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Make Them Dance

by Ts'eliso Monaheng / 27.11.2013

Off we went, blazing trails on the Golden Highway like suburban kids seeking redemption from the city’s corrupting influence. We dabbled in light debate on topics ranging from the politics of Jozi’s art scene, to why author Es’kia Mphahlele is still the Don Dada some years after his death. A copy of Bloke Modisane’s “Blame me on history” lay atop a stack of other books, among them Mphahele’s own “Down second avenue.” This felt like our own second avenue, a soiree on the path to freedom.

We google-mapped Kliptown and relied on our familiarity of the area as back-up. Cee Bee’s “Homeboy” was playing on the radio courtesy of the homies Rangoato (or Mmatseleng) and Malose, partners at the inner-city intervention project Keleketla.

Adidas Originals

Adidas had decided to fly in Detroit-based rapper Danny Brown to perform in front of an invite-only audience. According to the glossy marketing text currently in circulation, “almost 2000 of Joburg’s most influential were united […] for the adidas Originals Unite Joburg event.” What criteria were employed to select these ‘influential’ people? And why was it Danny’s prerogative to ‘Unite’ them, if only for one night at a hall in a fairly safe section of a neighbourhood with a plethora of social ills? The new cool, is it?!

After parking inside the enclosed compound at Walter Sisulu Square, we took a stroll up the road on a mission to find food. Informal traders and their make-shift stands still line the pavements here, a far-cry from the inner-city’s continuing removal of informal traders. (Read about it here, here, and here.)

Jozi has that alienating feeling in its spatial configuration which, one supposes, directly affects how different social groupings relate to each other. In the same vein, Jozi’s a cultural behemoth. Inviting ‘Joburg’s most influential’, and making that the cornerstone of your event, ignores the nuances inherent in the city’s stakeholdes. It has the adverse effect to uniting; it feeds a select few’s sense of self-importance, effectively undercutting other voices which contribute to the city’s diversity. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a scene; what’s wrong is when a scene is upheld as the model for a vast and deeply-complex area.

Unite Joburg

Mmatselelng’s astro-pantsula set soundtracked the arrival of Jozi’s cool kids, most of whom wound up at the long queue which engulfed the bar area. I took a light stroll outside and got lost in the virtual charm of the evening’s warm breeze, missing Scrambles4Money’s showcase while at it. Scrambles is a Joburg-based league which has contributed immensely to the quality of battle rap coming out of South Africa at the moment.

DJ Tha Cutt’s set traversed sonic eras as nineties hip-hop classics and new-age club rap songs did a tango on his decks. Okmalumkoolkat did a sterling job, first performing his verse off of Gusheshe, his collaborative effort with Cassper Nyonvest, then digging into deeper shades with the Kid Fonque-produced “Usangkhumbula”. Okmalumkoolkat was in his element, a change from a few months earlier when he performed at this very stage. The visual artist and dancer Manthe (formely of dance group V.I.N.T.A.G.E) joined him in a dance-off. “We’ve have been talking about doing something for two years now” he said in a recent interview. “I saw her at the show and spoke to her and she was down, so I figured the house track, Usangkhumbula, would be the one.”

I decided to not stay for Danny Brown’s entire performance. The bad sound had shattered my spirit enough. I needed memories of all those mixtapes and albums (“XXX” and “Old”) kept intact, so I fetched the other brethren and we returned to the concrete jungle. Thirty minutes later, we were still negotiating with police officers who’d decided that it’s classy to pull us over and field all types of false claims against us. Maybe it would’ve been best to stay…

adidas Originals | Unite Joburg featuring Danny Brown from AREA3 on Vimeo.

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*Images © Ts’eliso Monaheng

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