About Advertise
Culture, Jiva
Popping and Locking for Freedom

Popping and Locking for Freedom

by Lindokuhle Nkosi / Images by Filipa Domingues / 09.04.2013

The Creators is a documentary set in South Africa, filmed and produced by Canadian Laura Gamse. It chronicles the work of a number of South African artists, like Faith47 and Warongx, with a heavy and over-played sub-theme on the role hip hop played in combatting apartheid. In it, a South African b-boy suggests that the spread of hip hop in South Africa was somehow a cultural protest against the oppression of apartheid. You know, like he couldn’t sit on a certain park bench because the colour of his skin, and so he decided that the revolution would be a series of suicides and a 720 head spin.

Emile Jansen (scene from The Creators) from invisible sessions on Vimeo.

Unfortunately, this is a widely held and popularised idea that reaches far back into our historical narrative. The concept that hip hop, and jazz before it, were bonafide anti-apartheid and revolutionary activities, not simply the currents of cultural influence and appropriation. I imagine it was part of the struggle spin machine; linking the fight against apartheid to the global coolness (and sub-political messaging) in predominantly Afro-American culture. Brand any black artistic product with a pre or post-apartheid stamp, couple that with swelling music and grainy images of protest and you’re sure to garner sympathetic interest and international attention.

The problem, however, is that this hip hop Mandela-ism was not spoken by the foreign filmmaker, but a local b-boy. This apartheid fluffing has existed, and gone unchallenged, for so long that it has now become an assimilated national ‘truth’. And while there certainly were hip hop crews back in the day, like Brasse Vannie Kaap, Black Noise et al, who challenged apartheid oppression, it certainly was not the broad-based resistance movement it is presented as today. In truth, hip hop only really landed in South Africa in the late 80s and early 90s, and only became truly popular after 94, when the cultural boycott ended.

Cut to the Joseph Stone Auditorium in Athlone, Cape Town. I’m speaking to a group of young female krumpers and hip hop dancers who’ve just auditioned for the Red Bull Beat Battle. In addition to Krumping for Krist, they also seem to be under the impression that hip hop rose as some sort of resistance culture, not to oppression in general, but the oppression of apartheid specifically. And they’re not the only ones. In fact the vast majority of dancers who have auditioned for the Beat Battle have represented the more globalised interpretations of hip hop culture. Their numbers have far outstripped the more original styles of ispantsula and sbujwa.

And we all need to feel locally relevant and so the hip hop as apartheid resistance culture myth is pervasive. They think this, because their mentors and leaders in dance, told them so. Hip hop is not seen as an artistic movement born in the American inner cities and ghettos in the late 70s early 80s and seized upon ever since as a global cash cow, a weapon of cultural imperialism espousing some of the most stupid and negative messages (from sexism to a shallow and rampant consumerism). Instead they see hip hop as a weapon of culture, with local heritage, combatting the evils of apartheid and other forms of oppression.

Pop

And who informed these hip hop mentors who continue to support and expound this narrative of the great anti-apartheid hip hop movement? Where do they get this notion from? How did we completely discount the hold that American-led globalisation has held over so many developing countries, specifically in Africa? As early as the 1940s strands of American culture have weaved their way into what we watch and listen to; affecting the way we dress, how we speak, how we view ourselves in relation to our environment, issues and society and even what we name our gangs and how those gangs behave.

The way that we have been represented, without our consent, has now become how we represent ourselves. In failing to find accurate ways to depict ourselves, in creating our own styles, languages and narratives, we’ve slipped into and adopted the global clichés that strip us of any real cultural identity.

Our art is curio. Our real culture is stunted at the grassroots. And so we pretend to pop ‘n lock for freedom.

Zaahir

*Additional reporting by Andy Davis. All images © Suicide Monkey / Red Bull.

7   5
RESPONSES (16)
  1. Krokodil says:

    shut the fuck up.

    fisting was resistance to the communist rule in eastern Europe and public masturbation was a highly successful campaign against the war in Serbia.

    Thumb up3   Thumb down 2

  2. Andy says:

    nonsense, fisting and public masturbation were only popularised after the wall fell in 1989

    Thumb up1   Thumb down 4

  3. ella says:

    this is annoying first because it picks on hip hop from the froth downward and second because it misses the point that struggle rhythms, beats, dances that had everything to do with resistance of apartheid actually emerged from the States. exiled South African artists left this country with more American-twang lyrics, and moves than anything that could mark them out as anything but NY shrubbery. It was in NY that Makeba, Masekela et al sang and composed songs that rang of Southern Africa. to find home one often has to leave it behind. the notion these kids are fed, that’s just outright stupidity. the real issue is that they (the kids ‘quoted’ in the pice) haven’t gone looking for more info, they are happy eating Miyagi’s poison. Agg shame!!

    Thumb up2   Thumb down 2

  4. Donal says:

    Word!

    Thumb up1   Thumb down 0

  5. Andy says:

    Ella, I think the point is that South Africa has unique styles and culture that is neglected or not even investigated because of this top down, sucking at the nipple of Western capital shit that comes through on all the channels all the time

    Thumb up1   Thumb down 0

  6. ella says:

    holla andy,

    dankie san’, noted.

    be good.

    Thumb up1   Thumb down 0

  7. Nero says:

    The author manages to completely ignore the most significant of the element’s of hip hop, knowledge of self. Anyone who has even the most cursory knowledge of this pillar would see the parallels with the Black Consciousness idea of the the psychological liberation of the enslaved and oppressed.

    I do not necessarily disagree with the article, but the fact that the author managed to omit such a significant aspect shows that he/she does not truly understand hip hop culture as it existed in Cape Town during the 80’s and 90’s.

    With a bit more homework you would be better placed to offer informed criticism.

    Thumb up3   Thumb down 1

  8. BM says:

    This piece is at best badly researched, at worst simply fatuous. As an active participant in the hip hop community that existed in Cape Town toward the end of the 80s and early 90s, I can tell you that resistance politics were inextricably intertwined with local hip hop, so much so that it is hardly surprising that the kids you are speaking to merge the two, however erroneously in the eyes of your reporter.

    To piously wail that “Hip hop is not seen as an artistic movement born in the American inner cities and ghettos in the late 70s early 80s and seized upon ever since as a global cash cow, a weapon of cultural imperialism espousing some of the most stupid and negative messages (from sexism to a shallow and rampant consumerism” is to ignore completely the message and subject matter of the music of the time. Without a doubt hip hop has been debased to the mass product it is now, but by no means was it always this way. There was a time when rap music espoused a powerful black consciousness message with a pitch that one could simply not hear from other forms or South African artists. Who else was shouting Fuck Tha Police like NWA was? Or telling you that “Our freedom of speech is freedom or death” like Chuck D was? Certainly not Brenda Fassie. Certainly not Chicco. and definitely not the Soul Brothers. So who else were youth living in Bonteheuwel, or Hanover Park, or Lavender Hill going to emulate when it came to relating the strife of their every day lives?

    Your reporter doesnt even deem Prophets of the City worthy of a mention. Banned from local radio yet invited to tour globally alongside the likes of Public Enemy, Ice T and James Brown. Were they expounding cultural imperialism with lyrics like “Why should I fight for a country’s glory / When it ignores me? / Besides, the township’s already a war zone / So why complain or moan?”

    Having done some cursory google research on Lindokuhle Nkosi, I would say her angelic features do not indicate the age she’d need to be to comment first hand on the history she so blithely disregards, so I’d suggest a relook at this piece, and perhaps a word with someone who was actually there at the time.

    Thumb up6   Thumb down 0

  9. @staticphlow says:

    Please read a few books on SA hip-hop. By now, there are at least two books dedicated to this topic. This is apart from the many journal articles that have been published on SA hip-hop. At least, a mention of Prophets of da CIty’s BC politics and their community involvement is worth considering beyond this somewhat negative diatribe. Or a mention of POC’s contribution to what is now know as ‘vernac’ hip-hop? Ditto for a consideration of debates about cultural imperialism in relation to arguments about cultural essentialism and the agency of artists at grassroots level.

    Thumb up1   Thumb down 0

  10. @staticphlow says:

    Please read a few books on SA hip-hop. By now, there are at least two books dedicated to this topic. This is apart from the many journal articles that have been published on SA hip-hop. At least, a mention of Prophets of da CIty’s BC politics and their community involvement is worth considering beyond this somewhat negative diatribe. Or a mention of POC’s contribution to what is now known as ‘vernac’ hip-hop? Ditto for a consideration of debates about cultural imperialism in relation to arguments about cultural essentialism and the agency of artists at grassroots level.

    Thumb up1   Thumb down 0

  11. Andy says:

    BM, Nero and staticphlow all make good points. But I think we’re arguing two different things here and maybe there needs to be a follow up piece. The issue today, is that a lot of these kids aren’t connecting the dots and the ‘debased’ contemporary hip hop (Chris Brown, Jay-Z, etc) is seen in the same light as the work of POC, BVK, Black Noise, etc.

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  12. Roger Young says:

    Whatever point you say Linda was trying to make Andy, she didn’t make it, or she made it so badly as not to make it. It’s just bad research, there are so many guys you could have checked with to give more context.

    And remember, “Rap is something you do! Hip-Hop is something you live!” – KRS

    Kaapse Hip Hop broke away from Rap before shit when commercial. Some would say that’s part of the problem.

    Thumb up3   Thumb down 0

  13. Roger Young says:

    Soz, bad finger jabbing

    *KRS-1

    *went

    Thumb up1   Thumb down 0

  14. Ts'eliso says:

    @BM: to be fair, Chicco was singing songs about liberation in the 80s. It might not have been of the ‘Fuck the Pigs’ ilk, but he was singing about how the ‘hood (in the highveld, at least) were “missing Manelo” (read: Mandela). Brenda celebrated a “Black president” in ’94, as did POC.

    “..I would say her angelic features do not indicate the age she’d need to be to comment first hand on the history she so blithely disregards, so I’d suggest a relook at this piece, and perhaps a word with someone who was actually there at the time.”

    Are you in any way suggesting that the only person/people qualified to write about historical occurrences are the ones who were actually there? A bit overreaching, no?

    Thumb up2   Thumb down 0

  15. BM says:

    Brenda Fassie sang about a Black President when there actually was one. Celebratory, not particularly incendiary.

    “Are you in any way suggesting that the only person/people qualified to write about historical occurrences are the ones who were actually there? A bit overreaching, no?”

    Absolutely not what I am suggesting, no. Simply, if you weren’t there, do the proper research.

    Thumb up2   Thumb down 1

  16. Ts'eliso says:

    @BM: Salute!

    Thumb up1   Thumb down 0

LEAVE A REPLY

Loading...