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Culture, Music

It’s About Time

by Brandon Edmonds / 04.07.2013

Writing about sex is hard. Just ask the distinguished novelist Andre Brink who found himself on the shortlist of the Literary Review’s Bad Sex Award in 2004 for the worst written sex in fiction. He lost to Tom Wolfe but dammit Brink should have won: “the most tousled, tangled pubic patch through which I have ever had to find my way… I would plunge into her from above like a diver in search of abalone.” Dude, abalone is illegal okay.

Which is just a pre-emptive excuse for things overheating in the prose department given how song number 2 in Mahala’s epic countdown of the Greatest SA Pop Songs Evah is dipped, like a lollipop, in pure fucking sex.

(A sex lollipop would be gross). A song that helped build the Mighty House of Kwaito, a cultural achievement up there with jazz (say whaaat?), prompting both Mandela and Mbeki to warn against the get laid & paid & fuck Ubuntu tide it foretold, rallying the post-94 youth around a maypole of mindless hedonism. Yes all that. And more.

Boom Shaka’s It’s About Time is a debut as momentous, enthralling and necessary as the Sex Pistols’ Anarchy in the UK. It really is. Both bands declared themselves with music that perfectly matched the mood of the only demographic that matters to the future: the young. Anarchy made urgent sense in a failing, stinking Britain in the 70s and slowed down, sexed up House music (kwaito) made perfect sense to a partying generation handed the right to vote and excel, a liberation whose great cost they were sick of seeing etched into their parents’ tired faces. It was about time they listened to Boom Shaka. Boom boom boom. (This whole article should be that phrase over and over like in “The Shining”).

Put it this way. What is the first thing you want to do when you get out of jail? It rhymes with “duck”. The whole country was a prison for black people twenty years ago. In 1994, the year of the democratic elections and the rise of Boom Shaka, the prison doors finally swung open.

Japanese Surrender

Think of the famous photo of the soldier kissing the dame in Times Square when the Japanese surrendered. That’s kwaito. It wants to keep the ecstasy of release alive in the repetition of its beats. The same impulse is behind reggae’s mesmerizing repetition; keeping hold of emancipation until it feels real. Once you realize that, kwaito becomes touching and powerful, truly the music of liberation, as vital and important as any in the canon of struggle songs, be it “Pata Pata” or “Free Nelson Mandela”.

The old guard refused to see the continuity when Boom Shaka turned “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” (ground zero for the ANC’s wishful ideological sense of itself) into a libidinous burlesque at a SAMA afterparty in 1998. The girls, in blue velvet suits, inadvertently parodying the BEE era of corporate graft and debased values to come, saw nothing wrong with subjecting the national anthem to a little bump ‘n grind. “We’re not dissing anything,” the band said. “This is our own version; one for young people.” Mediated moral panic ensued. See how close the band is to the Sex Pistols? Don’t you want to hear everything they ever did?

And just like the Sex Pistols, Boom Shaka was entirely made up, invented by intelligences behind the scenes, as inorganic as Lana Del Ray, as pre-fabricated as One Direction and target-positioning software on a military drone. Malcolm McLaren designed the look and came up with the name Sex Pistols while DJ Christos, longtime producer Don Laka and Oskido, all behind the key kwaito label, Kalawa Jazmee, assembled Boom Shaka and wrote most of the early songs. Luckily band selection was inspired. Inspired like Gaudi was inspired.

Junior Sokhela, with his gruff “Shabba!” ragga style, now down on his luck apparently, drowning in debt, was cannily counterbalanced by the sweet proto-Chris Brown croon of Theo Nhlengethwa, who once posed nude for a calendar to prove he wasn’t a lesbian (like Lebo). Poor kid.

Which brings us to the sex.

Thembi Seete, still singing and acting on soaps, and Lebo Mathosa, tragically lost in a SUV highway smash in 2006, knew each other from around Hillbrow, backing bands and dancing in clubs, a pair of teenaged wannabes who could move like serpents coil prey. Slinky doesn’t begin to cover it.

But before the male gaze takes over and we replay colonial fantasies of unrestrained black female sexuality, this band, like the Sex Pistols, were regularly accused of ‘corrupting the youth’, here’s philosopher Alain Badiou on how to see dance a little deeper: “dance frees the body from all social mimicry, from all gravity and conformity, it makes the negative body – the shameful body – radiantly absent, a body that forgets its fetters, its weight. It is a new beginning.” Black bodies were ready to dance in 1994 and Boom Shaka’s Lebo and Thembi, twin sirens of the new freedom, showed them how. Boom boom boom.

There’s talk of a reunion this year and a musical of Lebo’s unhinged diva life, proving Boom Shaka won’t disappear because bad grades & baby mommas, innocence & excess, this song made the culture.

*Read about Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse, last week’s hit, here.

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