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Clement Gama10/26/2022
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6min330

Drumming genius Tumi Mogorosi will this Friday present Group Theory: Black Music for the people, with the people, at the People’s Theatre in the Jo’burg Theatre precinct. “I started out in a choir,” says Mogorosi, as he reflects on the significance of Black voices in concert.

“There’s this idea of mass, of a group of people gathering, which has a political implication and the operatic voice has both a presence and a capacity to scream, a capacity for affect. The instrumental group can sustain the intensity of that affect, and the chorus can go beyond improvisation, toward communal melodies that everyone can be a part of.”
If there is what is called genre, the political signature that Mogorosi’s Group Theory: Black Music installs, is an aesthetic that blurs this fixture, this category, this fuss. Mogorosi speaks to the signs of the times by way of critical takes, responses, diagnosis, and perpetual questioning. In this upcoming performance, Mogorosi and his ensemble are coming together to make an offering.

Mogorosi offers reflective encounters of black study in communion and assembly with the audience. This gathering is about taking a journey together and pausing to reflect, taking in what is offered, digesting, and then moving forward to a destination unknown. By inhabiting the theatre as a space, Mogorosi invites us to be part of the ensemble, to bear witness to the album not only in a live setting but with new ears, in silence. This is the currency of generativity, an experiment that provides “extra” — the lyrical application, the exit of the whole that is genre; that is, the political re-reading of the work of art. We are invited, therefore, to come and absorb together, in silence and joy — black study.

The album is in lineage with the black radical leanings of the South African songbook and tradition. Worth noting, also, is its explicit resonance which bears the stamp of what Fred Moten and Stefano Harney refer to as “black study” The work of an ensemble is what Mogorosi offers, and that is why the titling is apt — Group Theory: Black Music.
The album carries traces of Amiri Baraka’s robust but tender communal thought. Mogorosi’s titling critiques the very idea of individuation, and calls for the invitation of the common project. It is only in the context of the ensemble that the common project can be discerned. By way of gathering, the album, as a site of study in a theatre setting, will be a performance that is not in the name of the event but the continued project.

Here, in anticipation, and thus through the protocols of black study, the marked barrier of what is the stage and the auditorium will be blurred. In the invitation of communally sharing, Group Theory: Black Music gestures at making possible the aural experience as a whole bodily sensorium. By pointing towards deep listening, this is an invitation to be in the realm of silence. Mogorosi and the ensemble speak in the name of this silence — by fulfilling the liberatory impulse of this long black radical tradition. The music that erupts, that chants and speaks and weeps from this silence, is what will be shared.

Click HERE for tickets

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5min410

Art director Noluthando ‘Texture’ Lobese might have long left the DiepCity set, but she was recognised for her work on the telenovela winning the Art Direction award at this year’s SAFTAs. “Our vision, determination and team’s effort is what’s paying off today. Hard work is meaningless without a vision,” Lobese tells Tha Bravado.

Losebe left DiepCity in January after spending only one season. “I resigned end of January
from DiepCity. I felt that I had served my purpose and it was time for other people to breathe
new life and energy for season two,” she says.

DiepCity is produced by the award-winning creator and director, Mandla N of Black Brain Productions. The story explores the struggle of four young women trying to make their way in the world. In February last year before building the set, the art department went to Diepsloot for research to understand the living conditions and environment. “The props and the furniture we got it from Diepsloot. We got it from the community of Diepsloot, which was amazing,” Lobese shared with me. DiepCity will end after two seasons, with the final episode set to air on Friday 3 March 2023.

Hashtag Dope: Noluthando ‘Texture’ Lobese. Photo supplied

Lobese’s work on the tv show, which was a first for her, brought a lot attention of Lobese’s incomparable skills. “Most people have had an interest in collaborating with me while I was shooting DiepCity. However, it was not possible at the time because I was dedicated to Diepcity and it was a delicate art piece I had just created, so I needed to see it through,” Lobese says. “However, after my resignation I collaborated with various Directors and DP’s which is refreshing.”

Lobese is somewhat of a nomad, whisked off to various places by her work. “I like going to places where no one knows my name, learn a new language. Learn to crawl and walk as a reminder of where we come from.”

The set of The Black Door that Lobese worked on after DiepCity. Photo supplied

She’s currently on holiday in Brazil, but she was in Kenya for the past few months. “I was invited as a production designer by Mpho Thwala and the entire team was from there. Art Director, Costume designer and Make Up Artist all Kenyan. What a wonderful team to work with.”

Lobese can’t disclose more about the production since it’s still in post. “We finished [shooting] in July. It’s always wonderful and challenging to work away from home. You need to have an open mind and open heart,” says Lobese.

She is currently a Costume Supervisor for a production in London, UK. “Still in pre prod and unable to disclose.”

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10min880

I’m unsure of the context around Malcolm X’s words when he said “I believe in the brotherhood of all men, but I don’t believe in wasting brotherhood on anyone who doesn’t want to practice it with me. Brotherhood is a two-way street.”
But I am certain of how these words capture the genuine camaraderie between Bloke Modisane and Langston Hughes. The friendship between the two writers and activists from Sophiatown, South Africa, and Harlem in New York, respectively is explored in the Bloke and His American Bantu-a play currently showing at the South African State Theatre.

Written by author Dr Siphiwo Mahala and directed by renowned television and theatre actor and director Sello Maake kaNcube, the story is based in the 1960s when Modisane was in exile, in London England. Experienced thespian Josias Dos Moleele plays the character of Hughes with such swagger while young actor Anele Nene puts in a career-defining performance as Modisane. The play traces the intellectual discourse that transpired between the two scribes from 1960 to 1967, a period during which they exchanged well over 50 letters.

Langston’s Reverence of Africa and Its People

Langston was a revered American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist whose life and work were enormously important in shaping the artistic contributions of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, who saw Africa beyond the drums and wildlife but appreciated the number of intellectuals the continent produced.
Throughout the play he fondly speaks of the Drum Boys-these were a group of writers for Drum Magazine during the publication’s halcyon days in the 1950s, which included Henry Nxumalo, Can Themba, Es’kia Mphahlele, Lewis Nkosi and Bloke himself. He insinuates that the rest of the world is sleeping on the brilliant minds that the South Africa has.

Langston travelled to other parts of the continent, exchanging ideas with other African intellectuals such as Wole Soyinka. This play showed his genuine affection for the continent.
Langston affectionately refers to Bloke as his favourite Bantu, this is quite significant considering the number of Bantus Langston came across. But his curiosity for and about Africa was fed by Bloke, whether it was language, people, or culture.

Josias Dos Moleele who plays the character of Langston Hughes. Photo by Tebogo Gama

Bloke’s Trials in Exile

Being an artist or a creative looking for work is stressful enough, but that pain is doubled when living in exile in the land of your coloniser. In one scene Bloke writes to Langston about his woes and in it, Bloke’s pain is palpable-it seemed as though he was nigh taking his life. “…All I know is that I’m tired, nothing I do is good enough. Things don’t change, yesterday is just like today and tomorrow will be just like yesterday. I don’t know man, sometimes I just want to go back to South Africa, at least there I was alive Langston! something was happening all the time. But here, here I’m just dead,” writes Bloke in the letter which Nene powerfully portrayed on stage. Bloke’s words speak to that double-edge-sword that is unemployment and being exiled.
In his response, Langston as any brother would, chastises Bloke for not asking for help.
“Blokey, don’t be simple-minded just be simple. Why didn’t you write to me if you’re having things so tough, you know I would’ve sent you a little something…and no, no obligation, you don’t have to say thank you or anything,” Langston wrote back.
This honesty from both men, enabled the strengthening of their bond.

Anele Nene. Photo by Tebogo Gama

Chemistry of The Two Actors

The chemistry between the two actors is palpable as they bring to life a slice of history that is little known about the bonds that connected the South African liberation struggle with black America. It shines the spotlight on the role of artists and intellectuals in forging international solidarity during one of the darkest hours in the history of South Africa.

 

Dos Molele with Anele Nene. credit Tebogo Gama

I imagine one of the most important things when doing a two-hander in any production, is the chemistry of the pair. Nene and Moleele’s combination epitomised Langston and Bloke’s friendship.
Sometimes when an experienced actor works with a young thespian, you cringe at the thought of the latter not being able to keep pace with the senior. But Bloke was channelled through bold acting by the talented Nene, who hails from Durban. The 25-year-old won the Ovation Award at the 2020 National Arts Festival for his one man show The Hymns of a Sparrow.

Moleele is multi-award-winning theatre and television writer, actor and director who has also appeared in international work such as Invictus directed by Clint Eastwood and a BBC television series Strike Back.
Moleele doesn’t just look like a grandson of Langston, but he also nailed the American accent without coming-off as a caricature. But beyond that, the actor made the audience feel Langston’s affection for Bloke.
It is by far the best play I have watched in years.

Bloke and His American Bantu runs from 7 to 24 July 2022. Tickets are only R130 on Webtickets, which is available at the SAST, in Pick n Pay stores, and online

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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.


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