Image by Jonas Koksal
Words by D.Know
For years now I’ve wanted to attend a CTEMF workshop at Gugu S’Thebe Cultural Centre in Langa, but for a variety of reasons hadn’t had the chance to. This year however, was different. Having been away in Johannesburg for 3 months, I was longing to return to Cape Town’s bustling music and nightlife scene that I have for so many years held close to my heart.
Eager to get involved, I swiftly applied for #CulturalHustles, a program/initiative organized through a partnership between Livity SA, LiveSA, British Council and ConnectZA as a means of educating young people about a variety of opportunities available in the music industry. This workshop proved to be most enlightening, with a series of interesting speakers all of whom have made some sort of impact within, and outside of, the local music scene (particularly through media platforms). While I could write a lengthly review on this part of the program, I would rather like to focus on what was, for me, the most illuminating and inspiring session: the Gugu S’Thebe Workshop with the iKasi Experience and Goldie.
While this ‘reflection’ is not about me, I would like to give a brief description of my background as I think it will provide context in relation to some of my comments and anecdotes. Firstly, I was born in the early 90s in a middle class home in Sea Point on Cape Town’s pristine coastline. I attended a private school from Grade One through to Matric and later went on to complete a Degree in Fine Art at UCT’s Michaelis School of Fine Art. My involvement in music began in the early 2000’s when I used to DJ psytrance at a variety of underground clubs in and around Cape Town. I now produce music as a solo artist and am affiliated with Das Kapital’s Do Work Records. I am in a privileged position for a person of my age, to say the least. Having said this, it had been many years since I last entered a township. I remember making a visit in my primary school years to both Langa and Gugulethu and returned again briefly in my university years, but I can’t say I have ever made the excursion on my own accord. This time however, it was a journey I was certainly eager to make! After a good 20 minute drive, I arrived at the beautiful Gugu S’Thebe, a landmark that has been developing in the heart of the township for many years. Upon entering I saw a few familiar faces (amongst many I didn’t know) all of whom were clearly as excited as I was for proceedings to get under way.
First up on ‘the couch’ were two gentlemen who, according to the itinerary, were there to speak about the ‘iKasi Experience’. Admittedly, I had never heard of this project before, but when it was announced that the ‘two gentlemen’ who run it are in fact Vincent Manzini (Sir Vincent) and Loyiso Mdebuka (DJ Loyd), I was pleasantly surprised. Having spent many years in the music industry (particularly through radio), they made some very interesting points throughout their conversation – most of which came from experiences in establishing their growing community-based initiative.
A consistent theme that I picked up on throughout out this discussion was the notion of ‘DIY’. From a groundroots level of hustling for gigs and releasing tracks on social media platforms, to organizing larger-scale events, the spirit of ‘doing things yourself’ seemed to be an undying one. Having started in a similar position myself, I tended to agree with much of what was discussed in this regard. With a local music scene that is in reality still a vastly segregated one, there is a need for a renewed work ethic and outlook to push things forward and bridge this divide. The opportunity for young talent to showcase themselves on a serious level (i.e. in a reputable club/festival run by reputable promoters) in this country is still extremely difficult despite the efforts made by certain individuals to inspire change. Unfortunately, the bottom line is that the power (and money) is often in the wrong hands (and this is before addressing the issue of government). In too many cases, promoters are more interested in throwing together high-profit ‘booze-ups’ without actually considering the potential they have to push the scene forward by finding and booking local artists who have serious talent and are looking to establish themselves as artists rather than, as Bruno Morphet put it in a recent Facebook post, the next ‘Joe Smooth’. With this in consideration, it is to no surprise that Vincent and Loyd began to raise questions such as “Is there enough happening in the ‘CT scene’?” while subsequently pointing out that “Cape Town hasn’t developed it’s own musical identity”. Although a tough pill for a local music enthusiast to swallow, one cannot help but to agree. Even with the background that I have, and the connections I have made over the years, it still isn’t easy to find bookings (especially ones that are going to support my best interests); one can therefore only imagine that the difficulties must multiply for a young artist living outside of the Capetonian metropolitan clique. Unfortunately, in the words of Vincent and Loyd, ‘the scene doesn’t do you any favors’ and so one needs to, as they have, keep pushing forward without compromise.
Whilst many cans of worms may have been opened (of which I have only mentioned a few), a particularly enlightening moment occurred shortly after this discussion. I was left feeling bleak yet still somewhat optimistic about the local scene. Many of my own personal dissatisfactions seemed to similarly exist within the lives of other likeminded artists of my generation despite our individual differences, yet I felt a light shining somewhere in the distance.
Although many of us were looking forward to hearing Nightmares on Wax talk, he was unfortunately unable to make it; and so a ‘Listening Session’ was called for to make use of a now vacant 2 hour segment. This proved to be an unbelievably eye-opening experience. Just after Vincent and Loyd talked about young artists being ‘too scared to share their music’ we all of a sudden had this opportunity to play our own creations to a crowd who was not there to judge, but to be interested and enthusiastic. People of all ages, from different backgrounds, playing different genres on the Red Bull Soundsystem – musical utopia! It was really just unbelievable to see the power of music in action. I was blown away by the fact there are so many young people like me who, despite their varied circumstances, feel that same passion for music production that I have. To think that there is a kid in a township producing quality material with far fewer resources than what I have is nothing short of inspiring. And just when I thought I couldn’t be any more inspired in one day, Goldie happened…
One of my first introductions to the broad genre of ‘drum ’n bass’ was Goldie’s ‘Classics’ compilation for Drum ’n Bass Arena released around 2005. I can just remember the moment a good friend of mine brought the CD back from the UK – I had never heard anything like it! From that moment of awe I now found myself over 10 years later sitting in front of the man himself ready to soak up more inspiration (and boy did he not disappoint!). I could write an entire book about his talk, but Im just going to narrow it down to some key moments.
A story I felt particularly connected to was the one in which he introduced his passion for ‘the arts’ as being rooted in graffiti and Hip-Hop culture (or “B-Boyizm ‘with a ‘Z’”, as he wittingly put it). As an art student and a person who also dabbled in graffiti, skating and related counter-cultures I immediately understood how his becoming a DJ/producer was inextricably linked with his affection for artistic creation. In addition, the way he described moving around Europe and America paving his own way in life seemed like a story not too dissimilar to many of the people in attendance (and even to Vincent and Loyd in the previous session). To see his success despite having been through what many young people in this country experience on a daily basis is a sign that there truly is hope – it just takes serious motivation, passion and authenticity in what you do in order to make it to the top. His dedication to what he believes in shows through the quality of music coming out of Metalheadz and the fact that he still writes fresh music after a handful of LPs, major record deals, celebrity collaborations and movie appearances is testament to the fact that music is a lifestyle, and if you aren’t deeply invested in it, maybe it isn’t for you. I think if more people in this country had that mindset our situation would change at a rapid pace. To close the session, he was asked to play ‘Truth’, a collaboration he did with the late David Bowie. Noticeably emotional, he still humbly agreed. On the striking of the first chord through the mammoth sound system, he made an exit and left us with one of the most powerful moments of the day. I sat there, eyes closed, with a lump in my throat reflecting on what was a truly amazing session. I ultimately came to the realisation that music is the only ‘truth’ that we still have in this day and age; a sacred art that we need to nurture and use as a tool to make a change in this world and to our own personal lives.
All in all, the day was one that brought to surface the clear binaries that still exists in many facets of this country. The racial and cultural one is obvious, but the one that was most prevalent through the discussions and stories shared was this simultaneous feeling of anger and frustration coupled with a sense optimism. Admittedly, we do have a lot to be disgruntled with – the scene in Cape Town is notoriously elitist – yet there is still a clear sense that there are endless opportunities to DIY and build your own foundation. CTEMF is clearly one step in the right direction. Never has there been such a diverse line-up of local and international talent who have been given an open platform to share their stories irrespective of cultural differences. For me, the next step forward would be to establish a regular club night that runs with the same ethos – something fresh, something groundbreaking. The potential is undoubtedly there; it’s time to write a new chapter…