giant city broken up into hundreds of neighborhoods. The places you feel the direct impact of the Cup, the feel of the above picture, are the ones that received padrão FIFA upgrades or already contained tourist infrastructure. On public transportation, on beaches, and in restaurants and bars is where you run into a diverse international cast of festive visitors. And it’s not like the average football fans are the global elite that you might picture when thinking of the neoliberal model of development. The global elite are definitely here, but they tend to remain in untouchable and invisible spaces. The spaces where you see average fans are often the ones that average Brazilians have to share with the visitors — spaces that control daily life in the city. These spaces are also highly regulated. Signs with arrows, painted with names of places like Maracanã, Copacabana, and Leblon shuffle tourists between high value zones, and keep them on track and away from places with names like Alemão, Maré, and Mangueira. For visitors, such space and infrastructure provide a convenient way to experience and move around the most important places in the city. Locals have to access or contest with such spaces for their daily movement in the city. [One interesting side-note: I’ve noticed that some of the “unruly” behavior of fans has caused even some Cup-supporting Brazilians to question the value of having a padrão FIFA. I’ve seen plenty of rough and tumble fans sleeping on the floors of the main regional bus station, yesterday Chilean fans crashed the gates at Maracanã, and one Brazilian woman commented to me with disgust that she saw Argentina fans sleeping in cars and bathing on the beach.]

The chief symbol of the conflict between padrão FIFA and the Brazilian standard in Rio has become the Maracanã stadium. The blog Rio on Watch has a great post running down its history as a national symbol in Brazil. Today, for many of the city’s most rabid football supporters, some of the most enthusiastic in the world, actually attending a Cup match in their own city remains a pipe dream (one Argentina fan told me, even for him it has always been a life-long dream to watch a match at Maracanã.) The famous stadium was upgraded to padrão FIFA or in the run up to the Cup, but in the process lowered the capacity from 200,000 to 70,000 spectators. With the resulting higher ticket price, and a new roof that blocks the view from surrounding favela covered hills, the temple of Brazilian soccer went from symbol of nationalist populism to a neoliberal temple of corporate consumerism.

When a group of protesters tried to break the ring of security around Maracanã on Sunday, they were teargassed. Apparently one overzealous military police even fired off some live ammunition amidst the crowd:

So when we ask, “who is this cup for?” In Rio, the answer to that question has become clear. This cup is for Zona Sul, Maracanã, and all the arteries that connect these high value areas. And you can’t help but get swept up in the excitement when you’re in these spaces with such a festive carnival-like atmosphere (I’ve commented several times how similar the vibe in Copacabana is to Carnival.) The exciting matches, and high level of play from the teams don’t hurt either. Anyone who passes in and out of that part of the city might tell you that they are definitely enjoying the international camaraderie, the boisterous fans, the party atmosphere. Service workers who commute from many neighborhoods: restaurant workers, tour guides, taxi drivers, all seem to be eating up the excitement — often asking who you’re cheering for. These will also be the workers who will benefit most from the city’s temporary economic boon.

However, in the midst of all this excitement it would be wise keep some perspective. Two hours before the opening kick off between Argentina and Bosnia-Herzegovina, only a few miles from Maracanã, and near the new Bus Rapid Transit — the Pacification Police (the force created to control favelas during the Cup and the Olympics) in Cidade de Deus carried out an action against some local drug dealers. A 12 year-old boy was killed by a stray bullet during the confrontation. The morning before the Brazilian national team played, neighbors and activists from across the city staged a march for the boy’s funeral and shut down most of the traffic in that part of the city. Partying visitors in Zona Sul would have been oblivious to all of this, and the fact that public safety for residents in communities like Cidade de Deus isn’t yet up to the padrão FIFA.

We ́re not Monkeys or Panthers: The Rap of Z’Africa Brasil

Race in Brazil has never been simple. In the midst of the protests leading up to the current World Cup, all eyes turned to Brazilian soccer players as yet another object lesson in blackness, racism and Africanity in the former Portuguese colony. The polemical fallout under the banner “We are all monkeys,” which emerged from the viral clip of Daniel Alves eating a banana a Spanish fan had thrown at the Brazilian soccer star, demonstrates the complexity of race and persistence of racism in the country that prides itself on being a “racial democracy.” What about the vanguard of another segment of popular culture, Brazilian rappers? Do these masters of the word, street and idea have anything to contribute?

“Back in the day, quilombos, today periphery,” “Periafricana Brasileiroz” and “Black Eldorado.” These are just some of the Afro-Brazilian neologisms of Gaspar, rapper and leader of an enigmatic group called Z’Africa Brasil. The “Z”s refer to Zumbi, the legendary 17th century warrior of the Palmares quilombo, one of the hundreds of maroon, Afro-Indigenous communities established during Portuguese colonialism. Quilombos continue to be a source of political tension and cultural expression. Z’Africa Brasil is composed of rappers Gaspar and Funk Biu, DJ Tano and producer Pitchô. The group’s name also refers to the famous 1976 album of Brazilian soul star Jorge Ben Jor, “Africa Brasil.” Finally, Z’Africa is a salve to the pioneer DJ of São Paulo’s baile black era during the 1970s and 80s, when sound system crews mixed James Brown and Parliament with Brazilian funk, soul and samba-rock stars, such as Gerson King Combo, Trio Mocotó and Black Rio, along with Afro-pop icons Fela Kuti and Miriam Makeba.

As the phrase, “Black Eldorado” indicates, Gaspar enjoys juxtaposition, in this case between the generative culture of blackness and the colonial Latin American myth of endless riches. He continually provokes his audience that one can be militant about Africanity and embrace crossover. At a certain level, Gaspar, a nickname that refers, in part, to his light, “ghostly” skin color, needs to preach crossover. But, his philosophy is more complicated than convenience. Z’Africa Brasil’s negritude moves away from strategic essentialism of the pantherism of MNU (Unified Black Movement) and pitches blackness as mixture, always from the perspective of the poor, working-class suburbs called periferia.

For Gaspar, all humanity begins with Africanity, which he interprets as a truth based in the encounter. The encounter bridges difference and is motivated by the escambo, the deal or barter. On Z’Africa’s most recent album Rapsicordélico (2014), a neologism composed of “rap,” the Northeastern folk literature of “cordel,” and “psycholdelic,” Gaspar raps, “I come from the mocambo to make a deal (escambo). When the police comes, I switch it up and return to the quilombo.”[1]

While the great majority of Brazilian rappers have tried to distance themselves from national popular music and folklore, Gaspar has always considered rap as part of a something larger. His father was born in Ceará, a large, poor state in the Northeast, and was a sanfoneiro (accordionist) in various forró musical groups before and after migrating south to the fundão, the way down periphery neighborhood of Capão Redondo in the mega-city of São Paulo. Gaspar explained that his upbringing with such strong roots in not only forró but also coco, baião, maracatu, embolada along with the handcraft literature of cordel impressed upon him that hip hop had to include more than just timbres of boom boom pa and straight ahead 4/4 time signatures. “Rap is one kind of canto, a manner of creating lyrics and exchanging ideas. This is where the beauty of Brazil, the northeast, Afro, and indigenous beats come in. I am more than just a rapper. All of this is me.”

Until recently, Z’Africa’s style of hip hop and Africanity found greater appreciation among rappers and folk musicians from France, Italy, England, the US and Burkina Faso than with the orthodox Brazilian rap market. Z’Africa has found a musical alternative to racist/racial democracy monkeys and myopic black panthers. The encounter of the quilombo is the key.As Brazil’s hip hop scene matures and new spaces for multiple Africanities emerge in global pop culture, Z’Africa Brasil perhaps is on the brink of new audiences and a deserved recognition of being ahead of the curve.

[1] Mocambo and quilombo are synonymous with the former from the Umbundu language and the latter from Kimbundu.

* Image: Wiki Commons.

Discovering Prophets Of Da City

One late afternoon while milling about at the University of Cape Town’s main campus, I ran into Adam Haupt, the Associate Professor of Media Studies who’s authored books such as Static: Race and Representation in Post-Apartheid Music, Media and Film, and Stealing Empire: P2P, Intellectual Property and Hip-Hop SubversionI had known of Adam (or Dr. Hip-Hop) through the work he’d done with the influential hip-hop collective Prophets Of Da City (P.O.C). I thought to corner him to talk about how their relationship begun, and possibly get invaluable first-hand information about the Cape Town hip-hop scene in general. I got way more than that! We spoke of POC; of Die Antwoord; and of his feelings about the current state of hip-hop in South Africa. Below is an extract of the conversation in which he speaks about the first time he discovered P.O.C.

Who is Adam Haupt and what’s your background in relation to hip-hop?

Initially, I didn’t think of myself as someone who was interested in hip-hop. With my first degree, I was very interested in blues and jazz and African/African American literature – how you use art to mobilise critical mindsets. I was quite aware of what was going down locally with hip-hop; I was aware that Prophets Of the City were doing interesting work. But also, informally through friends of mine who were aspiring hip-hop artists, I learned that Shaheen of POC specifically was very generous in helping young people, advising them, [and] basically being a mentor figure. [Him] and Ready D were well-liked by young people.

How far back is this?

That was the early 90s. When I was doing an Honours degree in English in 1993, I started to become more interested in hip-hop as a voice – does it confirm the status quo, or does it challenge it? That was the big question.

Was this change influenced by anything or any one particular situation?

It was just me following friends. My interest in African/African American literature was really about race, class, and gender politics. We were emerging out of Apartheid, so anything that was political in some way, that was engaging people critically, interested me. My honours dissertation, believe or not, focused on Ice T’s Body Count album, that’s what I looked at. There’s not just a lot of race [issues]; politics come in, [and] gender… it’s hectic, over-the-top!

Do you still have a copy of the dissertation?
Yes, this is before I had a computer, so I had to hand-write everything and then type it out. So the version I have is a typewriter version with all of the tip-ex and the scary, scary quality!


Had you already learnt how to type in high school?

No! Finger, finger, index finger, thumb…and then tearing the paper out, starting over because there [are] errors on it. But I was excited; this album was provocative! And I could see the links between hip-hop and my interest in jazz, my interest in the blues, my interest in African orature…that’s the kind of stuff I was learning in English. I could see the connection, it was clear: here was a new form of oral culture which broke with literature, which was consistent with the blues and with jazz, I could see it! But there were gender contradictions in there. I mean, what do you do with a song like “KKK bitch“?!

That’s what I was going to ask: as much as you were embracing that side of hip-hop, were you already aware that there’s something fishy happening?

I was like ‘wait a minute’, “She sucked my dick like a motherfuckin’ vacuum?!!” What the hell do you do with that? It’s textbook feminist stuff here, straight out of first-year gender politics! He was as exciting as he was problematic. With the race stuff, there was some interesting stuff that was coming through, but he was [also] confirming a lot of dodgy race and gender stereotypes at the same time. So he was great material for a young scholar to unpack because he was so messy. [While working] on this dissertation, [I was] watching a lot of the ‘youth culture’ programmes. The Toyota Top 20 [a program on the state broadcaster morphing at the time into a public broadcaster--ed.] would play this video, and I realised that this is gonna be banned because there’s so much material in it that normally you wouldn’t have access to as a journalist–you couldn’t broadcast that on TV at the time [because] we didn’t have media freedom. So I knew I had to get a hold of this album (their third album, …).

So until that time you weren’t …

I was aware of [them, POC]. The first two albums were okay, I thought that they were cute, you know?! The first rap crew to make a splash, to get recorded, to get onto TV. Shaheen was a nice guy, as a live act they were phenomenal! I remember this New Years’ Eve gig with Black Noise and POC together on the same stage – man, as a live act with the dancers, Ready D on the decks – already then, he had it locked down. I can’t believe it, this is everything you [wanted] in live show, a show! Everything, the experience! It’s not just the music and what they’re rapping about; it’s Ramone, the dancer; it was everybody! They didn’t just [go like]: “yo, yo, yo, we’re gonna drop some knowledge on your ass!” They were playing with the audience; they were talking; there was a lot of fun; it was interactive!

Where were these shows?
Around the city, at a club diagonally opposite the Good Hope Centre - it doesn’t exist anymore. And I’m told they didn’t get paid for that. No surprise there, the story of artists getting ripped off goes way back. But it was an electric gig! I was like “I cannot believe these guys, they’re awesome!” So I had that knowledge of them, but it wasn’t until this music video on TV1…I ran out, I had to get this album. I couldn’t find it, it was very hard. And already, the whole payback for what they did was kicking in. There’s a story about how they recorded at BOP studios, and [when the powers that be] discovered how revolutionary, how incendiary the lyrics are, they tried to put the lid on it. [POC] stole the DATs and ran from BOP. They thought they’d won; they got the album out. And then what happened is they got cut off, they got banned from all (SABC) radio/TV. Gigs that they were gonna get booked for, they got shut down, organizers were cancelling on them. So, they were being shut down on all levels. I knew, when I saw it; I knew that this is what was gonna happen. And I’m told that this is only the second time the video was played. The first time was on breakfast TV, that’s even worse! I knew that was gonna be a Masters dissertation; I needed to find out the material before there was a lockdown on it. And that was, for me, from being aware of Public Enemy [and] being aware of what Prophets were doing – knowing that they were good guys who were helping kids in the community; they were using hip-hop to teach, they weren’t in it from themselves. That was my introduction, I knew that this was gonna be it! By the next year I had chased them down, interviewed them, shot that interview on VHS. And they were angry!

*Adam maintains a website called Staticphlow. Check it out here.

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

A review Dak’art 2014 (II)

Halfway through my visit to the International Exhibition of this year’s ambitious edition of Dak’art: the 11th Biennale of Contemporary African Art, a tray of fragrant Thieboudienne, the classic Senegalese dish, was brought out into the courtyard of the Village de la Biennale, located in former television studios on the busy Route de Rufisque in Dakar’s industrial northern district. A few days after the close of the biennale’s well-attended opening week, the Village – the festival’s central hub – was nearly empty, save for my traveling companion and me and a host of biennale employees. As the midday sun beat down, we were delighted to be invited into the shade to share this meal of rice and fish communally from one platter. Given the theme of this year’s biennale, “producing the common,” you could be forgiven for assuming that we were participating in yet another edition of contemporary artist Rikrit Tiravanija’s Untitled (Free), in which a shared meal of Thai curry and rice becomes an artistic intervention. Our meal, instead, more spontaneously manifested the biennale’s mission to invite artists and the public to actively and collectively reflect on the values of the common.

In their inclusion of art that engages aesthetics and politics, curators Elise Atangana (artists from the Diaspora), Abdelkader Damani (artists from North Africa) and Ugochukwu-Smooth Nwezi (artists from sub-Saharan Africa) took inspiration from theorist Michael Hardt’s conception of the common as “the scene of encounter of social and political differences, at times characterized by agreement and at others antagonism.” They hope the diversity of voices and opinions inherent in the artworks come together to form what Édouard Glissant called a “Whole World” (Tout-Monde) in which all participate as equals.

Click to view slideshow.

The International Exhibition joined a constellation of other official installations spread out across Dakar. These included tribute shows to three historically significant Senegalese artists Mbaye Diop, Mamadou Diakhaté and Moustapha Dimé. In addition to this, the Musée Théodore Monod hosted an outdoor installation of contemporary African sculpture and an exhibition, “Cultural Diversity”, curated by Massamba Mbaye, which brought together the work of both African and non-African artists in order to promote dialogue and exchange rather than exclusion. Finally, the “Green Art” exhibition at the Université Cheikh Anta Diop invited international and Senegalese artists to revitalize an abandoned garden, creating a meditative, communal space within a dynamic campus that often serves as the site of student protest.

The exhibitions themselves brought together familiar works by internationally renowned artists including Wangechi Mutu, Candice Breitz and Simone Leigh alongside a range of exciting new discoveries. While much of the art was overtly political in its topical criticism of failed leadership and democracy, such as Léopold Sédar Senghor prizewinner Tunisian artist Faten Rouissi’s Le fantôme de la liberté (Malla Ghassra) (2012), I preferred quieter work. Olu Amoda – an established Nigerian artist who shared the biennale’s first prize with Rouissi – created Sunflower (2012). Using nails recuperated from the shipping containers that import luxury goods into Lagos for a consumerist elite, this work appeared to be a subtle commentary on Nigeria’s neoliberal tendencies and lack of industrial agency. London-based Ghanaian filmmaker John Akomfrah’s poetic film Peripeteia (2012) moved me with its ethereal imagery and enthralling narrative recuperating and imagining the lives of an anonymous black man and woman immortalized in 16th century engravings by Albrecht Dürer that resonates as a contemporary meditation on displacement.

Paris-based Algerian artist Kader Attia’s Indépendence Tchao (2014) responded to the architectural fabric of Dakar itself. In a work created specially for the biennale, the artist created a model of the modernist Dakar Independence Hotel using metal lockers reclaimed from an abandoned building in Algiers, in order to create a monument to failed revolutionary projects across Africa. While the biennale suffered from the expected mishaps of such a large-scale project, including non-functional video projectors past the opening week and undelivered artwork (Ethiopian-American artist Julie Mehretu’s work never showed), an improvisatory attitude contributed to a pervasive sense of community involvement. American artist Radcliffe Bailey created an installation from local coal when his work failed to arrive on time.

The Senegalese government has historically played a critical role in Dak’art’s conception and funding, a robust program of 266 independently organized ‘OFF’ events and exhibitions throughout Dakar, nearby Saint Louis and other locations around Senegal help to decentralize the biennale and bring it further to its goal of “producing the common.” This multiplicity of voices has new significance in light of last week’s shut-down of Raw Material Company, the internationally renowned contemporary art space in Dakar. Raw Material’s contribution to ‘OFF’ was a groundbreaking exhibition co-organized by Koyo Kouoh and Ato Malinda called “Precarious Imaging: Visibility and Media Surrounding African Queerness” exploring homosexuality in Africa. The government of Senegal, where homosexuality is prohibited, suspended all other Dak’art exhibitions dealing with the subject. As this edition of Dak’art draws to a close, we are reminded of the real controversies that art brings to the surface.

* Image: Mehdi-Georges Lahlou, “72 (virgins) on the sun” (2014), sculpture /installation, mixed media, variable dimension, Village de la Biennale.

Why we made a film about the images and myths that cast a continent as a victim

We’re making the documentary film, FRAMED, because we recognize a lot of Americans want to do good in Africa, with the best of intentions, but the way they go about it often doesn’t play out well for Africans. In western pop culture, we’re still seeing images of Africans as helpless, hopeless and without any ideas about how to change their own societies. Yet Africans are politically, socially, culturally engaged in and out of government and they are telling their stories about what they are doing through writing, art, music, political action and social media. FRAMED turns the lens on how the status quo of Africa in need works for westerners.

In the film, Zine Magubane, an educator at Boston College, investigates the motives and rewards of the humanitarian impulse: “unfortunately it’s not establishing a relationship between two people as humans, but rather as a savior and a victim.”


Featured in the film are writer Binyavanga Wainaina (How To Write About Africa; One Day I Will Write About This Place) and Boniface Mwangi, the young Kenyan photojournalist turned activist who shatters the stereotype of the passive aid recipient.  FRAMED has never been about speaking on behalf of Africans but about finding ways to open up Americans to recognize that if they really want to do good in Africa they need to partner with Africans or support their initiatives or work in the US on policies that impact Africans.  We want the film to speak to young people who have a sincere energy for change, but haven’t considered the questions FRAMED is raising.  We filmed with a young writer named Pippa Biddle who made waves when she wrote a provocative blog piece titled “The Problem With Little White Girls (And Boys): Why I Stopped Being a Voluntourist” about her experience as a volunteer.


It has been hard to narrow the story down but we believe that showing how Africans like Boniface engage with their own political spaces as well as how they represent their homes to Americans while also, we hope, showing how Americans are learning new ways to be activists in Africa and at home can push us out of the critique phase into a constructive one in terms of development and humanitarian interventions.

Here’s a link to the film’s Kickstarter page.

A Bronx Story: Ghana vs USA

The fate of World Cup draws has fostered an unlikely rivalry between Ghana and the United States. In 2006, Ghana dispatched the U.S. in Germany. Four years later, in South Africa, the Black Stars sunk American hearts in the first knockout round, courtesy of an extra-time goal from Asamoah Gyan. Passion runs so deep for Ghana’s national team that, prior to their latest bout with the U.S., the government in Accra rationed electricity carefully so the country’s power grids could handle the nation-wide viewing. In the Bronx, home to about 16,000 Ghanaians, according to the census data, a strong contingent of die-hard Black Star supporters flooded Papaye Restaurant, an unassuming Ghanaian eatery on the corner of Grand Concourse Road and 183rd Street.


Confidence was high within the packed crowd. “We have the whim, the power, the stamina,” said Kwadwo Appiah, who watched both previous encounters against the U.S. at Papaye.

Papaye’s manager, Kwame Bonsu, however, remained pragmatic. “We’re just targeting qualification from the group, and we’ll take it from there,” he said.


Many, like Kingsley Adarkwah, a tech specialist who moved to New York in 2007, consider the venue fortuitous when Ghana faces the U.S. “The place is good luck – absolutely,” he said. Draped in his national colors with a souvenir Ghanaian flag in each hand, he explained that Papaye’s traditional food and communal nature have made it a hub for his community.

But Papaye’s luck dissipated within forty seconds of the kick-off as Clint Dempsey slotted inside of the far-post, sealing the fifth fastest goal in World Cup history. That silenced all but one fan–an American serviceman of Ghanaian birth. “I don’t leave my country behind,” said U.S. Army Specialist Donkor Carven (in picture below), who immigrated to the U.S. at age five, to light-hearted jeers and whistling.


The largest roar of the evening thus far came when Kevin Prince Boateng, a German-born Ghanaian attacking midfielder, entered the fray. Boateng could have chosen to play for Germany like his brother, Jerome, but sided with Ghana, to the continued adoration of his countrymen.

With expectation rising, a slick piece of build-up and combination play put Ghana on level terms in the 82nd minute. Papaye erupted. Supporters took their glee to the streets. Carven, at this point, literally had egg on his face, as Ghanaian supporters playfully cracked an egg on his head.


But only four minutes later, John Brooks converted a set-piece, sealing a 2-1 victory for the U.S. Ghana now require at least one victory over a rampant Germany or an equally-desperate Portugal to advance from what has largely been billed as the “Group of Death.”

“There’s no hope,” Appiah said. “We’re not going to get a result against Germany.”

But some disagree, and remain upbeat. “There’s still room for improvement,” said Isaac Sam, a nine-year New York resident. “We can still make it.”

* Images by Joao Inada, a recent graduate of Columbia Journalism School with a focus on multimedia storytelling.

“How was Africa?”

“Welcome back to civilization,” a family member said, slapping my shoulder. “How was Africa?”

That was the refrain I encountered most frequently upon returning to the United States after conducting a year of fieldwork amongst northern Malian internally displaced persons and refugees. I’d been away for all of 2013. During the first six months I went to the “hearts” of internal displacement in southern Mali, and to refugee camps in Burkina Faso. During the second six months, I went to Timbuktu—where I’d also conducted fieldwork in 2010—to work with displaced individuals and families as they returned home following the French-led military intervention.

This was my third time to the continent. So, I consciously attempted to preempt some of the problematic and ignorant queries that I had received following my first two. I regularly sent updates to my family and close friends. In them, I acknowledged the events surrounding the occupation of northern Mali, the displacement of most of its residents, and the subsequent military intervention, while simultaneously historicizing and complicating them. I insisted that my family and friends consider the widespread ripple effects of colonialism and decolonization, global capitalism, the international “war on terror”, etcetera. Further, I expressed that as the anthropological discipline itself can create distance, we should challenge the self-other binary. So, I told stories of my Timbuktian friends working, hanging out; just living their lives.

I remember one email, for instance, where I described Timbuktu during Ramadan last year. Many fasted by day and prayed at sundown. Everyone—fasters and non—dined together on dishes sent by neighbors and family in the evening. And at night, the youth partied, dancing to American and West African hip-hop and reggae, posting photos on Facebook and calling friends and family outside of Timbuktu with their cell phones.

Nonetheless, “Welcome back to civilization. How was Africa?” Despite attempts to educate through my correspondence, ignorant and exoticizing notions continue to fuel some of my family and friends’ questions and statements relating to the African continent and its peoples:

“What was the craziest thing you ate? Bugs? Monkey brains?”

“What tribes live in Africa?”

“Did you become one of them?”

“Did you ever see any lions? Do they attack people?”

Passing the Time in Timbuktu

“Did you know that for Muslims, a woman’s word means nothing?”

Such questions were disappointing, as I had expected a more sophisticated degree of inquiry. Unfortunately, I have been similarly disappointed in the classroom. One of my courses this past semester was “Africa: Society and Culture.” I taught the same lessons I attempted with my fieldwork correspondence. Only this time, I was able to approach it in a much more structured, much more formal way with an audience that had registered and agreed to listen and learn. We discussed the deep history of the continent, the diversity of its peoples, and the problematic ways in which Africa has been and continues to be represented. Nevertheless, one day in the middle of a discussion of Fanon, a student’s hand shot up, asking me:

“Do you speak African?”

A few classes later, while interrogating recent waves of urbanization and other effects of global capitalism, another student interrupted:

“Why are Africans always fighting?”

In response, I attempted to ask other students what they thought of the question and guide the conversation in a way that would reveal why the proposition was problematic. Nevertheless, yet another student—albeit hesitantly—queried:

“Do you think Africans were better off under colonialism?”

Reflecting on my “welcome home” and some of my students’ continued questions, I wonder where I—and perhaps, where many of us—are falling short in our endeavors to educate about Africa. I wonder what kinds of intellectual and ideological battles we are really engaging. And I wonder what the product of our educational attempts really is. Am I—are we—really changing minds? Or, are we just teaching political correctness? Indeed, on more than one occasion, I have had what I’d thought was a solid chat about Mali. After returning to the room, though, I would overhear one mutter to another, “Oh, Andrew’s back, you can’t say stuff like that anymore.”

I do notice some improvement in my students’ discourse concerning Africa. And, political correctness or not, I suppose that that is a step in the right direction. At least they recognize the problematic ways in which the continent continues to be represented, and perhaps they even recognize their own complicity in reproducing such representations. Further, they recognize that outside of private settings, some of their comments are ignorant and offensive. However, it’s clear that I must go further in my attempts to disrupt some of the entrenched and privileged positions that many of my students maintain and push them to rethink contemporary processes that continue to marginalize much of the continent. In my view, though, my current focus on history, power relations, social construction, and even everyday African lives remains insufficient. Superficially, such instruction disrupts discourse, but seems to fail to undermine years of ideological social distance and apathy. Therefore, to join the chorus of educators of global inequality, in addition to providing information and challenging presumptions, I contend that we must also attempt to teach something considerably more complicated: empathy.

* The images were taken during my time in southern Mali and Burkina Faso.

Trouble in the Village: A Review of Dak’ Art 2014

Dak’ Art 014 is an art exhibition showing over 120 artists of African descent. It opened on 9th May, with a main international showcase at the Village de la Biennale, a television studio along Route de la Rufisque in Dakar’s industrial area. While it is the only art biennale of its scope today with a mandate to include all artists of African descent, a critical tour of the international exhibition at the Village revealed a daunting diversity of artworks, styles and traditions that made one ask questions about what exactly defines contemporary African art, how contemporaneity might be defined amongst artists of African descent at the Dakar biennale, and whether living on or away from the continent of Africa influences the contemporaneity of the art one produces.

While great emphasis was placed on the Village–an ironic title for an international exhibition–where three curators were invited to select artists, respectively, from North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and the diaspora, the biennale had several other “main” events, including an exhibition of guest artists dedicated to cultural diversity at the Musée de l’Ifan, a clearly unfocussed exhibition with selected artworks reflecting no central theme; the African sculpture park. There was also tribute exhibitions to three Senegalese artists: Mamadou Diakhaté, Moustapha Dimé and Mbaye Diop. In addition, an epistemological exhibition titled ‘Green Art’ on the campus of Cheikh Anta Diop University. These latter exhibitions seemed to have a separate, and specific, focus on the local.

A press release on the biennale website from July 3rd, 2013 summarizes a wish by past and present biennale general-secretaries to achieve autonomy for the art exhibition. During some research on the biennale’s history, I found a report in Nka Journal from 1992 written by Octavia Zaya, revealing that the biennale’s financial woes existed from the very beginning, when artists, after failing to settle differences with the biennale office, threatened to boycott the exhibition. These financial disputes emerge directly from the fact that the biennale is registered under the Ministry of Culture and Heritage. This bondage to a government ministry inevitably creates problems. As the art critic Sylvia Sankale articulated in the July 3rd 2013 press conference, “according to the law of public finances, any money given to a department of the state is automatically transferred to the Ministry of Finance and redistributed as needed.”

Financial woes aside, I was concerned by the curators’ settling on a theme whose aim was to “link politics and aesthetics in a vigorous and engaged way” (this, according to the 014 press release), knowing full well the long historical disparities between Senegal’s politics and the art biennale since its inception in 1992. In addition to this, the curators’ decision to present a curatorial statement that spoke above the heads of journalists and the general public–in a highly academic and theoretical language that quoted Eduard Glissant: “our universe that is ever changing yet remains the same”–made it clear that they were not interested in extending an invitation to a specific kind of local: the kind that did not read Eduard Glissant, nor one that (perhaps naively) still believed in the developmental vision of globalization.

The streets of Dakar, today, abound in a frenzy of infrastructural development: outside of the CBD, the city is a cornrow of half finished buildings. Here, the difference between Wolof and French speakers is a marker of class. Evident here, also, is the difference between contemporary artists shown in galleries and the large scale highway murals of graffiti artists, as well as that between the villages of Ouakam and the new imperialist and seafront La Corniche neighborhoods.

In the spirit of placing contemporary African art within the political discourse of Pan-Africanism and Black Consciousness, the outstanding showcase at the Village (international exhibition) was the installation, “72 (Virgins)” in the sun by Mehdi-Georges Lahlou, which captured a universality: parading white flags, each standing freely in the courtyard of Le Village welcomed the audience to envision a post-nationalist world which neutralized nation states into one unknown. Each metal flag pole and the attached piece of cloth, placed on a wooden platform (about seven by five meters in diameter) was painted entirely white, bleaching out national colors and effectively deconstructing the national sense of self. However, some of my close friends and colleagues who saw the title of the work and the Algerian nationality of the artist envisioned the fabled (and scripturally not really accurate) 72 virgins that members of Boko Haram or any other so-called “Islamist” terrorist group in Africa claim that they would receive in paradise.

In the courtyard of Le Village, the photography installation “As god wants and devil likes it” (or O.R.G.A.S.M. Symposium) by Kiluanji Kia Henda redesigned the European Union emblem as a circular twelve star arrangement with the African continent in its center. The artist went on to juxtapose his low-resolution self portraits as the crowned Blessed Virgin Mary with photoshopped images of E.U. Heads of State (notably, an afro-sporting Nikolas Sarkozy made an appearance in one of the portraits). Yet for all his punchy humor, Henda stereotyped all African leaders as “traditional”, illiterate, one-dimensional stooges.

Faten Rouissi’s ceramic toilet basins, wooden microphones and toilet paper installation, “Le Fantome de la Liberté” (Ghost of Freedom), exhibited in the Studio B space inside Le Village, was designed like a conference table that evoked a sense of shared commonality by coloring every object mustard yellow. The piece alluded to, and simultaneously obliterated, the memory of Africa’s partition at the 1900 Berlin Conference. However, one close reading of the art work’s description, as a representation of the Tunis parliament, shows that the artist was not alluding to a global Black consciousness, but was, rather, interested in shaming the local political ironies that enabled civil unrest in Tunisia during the Arab Spring of 2011.

In this way, the show reflected the complications that result for those curating in a global framework: by selecting artworks for their radical politics, the artist’s embedded local context is subsumed. However, the exhibition did successfully convey the themes of unification and edification. According to co-curator Smooth, Glissant’s ideas about “rethinking the values of communality and sacrifice devoid of idealism” came through here. The works, in their whole, redefined contemporary artists of African descent: they could no longer be seen as artists who are disinterested in representing the local, or as artists who solely use radical political methodologies that inevitably subsume their own local context.

Neymar and the Disappearing Donkey

By the time you read this, it’s possible that every single person on the planet will know who Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior is.

The image above is of Neymar from five days ago.

This is Neymar from one year ago:

neymar cabelo

This is Neymar from three years ago:


This is Neymar from five years ago:


This is little Neymar with his family:


You could come to any number of conclusions from Neymar’s remarkable transformation. For instance, you could conclude that race doesn’t exist in Brazil, which is the favourite line of a specific tribe of Brazilians – impeccable liberals all, who just happen to be upper-class, white and at the top of the heap.

Or you could conclude that everyone in Brazil is indeed mixed – which is, incidentally, the second-favourite line of the selfsame tribe.

Or you could wonder what happened to this boy.


It’s too easy to condemn Neymar for pretending to be white: judging by the images, he is partly white. It’s silly to accuse him of denying his mixed-race ancestry, because the simplest search throws up hundreds of images of him as a child, none of which he seems to be ashamed of. There is this: when asked if he had ever been a victim of racism, he said, “Never. Neither inside nor outside the field. Because I’m not black right?”

Actually, the word he used was preto, which is significant, since, in Brazil, when used as a colour ascribed to people – rather than things, like rice or beans – it is the equivalent of the n-word; negro and negra being the acceptable ways of describing someone who is truly black. (And moreno or morena being standard descriptors for someone dark-skinned, as well as, occasionally, euphemisms for blackness). Technically speaking, however, his logic was faultless – and even kind of interestingly honest: the Neymar who made that statement was an unworldly eighteen-year-old who had never lived outside Brazil. And in Brazil, Neymar is not black.


In 1976, the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics ran a household survey that marked a crucial departure from other census exercises. The Pesquisa Nacional por Amostra de Domicílios (PNAD) did not ask Brazilians to choose a race category among pre-determined choices; instead, researchers went out and asked people to describe the colour they thought they were.

This is what was returned:


Acastanhada Somewhat chestnut-coloured Agalegada Somewhat like a Galician Alva Snowy white Alva escura Dark snowy white Alvarenta (not in dictionary; poss. dialect) Snowy white Alvarinta Snowy white Alva rosada Pinkish white Alvinha Snowy white Amarela Yellow Amarelada Yellowish Amarela-queimada Burnt yellow Amarelosa Yellowy Amorenada Somewhat dark-skinned Avermelhada Reddish Azul Blue Azul-marinho Sea blue Baiano From Bahia Bem branca Very white Bem clara Very pale Bem morena Very dark-skinned Branca White Branca-avermelhada White going on for red Branca-melada Honey-coloured white Branca-morena White but dark-skinned Branca-pálida Pale white Branca-queimada Burnt white Branca-sardenta Freckled white Branca-suja Off-white Branquiça Whitish Branquinha Very white Bronze Bronze-coloured Bronzeada Sun-tanned Bugrezinha-escura Dark-skinned India Burro-quando-foge Disappearing donkey (i.e. nondescript) humorous Cabocla Copper-coloured ( refers to civilized Indians) Cabo-verde From Cabo Verde (Cape Verde) Café Coffee-coloured Café-com-leite Café au lait Canela Cinnamon Canelada Somewhat like cinnamon Cardão Colour of the cardoon, or thistle (blue-violet) Castanha Chestnut Castanha-clara Light chestnut Castanha-escura Dark chestnut Chocolate Chocolate-coloured Clara Light-coloured, pale Clarinha Light-coloured, pale Cobre Copper-coloured Corada With a high colour Cor-de-café Coffee-coloured Cor-de-canela Cinnamon-coloured Cor-de-cuia Gourd-coloured Cor-de-leite Milk-coloured (i.e. milk-white) Cor-de-ouro Gold-coloured (i.e. golden) Cor-de-rosa Pink Cor-firme Steady-coloured Crioula Creole Encerada Polished Enxofrada Pallid Esbranquecimento Whitening Escura Dark Escurinha Very dark Fogoió Having fiery-coloured hair Galega Galician or Portuguese Galegada Somewhat like a Galician or Portuguese Jambo Light-skinned (the colour of a type of apple) Laranja Orange Lilás Lilac Loira Blonde Loira-clara Light blonde Loura Blonde Lourinha Petite blonde Malaia Malaysian woman Marinheira Sailor-woman Marrom Brown Meio-amarela Half-yellow Meio-branca Half-white Meio-morena Half dark-skinned Meio-preta Half-black Melada Honey-coloured Mestiça Half-caste/mestiza Miscigenação Miscegenation Mista Mixed Morena Dark-skinned, brunette Morena-bem-chegada Very nearly morena Morena-bronzeada Sunburnt morena Morena-canelada Somewhat cinnamon-coloured morena Morena-castanha Chestnut-coloured morena Morena-clara Light-skinned morena Morena-cor-de-canela Cinnamon-coloured morena Morena-jambo Light-skinned morena Morenada Somewhat morena Morena-escura Dark morena Morena-fechada Dark morena Morenão Dark-complexioned man Morena-parda Dark morena Morena-roxa Purplish morena Morena-ruiva Red-headed morena Morena-trigueira Swarthy, dusky morena Moreninha Petite morena Mulata Mulatto girl Mulatinha Little mulatto girl Negra Negress Negrota Young negress Pálida Pale Paraíba From Paraíba Parda Brown Parda-clara Light brown Parda-morena Brown morena Parda-preta Black-brown Polaca Polish woman Pouco-clara Not very light Pouco-morena Not very dark-complexioned Pretinha Black – either young, or small Puxa-para-branco Somewhat towards white Quase-negra Almost negro Queimada Sunburnt Queimada-de-praia Beach sunburnt Queimada-de-sol Sunburnt Regular Regular, normal Retinta Deep-dyed, very dark Rosa Rose-coloured (or the rose itself) Rosada Rosy Rosa-queimada Sunburnt-rosy Roxa Purple Ruiva Redhead Russo Russian Sapecada Singed Sarará Yellow-haired negro Saraúba (poss. dialect) Untranslatable Tostada Toasted Trigo Wheat Trigueira Brunette Turva Murky Verde Green Vermelha Red


Lilia Moritz Schwarcz, an anthropologist at the University of São Paulo, has a range of astonishing insights around this historic survey; her paper, Not black, not white: just the opposite. Culture, race and national identity in Brazilfrom which the table is reproduced, is a gem. (She also has a book that examines the early history of the subject: The Spectacle of the Races: Scientists, Institutions, and the Race Question in Brazil, 1870-1930).

Schwarcz’s work is filled with thoughtful, original analysis, and is characterised by an unusual fearlessness. (Unusual, that is, for a subject so complicated). Reading her is a revelation; it turns out there is a real place hiding under that avalanche of clichés. If you’ve ever wondered how crushing racism can flourish in a country where, apparently, race itself has been crushed, consider that everything Brazil is defined by – from its “we-are-all-mixed” anthem, to feijoada, capoeira and candomblé, right down to samba and soccer – is the result of an insidious, revisionist, far-sighted political manoeuvre of the 1930s, courtesy the combined skills of popular intellectual Gilberto Freyre and populist dictator Getúlio Vargas. The battered body of slave culture was abducted by national culture in order to renew white culture.

Among the many eye-popping results reported in the PNAD survey, the one I am most drawn to is burro quando foge. You’ll find it up there in the table at No. 34. Google inexplicably translates the phrase as “saddle”, which is awesome, since it means that Lusofonia still keeps some secrets beyond the reach of the behemoth. Burro quando foge is translated by Schwarcz, within the constraints of a column slot, as “the disappearing donkey” and explained as a humorous phrase that denotes a nondescript colour.

Which it is – and then some. The metaphor is unique to Brazil, and signifies a colour. That colour could be nondescript, ill-defined, elusive, or ugly – and, just to make things really clear, also fawn, beige, or a tricky shade of brown. The sentiment conveyed in the phrase is just as interesting. Used between friends, it could pass for a joke. Otherwise, it almost always denotes something unpleasant. It’s usually used an insult, although – oddly enough, given the colours and sentiments – it’s not specifically a racial insult.

Of all the one hundred and thirty six colours of race in Brazil, this is my favourite. It’s flippant and factual and fictional all at once, and as such, suits me perfectly. Race is not a term that has much currency in India, where I live. It is, however, a central feature of Johannesburg and São Paulo, the two cities I occasionally work in, and as much as I’m aware of how privileged I am not to be wholly subject to it, I feel curiously bereft of race in both places. Certainly, I grew up with colour: being a dark-skinned child in a uniformly light-skinned family meant that I had to regularly contend with well-meaning relatives who’d pinch my cheeks and chide me for “losing my colour” – as though my skin tone was something I had brought upon myself in a fit of absent-mindedness. To choose a race then: Indian might work for some people, but it is both my passport and my residence, and that’s quite enough. Brown is too generic, and black, a bit too unbelievable, all things considered. Given that I spent my childhood reading Gerald Durrell and dreaming of donkeys, adopting their colour seems right in so many ways.


And where does that leave our boy wonder?  We might start with the Estado Novo, Vargas’ authoritarian reign between 1937 and 1945. Only a few years earlier, Freyre had published the crowning achievement of his career, Casa-Grande e Senzala, (“The Big House and the Slave Quarters”, released in English as The Masters and the Slaves), and the book was catching fire. Freyre’s central theory was something he called Lusotropicalism. It told a soothing story of the past (by casting the Portuguese as a kinder, gentler breed of imperial slaver), offered a handy solution for the present (by turning the mixing of races into a virtue) and held out an appealing conclusion, namely, the idea that Brazil was a racial democracy.

Upon publication, Freyre’s work immediately attracted the ire of the Portuguese nation for suggesting her citizens were prone to miscegenation. At home, however, it became Vargas’ blueprint for the country he had seized – and his strategy for political survival. Three quarters of a century later, Freyre’s big think remains the enduring idea of Brazil, an idea whose appeal grows in leaps and bounds across the globe and, to be sure, often escapes the clutches of its creators to dazzling effect. Still, consider the irony: the country’s sense of itself as a racial democracy was smuggled in to its soul by an autocracy.

The term Estado Novo refers to a few different periods of dictatorship, and it literally translates as “new state”, which is prophetic, since the words also describe a peculiar duty that is incumbent upon at least half the Brazilian population. That duty, of course, is the business of branqueamento – of whitening – of transforming, quite literally, into a new physical state. (For all his pro-miscegenation advocacy, Schwarcz notes in The Spectacle of the Races, Freyre was as keen as his critics on keeping the structure of Brazil intact: as a hierarchy with whiteness on top). In that sense, Neymar is only the latest in a long line of celebrities and Brazilians of lesser value who get it. Who get the fine print on the contract; who understand that national identity rests on racial harmony, which, in turn, rests on a kind of potential access to opportunity. Not the opportunity to be equal, mind you, but the opportunity to be white. We may gawk at him all we like, but in straightening his hair, extending it out and dyeing it blonde, Neymar was fulfilling his patriotic destiny in exactly as much as confounding the Croats and leading his team to victory last week.


I’ll venture that the disappearing donkey colour fits Neymar to a T. After all, he is both undoubtedly and elusively brown. Yes, there is the matter of his blonde ambition. Oburro fugiu, we might well ask: has the donkey left the room? I’d really like to think not. For one thing, the boy’s only twenty two. He’s got a whole lifetime to change his mind – and his hair. For another, I’ve got a whole World Cup to watch. Have a heart. I spend hours every week learning Brazilian Portuguese, I’m devoted to the country, and I come from Bangalore, a city in which Pelé is god. I do not mean this metaphorically. In a neighbourhood called Gowthampura, around the corner from where I live, residents have erected a lovely shrine to four local icons – the Buddha, Dr. Ambedkar, Mother Teresa, and the striker from Santos.


So there you have it: my hands are tied. I’ve got my own patriotic destiny to fulfil, and it involves rooting for Brazil, which means I’m going to need to love Neymar a lot.

I can do it.

Anyway, donkeys are famously stubborn animals. They’re good at waiting.

The Future Scenario for White South Africa

Scenario planning is something of a cottage industry in South Africa and was particularly popular during the negotiations for democracy in the early 1990s. Careers were launched on the back of this industry, and speakers known for gazing into the crystal ball back then still pack halls with (white) middle class people worried about their future in the country today.

Scenario planning served as a kind of parallel process alongside the negotiations, especially in determining the direction of South Africa’s economic policy. While the former apartheid regime exposed ANC leaders to, for example, Derek Keys, a businessman who briefly turned politician during that period, scenario-planning exercises were used to influence the ANC’s thinking with dominant economic dogma.

These attempts to influence the ANC’s policy makers usually happened in opulent settings where the proffered ideas would be imbibed with a glass or two of wine. The most well known example is probably the Mont Fleur-scenarios, conjured up near Stellenbosch, a university town set among wine estates that has been a magnet for the well heeled.

Scenario planning is clearly not so much about “the future” but about the present. It functions as a strategy to normalize dominant assumptions, in that rather than the revelation of possible futures—albeit through a somewhat questionable, quasi-scientific method—participants are inducted into ways of thinking that only really benefit the status quo.

In scenario planning the results – the “scenarios” – depend on the choice of information fed in at the start, which is determined by the ideological position of the planner. The question is therefore not where Frans Cronje, in his book A Time Traveller’s Guide to Our Next Ten Years (Tafelberg, 2014), thinks South Africa will be in ten years’ time. The question is, rather, which ideological intervention Cronje regards as most urgent in the present and of which he would like to convince readers.

Apart from Cronje being the head of liberal think tank the South African Institute for Race Relations, another clue for readers appears early in the book when he describes the atmosphere in South Africa 20 years ago at the time of the negotiations for democracy:

Even if the country managed to avoid a civil war, many doubted whether the ANC, a socialist liberation movement long supported by the Soviet Union, could possibly govern South Africa. Board rooms and dinner parties were rife with fears that the new government would wreck the economy by expropriating land and nationalising key industries such as mining, thus destroying the middle classes. Fast forward to the present, and we know that the ANC has not ruined the economy, or turned South Africa into a third-world basket case.

This quote, with its inaccurate cliché about the “socialist ANC”, reveals the point of departure. He uses the words “we” and “our” freely, as in the title, but this is a very specific “we” and “our”. Who this “we” refers to becomes clearer when Cronje says: “contrary to popular opinion, significant progress has been made since 1994”. In the May 2014 elections, the ANC attracted some 11 million votes from people who probably mostly think that the country has made significant progress since 1994, so the “popular opinion” under discussion can’t be theirs. The first quote above shows “we” are the people in “board rooms and at dinner parties” – the “largely white middleclass”, as Cronje calls them later. Thus, the author combines the usual liberal emphasis on property rights as the only economic option with judgments associated with a certain form of whiteness. This is the ideological point of departure of this particular scenario planning.

The author then sketches a picture of a suburban existence of BBQ-ing next to the swimming pool amid the expansion of luxurious shopping centres and coffee shops over the past 20 years. Of course, the ANC government has already disproven apartheid rulers’ propaganda–that it would turn South Africa into “another African basket case”, as the oft-heard saying goes. Cronje also sounds surprised that middle-class life is still intact.

But still, the white middle class can’t sleep peacefully. It’s not their consciences keeping them up at night. The bugbear, Cronje unselfconsciously admits, is rather how the glorious middle class existence can continue undisturbed. Because the “real revolution” has only been averted temporarily. At this point appears the usual reference to the threat of the withdrawal of foreign investment to discipline any wayward reader who might be entertaining the daydream of social justice. There are greater economic powers at work, the author warns, that South Africans have to bow to.

Cronje, as the author of this “scenario”, believes that “the disadvantaged” harbor “growing expectations”. This is described as a “crisis”, a “curse” and a “cruel irony”. Obviously only the middle classes may hold expectations (of swimming and BBQ-ing, of course). In his view, having expectations is something that does not behoove those 25 million people living under the breadline in South Africa. His reasoning reminds one of the old colonial nightmare of the “restless natives”… if only they would accept their lot…

Given the ideological basis of Cronje’s planning exercise, Step One is obviously to ponder whether “the poor” will rise up, whether a “racist government” (apparently referring to a black government) will rule and whether wealthy people will be able to escape if things got out of hand. This elite-driven framing, with its implicit reference to “black racism”, draws on current white-right complaints of “reverse discrimination”. It is blind to the everyday interactions among people of different backgrounds that are not always race-based or about economic interests. Cronje-the-scenario-planner apparently does not wonder about ways to promote equality, or how to end poverty and discrimination or deepen democracy and human dignity.

He warns that change is “dead easy” because the “crisis of growing expectations” is happening in a context of constitutional rights and mechanisms. This confluence of factors makes a “second revolution” unavoidable. Presented in this way, post-apartheid South Africa’s commitment to comprehensive human rights is part of the problem.

The scenarios he then proceeds to paint revolve around the economy. Instead of democracy or democratic mechanisms, Cronje’s scenarios speak of mysterious “feedback mechanisms” that determine “freedom” in all likelihood of the economic kind. This conceptual wooliness strengthens the impression that the liberalism on offer here is specifically concerned with the maintenance of existing economic privilege. Building South Africa’s democracy, with its emphasis on human dignity, is less important.

* An earlier version of this review first appeared in Afrikaans in Rapport newspaper, South Africa. The image is from “Casting Shadows” by Edward West.

The Rules of South African Hip Hop in 2014

South African hip-hop has become too safe. Cutting edge rappers are being sidelined in favour of tried-and-tested mainstays – creating a cycle of regurgitated talent that receives preferential treatment by radio stations, booking agents, and sponsors. Doubtless, the artists in the spotlight have dedicated endless hours to their craft, and the fact that their work is paying off is something to be celebrated.

The problem is that there aren’t any rappers filling the vacuum which results when the mainstream and the underground* become distinct entities. In short, the exciting new shit coming out is still not getting heard by most people.

In South Africa, radio still makes the rules. Talent exists in bundles across different regions of the country, but no one has really stepped up to directly challenge the state of affairs, be it through different approaches to songwriting, or a different strategy to marketing their music.

Commercial radio is partly responsible for the mainstream’s generic song format and its silences when faced with issues affecting South Africa’s working class and unemployed citizens. Corporate culture, which has been gunning for South African hip-hop’s soul over the past five years, has also got a guilty hand in the lack of engagement with real issues. Sponsors have their own agendas, and these agendas oftentimes don’t align with sentiments which may be deemed anti-anything.

I’m not implying that hip-hop’s sole purpose is to raise awareness, or that blue collar workers don’t love or support mainstream South African hip-hop. Neither am I suggesting that mainstream rappers are incapable of composing socially conscious music.

Rap music in the South Africa has surrendered wholly to the embrace of commercial radio song structures, resulting in mostly unimaginative, cookie-cutter songs achieving the most airplay.

In the same breath, the scene is the healthiest it’s ever been. Some rappers are making a living off of their craft, while general interest from the public continues to gain momentum. People who were celebrating when Skwatta Kamp won a SAMA Award under the Best Hip-Hop Album category ten years ago have made the transition into adulthood, and with that passage comes a grander appreciation for the music they grew up listening to. Rap shows have transcended their former status as an exclusively male dominion, while the culture and its accompanying elements – grafitti, deejaying and breakdancing – are afforded greater airtime during peak hours on South African radio and television stations.

Hip-hop landed in the Cape Flats in the early 80s, reared its head during the dying years of apartheid, went through multiple identity crises and then finally settled, albeit shakily, where it is today – as the love child of kwaito music and whatever the flavour of the moment is in the pop world. Over the next few weeks we’ll be bringing you an serialised exposé on the state of Mzansi hip hop in 2014.


We asked the African Hip-Hop Blog to compile a soundcloud playlist of ten top South African rap songs during the first part of 2014. Dig in and have a jam!

*Underground, in this context, shall be used to refer to any musical outfit with no songs on regular radio rotation.

**An earlier version of this article appeared on Mahala