Intervention on Nuggetby Andy Davis / 22.09.2011
On Nugget Street, opposite the nondescript piece of downtown Johannesburg roadside where groundbreaking musician Gito Baloi was gunned down, in April 2004, a new semi-legal artwork has sprung up to memorialise the spot and celebrate the memory of the Tananas front man. Breeze Yoko is, in his own words, “an artist of different kinds”, based in Jozi but hailing from Nyanga East in iKapa his graffiti, illustration and film work are all pregnant with political meaning. Alas, you won’t find Breeze Yoko exhibiting amongst the “gallery kak” at the upcoming Johannesburg Art Fair, he generally shuns the white cube for city walls. “Art is for the people so we should put it on walls so people can appreciate it.” He said in a Jozi.tv interview.
“I try to do provoking stuff, stuff that will make us think. Black consciousness, Pan-Africanism… that kind of stuff. I was born in the late 70s and grew up in the 80s and stuff, there was a lot of graffiti, not in the form you see it today, but in the ‘stay away’, ‘don’t vote’… and I never really paid much attention to it. I always tell the story of how I got to know who Steve Biko was. Growing up on the turbulent streets of Gugulethu during apartheid, there was graffiti everywhere. There was one particular wall which had a very big graffiti tag in red paint that said, ‘Biko Lives’. I had often seen that wall but never paid much attention to it since it was just another name on the wall of the many missing and jailed freedom fighters of that time.
One day, when I was only 9 years old I walked passed that very same wall and noticed that ‘lives’ had been crossed out and ‘rots in hell’ had replaced it in the very same red paint. It was because of that wall I started asking my mother who Steve Biko was and why he is rotting in hell? This is how my social and political awareness began. This was the kind of information that was never taught in schools and our parents tried to shelter us from. This is also how my love affair with graffiti began.”
“It’s so ironic now that graffiti is the most banned, most vilified art form. Nobody wants it, nobody appreciates it, it’s not even valued as art. But graffiti is the oldest form of art. Long before what they call ‘fine art’.”
So how did the Gito Baloi memorial piece come about?
I got a call a couple of months ago from Gabi Ngcobo a curator for the Center for Historical Reenactments. She said they were doing this thing on Gito Baloi and asked if I was interested in being involved. I jumped at the opportunity, being a fan of his music and just thought it a good idea in general, art being a healer of trauma.
Was it done legally or illegally? Whose wall is that?
We couldn’t locate the owner of the building and in a legal way it was done illegally. I think because of the activities of the day and also the area being so dilapidated and all, me adding colour to the area did not seem like such a crime, even to the most stern law enforcers (or bribe solicitors). Even when I came back a few days later to finish it off, I had no problems and found more questions from passers by and residents as to what the writing said and who I was painting on the wall. One or two residents remembered the incident and gave some detail as to the aftermath and how the car was standing and how it was not actually where I was painting but on the opposite side of the road, and all sorts of useful information like that.
What does the writing say?
The writing is from the sleeve of the album Na Ku Randza where Gito explains in his words what na ku randza means. It’s crazy how I got those words, because the song lyrics are not in English but in siTzonga. I had been trying to get someone who could write the original lyrics for me… to no avail. I was all over the interweb and could find no trace of it not even a translation or something. So I appealed to the world wide web community. Nicole Turner was the first to respond and led me to Tananas guitarist, Steve Newman who was like so cool and hooked me up with Dave Raynolds (another of Gito Baloi’s former band members) and also introduced me to Erika Hibbert, Gito’s widow. They were all extremely helpful. After communicating with Erika over email, she asked if I had looked at the sleeve. To my embarrassment I had not, because I did not have the original album, shame on me. But Erika was cool and kind enough to mail me the words. And here they are:
“I LOVE YOU IN THE LANGUAGE OF MY MOTHER AND MY MOTHER’S MOTHERS. NOTHING IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN LOVE. SUCH A SIMPLE STATEMENT THAT WE FORGET HOW MUCH POWER IT HOLDS. LOVING OURSELVES IS THE KEY. AFTER THAT, LOVING OTHERS IS A NATURAL AND EASY THING. I BELIEVE THAT LOVING PEOPLE AND RESPECTING LIFE IS THE ONLY WAY OF ACHIEVING THE CONTENTEDNESS WHICH WE ARE ALL STRIVING FOR. SO ALL THESE SONGS ARE ABOUT DIFFERENT TYPES OF LOVING WHICH I HAVE ENCOUNTERED. SOMETIMES LIFE SEEMS SO DIFFICULT AND THE STRUGGLES WE TACKLE ARE SO DESTRUCTIVE THAT A CLEAR VISION OF THE WHOLE IS LOST TO CRUELTY AND SELFISHNESS, AND PULLING ONESELF BEYOND THE SMALLNESS TAKES CONCENTRATION AND ENERGY. MAKING MUSIC IS THE BEST WAY I KNOW OF EXPRESSING MY EMOTIONS. SOMETHING ABOUT THE ABSTRACTNESS OF PURE SOUND CONVEYS THE ESSENTIAL QUALITY OF LOVE. IT IS SOMETHING ABOUT THE LINKING AND BINDING AND BLENDING AND FUSING OF SOUNDS INTO MUSIC, THAT, TO ME, TALKS ABOUT THE ROLE OF LOVE AND RELATIONSHIPS IN OUR LIVES.”
What are you trying to communicate with this piece?
Unlike most murals I wanted people to engage with the wall and not just pass it by. I wanted to arouse curiosity about who this was and what was being said. I wanted to see if people would challenge themselves and take the time to try read. I was also trying to change the memory of the space from being negative to a place of attraction. Instead of being a place to stay away from, but to be a place to visit and remember na ku randza.
Where can we see more of your art?