Africa is a Country

Africa is a Country has published its

Africa is a Country has published its first ebook, “Apartheid Israel: The Politics of an Analogy.” The ebook was edited by Jon Soske and Sean Jacobs. The contributors to the ebook are Achille Mbembe, Salim Vally, Andy Clarno, Arianna Lissoni, T.J. Tallie, Bill Freund, Marissa Moorman, Shireen Hassim, Robin D.G. Kelley, Heidi Grunebaum, and Melissa Levin. You can read the ebook here. Design and layout by Sam Clemence) This is the introduction:

We invited eleven scholars of Africa and its diaspora to reflect on the analogy between apartheid South Africa and contemporary Israel. The American Studies Association’s decision in February 2014 to endorse the academic boycott of Israel, followed by the state violence directed against the inhabitants of Gaza this past July, has intensified the debate over Israel/Palestine in universities across North America. The international, nonviolent campaign for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel is gaining momentum by the day.

Most of the contributions to this forum underline the obvious similarities between apartheid South Africa and Israeli policies toward the Palestinians. As Robin D.G. Kelley writes: “That Israel and its colonial occupation meet the UN’s definition of an apartheid state is beyond dispute.” Both apartheid South Africa and the Israeli state originated through a process of conquest and settlement largely justified on the grounds of religion and ethnic nationalism. Both pursued a legalized, large-scale program of displacing the earlier inhabitants from their land. Both instituted a variety of discriminatory laws based on racial or ethnic grounds. Outside of a tiny group of pro-Zionist organizations, the analogy is so widely accepted in South Africa that it draws little controversy. Indeed, leading members of the anti-apartheid struggle, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Jewish struggle veterans like Ronnie Kasrils, have repeatedly stated that the conditions in the West Bank and Gaza are “worse than apartheid.”

At the same time, no historical analogy is ever exact. Comparisons necessarily reveal differences even as they underline similarities. Defenders of Israel’s record sometimes use this fact to chip away at the allegation of apartheid by underlining, for example, the civil rights enjoyed by Palestinian citizens of Israel. (Although many observers argue that these rights have always been limited and are being eroded at an alarming pace.) Such differences are important and unarguable. But generally, this mode of debate strives to deflect attention away from the illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the ongoing construction of settlements on Palestinian land, the indiscriminate bombing and shelling directed at Palestinian civilians, and the mass detention and torture of Palestinian activists. Far from exonerating the policies and practices of the Israeli state, the divergences between the two cases—as Melissa Levin so powerfully shows—more often than not speak to the incredible desperation of the Palestinian situation.

As these essays demonstrate, the work of comparison requires an attentiveness to the ethical and political singularity of each space even as it attempts to generate dialogues across multiple histories of oppression and struggle. Rather than “adding up” similarities and differences, the authors explore various aspects of the apartheid/Israel analogy, ranging from the parallels between post-apartheid neoliberalism and the post-Oslo occupied territories to the role of Israel in southern Africa more broadly. As Salim Vally emphasizes, there are a number of lessons that today’s activists can draw from the global anti-apartheid movement regarding the importance of patience, the practical work of building international solidarity, and the dangers of sectarianism. Yet as other contributors argue, most notably Bill Freund in a rather sober commentary, it is far from clear that the South African transition—itself imperfect and highly contested—can provide clear guidance for a peaceful resolution in Israel/Palestine beyond generalities. In pursuing the comparison, there may be as much to learn from the questions of liberation that the South African struggle failed to answer fully.

These essays should help refute, once and for all, the assertion that the apartheid/Israel comparison is “anti-Semitic” because it seeks to “de-legitimize” the state of Israel. If anything, this analogy reflects the principled rejection of anti-Semitism by the vast majority of pro-Palestinian activists. At the ideological heart of apartheid was the program of building an (ultimately impossible) “white South Africa” based on an ethno-nationalist appeal to self-determination. Apartheid’s forced removals, the creation of the Bantustans, and the stripping of Africans’ citizenship rights were all directed to this end. It is therefore telling that so many defenders of Israel’s practices assert the right to a “Jewish state” at the expense of Palestinian claims for justice. Whatever its considerable limitations, the defeat of apartheid represented the historic triumph of an inclusive vision of South Africa over a racially exclusive conception of nation. By drawing a parallel to the South Africa freedom struggle, the analogy targets Israel’s colonial practices, not any one group or people.

We have published this forum to coincide with the African Studies Association meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana. In South Africa, many of our colleagues have been at the forefront of mobilizing civil society against Israeli apartheid. Until recently, however, North American Africanists have largely been absent from a public debate that hinges, in part, on the historical significance of colonialism, apartheid, and the southern African liberation struggles. The African Literature Association’s endorsement of the BDS Movement was a major turning point in this regard. Among some of our colleagues, this reticence reflects a sincere unease over the way that discussions about Israel/Palestine often mobilize South African history in a highly instrumentalist and reductive fashion. We hope that these essays show that one can think comparatively while remaining attentive to the complexity of (still ongoing) South African struggles.

Other colleagues have invoked an area studies vocabulary to argue that we have enough to worry about in “our own” backyard. South Africa has long boasted an oversized position in African studies. With everything that the continent faces, why return to debates about apartheid once again?  When protestors in Ferguson faced militarized police agencies that had received training from Israeli security forces, they were quick to draw the connection between state racism in the United States and Israel. Moreover, the firing of academic Steven Salaita from the University of Illinois illuminated the way that the orchestrated campaign of intimidation against pro-Palestinian academics has become linked to a broader erosion of shared university governance and academic freedom. As scholars based in North America, it is only possible to see Israel/Palestine as “outside our field of expertise” if we divorce the concerns of African studies from the forms of militarism, racism, and censorship that operate in our own society.

The global anti-apartheid movement was one of the largest international civil society mobilizations of the late 20th century. For all of its mistakes and internal divisions, it succeeded because it managed to connect diverse, localized struggles to a campaign against international support for the South African regime. The BDS movement is today developing a similar dynamic. We hope that this forum will encourage collaborations with colleagues in Middle East Studies (and other fields), the organization of conferences and special journal issues, and the difficult work of teaching about contemporary forms of apartheid in our courses. The editors believe that the African Studies Association should move toward endorsing the academic boycott of Israeli universities. We offer these essays as a launching point and invite our colleagues to join us in this discussion.

You can read the ebook here.

What’s Driving the Violence Against Latin American Environmentalists?

It was three days before Christmas in 1988. Much of the world—following a blisteringly hot summer—had really begun to worry about rising global temperatures. That night, Chico Mendes stepped outside of his cottage in Xapuri, Brazil only to drop dead moments later.

Mendes, a unionist rubber tapper and environmentalist, was gunned down by a cattle rancher, presumably because Mendes posed a threat to the expansion of cow pastures in the West Amazon and, more broadly, the domination of landowners against the landless, often indigenous poor.

25 years later, and right across the border from where Mendes’ body once lay cold, four pro-poor, indigenous environmentalists have been assassinated. These activists happened to be from Peru, which is currently readying itself for hosting another UN climate summit this December in Lima.

The four individuals killed in Peru hailed from the indigenous Asháninka tribe, which had, under the leadership of Edwin Chota, been preparing to bring a case against illegal loggers to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. According to sources on the ground, it was these very loggers who made sure that Chota would never be able to do that. And rightly so—just a few years prior the Asháninka were successful at blocking a bilateral energy agreement between Peru and Brazil that would install several dams in the Ene river valley and inevitably displace thousands of Asháninka in the process.

Neither Mendes’ nor Chota’s deaths are isolated incidents, but instead represent a growing trend of the forced disappearance and/or killing of environmental activists—many of whom are from indigenous groups—throughout Latin America. Global Witness reports that, from 2002 to 2013, 908 known people from 35 countries have been killed because of their work on environmental or land-related issues, with two-thirds of the documented killings taking place in Latin America. In Peru, 57 environmentalists are known to have been killed since 2002, and over 60 percent of the murders have taken place within the last four years. Of these killings, only ten perpetrators have been tried and convicted for murder.

Approximately 300,000 indigenous people call Peru their home, but only 28 percent hold a formal title to the land they inhabit. This, coupled with a government which has yet to respond to indigenous claims to 50 million acres of land, makes indigenous people in Peru—regardless of their preference to preserve or exploit the resources they consider to be theirs—particularly vulnerable to the wills of the more powerful.

Protecting the environment for its own sake has never been an easy sell, especially when the advocating is done by those who lack the necessary social and physical capital to influence governmental decision makers. It’s an even harder sell when big agribusiness, mining and other extractive firms have set their sights on Latin American countries whose leaders continue to clamor for economic growth and increased foreign investment.

Like a number of Latin American countries in the 1990s, Peru made constitutional changes to open itself up to the global market, entering free trade agreements with numerous countries around the world, passing laws that gave foreign investors the same rights as Peruvian investors, and more recently making agribusiness in the Andean region tax free to encourage development at high altitudes. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that since 2000 the equivalent of 50 soccer pitches of the Amazon rainforest have been lost every minute, with the global illegal logging industry (in Peru, it’s “illegal” to log in protected natural areas) raking in a cool $30 billion USD every year.

These are the same forests on which 60 million indigenous people wholly depend to survive; these are the same people whose sovereignty Chico Mendes—and now, Edwin Chota—died trying to defend.

Unfortunately, defenses like those of Mendes and Chota seldom bear any significant fruit, as sovereignty is something we tend to recognize only when we consider another person, or group of people, to be our equal.

Appearing to exist outside of a temporal understanding of what society “looks like”, indigenous people have long captured the interest of the “civilized”, from Hernán Cortés’ conquest of La Malinche, to Disney’s pixelated princess Pocahontas, to Paul Gauguin’s sensual depiction of Tahitian women. Their perceived foreignness renders them objects of intense fascination: how is it possible that, in a world filled to the brim with consumer goods and services, they have managed to exist outside of it and forge their own alternative? Are they aware of something we aren’t, something bigger that transcends our consumption-obsessed frame of vision; or have they just not yet seen the modern, market light? Shall we reify them, or teach them?

The answer is, of course, “neither”. And yet, dichotomies like these persist and continue to shape present-day relationships with and treatment of these groups. For centuries, indigenous people around the world have altered and exploited their environments, sometimes sustainably, sometimes not. Nevertheless, people in positions of power have historically failed to recognize this, mistaking indigeneity for either primitive purity or—like a child—a lack of “development”.

For every extractive firm that tramples on indigenous land claims and autonomy, there’s another “pro-indigenous” NGO whose protectionism can be better defined as paternalism, with both the “exploiters” and “protectors” robbing indigenous people of their humanity—that is, their ability to make decisions for themselves and by themselves, good or bad—all the while.

Arguably more obsessed with a pristine, Walt Whitman-esque wilderness fantasy than they are the reality of a manmade nature, conservation groups like the World Wildlife Fund and Conservation International have been known to push the “problem” of the indigenous out of protected areas. Their thinking is presumably that, as children, indigenous people do not know how to manage or protect the environment and thus must be removed from it should the environment itself stay intact.

Indigenous people are not blind to those sentiments, either. At a meeting of the International Forum on Indigenous Mapping in 2004, the 200 delegates present signed a declaration which said that the “activities of conservation organizations now represent the single biggest threat to the integrity of indigenous lands”.

Meanwhile, land clearance and violence against pro-environment and indigenous groups—coupled with a stony silence on behalf of the state—continue in the name of bigger, more profitable goals that are only as “green” as the dollar bills on which they are printed. That’s why, the day after the Rio Earth Summit ended in 1992, environmental activists who had been campaigning to protect Rio’s fishing communities from the expansion of oil operations were abducted, only to be found dead four days later. That’s why in 2011, months after kicking out corrupt police, blocking roads that lead to illegally logged oak timber and establishing an autonomous, indigenous-governed community, Cherán, Michaocán, native Domingo Chávez Juárez’s body was found burned and decomposing on the foothills of a nearby volcano in Mexico. That’s why, mere weeks before an international climate summit is to be held in Lima, Peru, Edwin Chota is dead.

So much, and so little, has changed since Chico Mendes’ death in 1988. Global concern has shifted from the greenhouse effect to climate change writ large. Traces of Mendes-led “empates”—or human barricades to prevent bulldozers from tearing into trees—have since gone global, and are not dissimilar to events seen during September’s massive Climate March. Indigenous knowledge is becoming both valued and valorized by international organizations and investors. And, as the science behind understanding a climate-changed future becomes more sophisticated, we have begun looking more frequently to experts of the indigenous kind for lessons they have learned in the past.

Following the murder of Chico Mendes, his adviser and agronomist Gomercindo Rodriquez said: “Those who killed Chico got it wrong. They thought by killing him, the tappers’ movement would be demobilized, but they made him immortal”. The same can be said for Edwin Chota, for Chávez Juárez, and the hundreds of others whose belief in a socially just use of the environment has resulted in their death.

The Lima Climate Change Conference begins on December 1st. Let’s see what lives on there.

The Invisible Sounds: the Struggle of Afro-Colombian Music

Every September, the Colombian region of Chocó, located along the country’s Pacific coast, turns into an overwhelming party. The streets in the capital city of Quibdó are full of parades. Music takes over to celebrate the festivities of San Pacho. This festival, that reflects the history of cultural and religious colonization in Chocó, became a symbol of the region’s musical traditions.

The Invisible Sounds [Los Sonidos invisibles] is a documentary by anthropologists Ana María Arango and Gregor Vanerian that focuses in the San Pacho festival as an epicenter of music culture in Colombia. Both filmmakers present a variety of protagonists that allow us to understand the complex cultural history of Chocó and how difficult it has been for its people to fight for recognition.

In the documentary, Octavio Panesso, a musician, composer and activist who works to preserve the culture of Chocó, talks about a congregation of Catholic priests known as the Clarentian Missionaries. They created cultural spaces in this region that has been completely abandoned by the Colombian State. These were spaces where traditional music was signaled as “primitive” or “the devil’s work”.

This colonial legacy got re-appropriated and this music is music of resistance as well. The filmmakers portrayed women singing about redemption, the end of slavery, or their fear of dying in the mines. It is also music to remember the past and vindicate dancing traditions in the present.

Chocó is usually only talked about as a region with high levels of unemployment, violence and poverty. It is also where a large population of Afro-Colombian lives. Many arrived there escaping slavery during the Spanish colonial period, and many others arrived after abolition. This documentary shows, in a subtle way, their long history of resistance and their new struggles fighting the logics of the market and hegemonic cultural models today.

How not to write about Africa: Use “African Spring”

On October 30, as thousands of determined Burkinabe put an end to the 27 year rule of their Western-backed autocratic leader, Blaise Compaoré, journalist Hewete Selassie asked a question (in a tweet) that pops up whenever mass protests break out somewhere in Africa: “So is #BurkinaFaso the beginning of the African #Arabspring?”

It is one thing to wonder about the possibility of the Burkinabe revolution setting off domino-effect ripples in the region similar to the 2011 uprisings. After all, few periods in modern history have seen so much turbulence affecting so many millions of people as the early months of 2011. The “Arab Spring” has become our reference point for revolutions in this digital age. Yet, a far longer and rich history of African civil struggle is often missing in contextualizing today’s protest movements on the continent.

Tunisian fruit vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, who set himself on fire in December 2010, sparking the widespread Arab revolt, follows a long line of men and women whose self-sacrifices inspired others in action, forcing social change. For example, Mary Muthoni Nyanjiru was killed in 1922 after stripping naked and fearlessly walking into police bayonettes during a peaceful protest in Nairobi against the arrest of an activist who had campaigned against sexual exploitation of women and girls in colonial plantations in Kenya. Saal Bouzid’s determination to fly the flag of independent Algeria during a peaceful protest against French colonial rule made him one of the first victims of the 08 May 1945 Setif massacre. There’s Hector Pieterson, one of the first victims of the Soweto student uprising of 1976. The list goes on. Lest we forget, there were also extraordinarily effective acts of mass civil disobedience, such as the market women’s protests against British colonial tax in Nigeria in 1929 and 1946, the defiance campaign against Apartheid’s unfair laws in 1952 in South Africa and the 1947 railway strikes in Senegal.

Historian W.J. Berridge wrote in a column last month that, “many Sudanese intellectuals watched on with wry amusement as, in 2011, the global media announced that the popular uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya were the first civilian movements to overthrow military autocracies in the Arab world.” In fact, the temerity of the Sudanese deserves special recognition for their success in twice overthrowing military dictatorships within two decades—first in October 1964 and then in April 1985. It is worth imagining the amplified effect of the internet and social media on such popular protests from the past: would Sudan’s revolts have stirred a haboob (the name of a fierce sandstorm common in central Sudan) in neighboring countries in the region? We’ll never know, but Berridge’s book “Civil Uprisings in Modern Sudan: The ‘Khartoum Springs’ of 1964 and 1985” is an attempt to reconsider this overlooked past with the present.

Between the two Sudanese uprisings was the 1974 popular uprising that ended the reign of Ethiopia’s last Emperor, Haile Selassie. A hike in the price of fuel resulting from the Arab-Israeli conflict in January 1974 compounded simmering social problems and injustices of a decaying feudal system in the throes of modernization. A perfect political storm of protests by taxi drivers, teachers, students, trade unions, and soldiers ended in the military coup that deposed the imperial regime in September 1974. This pattern of political protest growing out of socio-economic grievances is the common thread of almost all the other popular revolutions in the last four decades in Africa. For example, during Sudan’s 1985 revolution, many of the protesters chanted slogans against the International Monetary Fund over its imposition of the removal of a bread subsidy. Austerity measures imposed by the IMF in response to the African debt crisis that began in the 1970s and deepened in the 1980s sparked much popular discontentment.

In Sub-Saharan Africa in particular, the “food riots” effectively pressured rulers from Kenya to Senegal and Benin to Zambia to end one-party regimes in favor of multiparty democracy in the early 1990s. The African rulers that refused to accept the new democratic arrangement, such as Mali’s military dictator Moussa Traoré, were rare and doomed – a popular revolution swept Traoré from power in 1991. In his book “African Struggles Today,” Peter Dwyer writes that “Africa exploded in a convulsion of pro-democracy revolts that saw eighty-six major protest movements across thirty countries in 1991 alone.” From 1990 to 1994, some “35 regimes were swept away” by protest movements and strikes.  Many held elections for the first time in a generation,” Dwyer added.  The impact, domino effect and geographical spread of these democratic revolutions arguably dwarf the “Arab Spring.” 

More recently, between 2007 and 2010, renewed “food riots” for bread and freedom swept again across Africa (and the world), from Burkina Faso to Cameroon, and from Senegal to Mozambique. This time, they were largely brutally suppressed, but the unmet popular demands behind them contributed to popular discontent that led to the military overthrow of leaders in Madagascar in 2009 and Niger in 2010.

Every time mass protests break out somewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa, the international media is quick to use the term “African Spring,” however this catchphrase not only carries a near-sighted historical perspective of African protest movements but is also unfit for the context.  According to Foreign Policy Associate Editor Joshua Keating, “the term ‘Arab Spring’ was originally used, primarily by U.S. conservative commentators, to refer to a short-lived flowering of Middle Eastern democracy movements in 2005.” It resurfaced in January 2011 in the title of an FP article by Marc Lynch before wide adoption by the Western media (and rejection by the Arab press). Going back further into history, the figurative spring as a movement of political renewal flows from the “Spring of Nations,” a wave of anti-feudal movements that began to shake Europe in February 1848.

When you consider that spring is rather an alien notion to millions of Africans living between the tropics, using a spring metaphor to describe their efforts at political renewal is inadequate. The notion of a renewal event or period, however, is universal and coded in all cultures and languages, and is often tied in the African context to the onset of seasonal rains or winds. This is why many writers in the francophone African press have, for example, attributed the sweeping change in Burkina Faso to harmattan, a hot, dry and dusty wind blowing over West Africa. Perhaps incorporating the local perspectives and culture can produce better informed headlines and analysis and prevent coloring complex events with facile catchphrases.

Music Revue, No.4: Constant Messiah

Earlier this year I attended a museum opening in which the curator admitted to being completely unaware of the existence of Burkina Faso until shortly after the artist being presented, the late Christoph Schlingensief, had relocated there. It was an innocuous enough confession — coming well before the leadership upheavals of the past two weeks — but one that made me aware of my own shortcomings re: the landlocked West African nation. I’d certainly been aware of Burkinabes for quite some time, but if asked I might not have been able to picture exactly where they were on a map without being reminded that they’d lived in a French colony called Upper Volta until 1984 (read: years after my last high school geography class). I suspect the curator, a cosmopolitan German about my age, probably had a similar excuse.

Singer Kaneng Lolang is a cosmopolitan currently living in Ouagadougou. She’s spent time in Siberia and Brooklyn, but her roots are in Nigeria, Lagos, specifically. In interviews she’s suggested that Lagos may have lost its ability to musically hypnotize her, and it’s clear that the video for “Constant Messiah” —shot earlier this year in and around Bobo Dioulassa in southwest Burkina Faso —is an attempt to retain some of the trance-like mysteries her music embraces. As a result, the minimalist bass loop seems both tribal and inviting; the violin pierces, creaks and crackles, an eerie echo to the video’s distorted images. What does it all mean? Don’t expect Lolang’s lyrics to put a fine point on it. She’s clearly opting for blurred lines.

Digital Archive No. 4 – Africa Cartoons

One of the first thing I do on Friday morning is log on to the Mail & Guardian website to see the latest from Zapiro.  Jonathan Shapiro, better known as Zapiro, is a Capetonian political and social cartoonist whose work not chronicles current events in South Africa, but also provides visual critiques of political leaders, public events, and social ills.  Take, for example, Zapiro’s latest contribution: a satirical representation of the return of eighty South Africans who died in Lagos during a church collapse over two months ago.


Not only does this cartoon represent a snapshot of the moment at which the bodies were finally returned to South Africa after a long two month delay, but this cartoon also allowed Zapiro to express his opinions about TB Joshua (the televangelist who owned the church which collapsed) and his laughable credibility.  His work makes it clear that cartoons are not only meant to be humorous (which they absolutely are) but that cartoons hold the potential to serve as powerful historical sources that are as worthy of digitization as any “traditional” historical sources.

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That’s where this week’s featured project, Africa Cartoons, comes in.  Africa Cartoons is, in the words of Tejumola Olaniyan, meant to be “an educational encyclopedia of African political cartooning and cartoonists.”  The site features the work of over 180 cartoonists from throughout the African continent.  Though not every country is represented, it is an amazing collection that pulls together a wide range of artists, making their work more public and easily accessible.  The site functions through a main interactive map, through which the user selects a country and then is taken to a page containing samples of some cartoonists from that nation.  The individual pages of the cartoonists, which can also be directly accessed through the Cartoonists page, also contains some brief biographical data about the artist and relevant links.  The site also includes a useful Resources page which links to more general cartooning sites, a number of pages directly related to African cartoons, and links to newspapers from throughout the continent.

Though there is more work to be done, which Dr. Olaniyan admits on the About page, this is a phenomenal collection of comics that not only brings attention to these talented artists, but also provides a way for researchers and other interested parties to explore new pathways for research through comic art.  I know that just from exploring this site, I’ve added some new artists to my weekly comic roundup that previously only included Zapiro.


The Right to Grow Old: Photos of the Central American Migrant Crisis

Central American migration, and especially the migration of undocumented children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to the United States, blew up in the American media during the summer. It was a time when many U.S. citizens felt that their government was deporting too many of these children back to the mostly violent and poverty-stricken conditions they were trying to escape (and many others felt that not enough were being deported).

Tonight, as President Barack Obama announced a series of measurements that are intended to facilitate the path to legalization for millions of immigrants, but that will also strengthen borders policing, U.S. news outlets might pick up on this human crisis again. Maybe most of them will not discuss the reasons why so many people from Central America decide to leave their homes and embark on a dangerous journey to an unknown land. Maybe only a few will mention the role of the United States in creating violence in Central America. We’ll see.

But for now, thanks to Honduran photographer Tomás Ayuso, we can see what it is like to actually live through this voyage. Ayuso is an independent journalist and field investigator for Noria, who focuses on immigration, the drug war and US-Latin American relations. For his photo essay The Right to Grow Old: The Honduran Migrant Crisis, Ayuso himself traveled from Honduras to the United States, documenting violence in the Central American nation, the world of “death trains” and shelters for migrants throughout Mexico, and the problems of crossing the border, as well as exploring the reasons and problems behind deciding to enter the United States.

Below is a selection of Ayuso’s pictures (with his original captions).



The southernmost points of the train network start in Tenocique, Tabasco and Arriaga, Chiapas. The freight trains used by migrants, popularly known as La Bestia (the beast) and El Tren de la Muerte (the death train), are found throughout Mexico.


“On the highways, I’ve been robbed. They’ve taken my phone, my money, my shoes and my shirts too. But thank God. Like I tell God, thank you father. As long as I have life… While there is life and hope, that’s what matters.” Rolando jumps between cars, demonstrating his ability to outrun anyone who chases him.


A man pitches a hammock on the Bestia in Arriaga to make sure he won’t miss his ride. Since the crackdown began, trains have been used for migration much less. The migrant route has been pushed into the dangerous mountains and forests outside major cities along the migrant route.

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In addition to the different law enforcement agencies patrolling the US-MEX border, local and national border defense militias are popping up along the river. One such militia, Free Nebraska, joined the fray after the migratory crisis began receiving daily coverage by the national media.


Isaac looks towards Mexico at one of the many blind crossings into the US through the Rio Grande. “This section right here is pretty deep and pretty wide. They get in boats, inflatable rafts. Really anything. They’ll tie anything together they can get together that floats.”


Migrants fill out forms with basic information prior to release. The numbers from the CAMR have around 32,000 deportations by air in 2014 so far. Numbers of deportees by land from Mexico and Guatemala are unavailable due to poor record keeping, however the CAMR estimates an additional 30,000 have been deported via bus.


The number on Juan’s shirt was his ID while detained in Port Isabel, TX. “The guards were racist and harassed us. One taunted me that as long as my countrymen crossed the border they’d have jobs. Another guard would always tell us our countries were shit and that we were all criminals. In those bunkers they treated us like dogs.”


A mural painted by a passing guest at the only migrant shelter in Honduras. Located in Ocotepeque, it straddles the triple border with Guatemala and El Salvador. Unlike other shelters, this one caters mostly to people who abandon the migrant route and turn back to their communities in Honduras.


Sister Lidia, of the Scalibrinian order, is one of the lead coordinators for the country’s returned migrant program. Sister Lidia, a Brazilian, is one of the most tireless human rights defenders in Honduras, fighting for the right to migrate and, what she calls the right to not have to migrate.


A group of migrants who had limbs amputated because of injuries by the Bestia, listen to testimonies during the first meeting of the congress of injured migrants. Participants from all corners of Honduras joined the weekend retreat high in the mountains surrounding Tegucigalpa. The congress held workshops and provided clinics to help migrants cope with their injuries, learn to value their place in society, and build a community among themselves.


For the whole series, go to Tomás’s website.

#SAHipHop2014: @Okmalumkoolkat has a new album

In 2010, I acquired an illegal copy of The Clonious’ Between the dots LP after hearing him play a set on Mary-Anne Hobbs’ Generation Bass programme which used to be hosted on BBC Radio 1. I instantly fell in love with his production style, a gently-grinding jazz crusade characterised by lush-sounding synth pads and a general preference for warm and all-encompassing instrumentation. During that period, I also discovered that the UK’s LV had collaborated with Okmalumkoolkat, an emcee originally from Durban whom I’d discovered a year earlier via his own blog.

Both artists have become better masters of their techniques ever since.

While most of Between the dots was space jazz-leaning, The Clonious’ production technique has expanded to include elements of Chicago footwork which, combined with Okmalumkoolkat’s Umlazi-dipped universal swank, suggest multiple pathways for which South African electronic music in general can head. Cid Rim, The Clonious’ partner in Affine records and forthright producer on his own right, shares behind-the-board duties.

Okmalumkoolkat’s rap lexicon has grown in leaps and bounds; he’s become better at injecting ancient mythology, futurism, and current pop trends into his lyrics. He shouts out Credo Mutwa and envisions phone calls by AllBlackKats to gods who came as humanoids.

If you pay enough attention, Okmalumkoolkat steadily reveals layers of himself to you. He’s not one thing, that’s for sure: “I’m eating sushi/ owusu/ no-phutu/ my hat is from Lesotho/ my bloodline is Zulu/ starsign is leopard, my spirit is kudu” he raps in “Ijusi”.

Another way to view the music is as live portraiture. Okmalukoolkat has a natural inclination to throw ideas which, at first glance, seem disconnected from each other. However, with every stroke, key details are revealed, and a fully-fledged picture is eventually formed.

Holy Oxygen’s strongest point is that the lyrics and the music merge beautifully; that nothing sounds coerced. It’s festival music, club music, sure; but it’s also get-busy-while-cooking-in-the-kitchen music; it’s what you play when navigating the mania of the innercity; and it’s what your mind can consume to get transported into distant worlds and multiple galaxies.

The way in which we consume music is changing, and it’s time to perhaps think about not only how it’s made, but also how it gets written about. My relationship with both artists begun on-line; it wasn’t facilitated by the radio; I didn’t go to a show. I experienced a telepathic connection to the sound via mp3 – that’s a new phenomenon, a new layer of relating to sound. In Holy Oxygen, Okmalumkoolkat introduces a batch of similarly new layers. Some are works in progress; some are mind-boggling. Their combination translates into a definitive body of work which is reflective of the times, and of the city in which he lives – Johannesburg.

Okmalumkoolkat is also a universal being. You can’t quite pin him down. At one point, he’s strolling up and down the hilly expanse of Umlazi hunting for the next gqom party; next, he’s in Nairobi talking digital art; or he could be either recording or on tour somewhere in Europe, and spitting venom to festival audiences which, in no time, shall grow and expand.

Towards the end of last year, Okmalumkoolkat tweeted that 2014 was his. After hearing this, one of his many victories this year, there is no second-guessing that statement.

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

Music Video Premiere: DJ Mellow and Steloo’s “Séké”

Africa is a Country is pleased to premiere the music video for “Séké” by DJ Mellow and Steloo:

The song, whose title means “crazy” in Ga, is part of Brussels-based DJ Mellow’s A Slice of Bass EP. The collaboration between him and Accra’s Steloo came about via Max Le Daron, who I mentioned Monday was one of the participants in Akwaaba Music’s Roots of Azonto project. As Max describes, the track came about:

When I was in Ghana for the Roots of Azonto I met Steloo, who was willing to MC on my tunes. We did a few try outs then I put one draft of DJ Mellow’s tune in the studio and Steloo insisted to record on it. It clicked and Mellow finished the tune in Brussels, using samples from the Roots Of Azonto Soundbank… Et voilà!

And thus we have another great example of Azonto’s persistent impact on international dance music. However, the catchy beat, and striking production don’t really remind me of Azonto per se. To me, the beat harkens back to around 2008, the hey day of U.K. Funky, a sound that I believe was integral to the formation of Azonto, and the current wave of Afropop all over West Africa. I hear it blending perfectly with the early sounds of producers like Roska, Crazy Cousins, or Donaeo, themselves influenced by the West African and Caribbean rhythms of their parents’ homelands. Take into consideration contemporary U.K. Funky oriented and Ghana inspired producers such as The Busy Twist, and it seems like feedback loop just keeps getting louder.

The video was shot in Accra by Ghanaian photography artist Amfo Connolly, then edited in Brussels by Pierrot Delor from La Lune Urbaine collective.

Using blackface to make a point

The filmmaker Sunny Bergman’s documentary ‘Our Colonial Hangover’ will premiere in Amsterdam at the annual international documentary IDFA festival on November 27th.  The film reflects Bergman’s personal search into national blackface character Zwarte Piet (Black Pete), Dutch colonial history and white privilege. Bergman herself has been active in campaigning against blackface.

A teaser from the film posted by a Dutch broadcaster (watch here) went live last week and by this afternoon had close to half a million views on Youtube. It has contributed to the buzz for the film’s premiere. The clip shows us Bergman, who is white, dressed up in blackface in a public park in London to see what people’s responses are. Generally the trailer has been well received and it is has been widely shared on social media (not least because Russell Brand makes an appearance). Even Africa is a Country tweeted it.

Some activists have, however, questioned Bergman’s strategy.

Dutch activist and writer Simone Zeefuik, for example, cautions why we should be aware of the framing deployed when it comes to films on race and the larger Dutch media context:

Dutch media is where framing goes to die. This week, it was announced that the movie Dear White People will hit Dutch cinemas. Dutch news site bored us with the headline “Controversial racism satire in Dutch cinemas” but makes no mention of Bergman’s documentary. And what’s more satirical than calling colonialism a ‘hangover’ and implying that, from what I heard about being drunk, we are now entering an era of recovery. The digital version of Dutch newspaper NRC does mention Our Colonial Hangover and calls it “a documentary.” It mentions how Russell Brand reacts when he sees Bergman in blackface and, for reasons only clear to an editorial team that couldn’t be less productive if they were on strike, morphs his “We are scared of your tradition”-quote into “Your tradition surprises us.” In the newspapers and on their sites Bergman’s work, if mentioned at all, isn’t sullied by critical notes or sounds of disapproval masked as ‘casual adjectives’. She, contrary to non-white critics, gets the benefit of the doubt. And with ‘doubt’ I absolutely mean Whiteness.

Dressing up in blackface to tackle racism is a purposely chosen ‘tactic’. But why and on whose behalf is Bergman (supposedly) tackling racism by dressing up in blackface? The assumption here is that dressing up in blackface for a ‘cause’ or as a ‘critique’ makes it fine. Perpetuating the very racist structures that underlie Black Pete are not as important as ‘proving’ that Black Pete is racist. In the name of ‘critique’ people are unwillingly exposed to blackface just to ‘prove’ how racist blackface is. Here’s activist Ramona Sno:

This woman says she is fighting anti-black racism in blackface? I felt terrible for the black people that had to see this in London, they were confronted with racism because of her.

Such an approach is not only very unsettling it also reflects how messy (supposed) anti-racism politics are in the Netherlands. Anti-racist politics become messier the minute when it comes to the Black Pete debate and it becomes easy to forget that people speaking out today were not the first to do so. People have been protesting for a very long time against Black Pete and racism in the Netherlands (more on this topic soon), however, their histories have been carefully erased. We should therefore continue to question who is allowed to speak on these subjects and who is being heard. Even more so, we should question on whose behalf people speak and what it implicates within anti-racist work.

As many black consciousness thinkers have argued, the idea that people are helping ‘us’, or doing ‘us’ a favor and that ‘we’ should be grateful is a very problematic one. Steve Biko has described the helping white liberal (in the South African apartheid context) as someone who sees the oppression of blacks ‘as a problem that has to be solved.’ Similarly, Black Pete and racism is tackled by the progressive and critical left as something that needs to be ‘solved’ in the Netherlands, without critically engaging with eradicating whiteness and realizing it is actually bigger than Black Pete. What then does the popularity of the trailer tell us about anti-racist politics in the Netherlands? Sno explains:

The fact that the clip was actually widely well-received shows us how also black and non-black people of color are invested in this white anti-racism narrative that is not actually radical or abolishing the system of White Supremacy.

It is important to note that our critique is aimed at what the trailer of the film does. It repeats a ’tactic’ that is an old and widespread one within anti-racist work and sustains an economy of gratefulness – an idea that is very at the root of Dutch thinking about ‘self’ and ‘other’. Within the context of anti-racist work, gratefulness very much implies a constant debt towards the one who is ‘helping’ and is often confused with solidarity. However, we should really not be ‘happy’ or ‘grateful’, when in the name of anti-racism, or in the name of critique, people start using blackface to make a point.

* Image Credit: IDFA.

The photographer Paul Strand’s 1960’s Portrait of Ghana

“The Artist’s world is limitless,” remarked photographer Paul Strand once. “It can be found anywhere, far from where he lives or a few feet away. It is always on his doorstep.”

A photographic icon of the 20th century, Strand was a major advocate for considering photography as a serious art form. His career of more than 60 years is currently being honored at the Philadelphia Museum of Modern Art with the show Paul Strand: Master of Modern Photography, which runs through January 4, 2015. Though Strand got his start taking street portraits in New York City, his later years were dedicated to capturing the character of diverse landscapes including Mexico, France, Italy, Scotland, Morocco, Egypt, Romania and Ghana.

With the support of President Kwame Nkrumah, Strand’s last major geographic portrait was of Ghana, where he took photographs over the course of roughly three months between 1963 and 1964. This body of work resulted in the publication of the book Ghana: An African Portrait, which featured a companion text by the great Africanist scholar Basil Davidson. This journey was also captured briefly in the documentary about Strand’s life, Under the Dark Cloth.

The book depicts Ghana as a new African nation of peoples poised for industrial ascension. In his illustration of this theme, Strand produced portraits of students, vibrant marketplaces and technical machinery.

Though he believed in the honesty and objectivity of the camera as an artistic tool, Strand was also well aware of the photographer’s control over their images. Thus, images of technological advancement in the book, are sometimes paired with those depicting traditional cultures and natural environments. While all the images represent the visual “truth” of what Strand’s camera documented, the manner of their juxtaposition implies Strand’s idea of “modernity” comes from a diet of increasing industrial growth and Westernization.

However, it must be said that Strand, throughout his career, took great pains to ensure his portraits of people captured their humanity and their dignity. Unlike some of his Western contemporaries taking patronizing anthropological photographs throughout the continent, Strand’s images identify his subjects by name and often mention their communities as well. The portrait of Anna Attinga Frafra for example, depicts a quiet moment, in which Ms. Frafra rests three books comfortably on her head. An image of such grace could only be taken with the trust of the model.

In the few months Strand spent in Ghana he could not possibly have captured his surroundings with the ease and nuance of Ghanaian photographic great, James Barnor or the newer generation of incredibly talented Ghanaian imagemakers such as TJ Letsela, Nana Kofi Acquah, Ofoe Amegavie and Nyani Quarmyne, yet Strand’s photographs endure nonetheless as windows through the Western lens into the optimism and dignity of post-colonial Ghana.

In Strand’s words again, this time from a 1973 interview:

“The People I photograph are very honorable members of this family of man and my concept of a portrait is the image of somebody looking at is as someone they come to know as fellow human beings with all the attributes and potentialities one can expect from all over the world.”

Afe Negble, Asenema, Ghana 1964 by Paul Strand

Afe Negble, Asenema, 1964

Asenah Wara, Leader of the Women’s Party, Wa, Ghana

Asenah Wara, Leader of the Women’s Party, Wa

Mary Hammond, Winneba, Ghana

Mary Hammond, Winneba, Ghana

Market, Accra, Ghana

Market, Accra, Ghana

“Never Despair” Accra Bus Terminal, Ghana

“Never Despair” Accra Bus Terminal, Ghana

Oil Refinery, Tema, Ghana

Oil Refinery, Tema, Ghana

Jungle, Ashanti Region, Ghana

Jungle, Ashanti Region, Ghana



Final Proof that Africa is Indeed a Country

Those brilliant satirists over at SAIH are back with another take down of the never ending quest to save Africa… with a trivia game show that validates this very website’s existence:

As we noted last week, the Rusty Radiator and Golden Radiator awards are on once again. Just as many are taking up the call to save Africa this christmas time, you too can do your part. However, our call to action is for you to hold accountable the Geldof types of the world by helping to choose the winners of this year’s contest. Head on over to the awards website, where you can watch all the videos for both the Rusty and the Golden radiators, and cast your votes for the worst and best in each category.

Of course, one award has already been decided… because the lifetime achievement Rusty Radiator goes to Sir Bob! Many congratulations to you sir. You are one song away from saving Africa!


When Jezebel Wanted to make Saartjie Baartman Relevant to Millenials #EpicFail

You know how feminists worry that feminism is dead, and that young women are dismissing the possibility of fashioning powerful, self-directed, and critical subjectivities, and instead framing themselves as idiot sexpots? Because of this fear, publications and online media aimed at reigniting feminism try too hard to cater to the millennial generation, in hopes of drawing them to something better than Beyonce’s team’s ability to co-opt conveniently edited portions of the message of feminism in order to get people to buy her shit. That might explain Jezebel’s attempt to exploit Paper magazine’s cover fetishising the sexual power of Kim Kardashian’s buttocks – and the Kardashian family’s choice to use their female members’ bodies and sexualities to create lucrative careers as twenty-first century courtesans – by comparing it to the exploitation of a Khoekhoe woman who, in the 1800s, was forced to daily and nightly exhibit her buttocks to European audiences.

The article, titled “Saartjie Baartman: The Original Booty Queen”, was written by Cleuci de Oliveira.


First reactions on Twitter:

let me repeat: jezebel published a piece in which the article unironically and without critique alludes to black femininity as “savage.”

— zoe samudzi (@BabyWasu) November 16, 2014

jezebel’s take on Saartje Baartman is the worst fucking thing I’ve read in quite some time. It’s like a paean to imperial feminism. — Teej T (@Halfrican_One) November 16, 2014

Ok. So I read the first 3 paragraphs of @CMEdeOliveira‘s post over at Jezebel. Had to stop when she called Baartman an “illegal immigrant.”

— Aura Bogado (@aurabogado) November 17, 2014

Why did Twitter go nuts after this poorly-researched article was posted? Because de Oliveira asserts that like “Nicki [Minaj], and Kim,” Baartman, too, “was already asserting a complicated dignity” and that she was “already demanding our respect [by] building a career with [her] assets.” She declares Baartman had agency (I can’t make this stuff up), and that although “her choice also brought her into a world of immense tragedy and humiliation,” she did choose, and her choices “took her across the world, and offered her experiences beyond her certain destiny as a household maid.” de Oliveira further insists, “Baartman chose to perform,” and to deny that “would be to continue to victimize a figure who has already suffered too much tragedy in life as well as death.” Just in case you think I’m exaggerating, here are de Oliviera’s last words on the matter:

[Baartman] surely had complicated relationships she must have had with the men who oversaw her career; she surely had complex feelings towards the societal anxiety and colonial fetishism that allowed her to be famous in the first place. But what is essential to remember is that she never acquiesced to being treated as property. Within the framework she was given, she was always an agent in her own path. She viewed herself as a performer, not a tool for scientific advancement, nor an educational resource for museumgoers, nor a patrimony of the state.

Again, from Twitter, here’s more. ‏‪@BlackGirlNerds:

.@JennMJack @Jezebel I’m disturbed this article implies that Saartjie was satisfied with what she was doing simply because she was paid — BlackGirlNerds (@BlackGirlNerds) November 16, 2014

Katy Alexander (‏‪@nuthinfunnytsay)

@DanielleBowler @sahistoryonline @Jezebel couldnt read the article. Gross. Saartjie was a slave and not in charge of her destiny. dumb yank.

— Katy Alexander (@nuthinfunnytsay) November 17, 2014

All this nonsense about “choice” and “agency” makes me think of my ENG 204 “Intro to Theory” students who just learnt the terms, and are dying to say that every woman – be they immigrant, Black, Latina, Chicana, undocumented meat-packing plant worker – has the ability to make choices, and if they make choices that are damaging to them (like, for instance, marrying a man for financial safety and legal papers, though he mistreats her), that is a “bad choice”. They, too, like Oliveira, don’t yet recognise the horrific decisions (not choices) people who are subjugated must make in order to survive the terrible circumstances they face within specific historical circumstances and geographical locations. Those decisions reflect, in actuality, lack of real choices, and a limited level of agency. I have faith that my sophomore students will get that by the end of the semester. But de Oliviera, a full-fledged journo? I don’t know. And why didn’t Jezebel’s credentialed editors catch her terrible suppositions? Jezebel’s byline for Oliveira states that she “is a journalist based in New York City. She writes about art, culture, and Latin America.” Many blamed her status as an American, and as a “white Latina” for her ignorant suppositions and conclusions.

Jezebel is just going to rewrite history to fit its need for clicks and use a Latina to offset rage. White power is a helluva drug.

— Milky Nova Cane (@NovaeCaenes) November 16, 2014

But one’s origins and one’s current geo-political locations are hardly an excuse. After all, I’m a Sri Lankan-born, Zambian-raised, US-educated brownish woman. I still have the responsibility to do sound research on the material I intend to publish – because thousands may read it, and be informed by it. Even if one person read my erroneous assumptions positioning an exploited woman from the Cape Colony as someone who had the same level of agency as a Kardashian, I’ve done some serious damage.

And that’s what de Oliveira did (and what Jezebel allowed to be published on their platform). A more historically accurate history of Baartman: she was a woman who was born in the 1770s “in the Camdeboo, or ‘Green Valley,’ some 400 miles from Cape Town,” whose “people were cattle-herding Gonaqua, a subgroup of the Khoekhoe”, who may or may not have known “what she was getting into” (Crais and Scully). Baartman was subsequently paraded out on view, and European audiences viewed themselves against the savage/colonised other’s bodily difference (expressing itself here as a fascination of savage/colonised other’s buttocks) in order to fulfill their (European) desire to amalgamate their self-view as the “norm”. Given the realities Baartman faced, positioning her as a woman who has as much “choice” in marketing her body and sexuality as commodities – à la Nicki Minaj and Kim K – is a grotesque assessment.

de Oliveira does concede the following:

Baartman was on the Piccadilly stage six days a week. At night, she performed in private parties at the residences of the elite and in London’s salons. On Sundays, she rode a carriage through town, waving to the crowds like royalty. Her exhaustion soon became apparent onstage. She was cranky, and often sick.

Baartman was on the Piccadilly stage six days a week. At night, she performed in private parties at the residences of the elite and in London’s salons. On Sundays, she rode a carriage through town, waving to the crowds like royalty. Her exhaustion soon became apparent onstage. She was cranky, and often sick.In the most well-researched and up-to-date history of Baartman, Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus: A Ghost Story and a Biography, authors Clifton C. Crais and Pamela Scully write:

“At the very moment before she goes on the ship, and in the months before, she insists she would not go to England without Hendrik Cesars coming with her. . . . But of course, as a poor woman, and as a woman, the parameters of her being able to control her life were quite narrow.”

Why did Bartman go with men who had no good intentions for her? Before she and the men were about to leave Cape Town, Baartman reportedly told Cesars’ (one of the men who orchestrated her passage out of South Africa, and her European shows) wife, “Who will give me anything here?” I’ll leave you with a paragraph by Crais and Scully, one that that all Jezebel-feminists must read, meditate upon, and internalise:

Colonized people survived colonial cultures through dissemblance of their motives and hopes from settlers and slaveholders … Would Sara indeed have considered that it would be politically feasible for her to speak truth to power?

#BandAid30: Have we learned nothing?

Have we learned nothing?! Thirty years ago, the Band-Aid video showed pop stars with 1980s hair raising funds for “Africa.”  But it wasn’t for Africa, even though the resulting record featured a guitar in the shape of a continent.  It was Ethiopia, and the resulting “documentary” began with BBC clips of starving people lined up for food in a camp, with the usual flies swarming, hollowed eyes, and white doctors being interviewed regarding their plight.  The songs, the recordings, the video — all identified all of Africa with these images of helplessness, sounding the call of the  “white savior industrial complex”for a new generation.  Despite the feel-good super sales of the song, controversy continues around the question of whether the effort did more material harm than good.

Fast forward to today:  the just-released remix of the principal song of the 1984 Band-Aid concerts — Do they know it’s Christmas — plays to the same sentiments with many of the same stars (and some new ones, like One Direction) — and has all of the same problems.  Again, have we really learned nothing???  The video opens with what was known in the 1990s as “aid pornography” (a term and debate which unfortunately has dropped from the radar screen )– [see my post on the film "When the Night Comes" and Ayesha Nibbe'spost on #KONY2012]– shots of dying people — shots that these stars would never allow of themselves.  Then we see them filing into the studio one-by-one in the requisite shades, every move (but looking good, not in the throes of death) captured by paparazzi, then emotionally singing, then holding each other, giggling and smiling after they have done their good deed.

Yes, funds are needed to fight Ebola; yes, people are suffering; yes, it can be good to “do good.”  But it is never good to show others’ suffering without their consent, especially when showing them stripped of dignity.  And as many of our posts and those of others insist, over and over again, what we need is to target the neoliberal austerity policies that have led to the breakdown of health systems in West Africa as well as other areas of the world (including many parts of the U.S.) — see our recent post by China Scherz as well as others in our ongoing series on Ebola.  Representing Africans — yet again — as helpless and without dignity while representing ourselves as knowledgeable problem-solvers (who give up nothing in our attempts to do good) IS part of the problem and NOT part of the solution.  We Westerners really should have learned something by now.

*Song titles by the band U2. This post is reposted from Critical Investigations into Humanitarianism in Africa.

Books: David Goldblatt’s ‘Futebol Nation: The Story of Brazil Through Soccer’

In his book Futebol Nation, British journalist David Goldblatt explores the history of Brazilian football and how it links to the social, economical, cultural and, especially, political life of the country. As Goldblatt argues, despite its size and except for the recent surge in its economy, in the almost two centuries of its existence as an independent nation, Brazil has not managed to make a meaningful impact in the world stage. Yet, that statement would be completely false in the world of football, where Brazilian teams, players and style have dominated the imagination of international fans for decades. So football is the perfect excuse to go about analysing what it means to be Brazilian.

Futebol Nation tells the story of how football came to be not only Brazil’s favorite sport, but also how it turned into a way of building national identity in a vast disconnected country, a means of political control in an unequal, fragmented and federalist polity, and an endless resource for art, culture, hope and violence for its largely poor and disenfranchised population.

Goldblatt starts his tale chronologically, with the return, in 1894, of Charles Miller, a Brazilian son of a Scotsman, from his education in England. At his arrival at the port of Santos, in São Paulo, he carried a pair of boots, a rule book and a football. A decade later, football was already a craze in Brazil, with Miller’s passion expanding in São Paulo and other Brazilian-Europeans arriving shortly afterwards with a contagious love of the sport to Rio de Janeiro and other major Brazilian cities.

From here on, although he still works in a mostly chronological order, Goldblatt divides his book in themes which he aligns with what he considers to be distinct eras of Brazilian football: first as an amateur sport for the upper class communities of European expats and its descendants; then, as professionalization became widespread (even if not legal yet),  as a sport where the poor, or non-white could become, even so briefly, part of the elite; and so on. Goldblatt’s insistence on dealing with themes, rather than describing a mere sequence of events, does a wonderful job of explaining how football is interconnected with every aspect of Brazilian life. But, for those not initiated with Brazilian history and politics, like me, it can get confusing at certain moments, with his jumps back and forward between years, governments and tournaments. 

But, as a whole, the book is a well-written, thoroughly-researched and easily-explained version of Brazilian issues–its racism, its classism, its corruption, its violence, but also its drive, its ever-booming cultural production, and its never-fading obstination with its own defeats–all looked at through the glass of the national obsession that is football. 

Goldblatt goes deep into the Brazilian press’s archives to show the ambivalence the country has felt towards the sport since its early days, with some commentators arguing that it could highlight and uplift the nation’s spirits, while others treating it as a mere brute endeavor, and yet others dismissing it as an out-of-place foreign fabrication. He also looks constantly at the works of art (music, films, songs, novels) being produced about football at a specific time, thus creating an image of what the sport meant for intellectuals, artists and consumers of mainstream media. Indeed, media is essential to the history of Brazilian football, from the crônicas that filled newspaper pages, to the ritual of hearing matches in the radio, to the rise of TV rights and the conversion of the sport into the globalized phenomenon which it is today.

The book is largely a tension between those in power (politicians, presidents of clubs and the heads of the Confederação Brasileira de Futebol) trying to seize football from above for their own greedy purposes, and those below (the players, the casual fans, the organized torcidas and all the hopeful prospects) trying to make sense of their position inside in a corrupt industry.

These tensions are best exemplified in the stories of Pelé and Garrincha presented in the book. Teammates in the World Cup champions squads from 1958 and 1962 and widely regarded as the best Brazilian players ever, both had very similar backgrounds, but very different fates. Garrincha was born to a working class family in the state of Rio de Janeiro, while Pelé was born in a remote, poor town of Minas Gerais. Garrincha was ostracized because of the various birth defects which flawed his body, while Pelé’s black race was a constant source of discrimination.

Yet, Garrincha would become known as “Alegria do Povo”, “The Joy of the People”: though fantastic in his gameplay, both with Brazil and Botafogo, he always remained a regular, working-class man, a man of the people, never looking for fame, or fortune, squandering what little he had earned to fund his alcoholism. Pele, in contrast, was “O Rei”, “The King”, the quintessential example of using football to “get ahead.” Years after his retirement, he still takes advantage of his image to advertise and create lucrative business opportunities, and he has not been shy in looking for political power, even becoming a cabinet minister under president Fernando Cardoso’s tenure.

Pelé knew how to work his talent for his advantage. As Goldblatt tells us about him: “After scoring [his 1000th career goal in 1969] he ran to pick the ball out of the net and in seconds he was surrounded, then engulfed, by a horde of photographers and reporters. When he finally emerged from the scrum, it was a schmaltzfest. Pelé dedicated the goal to the children of Brazil and took and endless lap of honour in a especially prepared 1,000 shirt. A senator in Congress wrote a poem to Pelé and read it out loud on the floor of the house. Everywhere else in the world the newspapers led with the Moon-landing of the Apollo 12 space mission. In Brazil, they split the front page.” 

But Garrincha was clueless and disinterested in becoming a hero, which is why Brazilian media, constantly looking to create and destroy idols, promptly forgot about him, after retirement and until his death: “After another day of drinking cachaça Garrincha was taken to a sanatorium in Botafogo where he had already a number of episodes in rehab. This time he died in  an alcoholic coma. Within hours hundreds were gathering at the hospital. The press, who had not written a word about him for a decade, began to publish a torrent of remembrance. a municipal fire engine, like the one that had carried him  through the streets of the city with the 1958 World Cup winners, took his body to the Maracanã.”

The book also tells the story of other Brazilian greats, and their investment, or lack thereof with politics, such as Sócrates commitment to the Democracia Corinthiana, and, at the end, succeeds at explaining how football moves Brazil. Such is the case the success of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Dilma Rousseff’s and “Lula” da Silva’s party), which is partly linked to football and the 2014 World Cup, and such was the case with the 2013 protests around Brazil which coincided with and were amplified by the Confederations Cup held in the country.

Goldblatt asks himself in a coda added in February of 2014, if the movement that sparked those protests can, in a country still plagued by corruption, polarization and inequality, bring forth positive change. But after a successful staging of a World Cup and a new victory by the PT, this yet remains an open question.

* On Wednesday, November 19th, David Goldblatt will give a free talk (open to the public) on the globalization of English football at the Theresa Lang Center (55W 13th Street, second floor) at The New School in New York City. Sign up here for the event. Or see more information here.

Making Azonto: Local Roots and International Branches

As a DJ, having the platform of Africa is a Radio to showcase the music I’m feeling from artists around the world is a lot of fun, and quite rewarding. But, providing insight into the other branch of the music industry I work in, as a producer (creator), is something I don’t do nearly enough of. Partly because the old tradition of musicians relying on journalists to write about our music for us (and paying PR people to make that happen) stubbornly persists. And also because truthfully, self-promotion in this cutthroat social media age is still a bit awkward for me. Still, I often ask myself, “why rely solely on music journalists to get the word out about your work with so many ways to directly communicate with audiences today?”

So, since this platform is a place to delve deeper into various topics, besides taking the opportunity to share the following remix, I thought it would be good to take the opportunity to provide some context behind its creation. By doing so, hopefully I’ll help provide insight, and de-mystify some of what goes into the music production process. Who knows, perhaps writing about making music will become a regular thing over here, and not only for myself but for any artists interested in sharing (hint, hint!)

So here we go:

The above remix is my take on Teleseen’s song Baalbek. The melodies and harmonies of his original were inspired by both Ethio-jazz music, and Brazilian Batucada from Rio (where he and I are both currently based.) He merges the two and takes it into territory that might be welcome on the dance floors of techno meccas like Berlin or Detroit.

For my version, I decided to strip the heavily layered song down to only a few essential instruments, and ended up focusing on one of the several saxophone melodies going throughout the original. From there I decided to concentrate on building my remix around new percussion ideas, instead of harmonic ones. After the saxophone line, the next thing I added back into the mix was the guitar line that hits on the up beat. I foregrounded it and looped the strongest parts so it was continuous throughout the track. Once that was in it reminded me of the emphasis on the up beat of azonto, especially in songs like Sarkodie & E.L.’s “U Go Kill Me.” Expanding on that moment of inspiration, I added a bunch of percussion referencing rhythms prevalent in azonto. I rounded it out by layering the kicks with pitched 808 bass samples to create a new booming bass line, and my azonto-techno remix was born.

The beat for “U Go Kill Me” and many other azonto hits was produced by Ghanian beat maker Nshona. A couple years ago, when azonto was just hitting international airwaves, Benjamin Lebrave pointed Nshona out as one of the main innovators behind the musical style that accompanied the Ghanian dance phenomenon. The mark of his productions is (mostly?) Ga traditional rhythms on digital software such as Fruity Loops. And, I think Nshona’s instrumentals could very much merit the techno signifier on their own accord — making the name azonto-techno redundant:

However, I’m not the only one inspired to take azonto’s exciting energy down a new conceptual path. While the dance itself maybe losing steam in its home base, several producers outside of Ghana are still attempting to push it in new directions. A quick Youtube search reveals several takes on the idea of azonto-techno, each of which are quite unique.

One other example that is rather close to home for me is the Rasta Azonto Riddim, an instrumental by Kush Arora that uses dark synth sounds influenced by industrial music. My label Dutty Artz released an EP of the song with two accompanying vocal versions this past month:

And, as I mentioned before on this site, there has been a noticeable influence of contemporary African Pop on the Caribbean Carnival season this last year. From February through to Labor Day, I’ve been able to witness azonto making its mark on the various Carnival-inspired celebrations around the world.

I’d also be remiss to not mention the experiments of DJ Flex in New Jersey who blends Afropop hits with U.S. East Coast Club music:

Not only interested in morphing azonto with non-Ghanian musical ideas, some folks are interested in exploring the traditions behind the music. Since writing about Nshona for The Fader, Lebrave and his Akwaaba Music label have launched Roots of Azonto, a project that entails workshops and recording sessions in various parts of Ghana — in order to explore and expand the source material for the popular music of the day. By reintroducing “real drum sounds back into the studio” he, and workshop partners like Max Le Daron, aim to expand Ghanian producers’ vocabulary, and at the same time document, and thus help preserve Ghana’s diverse music traditions:

Now for the shameless self-promotion: My remix of Baalbek is part of the Anamorph Remix EP out on Brooklyn-based indie label Feel Up Records. Kush Arora’s Rasta Azonto Riddim was released on an EP featuring versions by Jamaican vocalist Blackout JA and Zimbabwean Pops Jabu. Follow the Roots of Azonto at the Akwaaba Music website, and Nshona on Twitter. And, don’t miss any of DJ Flex’s great remixes on Soundcloud.

As far as rappers Keur Gui are concerned nothing has changed in Senegal

“You’re heading straight to jail after that song is released” is what 25 year old rapper LDP said to Keur Gui (the house in Wolof) when he heard the lyrics of the track “Diogoufi” (Nothing has Changed) the first single off their new album.

The Senegalese rap duo, Keur Gui, recently released their highly anticipated double volume CD titled Encyclopédie (Encyclopedia). For those who don’t recall, Keur Gui were founding members of the of the Senegalese youth-led protest movement, Y’en a Marre (Fed Up). Keur Gui, consisting of Kilifeu and Thiat is arguably one of the most engaged hip hop acts on the African continent today.

After being away from the scene for a few years, the duo set off a media storm in August when they dropped the single. Thiat’s verse is a somber reflection on the situation in the country. It includes lyrics like: same cats, same dogs/same electoral promises/it’s only two years and we’re already fed up. Kilifeu then enters singing the catchy lyrics to the chorus, which translates to something along the lines of: the way you wake up is the way you will go to bed … You go straight to jail if you dare speak out with the ultimate message being that nothing has changed in the country but the president.

The song addresses the economic situation, power cuts, soaring prices for basic necessities, the selling off of coastal land to international entities, and most controversial, rumors about the interference of the first lady in matters of government. They also assert that current president, Macky Sall, was pushed into power by accident and ultimately has no solutions for Senegal. The track quickly became an anthem for the population. Thiat and Kilifeu were not arrested; however it wasn’t long before they started to feel the ripple effects of their critique as sponsors slowly dropped them. Thiat and Kilifeu were not to be silenced.

Their activism started when they were just 17 years old. Their first album set to be released in 1999 was thought to be too critical of the government especially against President Abdou Diouf and Le Haut Conseil de l’audiovisue (High Audio Visual Council) required that they change four out of the six tracks. The album was in essence censored and never released. Another track directly criticized Abdoulaye Diack, the then Mayor of their hometown of Kaolack for the difficult social situation experienced by its residents. The young duo were beaten by men sent by the mayor, arrested and stripped of their clothes. This is why they go shirtless during concerts, because they say; never again will anyone have the opportunity to strip them.

Keur Gui was not discouraged; they went on to release several albums over the years that tackled a variety of social and political issues. In 2008, Keur Gui returned with Nos Connes Doléances (Our Idiots Complaints)—a French pun of “Condolences”—an album that sought to both entertain and educate. That album led to numerous awards and they became recognized continent-wide for a brand of conscious hip-hop that confronts elements of bad governance and corruption. (Check out “Coup 2 Gueule” (Lets Act on our Words) from their 2008 album.)


Even though they were widely recognized as conscious rappers, Keur Gui rose to another level of international fame as founding members of the Y’en a Marre movement that shook the Senegalese nation to its core when a collective of rappers and journalists joined forces to declare we’re fed up. Since the intensity of the protest movement died down, people wondered how Kilifeu and Thiat would interact with the new government that many imagine they helped to elect. The duo wanted to get back to the business of hip hop and went into the laboratory to concoct an al-bomb they say.

The album was recorded over a five-month period ironically at The House Studios in Washington DC. They emerged with their encyclopedia in two volumes: “Opinion Public” and “Reglement de Compte” (The reckoning). Public Opinion is a reflection on the state of Senegal, the future of the country and their take on continent-wide issues. The reckoning is a classic hip hop battle style album where they aim to quiet those who asked if they are still serious players in the Senegalese hip hop game.

They then released their second single “Nothing to Prove,” which is a classic ego trip song. On this track we see that Thiat and Kilifeau are clearly in sync as they share verses in order to argue that Keur Gui has nothing to lose, nothing to prove. They tell other rappers we fear nothing and have no equals, we never back down. We spit medicine for those in real need. We provide real solutions to problems. They further assert we’re the only hip hop crew that can give the government a deadline and are prepared to sacrifice our lives for the masses that we represent. We gave y’all a break, but now we’re back.



There are tracks for people with all types of tastes. General, a young rapper in Senegal noted, “Public Opinion is for the intellectuals but The Reckoning, wow that shows Keur Gui is the best.”   One thing that’s for certain, Keur Gui has maintain their hard hitting, in your face style. The track Dankanfou (Warning) is deceptive with its serene piano and slower flow that draw the listener in. The song is a warning to Macky Sall as Kilifeu starts with, what kicked out Diouf/pulled down Wade/is warming up Macky and later, your grace period is over/life is still so hard. They warn Sall that he did not learn the lesson from the 2011-2012 protest movement but they take it further back by citing Diouf and Wade because youth were instrumental in helping to vote both out of office.

There are also songs like France a Fric that address France’s history and contemporary policies across Africa or No Comment that calls out everyone from Mugabe to Gbagbo. Personal tracks are also incorporated. In Alma Noop (Listen to Me), they speak to the next generation as Kilifeu passes on lessons to his son and Thiat to his imagined future daughter. While in Fima Diar (My History) Thiat talks about his life journey that led to meeting Kilifeu.

Keur Gui fans will be impressed by their evolution as they vary their technical flow; Thiat changes up his rhyme pattern and Kilifeu excels at his rapping/singing hybrid; have hooks in English, French, and Spanish; include a number of collaborations with DC-based musicians especially the Grammy nominated emcee Kokayi; blend hip hop and African sounds with traditional African instruments; and highlight Senegalese beat makers who are represented on 20 of the 26 tracks. Yet they remain true to their roots as they provide social commentary and give politicians and other rappers a lyrical thrashing. The album is a musical, personal, political, and ideological experience.

* The album will be available for purchase online soon. Until then, the author can be contacted about contact information for purchasing CDs. Image Credit: KeurGui Facebook Page (top) and Janette Yarwood.

Why debating and getting rid of Zwarte Piet won’t be a priority in Belgium

Why is the discussion surrounding Zwarte Piet getting far less traction in Belgium than it does in the Netherlands? For me, it boils down to one issue: racism in Belgium is endemic, and it is not taken seriously. Few are talking, and even fewer are listening.

The discussions on Zwarte Piet in the Netherlands have been well documented in foreign and national media. However, it is less known that this blackface figure is also present across the Netherlands’ borders, in Belgium, most notably in the region of Flanders. There are many reasons for the lack of debate in Belgium: the celebrations of Saint Nicholas Day are distinct in each country, and both the Belgians and the Dutch pride themselves on their cultural differences and debates as well as the ways in which their political systems are structured. However, when one acknowledges that Black Pete is just one of a myriad of symptoms demonstrating a discriminatory society, it raises red flags about how Belgium deals with racism.

In Belgium, the past few months have been littered with racism scandals: endemic racism was recently exposed within the Antwerp police corps, a national newspaper depicted Barack and Michelle Obama as chimpanzees, and then there’s Theo Francken the recently appointed minister of migration and asylum. Francken, from the right-wing Flemish-nationalist party the NV-A (the New Flemish Alliance), which dominated the last election, called into question the economic validity of the migration of African migration on his Facebook page. Immigrant groups are now calling for a national stay away on 19 December to protest his remarks. After an initial outcry, the debate about his remarks quickly died down.

What is interesting in these cases is how quickly and superficially they pass. When a leading and otherwise respectable newspaper pictures the president of the United States as a monkey, a short outburst and a quick apology cannot suffice. When that same newspaper a few months later allows one of its major football commentators to spout ignorant so-called “facts” as to why an “African team” can’t make it to the finals (I quote: “because they can’t focus on the goal for more than six weeks at a time”) it happens again, minus the apologies. In 2010 when the DRC celebrated 50 years of independence the most prominent figure on Belgian television was Jef Geeraerts, an ex-colonial administrator and writer known for anti-women and neo-colonist views.

Why are these matters laid to rest so quickly? Belgium has not had a real debate about its colonial past and most of this history is not part of the country’s collective memory. It is not properly taught to children nor adequately represented in the media.

Until recently migration from sub-Saharan countries to Belgium was mostly sporadic and short term. Since the late 1980’s larger numbers of people, predominantly from the DRC began to settle. Migrant communities have been hesitant to respond to flagrant discrimination and remain divided among themselves. As a consequence, in broader national debate, dealing with racism—especially the less overt kind—is not seen as important.

Another very important reason why you can’t mention the R-word is the development of Belgian politics. In the early nineties the popularity of the right wing and overtly racist party Vlaams Blok (VB) soured. At the time the word ‘racist’ became synonym for referring to someone who “votes VB.”

People didn’t have to look in the mirror anymore: as long as you were against VB you didn’t have to think twice about your own views or behaviour. The VB over time has all but disappeared (although many people from the party joined the NV-A) but racism has not disappeared with it.

This has left us with a difficult inheritance to deal with. Our overwhelmingly white and male political system and media have left us without a forum and discourse in which we can speak about racism. Political correctness has become a swear word and claims of racism are easily swept away as irrelevant or “not fun.” In this context debating and changing a phenomenon like Zwarte Piet will never be a priority.

The Kenya Art Fair

Over the past few years, artists like Michael Soi and Cyrus Kabiru placed Kenya on the global visual arts map. The first Kenya Art Fair is part of this move.

From November 6 – 9, 2014, the Sarit Center Exhibition Hall in Nairobi’s Westlands area was the epicentre of this vibrant art fair. Organized by Kuona Trust and sponsored by the Go Down arts centre, Pawa 254 and the Nation Media Group, the Kenya Art Fair gathered personalities from the national art scene to debate and build a stronger artistic movement through discussions and exhibitions. The exciting encounters between artists, gallery owners, collectors, art lovers and curious people has nurtured new and future collaborations.

Participants included Abdi Rashid Jibril from Arterial Network, Danda Jaroljmek from the Circle Art Agency, Elisabeth Nasubo from the Ministry of Culture and many creators like the performance artist Ato Malinda and the master cartoonist Gado. The diverse line-up of panels such as “digital art”, “the role of Kenyan government in supporting the contemporary visual arts sector”, “cartoon and comic strip”, “art and business” and “the visual artists challenge” offered visitors tantalizing choices. The talks have been a space for the exchange of ideas and debate thanks to broad audience participation.

Admission was free, and the organizers estimate that over 5,000 people visited the Fair. According to Kuona Trust director Sylvia Gichia, even the First Lady Margaret Kenyatta took a stroll through the art fair  to show her support for the art world.

But Kenya still faces challenges within the arts sector despite the Fair’s evident success. Questions Kenya’s artists must grapple with include how to ensure art is not only for the elite, what distribution models can benefit artists who are not represented by agencies or galleries and how to use digital platforms to promote and sell art at a fair price. The creators of the Fair will also have to determine whether it will now become a regular occurrence, like the Dak’art in West Africa or the Joburg Art Fair in South Africa, or model itself the recent successful 2014 Kampala Art Biennale in Uganda.

Whatever the case, the Fair has made its mark. Art lovers, take heed – keep your eyes on Kenya.

* Art by Eric Muthonga (“The Westgate Attack”). Video by Sebastián Ruiz. This post is part of a partnership between Wiriko and Africa is a Country.

Soweto Punk Revolution: The Cum in your Face

Someone told me that interviewing a punk band from Soweto–an urban settlement, the country’s largest, created in the 1930s to separate blacks from whites in Johannesburg, South Africa–is a stupid idea. “Black people playing punk? Is it mixed with kwaito or what?” I tried to explain that the ever-mutating punk mind-set is apt for anyone eager to stir things up, anti-establishment, equality and free thought, a revolt against the snobbish bourgeoisie. Hence, a dirty-riffed “fuck you” couldn’t be more fitting in a society, which lets its president get away with building a tax-funded “safety pool” when a quarter of the nation is unemployed.

Hell-bent to challenge this non-believer, I set out for Johannesburg to attend Soweto Rock Revolution–Punk Fuck III. Once arrived, local thrash punk band TCIYF (short for “The Cum in your Face”) made it clear that this has nothing to do with politics at all. It was about having a mad party, and – if one can speak about “the true spirit of punk” – this came pretty close to what one would imagine the DIY-embracing, eccentricity-accepting and obedience-ignoring CBGB’s of the ‘70s to have been like.


There might have been more sun, smiles and jah at Punk Fuck III than at blood-dripping aggro mosh pits in the colder, northern hemisphere, but the spit-hurling anarchy was commonplace. Attracting skaters, stoners and spiked hair, the music at the event wasn’t always strictly Ramones and Sex Pistols, but the attitude certainly was. R15 (about $1,50) Black Label quarts flowed like they were for free; weed was sold through the speakers; fireworks went off under Dr. Martens; microphones were ripped from the stage; band members left before sets started; guitars were stolen and spray cans were brazenly used to propagate feel-good slogans. On top of that, “the fourth wall” – dividing stage from floor – was constantly broken down, creating a welcome unity of fans and performers.

The togetherness started with Matt Vend, who announced that he would play without the amplifier if we don’t mind, when – in true punk fashion – the sound encountered problems. Sing-walking in-between eager listeners, he played a muted acoustic version until a fellow musician figured out what was wrong and kindly plugged him in again. His set was followed by Amber Light Choices, who set up on the floor completely. When TCIYF played at last, there was no more distinction between crowd and band – neither in alcohol levels nor assigned space.


Being members of the SSS (Skate Society Soweto), consisting of Thula (guitar), Pule (vocals), Tox (bass), Jazz (drums) and Sthe (special vocal guest) are influenced by rock’n’roll and half-pipes, but growing up there were few local outlets for their interests. They took matters into their own hands though, and organised low-key punk and skate jams in the township. The Soweto Rock Revolution, however, only really picked up after they left their home turf to play Punk Uprising and linked up with LeftOvers bassist and manager, Clint Hattingh. He had the right contacts and was able to convince Johannesburg bands to get their asses to Soweto. A small scene, possibly as diverse as South Africa’s people, was born. Our society seems obsessed with putting people in boxes like sorting socks from underpants or crayons from felt pens, yet Punk Fuck III –attended by South Africans of all backgrounds – proved that the exact opposite exists as well.

TCIYF’s show mirrored what the movement’s purveyors have in common: courage, a thirst for rebellion and a carefree nature. The Soweto punk fuckers are loud, ballsey and unabashed. But most importantly, fun as hell. “Who is drunk?” Pule screams before they rip through their songs, so boozed up that Thula slips off the stage and continues playing while leaning against it. In the meantime, a moshing mob jumps on and off the elevated concrete, surprisingly managing to keep cables and equipment intact. It was punk fuck alright, perhaps best epitomised in the drunken band’s words: “Fuck the answers. Fuck the explanations. Fuck the fear. Fuck everything. Just go ahead and just do it.”


Similar to the statement above, our interview – which we managed to squeeze into ten minutes as all TCIYF members were extremely busy organising bands, beer and blunts – was accentuated, somewhat naively, by “fucked up”, “fuck this” and “fuck them” in regular rhythms. Short, but to the point, they made it very clear what they were about.

Unlike Johnny Rotten – who TCIYF dig – all band members agree that they simply don’t care about current affairs. Avoiding all media because it “brainwashes you”, they’re adamant not to vote (some band members don’t even have IDs). “It’s not to shock or to take away any meanings. It’s about what we think at that time. It’s about life experiences,” shouts Sthe, when I ask whether the use of Jesus symbolism in their video to “Church Wine” is just as unconcerned. Insisting that “it did happen,” Jazz adds, “We went to church, drank the wine and ate the food.” I wasn’t completely convinced and wondered if they weren’t kicked out. “No, they saw us with skate boards and said ‘Jesus loves you guys.’ None of our songs are lies, all of them are true. Like ‘Touched by a Boner’ is about touching this girl on the train.”

It shouldn’t be a big deal, but given my pre-party experience, why punk music? “We’re from Soweto but kwaito was way too slow for us, hip hop was way too monotonous… so boring! All they do is say nothing. So we just wanted to do something that was powerful,” says Thula after Sthe simply declares, “Because it’s the shit.” In fact, they see no contradiction in where they come from and the music they create. “Punk was London and New York. How fast are those cities? And how fast is Soweto as a township? It’s all according to the fucking lifestyle. If I lived in Kimberley I wouldn’t be in a band playing punk. There would be no need. I’d be farming or something.”

In punk’s early stages in the US and the UK, the raw, amateur sound was a slap in the face to the commercialisation of music. If the genre had a conscience, its liaison with a capitalising industry of dry-sucking big shots would be a sweat-drenched nightmare. So when I want to know what its future holds in South Africa, Sthe says, “Nobody cares about punk here, so I think it’s safe.” It has withstood some attacks though. According to Thula, they had a contract in front of them but sent profit-making packing when they realised the deal was just about numbers on a bank account. “We were like, ‘You don’t care about punk, you care about the money. That’s why My Chemical Romance is fucked. Even Lamb of God is fucked. Big bands are fucked. Metallica are fucked a long time ago. Everyone is just getting fucked because they are taking the money and forgetting what they are doing.”


Their bling bling-condoning mind-sets fit “the requisites” of the initial movement, which – of course – isn’t new to the African continent. Late ‘70s SA bands like National Wake, Wild Youth and The Gay Marines probably had more balls than the roughest safety-pins-and-mohawk sporting squatters in Europe. And yet – although they deserved all the recognition possible – their bold, politically-charged tunes remained largely underground until Punk in Africa dug them up in 2012. In a sad way, this is somewhat positive. Like feminism bought into smoking, subcultures get scooped up by corporate brands, only to get trivialised, lose meaning and become dishonest. Maybe South African punk’s previously clandestine and currently marginalised nature is exactly what makes it so real.

What’s certain though is that while TCIYF whip out killer riffs, master crude, in-your-face lyrics and are probably the most humble act to see live, they really don’t give a fuck. Even their album, Buddha’s Cum, due December 2014, is recorded by phone. “No overdubs, pedals, mixing and mastering” and it will be given away for free. In a time of sell-outs like Green Day where hypocrisy is a trend and clubs like The Rat turn into “classy” hotels, the priggery-defying anarchy, fearless indulgence and shameless DIY are what make the Soweto Rock Revolution parties spectacular. But what’s more, while The Sex Pistols sacked Glen Matlock because he was into The Beatles, the Soweto scene is definitely less – Johnny don’t hate me! –“exclusive”. I came home with a variety of band stickers and a satisfaction that there are still musicians who hold on to no-profit principles to simply have a blast. And finally – in the cum-fuelled words of TCIYF –“part your lips” because township punk is alive and spitting.

* Image Credits: Christine Hogg.