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Leader: Izah Black Labone. Photo supplied
19min950

The first five years of a child’s life are said to be important for their physical, intellectual, and social-emotional development. Picturing that child as a black girl, how you raise her in this world is crucial. Well, that’s the analogy founder of Black Labone Izah Kutsh uses to describe the Pretoria-based art movement.

“Raising a girl child in these times is very sensitive, you know. It will always depend on the parents, but it will always be sensitive. It does need a very high level of sensitivity to get it right, to assist a girl child to navigate. We had a mantra where we said black women is god…where now we were bringing to Black Labone our own sacrifices, to say these are our offerings. The fruits we bore from the work of the day, we brought to Black Labone. So it is as much mystic as it is political,” Izah tells me.

It’s a Wednesday afternoon in April that I finally get to have a chat with Izah. Under the sun we chill, adjacent the entrance of African Beer Emporium, of course the squeaky bench we’re stationed on sits a bucket with cold Black Labels. I’m ironically writing this on a Thursday night in September, five months after the day and a month post Black Labone’s anniversary.

Taking It In: Black Labone crowd. Photo supplied

Black Label is particularly special to the Black Labone movement. The name came about following days of Izah and friends being hungover from guzzling Blacks. “It was on a week when we had been drinking from gigs from the weekend. I remember chilling with the guys on Monday. One of the guys said it was Blue Monday and I was like ‘How come, when we’re drinking a Black’… yaba yiBlack Mantaha,” he says. They carried on drinking throughout that week nursing hangovers with more beer, placing the ‘Black’ in front of the day they were drinking on. “But when it got to the Labone, the name stuck…and remember we wanted to do a gig on a Thursday…”

Black Labone is an abode for creatives of all kinds, mainly from around Pretoria, but also for those who hail from distant lands. That this movement is five years old is quite significant. It is not the first art movement of its kind in the Capital City, but has proven to be the most consistent.

For their fourth anniversary last year, Black Labone hosted what Izah describes as an origin’s story. “…we had an open discussion, sort of round table discussion where we spoke of movements that have been established in Pretoria before Black Labone…what their impact was and how things are looking for artists that were involved in those movements,” he shares.

An MC: Prodiiiiiii. Photo supplied

The Ones Who Came Before

During the dialog, one of the things that kept coming up pertaining all these movements, is that they were mostly spearheaded by people from outside the city. “Be it Soweto, Mafikeng, Polokwane…these are people who were students in Pretoria. Then they establish and spearhead movements, in the city. Some of them get work here, some of them go back home or relocate because of work. Ku Phele imovement sbali, like akwenzekanga fokol. Now it’s just a memory, into abakhulumangayo estradini,” Izah says. His tone is a cocktail of sombre and frustration when speaking about these movements because of how good they were.

Black Labone’s fourth anniversary cellebrations paid homage to movements such as No Camp Chairs Poetry Picnic founded by Vangi Gantsho, Uhuru Wamayisha Poetry Movement, Capital Arts Revolution and other movements that happened around the city of Tshwane more than a decade ago. Some continued for a while after the founders left, but things weren’t the same. What’s weirdly consistent is the fall of the aforementioned movements and the organic birth of another.

Leader: Izah Black Labone. Photo supplied

With his aura of an old pedantic man that carries a hip soul, Izah speaks of how Black Labone was established. As much as its just him and I having the conversation, he reiterates that Black Labone is kept going by a dedicated team of people. At the time of the interview, the total Black Labone team stood at 16 people which include the in-house band, the guys at the door, DJs and floor manager.

Establishing Black Labone

“It took time to establish Black Labone because the mission was to create a movement that is freely available as these movements were, but also it needed to be self-sustaining. A self-sustaining programme but also a long standing programme,” explains Izah.

The Black Labone pilot took place in the last week of July in 2017 at the Old Fire Station, no invites were shared on social media as they routinely do today. The invites were through word of mouth. “If we invite people esibhaziyo thina, how many of them would come…conclusively so that we know that we are doing the launch. This is the pilot in July, first week of August is the launch.”

A handful of people pitched but what’s worse is that the sound guy didn’t bother coming. “isound azange ifiike King. So much so, on the day of what was supposed to be the gig became the meeting for the gig next week.”

From the unintended meeting, a solid plan of action was agreed upon. There was a sense of community in how people volunteered to provide sound, photography or assist wherever needed at the actual launch the following week. This must be the root of their slogan “Showing up is showing love.”

Stationed: Black Labone during its Old Fire Station days. Photo supplied

Finding an Abode

The movement has been at the African Beer Emporium for at least three years now after leaving their launching pad, the Old Fire Station. As Black Labone grew in numbers in mid-2018, the movement became a problem to some living at the Old Fire Station. “We had to leave the Fire Station. It wasn’t savoury…we left at a very sour point. In a space of a year, it wasn’t the space we launched the programme in. It changed rapidly.”

The Fire Station is partly an artist hub but also houses people who aren’t in the art space, creating a tussle between the artists and the residents. While that was ongoing, Izah and the team were already looking for alternative venues in the city to host Black Labone.

In early 2019 the guy who manages the African Beer Emporium had attended Black Labone at the Fire Station and liked it so much, he offered to host the movement at ABE, first starting it out as a First-Thursday concept featuring Black Labone as one of the items on their programme. “We said we’d rather have a three-month trial run and should it be successful, on the fourth month we’ll start doing it weekly gigs. But by the second month, we started doing weekly shows”

Black Labone has also been hosted at Four Four Two.

Self-Sustenance

The spirit of volunteerism and sense of camaraderie works for the movement, at least until they are able to sustain themselves in that particular department. For example, the in-house band volunteered their instruments until now, where some instruments are provided by Marshall Music. “Marshall Music donated the drum kit to us, it’s our job to maintain it. They volunteered a drum kit, just like the artist volunteer their performances,” Izah says.

Black Labone House Band

One of their goals was to be self-sustaining when they started because using personal funds wasn’t something they’d be able to withstand. “When we started, there were times where I paid for the sound myself…even team members would contribute directly. By self-sustaining, now the event doesn’t require any of us to pay from our pockets anymore. The program sustains itself in that regard.”

They now have an agreement with a sound company, Greenlight Sound, which provides sound every week. “Jonathan [Greenlight Sound owner] is not the first sound man we’ve worked with. We’ve had to go through a lot of them. Jonathan likes Black Labone more than it is worth, we don’t pay the worth of the sound. But because of the frequency of the gig also, it adds a bit of value. It’s the one gig he can trust to happen come hell or high water.”

Man Of The House: Nafy Dread playing a set at Black Labone. Photo supplied

The Black Labone Stage

The movement has hosted some renowned artists such MXO, MoAfrika, The Brother Moves On, iPhupho L’ka Biko, Sibusile Xaba, Ntsiki Mazwai and plenty more. There is also the thrill of always without fail, being introduced to new talent at Black Labone. Whether a folk singer on the main stage or a smooth spinner on the Annex Stage.

All Smiles: Ladies enjoing a good moment at Black Labone. Photo supplied

Some of the prominent artists are booked and paid for by someone who purely loves the movement. “There are bands that come to Black Labone funded to play. Sometimes anonymously. A person would tell us ‘arrange a date for the artist or band and I will a deposit on the Tuesday ahead of the gig'” Izah tells me.

Some of the artists that have played on the Black Labone stage will get a reminder from the organisers to return or even they’ll request to perform as part of their tour itinerary or simply to try out new material.

Izah says artist have also found ways of making gains within the Black Labone programme. Musician Thapelo Khumisi asked to perform and also campaign for votes after being nominated in the Classical Jazz category in the Central Music Awards. “At the end of his performance, he asked the crowd for votes…and he won.”

Winner: Thapelo Khumisi with his award. Photo supplied
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7min2280

At the age of 22, Nyota Parker’s musicality and worldview is mind-blowing to say the least. Born in Ireland, with a Congolese and Irish heritage, a non-conformist with a sharp South African upbringing and global appeal.

The first instance I heard the music, I got struck by her eccentric and soothing vocals which instantly took me to a frenzy. She’s currently based in the United States where she’s pursuing her music career as she puts it “I’m really enjoying the opportunities here, it’s a lot easier to create something for yourself here”.

When listening to her music, one can’t go without mentioning her great command of language and an understanding of the complexities of prosody. Nyota Parker’s sound is experimental and impressively finely tuned; a fusion of different elements. What stands out the most and that which is reminiscent is her undeniable forte for Rap and Soul music which she dives into when creating her own records. To date she has released four music projects beginning with her first mixtape, Age Of Enlightenment in 2016, followed by Purification, then Energy and now her most recent album Spectrum in 2021.

On Her Seat: Nyota Parker. Photo supplied
In Her Seat: Nyota Parker. Photo supplied

She approaches music with sophistication and simplicity. You’d have to read the lyrics to understand what I mean. On Spectrum, which she says is her most solid album, she explores ideas about self-growth, identity and freedom of thought as demonstrated in the song Run: “But you proved that you will bend to all their rules. While I bend the rules”. And on track 2-Spectrum, she continues to reaffirm the notion of independency: “I just want to make my own songs and end up being stable. I don’t want no label sitting in a play round table. I don’t want no CEO telling me who to relate to. I’ve already learned that through trials and tribulations”.

The album is a precognition of the type of artist she is and what she stands for. She attributes her confidence and sense of independence to her upbringing “I was raised by my mom and her side of the family in South Africa, I’m really thankful for that. I’ve been shaped into the person and artist I am today because of the values that were literally drilled into my head, like never allowing someone else to dictate my life to me,” she says to Tha Bravado.

On her pre-eminent eight track album Spectrum, liberty to choose who she wants to be is a bastion to the theme and encapsulates the core assertion of the project. I’d describe the album as an enthralling enabling emergent collective consciousness of sonics tied together elegantly in harmony. She uses her voice and talent as a vehicle to ignite the spirit of freedom and emancipation. The tonality and lyricism exude an enigmatic and imaginative groove coupled with rhythms and poetry. I applaud her for the track variety and assortment she went for on the 2021 released album, for it sounds serendipitous. On certain songs she curated a “wavey” flow even if the songs are of an alternative genre which brought a youthfulness vibe.

My personal favorite song is Terms/Seasons, I enjoy how poetry and soulful it is – the opening lines resonate with me: “Music gets me through things but rap gets me. I think I’d rather suffer for my dreams. And die happy”.
Moreover, she won my heart when I watched her NPR Tiny Desk Concert submission performance. It convinced me she’s an all-rounded musician. I am looking forward to the new project which is said to drop sometime this year, mark my words she’s a star on the rise and it’s all thanks to that first amateur recording session back in 2016 in a “shoe closet…the homies shoe closet”.

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11min3850

Director and Chief Curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York City Thelma Golden once said an exhibition is in many ways a series of conversations. Between the artist and viewer, curator and viewer, and between the works of art themselves. It clicks when an exhibition feels like it has answered some questions, and raised even more.

In his first exhibition as the University of Johannesburg Art Gallery Curator, Thabo Seshoka has managed to facilitate the series of conversations between the artwork itself, the observer and the paintings and without imposing himself in the conversation, he lubricates these dialogues in Privileges of Proximity. “When I started curating the collection and working through it, I wanted to see myself, because as a curator you develop a relationship with your collection, you fight for it and you look after it. It’s interesting that we never show our collection and what’s in it and I wanted to start doing that. It was also about how there’s different messaging that exists in certain works and certain paintings, but we never really engage with them and that’s what I wanted to do,” Seshoka tells me on the opening of the exhibition, at UJ’s Auckland Park campus in Johannesburg.

Willow trees by PIERNEEF, Jacobus Hendrik. Photo supplied

The first item in the exhibition hangs on the wall on the left as you walk into the UJ Gallery. It’s Maggie Laubser’s Landscape with Sheep, while below it is Jacobus Hendrick Pierneef titled Ladskap. “I intentionally curated it this way because the Maggie Laubser is placed above the Pierneef, and Pierneef is considered to be a master and etiquette says it should be on top and by himself. But for me it’s about saying Maggie Laubser is also a master given she was painting at a time where women were either not allowed to paint and if they were allowed to paint, they painted still lives because that’s the only subject they had access to,” says 28 year-old Seshoka walking me through the works.

The first paintings depict various South African landscapes which some date back to the early 20th century. But Seshoka warns me about landscapes as I get immersed in the artwork. “Landscapes are problematic, especially the ones commissioned by the Government made by Pierneef. They depict South Africa as being empty but it wasn’t!”
A John Meyer painting of a house on what seems like a farmland hangs on the same wall- the house in the painting is in the Cape Dutch architectural style. Shoka encourages to look directly back to the opposite wall in the gallery where a line of black and white images of District Six dangle, buildings with the same Dutch architectural style feature in some of these images.

“I wanted to raise the question of land ownership. Because people from District Six were forcefully removed and their houses were demolished. Now in our new democratic dispensation they claimed back the land, but they haven’t been able to fully settle back in the space. For me it’s about how we exist, but also about how we present certain things and certain individuals,” says Seshoka. Adjacent the photos is a Willem Boshoff painting titled ‘n Huis in die Hemel (Kykafrikaans) which pays homage to individuals who were forcefully removed from District Six, but never got a chance to go back.

Landskap by PIERNEEF, Jacobus Hendrik

Seshoka took up the role of UJ art gallery curator in January following the retirement of Annali Cabano-Dempsey who was at the helm for 24 years. “Building on the work of the legendary Annali Cabano-Dempsey has been a tough act to follow, however, I am up to the task. Annali had deep commitment and dedication to the UJ Art Gallery over the past two decades, and I am able to build on the foundations that were laid by her. It is important to note that curation is diverse and complex. Every Curator has their own style of curation, operating a gallery, and executing their priorities. Since, my assumption of the role, there has been a lot of change management. We are repositioning ourselves within the broader South African and International Arts Communities,” says Seshoka. He previously worked at Robben Island Museum’s Exhibitions and Development, Research and Natural Environment units, as well as the institution’s Creative Team and Mayibuye Archives.

From questions of land, the exhibition changes gear through Gordon Vorster’s Gebroote-grond. The 91,4×182,2 cm oil canvas which depicts a male and a female obscurely drawn but with vivid eyes gazing at works on the opposite wall, conversing with it. It’s paintings and photographs of various women, including a picture of an African Jubilee Choir member which Charlotte Maxeke was also part of in the late 1800s. “The space here is to raise questions around gender, the role that women play but more especially the unseen role that they play and how they’re not actually appreciated.”

President Kruger by Van WOUW, Anton. Photo supplied

Everything in the exhibition is strategically place, serving a purpose. A sculpture by Naomi Jacobson titled Bushman looks out the window of the gallery. “For me he’s admiring that how much we have advanced, at how UJ has advanced. He intentionally looks the building called Madibeng because when RAU started you would have not seen a building named Madibeng,” Seshhoka poignantly says.

Privileges of Proximity has given me the opportunity to critically engage with and reposition the collection, I am not disregarding what has been and in no way are my curatorial decisions absolute in nature. They seek to be questioned, engaged with and most importantly create dialogue,” Seshoka says.

“Our art collection is still in the process of evolving, there are major gaps that exists within the collection, especially when it comes to female, queer, black and differently abled artists. Privileges of Proximity recognises and highlights the gaps that exists within the collection, hence the desire to create conversation and dialogue about the limited representation of marginalised groups.” He says the University will be hosting more exhibitions in the near future, Privileges of Proximity being the first conversation of many that leave observers asking themselves questions.

Clement Gama11/12/2021
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4min20670

One thing we missed during the stringent lockdowns in the last 20 months or so was live music and the vibrancy of a festival. One of these festivals was Basha Uhuru Creative Uprising, where one always walks away having discovered new music or a new artist.

Bonga Kwana was one of those talents that many discovered at this year’s Basha, which again was hosted at Constitution Hill in Braamfontein, Johannesburg. Bonga Kwana was one of the night’s last performers at together with her band and she owned the stage. She gave so much of herself, not only vocally but also in her dance moves.

GIVING HER ALL:Bonga Kwana at Basha Uhuru. Photo by Sip The Snapper
GIVING HER ALL:Bonga Kwana at Basha Uhuru. Photo by Sip The Snapper

“I was a dancer, I always loved dancing…I just love entertaining people,” says the former ballerina. She says her love for music began in high school where she was part of the choir and a couple of jazz ensembles. “When I started performing with live bands, I was like ‘hell yea I like this,'” Kwana speaking of her school days which was around 2014 and 2015 when she matriculated. “I earned my tripes since high school.”

Bonga Kwana is an alumni of the Bridges for Music, an NPO which has for years now hosted tours and workshops in disadvantaged communities alongside internationally recognised artists like Ed Sheeran and Black Coffee.

BONGA TO THA PEOPLE: Bonga Kwana on stage at Basha Uhuru. Photo by Sip The Snapper

Bonga Kwana quips that she is a Nando’s baby because she is a beneficiary of the food chain’s collaboration with Bridges for Music in educating young artists on the business side as well as the creative. “In 2019 I made the decision to join the Bridges for Music Academy. In the first month of joining, just shortly after joining there was an opportunity to be part of the Nando’s music exchange which was in London in 2019.”

Her performance at Basha showed that she is a student of the arts and has she learnt a thing or two while in London.

That performance was just a week before she released her debut project, New Faces to Old Problems on November 5th. Her single Ndifuna Wena featuring Ntsika of The Soil has been getting some airplay.

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7min31020

This COVID pandemic has done wonders for the South African music industry. Obviously Nathi Mthethwa and his ilk have ruthlessly filled their pockets with Madiba notes meant for the arts in this god forsaken country of ours, but that is no surprise. Gangsters will be gangsters.

What I think has improved is the level of creativity in our music. While celebrity musicians have been making all kinds of reality TV shows in order to sustain their seemingly glamourous lifestyles, the ‘up and coming’ are pursing new and game-changing sounds, instead of chasing a big cheque with an easily forgettable club banger. New Joburg based musician Fatheroursons is one artist trying to father new dope sounds.

HIS FATHER'S SON: Artist Fatheroursons. Photo by Tshepo Errol Msimango
HIS FATHER’S SON: Artist Fatheroursons. Photo by Tshepo Errol Msimango

His debut EP titled Child, is a self-aware daddy complex project which swings between remorse, inconsideration and neglect.

In the opening track Bluewaters, the young man affirms his need for absolution as a sinner. “…bluewaters…cleanse my skin, I have sinned…our farther…our farther true forgiveness comes within…bluewaters…how far is it to fall?…but through it all you know yourself “

On the closing track Stupid bitch, Fathoursons chastises some poor soul for not knowing their position in his life. “…drink some water, your blood is thickening, close your eyes and start listening, don’t make me say it more than once, you little stupid bitch…you are a bitch I am a monster….keep pretending you know shit, the truth is you don’t know shit….you little stupid bitch”

ON THAT BEACH: Fatheroursons. Photo by Tshepo Errol Msimango
AN ALL STAR?: Fatheroursons on that beach. Photo by Tshepo Errol Msimango

The tension between these two antonymous perspectives existing within one entity is a condition which haunts the Bantu male to no end. Fatheroursons explores this curious tension in his debut project. He poetically recognizes the monster he sees in the mirror as a product of circumstance who ironically perpetuates a karmic cycle of pain. He is both the villain and the victim in his story. He just can’t help himself.

NATURE BOY: Fatheroursons. Photo supplied
NATURE BOY: Fatheroursons a man in touch with self. Photo supplied

Fatheroursons operates on top of low tempo percussive grooves which are filled with all sorts of delicious pads. He has a minimalistic approach to his music and I am generally not a fan of such an approach to sound but the length of the project negates any such inclinations. While his writing slaps harder than your momma after you lost her change on your way back from the store. A case in point is the fourth track on the five track EP, titled Don’t call me.

NEVER INA HAYWIRE: Fatheroursons. Photo by Zanoxolo Mthiyane
NEVER INA HAYWIRE: Fatheroursons. Photo by Zanoxolo Mthiyane

“…Don’t call my phone, I don’t want to hear it, the thought of you makes me nervous, don’t call my phone, we’ve been here before, that shit used to work on me, it don’t work no more, don’t call my phone…”  The level of relatability I have with the above words is beyond my powers of expression.

The Child EP is a fire introductory project for Fatheroursons. It forced a serious bout of self-examination even though it won’t stop me from smashing the thirsty hun in my DM’s who clearly got daddy issues by the ton. It is what it is.

Fatheroursons Child EP Cover. By Fatheroursons
Fatheroursons Child EP Cover. By Fatheroursons

You can stream the EP Here


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