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.
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.