Red and Black Revolutionby Samora Chapman / 15.04.2013
Pietermaritzburg is the capital of KwaZulu-Natal. It’s situated in a geographical basin, where the wind seldom blows and the temperature often soars into the 40s. Big industry snuggles the outskirts of every extremity and coughs grey smog into the atmosphere. The town has too many sex shops in relation to the population and is notorious for satanic cults rather than its arts and counter culture scenes. As I roll into town, the graveyard on Alan Paton Street greets me with a yawn.
I locate the meeting destination, an old gym that looks like a giant green coal factory, 30 years out of service. The sound of a basketball pounding the concrete, squeaky shoes and beasty boys shouting lures me in. The Maritzburg dance kids are locked in a sweaty b-ball battle. It’s the reds versus the blacks. I drop my kit and join right in.
After a 20-minute battle, we’re soggy and happy and ready to begin the exposé so we head to the local skate park to hang out. Soon I’m sitting huddled on a skate ramp with a posse of about 15 dancers, members of Spar10z and Equilibrium, Pietermaritzburg’s premier dance crews. Every member is rocking red and black, wayfarers, high-tops and glistening bling. If you ran into them in an alleyway, you’d be forgiven for turning around and running the other way. At first glance these cats epitomise the word ‘gangsta’.
But looks can be deceiving, as is often the case.
“What’s it like trying to make it as a dancer in Maritzburg?” I ask, going straight for the main vein. “Are you guys making a living off your art?”
“The Maritzburg scene is quiet compared to a few years back, when we were doing shows every month. Right now we’re hardly making any money. We got a lot of fresh gear. But really, we don’t have shit,” says 2P, spokesperson and hip hop philosopher from Spar10z. “But to tell the truth, we can live without money. Right now we are all about the art. About building our skills. It is a spiritual journey to be an artist, not a materialistic one. The true challenge is to know yourself.”
“That’s my man 2P,” chirps Staby, a wiry smiley character. “I trained that nigger!” The whole group breaks down in laughter and the ice is broken.
Once the hysteria dies down, 2P continues: “The venues here are expensive to hire, there’s no support at our shows and just about every new crew is doing krump and only krump. Also, if you do one show for free, everybody expects you to perform for free.”
“We sacrificed getting real jobs for this shit,” says Staby picking up the thread. “Most of us finished University last year and we were all living together. Some guys did Marketing, others IT. But now we’re back home with our families, and we have chosen dance and hip hop culture over ‘safe’ careers. Every day we get hated on: When are you gonna get a real job! Grow up! Make some money!”
“So are you guys from the suburbs or the township?” I ask like a white cat amongst the pigeons.
“We’re from all over… from Northdale to Mbali,” answers 2P. “Some of us are from the townships, some of us are from the suburbs or the city. Our backgrounds don’t matter, cos our culture brings us together.”
“So how does the future look for you and your scene?”
“In a way, all the hating pushes us harder,” says 2P on a positive note. “We have a clothing range, we’re looking for sponsors, trying to enter as many battles as we can. We’re up every morning to meet at the gym to practice.”
“We live the hip hop lifestyle,” ads Awo Da God Baby Ay, who reminds me so much of RZA from Wu-Tang it’s ridiculous. “We’re making beats – hip hop and trap music – and emceeing. We’ve got a mix tape, and we make our own music to dance to. We’re gonna make it no matter what.”
The Spar10z have the potential to go all the way. They killed it at the recent Beat Battle, showing true versatility with everything from hip hop and breaking, to krump, jerking and dougi. Old school soldiers and new school futuristas. Their red silk kimono’s were a big hit.
“What’s the story with red and black?” I ask referring to their uniform.
“We’re not so sure how it all came about, but we’re all fire signs astrologically; Leo, Aquarius and Aries,” says 2P.
“Red signifies power and domination… and black is like mystery,” says Staby. “You don’t know us, unless you chill with us!”
“And what about Equilibrium… tell me your story?” I ask.
“We branched off from the Spar10z a few years back to focus on krump, robotics and mechanical movements,” says C4, a friendly bare foot cat in plaid. Equilibrium is more like a movement than a dance crew. We have 15 krumpers. We also have a ‘twerk’ team.”
“What’s twerk,” I ask puzzled.
“It’s a new dance style… girls shaking their booty.”
“There seems to be serious lack of girl-power in the Durban scene. Is it any different in Maritzbrg?”
“Yeah there’s some girls rocking the pmb scene. There’s our crew and there’s a girl crew called TLC who are incredible.”
A kid of about 15, covered in bad tribal tattoos rocks up and blazes something sketchy and chemically. Then he gets all edgy about us crowding his skate ramp: “I’m tryna skate here! Move ya shit!” he spits.
“Hey chill little man,” says Awo Da God Baby Ay. “We don’t wanna end up like this kid… either you do something constructive with your life or you fall off!”
With that, all the talking is done. A cell-phone boom box is turned up full volume and it’s time for a cipher. And you better keep an eye out for them at a battle near you, cos the red and blacks are gonna a takeover!
* All images © Samora Chapman