IN child development, by the time they get to the age of four they sould be able to speak clearly and have a better understanding of their surroundings. In the music industry, four years could have you still rehearsing in a garage or performing in front of multitudes. In their fourth year of existence, PG_13 will reach a milestone by performing at Fête de la Musique next month.
“Since the inception of PG_13, this is the one festival we have always wanted to play, the Fête line up has always consisted of a group of musician that we have always wanted to learn from and interact with, so playing here is the next level of our education for our future musical endeavours,” says vocalist Bongiwe Nkobi.
Originating in France in 1982, the Fête de la Musique is celebrated in 700 cities in 120 countries across the world in June, including South Africa. The free concert which celebrates live music, takes place in the Newtown precinct, Johannesburg on the eight next month.
For lead guitarist Zweli Mthembu, who also is part of The Brother Moves On collective which performed at Fête years ago, seeing PG_13 on the Fête stage shows that they’ve worked very hard in a really short time and these kinds of gigs mean the band is reaching their goals.
The band is made up of poet Angela Mthembu, Harry Thibedi, Wandisile Boyce, Steven Bosman, Zweli Mthembu as well as Zoe Molelekwa and Neo Mabena.
They’ll share the stage with Msaki, reggae band Tidal Waves, the DRC’s Grace Attalie, Mozambican Afro-soul artist Deltino Guerreiro and Soweto’s Urban Village among others. The head of IFAS’s cultural section Corinne Verdier said in a statement “For us, for the artists, for our partners and sponsors, we all share one common goal: to put on a really fun and free music festival with that unique French flair! We also want to promote this new generation of wonderful artists.”
PG_13 released their EP Hekaya last year and will be performing songs from that project. “…Our set will be mixed up with songs that are both new and old. Songs we haven’t played in a while and songs that are still being written. Because the stories we tell are constantly evolving,” says guitarist, Thibedi.
That project included vocalist Thando Msiza who is no longer part of the ensemble. “We as PG_13 are not in the business of hiring or firing people. It is a fluid space that allow people to come in and out depending on where they are in their lives. I mean look, our lead guitarist will be going on tour with The Brother Moves On which gives us space to collaborate with people. When Zoe Molelekwa came into the space of PG_13 it was a collaborative project, but now he holds his own space in the music and plays a very important role in the collective. And he himself has a solo project of his own,” poet Angela says. “If we do ever work with another vocalist it would never be to replace Msiza but rather for the development of the sound,” adds drummer, Bosman.
The Fête gig is part of their busy winter schedule which also sees them playing at the Grahamstown Arts Festival in July, but before that they’ll host benefit concerts around Gauteng as a way of raising funds for logistics of that tour. “It’s going to be wonderful to play in my hometown naba ntwana base khaya,” the band’s bassist from the Eastern Cape, Boyce says with excitement.
Miles Davis once said time isn’t the main thing, but the only thing and had it not been for time, the band T.U.G wouldn’t have been unveiled. With a name like Time Unveils God, the significance and respect of time to this ensemble is apparent.
“I feel like time is the thing that connects us. Time connects the people who’ve come before, the future and us. It puts it in a line, and if you understand that line you pretty much understand the godliness about existence,” says Tony Dangler.
Made up of five black men; T.U.G is a Hip Hop collective with two emcees on vocals, Darkie Umnt’Omnyama and Tony Dangler with three masked fellas playing drums, acoustic and bass guitars. The three instrumentalist are unidentified, but elected to take up abbreviations from the band’s name, for the purpose of this interview. T plays the bass, U acoustic and G is the drummer.
“The important thing about time is that, we must work and make music for the people, heal them and carry on working,” bassist T, tells me.
“To me mfwethu, time is everything ya bo. Because everything happens in time. Time is lifetime. God is lifetime, there’s no start and there’s no ending,” adds G.
My photographer and I are welcomed by the scent of impepho, dank blunt and kindred spirits-I couldn’t help but embrace the calmness in T.U.G’s working space in Zondi, Soweto. I interview the band crammed on a couch, like TV-watching siblings. The masks bring a tad bit of awkwardness to the setting, as I struggle to make eye contact with the three players of the band.
“It’s the unveiling part-we’re unveiling what’s not unveiled in a way. In essence regarding music, it shouldn’t be about the guys in the background. With Hip Hop, it’s just the rapper and the beat, so we try to represent that,” says U, who is the co-founder of T.U.G.
“The mystery is kinda interesting as well. It leaves more room for people to think, ‘oh okay, I hear the raps, but what’s going on?’ and you end up not paying attention to us,” the guitarist adds.
Lebohang ‘Page’ More, Sun Xa Experiment’s manager, is the other co-founder. “We thought we should have two guys who aren’t the same, and luckily Tony is from PMB and uDarkie is from Jabulani and it made sense.”
It’s Hip Hop in that these kats rap, but more spiritual in the manner in which they present their art. Their music talks to identity and all round knowledge of self as an African child. According to Page, they had planned to have a beat-maker before assembling the band. “We were pissed [about not having the beat-maker] and ended up going with the band. So it’s an idea that came to all of us differently, maybe I spoke about it, but everyone contributed enough and equally to what it is today.”
T.U.G’s abode is also the Digging Thoughts headquarters and home to Zen Groove Project and the well-known Sun Xa Experiment. I’m uncertain if it was the carpeted floors, the graffiti-laden wall behind me, and the number of joints being passed around or simply the people who gave me a distinct feel of serenity and one that inspires creativity.
Being privy to the band’s rehearsals displayed how they benefit from working here, in this space. “It give us a lot of creative freedom, ya bo. Everyone plays a role in expressing themselves and creating ideas; he [pointing at Darkie] doesn’t necessarily play instruments, but he’ll come to me with a hymn and say to me ‘yo, I hear this melody in my head..’ so the creative process just keeps going,” says U. Darkie Umnt’Omnyama adds “Eintlik die dang e deep. It’s the thing you’re feeling-we can talk about it, but can’t explain it. What brought us together here is what we feel,” he says.
Darkie is more of an enigma than the masks covering the band- his dry humour has everyone in stitches when he answers questions and seems to assume the father-figure role in the group. But he and Tony Dangler complement each other pretty well, despite their unique differences which set them far apart. Like Q.Tip and Phife Dawg. While Tony is the animated rambunctious character with a fine twang, uDarkie Umnt’Omnyama is the reserved rapper who has the grit that can only be found in rappers from the hood-but both delivering rhymes with equal intensity and honesty, remaining in the pocket.
Darkie predominantly spits in vernac, while Tony raps in English but both are able to switch. Tony is known from Hip Hop clique Revivolution, which he’s still a member of. “Ain’t nun change man. A few of them niggers [from Revivo] were like ‘yo, what’s happening’ and some of them were like ‘ayt, it’s cool’. Illy pulls through some time to check out what’s happening and also, I guess it’s just a matter of time dawg. Some niggers have time to come through, some don’t. But everyone’s happy. Even Inferno’s back on his band business…it’s good that, that energy is vibrating out.”
T.U.G has only been together since late last year, but have performed at different places to gauge people’s reaction to their sound. They were at Smoking Dragon last year and will be at the Roving Bantu Kitchen in Brixton this Thursday. “So far yonke into e grand ya bo, I don’t recall us ever boring people; they can hear and understand what we’re about,” Darkie tells me.
They’ve also performed at Beverly Hills High school. “You hear that name and think ‘yoh, Beverly Hills’. It’s a school in the Vaal. We performed in front of those naughty kids, which felt like performing at a prison. But they responded well to our sound.”
“There’s a case where we performed for abantu abadala and e message e yaba thinta. We’ve also performed for drunk people and the message also went through. So the contrast of the audience is there,” Tony says.
Their association to Sun Xa puts them at an advantage, of gracing certain stages they wouldn’t have, had they been some random stand-alone band. They performed at one of Durban’s most sophisticated Jazz bars, The Chairman. But they are now carving out their own audiences, to distinguish themselves from Sun Xa, organically though they say.
Paraphrasing one of their songs, Heal Your Soul, Darkie says he wants people to walk away healed by their songs. “Kufanele aphole, phakathi na nga phandle. Whether someone has a headache or a sore finger, they should find healing and be good. This music doesn’t incite any violence or hatred, it makes the black person feel good.”
“If you are hungry you eat, if you are tired you sleep, if you want land you take it”.
Masello Motana, founder and leader of Matlama Anaha which means soldiers of the land, began her journey to reconcile with land some few years ago.
She founded the task team Matlama Anaha to address issues of housing through art and occupation of abandoned buildings. Her first attempt was unfortunately met with an arrest of the dubbed, “Noorwood trio” made up of Masello, Gugulethu Bodibe and Ntsikelelo Lokwe after being criminalised for occupying an abandoned house in the Southern suburb of Johannesburg in 2016. Motana at the time had declared the arrest only heightened her quest to reunite herself and others with land.
Two years after the arrest, Azibuye was staged at what Motana calls “prime land” in Observatory, Johannesburg. The project is regarded as an experiment in emancipatory use of expression through occupation.
The artistic performance of occupying spaces seeks to address the spatial injustices that Africans still face 163 years since the first legalized act that dispossessed Africans of land. These numerous “legal” instruments through staunch legislation played a pertinent role in legitimizing systematic land dispossession.
Azibuye is meant to address concerns of the artists’ livelihood, who do not make monthly incomes but survive on hand to mouth. This industry does not enable them to pay rent on a monthly basis, nor qualify for financing or be eligible for public housing since they do work.
“The homeless artist will through occupation of land, attempt to take art practise out of standardised commodified cycle of the gallery system. It intends to bring forth a challenge to private ownership patterns in the most unequal society in the world through a class based African analyses” emphasizes Motana on the collective’s mission.
The collective of artists aims to speak to the continuation of spatial injustices not only through occupation but also through dialogues, readings, historical re-enactments and other forms; by interrogating significant historical characters and events, and their consequence in the current narrative of land reform.
The occupation of suburban private property per the collective’s reputation is to address the issues of many South Africans who work in the cities like Johannesburg, and yet are veered into the edges of the city into townships like Alexandra and Soweto. The few who live the city and pay rent Motana concludes that they participate in their own oppression.
Motana’s choice of the “prime land” is to dismiss the continuous occupation of inferior land by skwatta camp dwellers which is in areas that always underdeveloped and overcrowded. To understand such peculiarities that the indigenous people of South Africa find themselves in one must go back into the past, into the history of land dispossession and how Settlers accumulated the land and the wealth. However, one will also have to go into the current condition of the law and leadership to have a clearer understanding.
The 14 different land control system constructed by the Apartheid regime as noted on the walls of the occupied property by the collective, have not been countered by new laws to ensure a proper land reform that close the spatial inequalities long assembled by the apartheid regime.
While the occupation in Observatory by Motana maybe be considered a small act, it is essential in challenging racial land ownership patterns which continue to favour whites a quarter century after the end of apartheid.
Azibuye is a necessary and pertinent movement which not only serves to speak truth to white power, by addressing issues of dispossession within the city but also a force that edges the ruling party to address and heal the spatial wounds inflicted by the apartheid regime.
THERE isn’t anything intimidating or thrilling to a creative as a blank page, a naked canvass stationed solely for your ideas. The feeling of pressure engrosses the creative when they’ve fallen off the horse of inspiration; constantly banging their heads against the hardest surface, for the sweetest creative juices to spew outta them.
Wordsmiths will tell you of the writer’s block they go through when attempting to take their work to the next level. The agitation they get during this period, is similar to understanding a language but not being able to speak it. Or knowing where home is, yet clueless about the directions. Or simply losing the remote and not knowing where to find it. It gets really bad. Not just for writers, but all creatives.
Alcohol and drugs are then seen as keys which unlock doorways to multiple eureka moments. They help one unwind and not overthink the process of creating, but that’s only for a little while. Many times we’ve seen artists rapidly go from using a drug for unwinding, to simply utilizing it as a crutch. So drugs aren’t a long term solution to get you back on the proverbial horse of inspiration. For singer songwriter Fortune Shumba when that time comes, it hits quite hard. “I usually go looking for inspiration. I find inspiration in the oddest of places. Sometimes I go for a walk, sometimes I watch a series or porn, sometimes I start texting some of my friends-I make it a point to not listen to someone else’s music though, to avoid unintentional jacking. It happens.”
Other creatives have taken the psychedelic micro-dosing route, where a person takes a sub-threshold of psychedelic drugs daily for creative improvement, emotional balance and various other reasons. “For me, I usually wait it out. It’s frustrating in the moment, I wait it out and trust the process and just start looking for inspiration,” says lyricist Ginger Trill. “It will usually happen while listening to other music that I find genius, or even different enough to be dope. The key is patience and trusting the process, sometimes you need that drought to help you unlock another level.”
What makes this whole shandis worse is that, as a creative you’re spending long hours and days fretting over something that the average reader or listener will momentarily engage with, turn and then ask you, ‘what else do you have?’ So the pressure to keep churning out the good stuff is constantly on your back like AfriForum on Julius Malema’s rear.
Chefs thoroughly think through their meals which are consumed within minutes, long before stepping into the kitchen. It’s a double edged sword. But creative work has the ability to leave a lifetime effect on a person, even after brief interaction with the work.
Ironically some artists will engage with works by other eccentric thinkers, to spark their creative juices back to life. This act is not done to make one Austin Kleon (author of Steal Like An Artist) proud, but rather inspire you as a creative to get back and do what you do, which works for visual artist Thandazani Ndlovu, when he’s in no man’s land in front of a canvass. “I usually visit other artists that inspire me, or galleries,” he says. It could be a conversation with a fellow artist or sometimes collaborating with them. “Artists feed off each other,” Ndlovu says.
“Personally, I meditate,” singer songwriter Tsoness, from duo Tribal PunQ tells me. “[I] go to shows that inspire me, watch music on YouTube in hope of bumping into some inspiring tracks.”
Music producer Kabelo ‘KaeB’ Tsoako also finds himself pressing the same keys one too many times trying to break new grounds sonically. “When I don’t make actual music I’ll either mix songs or clean up all songs, but there’s a time [where] I don’t even touch music, then I’ll binge watch stuff on Netflix.”
Angela Mthembu who is a poet from live ensemble, PG13 doesn’t see it a drought per se. You know how Kanye West saw his breakdowns last year as breakthroughs, well Miss Mthembu’s views on clogged creativity vessels are on the optimistic side of life as well.
“I remember placing all the poetry that I’ve ever written on my bed you know, and I was like none of these are actually good enough. I remember saying to myself ‘what if the idea of writer’s block is the ability to improve your previous work?’ I held each poem I placed on the bed and rewrote it as Angela at that moment-from that day onwards, every time I go through the idea that I might have writer’s block, I have interpreted it as the universe saying it’s time to improve. ”
Each to their own right? But once you’ve coherently saturated that intimidating blank page with your ideas, it becomes work. Which often leaves you with a ting of pride and an avalanche of vindication for all the agony you went through, just to create.
THANDAZANI NDLOVU is big, quiet and quite meticulous-like an elephant. A herd of elephants has tight matriarchal bonds, led by the oldest and largest of the female elephants-similar to Thandazani’s upbringing.
The Zimbabwean born artist understands and knows the significance of a home led by a strong woman, so much so that he’s dedicating his first solo exhibition to women, titled Depicting Woman. This of course was inspired by the head of the Ndlovu herd. “My mother, who took over and raised us as a single parent after my father passed away,” Thandazani tells me.
For nearly 10 years it seemed like his passion for the arts was gonna be buried in a nine-to-five he had at a factory. “To provide for my family I designed shoes. The visual arts was my first love and I felt torn not being able to give 100% and dividing my time between both places. I took a chance on my passion and it worked out for the better.”
“I’m inspired by the role my mother played in my life and the role women have in the township and around the world,” says the self-taught artist from Nkulumane Township, in Bulawayo.
Depicting Woman opens today at A-Lounge in Nelspruit Mpumalanga, where it’ll run for a month. “Women are powerful, they are strong and can do anything! Looking at how they raise children manage homes.” Thandazani will have 20 pieces on display for Depicting Woman.
He learnt about dedication and focus during his time in the shoemaking industry, which he still uses today in his art. There’s a sense of abstractness to his work, but with a sharp focus of depicting the emotions of his subject.
Although this might be his first solo exhibition, Thandazani got on the scene after creating a series in which he portrayed fading African cultures-which led to several commissioned work, one of which sits in the National Gallery of Zimbabwe. “I will do an exhibition in Gauteng, but [with] a different theme.”