Black Labone

Black Labone Logo
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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8min30330

The State Theatre in Pretoria was the venue for the inaugural Kulture Blues Festival and one would easily assume this to be an Africa month celebration, looking at the line-up.

“That was pure coincidence,” says the event’s producer Kulani Nkuna. “That was simply the day that was available for us. But we are Pan African in outlook and ideology.”

The unrivalled Thandi Ntuli headlined the two-day festival which began on Friday night with an intimate performance by the pianist. While Saturday saw Makhafula Vilakazi and Iphupho L’ka Biko on stage.

Together with her band, Ntuli serenaded the sizeable  audience inside Malambo Theatre with her gentle voice. She could’ve sang the whole night and we wouldn’t have cared for time. She has the astuteness of a Thelonious Monk on keys, while her voice has the gentleness of a Spha Mdlalose.

LADY WITH KEYS: Thandi Ntuli. Photo by Khulisile Nkushubana
LADY WITH KEYS: Thandi Ntuli. Photo by Khulisile Nkushubana

It’s a sad truth, but it is a rarity to have such artists playing together in a prominent space such as The State Theatre, unless the country’s commemorating a holiday day like Youth day or Africa month. There’s a paucity of spaces that accommodate the not-so generic artist. “Some of the content is not palatable to white sensibilities, so most veer away from these artists and their content,” Nkuna says. He pitched the idea of the festival to the State Theatre a while back and fortunately they opened their doors.

The festival’s name was inspired by a Putumayo compilation album titled African Blues. “That album was essentially the blues but in an African context and in our African languages. The Kulture part was taken from the name of our platform Culture Review and an attempt to pay homage to our particular type of sound,” Nkuna tells me. This will be an annual festival.

BIKO' DREAM:
Biko’s dream in full effect. Photo by Khulisile Nkushubana

There’s a palpable inquisitiveness and a longing for African spirituality and a steady growth in Pan Africanism, particularly with this generation. The art scene hasn’t been an exception. Artists are creating works that are inspired by the aforementioned elements.

BLOWIN': Sthembiso performing at The State Theatre with Thandi Ntuli. Photo by Khulisile Nkushubana
BLOWIN’: Sthembiso performing at The State Theatre with Thandi Ntuli. Photo by Khulisile Nkushubana

Iphupho L’ka Biko is one ensemble that creates music that revives the spirit. The band was on stage Saturday evening after Vilakazi’s performance. While the smell of dank weed ushers you at Hip Hop shows. The aroma of impepho burning filled the auditorium during Iphupho L’ka Biko’s performance.

“The art scene is beaming with artists who make music that speak to the dire conditions of black people in this country live in. Art is a critical mirror that speaks to the brutality meted to black bodies by the state and by whiteness,” Nkuna says.

POLITICALLY CHARGED: KK performing at The State Theatre. Photo by Khulisile Nkushubana
POLITICALLY CHARGED: KK performing at The State Theatre. Photo by Khulisile Nkushubana

Iphupho L’ka Biko performed their hit Uthixo Ukhona and they also played songs which commemorate lost black lives including that of American Sandra Bland. An ode to Chris Hani titled Thembisile is so moving, it should be heard by all South African school kids to help give them insight about our past.  But IPhupho’s performance felt all over the place at times. They should shelve the afro-beat inspired section of their set; it’s a paradigm shift from the more jazz and protest sound they have. But Iphupho L’ka Biko surprisingly had a bigger audience than Ntuli’s the previous night. This is probably due to the fact that the band had performed at Black Labone on Thursday night.

BIKO' DREAM:
Izingane zikaBiko: IPhupho L’ka Biko Uthixo at the end of their performance. Photo by Khulisile Nkushubana.

“the artists performed at an exceptional level, and the audience were really in tune with the performers on stage,” says Nkuna post the event. Nkuna’s still unsure of the exact number of attendees of the festival as he still awaits for a ticket sales report from webtickets.

HerSkinSpeaks-Article-8-1280x495.jpg
10min6591

My typing cannot keep-up with the pace at which this rain is coming down. For some people, this here downpour could symbolize their growth, rebirth or sum like that. While for someone squatting in a shack somewhere, it’s simply a pain in the butt.

In the same way some still believe that any talk of miscarriages or child loss is taboo or a no-go-area. So much that a term like ‘fetal demise’ is preferred over ‘death’ or ‘passing away’ when talking about this kind of bereavement. But there are rebels out there, with a cause and without a pause, fighting against this stereotype. Palesa Makua is one of them.

EYES OF THE WARRIOR: Palesa Makua. Photo by Sello Majara
EYES OF THE WARRIOR: Palesa Makua. Photo by Sello Majara

Through her movement, Her Skin Speaks, which is dedicated at celebrating women’s ever-changing bodies, Makua put together a photo exhibition titled What Do We Call Women Who Have Lost Children? as a way of healing herself and other women who’ve lost babies.

“I was miserable and almost losing my mind, I then decided to quit my job to fully focus on myself and those like me,” she says. The Mamelodi-native lost her son through stillbirth in 2017 and has experienced two other losses after that. The idea to do this project came to her in January this year.

A patron appreciates the Her Skin Speaks exhibition at Cafe What? in Lesotho. Photo by Sello Majara
A patron appreciates the Her Skin Speaks exhibition at Cafe What? in Lesotho. Photo by Sello Majara

“This project has been what therapy is for most who find it useful for them.  It has not only given me the chance to openly deal with what has happened to me but also gave an amazing sisterhood with women who are strangers yet relate to my story wholeheartedly.  This project has been a healing space for me and it continues to serve that to those I have not yet met.”

Since this was also a therapeutic experience for her, Makua found herself reliving what she had gone through. “I also struggled with holding back my tears when we were documenting real conversations with the women who have lived these stories (which is totally understandable because we don’t necessarily get over the loss but with time we learn to coexist with the pain).

The Her Skin Speaks exhibition. Photo by Sello Majara
The Her Skin Speaks exhibition. Photo by Sello Majara

The exhibition was launched in August. “Showcasing at Vavasati International Women’s Festival hosted at The State Theatre was absolutely a dream come true, having to step on that much of a big entity’s stage and bare my soul was absolutely amazing.  The platform has added enormous weight to Her Skin Speaks ExHERbition as a brand.”

The exhibition has also made its way to the Kingdom. “Lesotho has become my second home and show casing there was absolutely needed as I have featured two ladies based in Barea and Morija (Lesotho) It was an honour seeing the subjects there with their loved ones to witness their contribution to such a movement and even heavier topic,” she says.

A photographer herself, Makua took photos of the four women who were part of this project. “The initial women whom the exhibition was about did not feel comfortable with being shot nude so I had to make a call out for women who are able and would like to embody their stories and it wasn’t really hard for them to agree to this idea as some of them knew why I needed to do this shoot because they are familiar with my story.”

Cafe What? – Her Skin Speaks exhibition in Lesotho. Photo by Sello Majara

The vulnerability that comes with nudity is no child’s play, especially in a society that sexualises the female body. It makes sense why some women would pull out of such a project- we live in a world where people even shun being naked by themselves. But not Palesa Makua, she has a liking for the bod. She embraces the beauty of her body without shame.  “The reason I am fascinated by telling stories through human nudity is because for a very long time women’s bodies have been a battlefield and unfortunately they continue to be.

I honestly couldn’t think of any other way to portray this “Battlefield” in its truest, most beautiful and sincere form as we know it and call it what exactly it is.”

“All these unfortunate events are taking place emizimbeni yethu or it is the foundation of the amount of damage that happens emuntwini, I couldn’t have chosen any other way to document our stories.”

– Her Skin Speaks exhibition at Cafe What? in Lesotho. Photo by Sello Majara

“What I hope that people take from this is that no one has to suffer in silence and in the words of Zewande ‘The soul of a miscarried child never leaves the womb’ also hope that more women finds comfort that we are here holding space for them and that they should never go through this loss alone.  I hope this inspires more women to open up to other women about such events (I know I wish oh I had someone walking me through this).”

Makua will today showcase her work at Black Labone in Pretoria (381 Helen Joseph Street African Beer Emporium)


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