I’m interested in how hip-hop, the music and the cultural aesthetic, is influencing how people relate to the spaces they inhabit. What lens do we view ourselves through, for instance? Is it still through images fed to us by the television, or has the Internet become another source? These are some of the things which interested me at the Back To The City, a street culture festival held in Johannesburg’s CBD, this year.
Myself and some compadres went around the Mary Fitzgerald Square in the Newtown Precinct asking people what Freedom Day meant to them. We picked a wide variety of subjects, the range of which was reflected in the responses. The festival is significant in that it’s held on Freedom Day. Automatically, there are a lot of elements at play – socio-political and otherwise, including reclaiming our space in the innercity – and hip-hop is soundtracking every passing moment. You can hear it boom, from the Redbull stage on one end, to the Main Stage at the other extreme – rap is alive! I think it’s a watershed moment which – if not captured, showcased, and interrogated – will result in yet another generation which succeeded in soundtracking its revolution yet failed to preserve it.
I was having a conversation with an elder who’s been around the Johannesburg scene since the late eighties. He knows the dark tales of this city; how it can swallow you whole before spewing you further than larvae during volcanic eruptions. “I’ve seen young men’s dreams get crushed by this city” he told me, along with several nuggets of the city he still struggles to understand.
The conversation then shifted to rap music. “The first time I got on the mic was ’88,” he said, and shared stories of beautiful souls turned ugly when the money started to flow.
Imagine if there was evidence of that earlier era; imagine if they could afford equipment to preserve those moments, then share them with a repository which would make the records accessible for posterity.
Nowadays it’s possible, but it baffles me that we aren’t going deeper than surface-level selfies and insta-moments to interrogate the concept of kulcha* and how we relate to it. Do we even relate? Do we think about it?
We bumped into bra Sipho Sithole from Native Rhythms records. He has a long track record in the South African music industry; he gave Skwatta Kamp their recording deal with Gallo Records, essentially enabling Skwatta to break a lot of boundaries for South African hip-hop. He’s currently working towards his Ph.D, provides the narrative which ties the story together. I did this for the African Hip Hop Blog.
NB: I changed the spelling so as to dissociate from academic conceptions of the word