Monday, April 23, 2012

Swag Chronicles: Episode 2: Vashtie Kola

A Little Bit About Vashtie

This interview came about very unexpectedly. Hardy literally forced me to keep Vashtie company. I wasn't complaining. I have to admit, like with the Theophilus London interview, I didn't know much about Vashtie before Str.Crd. I'd heard about her here and there, but I didn't really know who she was or what she did. Shoot me, I'm just not that happening, boet. 

According to vashtie.com she is a:

"Visionary Director, Party Producer, Style Maven, Lady of Leisure, Jordan 3 Villain, TomBoy Extraordinaire, Luxury Handbag Queen, Vintage Don, Fashion Addict and Art Nerd."

Basically, she's The Queen of New York (US? Global?) Street Culture.

Not only that, but through chilling with her a bit, I would describe her as disarmingly humble and deeply thoughtful. At one point in the interview, I literally lost my command over the English language, because I was blown away by her down-to-earth intelligence.

Based on her impressive track record, it's obvious that she is a veteran of popular culture, and if there was a formal university for this shit, she'd be a professor cum laude or something like that. And as a student of popular culture; I am grateful to have had the opportunity to pick her mind and to have her guide my final thought-adventure on this blog.

The Interview

Here's a bit of the conversation we shared, just what I felt was relevant to this piece (I do apologize for my cellphone messing with the sound, but fuck, such is life):



Vashtie On Authenticity

There is a lot that could be said about what Vashtie brought up in this conversation. In fact, a lot has been said about it. The topic is authenticity, which I find difficult to define, and even more difficult to practically wrap my head around - it is one of those things that is easier to philosophize about than to practice. Ironically enough, out of all the online dictionaries, my favourite definition (for the purposes of this piece) comes from Wikipedia:

"Authenticity is a technical term in existentialist philosophy, and is also used in the philosophy of art and psychology. In philosophy, the conscious self is seen as coming to terms with being in a material world and with encountering external forces, pressures and influences which are very different from, and other than, itself.  Authenticity is the degree to which one is true to one's own personality, spirit, or character, despite these pressures."

Vashtie said some intriguing things on the topic.

Firstly, she admits that Americans are pretty ignorant to the rest of the world. In my opinion, they live in big bubble, one so big that it covers most of the world. This is American culture, but in more particular, the media-culture machine that upholds the myth of its supremacy over all other cultures - the movies, the magazines, the runways, the series, the news networks, blah blah blah. All of these media-based mechanisms keep their culture dominating the world, theirs and ours. In academic circles this is closely linked to a topic very close to my heart, culturual imperialism. But I won't harp on about that, the point is that America lives a vacuum, which can be best described as a mirror. A huge mirror. A superpower mirror! :)

Secondly, she says that New York and Joburg are very similar. She goes further to say that she got a culture shock seeing how similar they are. Obviously, it's not that shocking to me, I've heard this comparison many times - oh bru, laak, jozi is laak totally the manhattan of africa, bru, laak with all the skyscrapers and money and shit, bru. In my opinion Lagos is way more Manhattan than Joburg - okay, besides the fact that it's not as developed, but at least it's a frikking island. But I've never been to Manhattan so what the pampoen am I talking about anyway?

Thirdly, and most importantly, she says that someone in New York trying to pull off a Joburg style just wouldn't come off right, which, ceteris paribus, means that someone in Joburg trying to pull of an New York style just doesn't come off right...ouchy. But she did also say that locally people are making it their own, by infusing their history and culture into the American mould.

She concludes by saying that if we, the South African youth, stay close to what makes us us, our origins, the things that are unique about us, she sees a great power in the youth culture movement here. She recognizes the talent of our artists, and the potential energy of the movement.

But, to me, she's clearly saying that we need to come across more authentically, if we want to tap into the great power at our fingertips. And the way she said it, I get the sense that we're skating on thin ice as far as authenticity goes. Of course, this is my own personal sentiment layered on top of what she's saying, but you entered my narcissistic zone by reading this, so what did you expect? Newspaper journalism?

The Difference Between Being & Doing Authentic

Authenticity is a touchy subject.

What makes you you? And who has the right to tell anyone else who they are or who they're not?

In my opinion, being authentic is a private affair. You have to look yourself in the mirror at night and feel connected to the eyes you're staring into. It's about harmony - alignment between your mind, body and soul; your past, present and future. Nothing complicated, it's a feeling inside you of connectedness.

However, when it comes to doing authentic; to creativity, to expression of self, to art, to culture, to fashion, to film, to design, to artpreneurship - the whole equation changes, because the creative process results in something bigger than oneself; it enters the public domain, it is in fact created for others, and therefore becomes a representation of self. This is where it gets complicated, and this is the part that matters to culture.

Inspiration vs. Referencing

In the act of creativity, there are two major forces at play - inspiration and referencing. Inspiration is a metaphyical thing that can't be controlled; I am told that it can be harnessed and tapped into through practice, but it can't be controlled. Referencing on the other hand can very much be controlled.

In the past, artists would study and collect references. The research process was a much more difficult, deliberate and time-consuming process. And most of the time, an artist would be limited to his/her personal travels and experience to draw reference from; and a few books or stories told by others.

Nowadays, we are bombarded with information, with imagery, with sounds, with styles. It's easy to lose control of one's referencing process. In fact, most people disregard it entirely - who needs to research when we already know so much? A reference is a reference, whether it is consciously referenced or not - you can hear when someone is referencing Scarface (the movie), whether they purposefully chose it or whether they just got caught up in the hype.

Our generation is one that is used to the instantaneousness and accessibility of information, due to the vast internet and interlocking social networks. It's a double-edged sword because access to information may be empowering, but knowledge is power, not information, and information is different to knowledge.

Knowledge is information that has been processed by the mind consciously in order to understand and comprehend it's significance and meaning. Information is potential knowledge that has not been processed; it is nothing, empty, soulless.

Conscious Referencing As A Route To Authenticity 

The art of creating something that is original and authentic is all about the selection of references.

Referencing is the choice of the palette of things that already exist from which your idea will stem, it is the source of the creation. It is a research process, something that happens before creating anything. And because of the great influx of information in this age, we need to be very particular and deliberate about what we reference, or else we get lost in endless waves of nothingness - the same, bland, homogenized global culture.

What Vashtie is saying is simple: reference what is closest to home, it's the greatest gift your creativity has been given, and it will make you stand out and it will give you the power you need to do what you need to do. That's how I choose to interpreted it anyway.

The Role of Creatives In The African Renaissance 

I'm not sure where this thought ends. African intellectuals have been debating this idea since before the end of colonialism. The brutal process of colonialism created an identity dilemma - generations of Africans were taught that their culture was worthless, and the stains of this carry through to today. Many attempts have been made to arrive at a New African Identity - to get back some sense of what makes us unique and important - without being antiquated. Wearing african print doesn't mean that you don't look down upon the khoi-san as unevolved, premodern human beings. The hegemony runs deep.

If Africa is to stand up against the economic forces of the world - the Anglo-American forces who continue to exploit our raw materials and sell it back to us at a 1000% profit margin; or the Chinese who want our natural resources in exchange for cheap electronic products - we need to first declare our self-worth, to be able to say: we will not be fucked with.

The people who can make this statement are the creatives. Film and photography place dreams in our minds' eyes. Fashion stitches our hearts to our sleeves. Design creates our experiences - from graphic to product design through to architecture and urban planning. And music is our mantra.

Creatives are the dreamweavers of culture. Recognize your power and responsibility, and use it for the good of those without a voice or a hope for the future - and create new references for those who follow.

This wave has already long begun, and many local creatives have been doing this. It's nothing new, but we need to fight to make it mainstream, instead of being the fringe. It has to be a populist movement if anything is ever going to change.

There is so much information-waiting-to-become-knowledge right under our noses, on the street corners and in the places we run away from, because they taint us fitting into the global mould. These gems are sitting, waiting to be exposed to the world, but first we have to see them as gems.

Anything that you don't currently see or hear in the media is a gem, because it has the potential to captivate the imagination of the world in ways we cannot currently fathom. The soil under which gold rests looks like ordinary soil, until you dig a little.

Through these authentic references, and the self-esteem they will foster, the wealth, diversity and dynamism of Africa's cultures will overflow into the world, and we will conquer the world for once, instead of always being the conquered.

---

P.S. Yes, in hindsight, I feel a lot stupid for calling this thing Swag Chronicles. Die Khronicles of Kwaai, would've been so much kwaaier. Ah well...you live and you learn. 

PEACE. & Happy Birthday Vashtie!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Lagos: The City of Dreams


This is the unedited, emotionally-fueled very first draft of an article that appeared in Mahala 4, 2011. After reflection, this piece is just what I was feeling at the time, most of which I still feel, but can't be taken as a factual depiction of Lagos or Nigeria - I was only there for three days and therefore my explorations were very limited. Rather than seeing it as a critique of others, I see it as a projection of my own inner battles onto the subject matter.
***
I was tired. We’d barely slept three hours when we landed in Lagos at 10:30 AM local time. There was a raving lunatic of a praise singer on the plane who burst into full song halfway through the flight, and continued despite the side-eyeing. My boss pointed out a burnt out carcass of half a Boeing on the runway. It’s time like these that I wish I were Catholic so that I could grab for the instant comfort of a rosary.  Alas, all I could do was suck it up and be a man amongst giants.


There was an awkwardly nervous energy in the customs queue. I could hear the thoughts running through all of our minds – basically, “we’re fucked.” All my papers were legit and yet I still feared the worst. A plain-clothed Nigerian guy walked up to a sheepish looking Indian guy (probably from Kolkata by the look of things) and whispered some instructions. “Dodgy,” I told my boss. She shrugged. We walked past the duo in the lobby and I overheard the Nigerian guy asking, “How much did you pay?” – it wasn’t all in my prejudiced imagination.

Once we got out the airport, the aura became much more relaxed. For the three days I spent in Lagos, the government officials, policemen and military troopers scared me the most – with their rifles and cold eyes. Nigeria has been and still is a quasi-military regime. The ordinary people are warm, welcoming and friendly except when I whipped my camera out – perhaps they fear the authorities just as much and probably assumed I must have been a spy: dubbel-0-ses-en-twentig: Ho$h Sonop! No. I am a communication strategist here to find out more about Nigerian motivations – what’s all the hype about?

Lagos is a city of over 10 million people and its pretty evident – there are people everywhere. It’s a flat city with few high-rise buildings and no mountains in sight. Lagos is actually a series of islands connected to The Mainland. Victoria Island (V.I. as the local hipsters call it) is like Manhattan City in the 19th century (in terms of infrastructure), with cell phones, SUVs and all the other markers of so-called modernity.

When MTN took the big gamble on the Nigerian economy in 2001, they struck a jackpot, allegedly selling SIM cards for $200 a pop, or something crazy like that. The Nigerians, desperately seeking ‘civilization’ and access to the global world, lapped it all up. Rumour has it that MTN Nigeria not MTN-anywhere-else sponsored the World Cup in 2010, we’re talking about big-boy money here.




Ever since the MTN success story, Nigeria has become seen as a goldmine, for anyone brave and smart enough to make it work. The same applies to the residents who flock to V.I. in the hope of getting their hands on their portion of the riches – building a makeshift community on the lagoon using rubbish to reclaim the land from the ocean. The entrepreneurial spirit is more than alive in Lagos; it has found a new home here.



From the okadas (motorbike taxis) to the event promoters to the street hawkers – everyone is on a hustle. Moët is the most popular drink in clubs and it is drunk like cooldrink – like Slovenian bar manager said: “Nigerians have no respect for Moët.” Entertainment and fashion are the hot industries to be in, with Lagos being more about the music, whereas Abuja is home to the massive Nollywood industry (now bigger than Hollywood and second to Bollywood), or so I’m told. Lagos is about who’s-who, what’s the hottest trend and how much you spent on that bottle of imported liquor. It’s much like Johannesburg, in many ways, and any other big city for that matter, but it’s just a lot more visceral here.



I went to Lagos with a romantic notion in my mind, the rush of the hustle and the potential of Africa to rise to the top of globe. I had a secret wish to become an overnight Nollywood star and leave my somewhat average life in South Africa behind me. I foresaw palatial regalia, as Montle would say.

And this there was, everywhere. Everything from the shower to the carpet of our guesthouse was palatialised – in the tacky sort of décor sense that you find at hotels like 15 on Orange. However, all of this regalia is smack-bang in the face of a crumbling, uncared for, polluted city with an open sewer system and very little being done about it. They say Abuja is much nicer, more organized and well-planned. Apparently, the government in Lagos is different to the national government so Lagos gets no love or money. Fair enough. But with all the money in Lagos no one can tell me they can’t find a way to at least clean the streets. The classic collective action problem: everyone waiting for someone else to do something about it.


I’m not attempting to demean my Nigerian brothers and sisters (for lack of better vocabulary); they only showed me what seems true for the whole of Africa – because they are the most extreme example of what I have come across in most of my travels. The lesson I learnt is nothing new, I studied the modernization theory at university but the academics missed the point slightly. The issue is first psychological and then manifests itself economically and politically.

The psychology of Africa is that of a kidnapped person who ends up loving and needing the kidnapper. West Africa was the primary source of African slaves to the USA. The strongest of its people were shipped and sold to American businessmen. The decedents of those slaves carried the African beat into their music – blues, jazz, rock, hip-hop – but they infused it with the American credos, losing their own culture (through ritualized abuse and torture) and ultimately bowed down to the dream of ‘becoming the Master.’ And now, Nigerian artists and youth are looking to the music video kings and queens for their inspiration – the vicious cycle of identity poverty.


Everyone is so intoxicated by the music video lifestyle that they seem to ignore reality, or at least act as though it doesn’t exist. The reality for Africa is that we still need to get the basics right. We need to build sustainable cities before building flashy hotels. We need to value our culture and heritage – not in antiquated way but in a relevant and progressive way – or else we suffer the worst form of poverty, lack of self-worth. We’re rushing to live the first-world life but all this leaves us with is the instant gratification of luxury products – Moët next to a pile of shit.


 A dream too big can blind the eyes.


Trying to be someone that you’re not is the classic symptom of low self-esteem, and narcissism is the usual response of the psyche to trauma. It is seems to me that as a continent we have still not yet addressed the trauma of colonization and the continued trauma inflicted by our own governments who basically followed in their footsteps, almost literally wearing the same suits – like my favourite local poet, CaCo said: “It must be kak confusing to go from being the abused to doing the abusing.”

This narcissistic disease, present globally but most destructive locally, is the reason our politicians feel comfortable sleeping and making jokes in parliament, getting fat and living removed from reality behind the safety of their estates – the DA included in case the liberals got all excited for a moment there. It is the reason our business people feel no pain in continuing to treat mine workers as technical slaves, units of production in the profit maximization equation. And it’s the reason we all (myself included) sit on the sideline bitching on twitter, but going on as if we have nothing to do with it. I fear that we need to put our music video dreams aside and deal with reality, before the reality deals with us.

I feel as if we need to recognize the wealth that lies in African humanity. I was inspired by the warmth, tenacity and positivity of the people in Lagos – their approach to life is full of power and potential. All we need to do as a continent is channel this energy toward the real things that really matter – health, community and human development – all the basic tenets of the mythical African way; it is not something of the past, it is the future. The Anglo-American sociocultural model of hyper-individualism and materialism is on the brink of collapse; let’s get smart and stop following them blindly into self-destruction.

I met a guy from Accra on my last night in Lagos who called himself Rolex. When I told him how much I love Ghana, he promptly responded: “I love money. That’s why I’m here, in Lagos.” If we continue to love the money, cars and other meaningless items more than ourselves then we are destined to an eternity of slavery to the neocolonial project; our downfall, and their victory. Our debt, their profit.

Hell, we’ll probably drink a bottle of Moët to that too!


Thoughts, words, fears, hopes, insecurities and photography by Takezito.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Swag Chronicles: Episode 1: Theophilus London

I had the privilege of drawing loads of inspiration at this year's STR.CRD - Africa's only sneaker and street culture festival. Everything about the festival showed me a glimpse of the potential and power of our glocal urban culture. Seeing the local scene come out in force was a beautiful thing to witness.

However, the highlight, for me, was being exposed to the 'swag' that is Theophilus London.


Before The Show
Prior to this, I had heard the hype around him, seen some of his fashion collaborations and listened to a bit of his music, but I wasn't a fan. I was interested but I wasn't sold. But after wylin' out to his charismatic performance and getting to share a few words with him, I am officially converted and will be following his moves with keen interest in the years ahead.

Swag Chronicles
I have drawn out a few lessons on creativity and life-in-general from this experience and as a result I'm starting a series of interviews entitled "Swag Chronicles" to document these kind of conversations, and share it with whoever is interested. 

Just a few notes before I begin: (i) Swag is a loaded word, so for clarity's sake, I define it as being 'a combination of natural charisma blended with distinctive style and presence.' (ii) These lessons are no dogma, every person makes sense of the universe in their own way, these are mine, for now. (iii) This is nothing new, but it is interesting for me to interpret it within a context I can relate to. (iv) As always, this blog is mostly a conversation I'm having with myself, but hopefully you can find something in it for you.

Without wasting any more words, please enjoy The First Episode:



Short and sweet, but powerful.

Lesson #1: Youth is 'ital
I have the utmost respect for my elders; they have weathered the storms and acquired wisdom along the way. However, I draw most of my inspiration from the youth I am surrounded by and exposed to - their worldviews are fresh and untainted by the scars of experience.

Theophilus London isn't quite a youngster, he is 24, born: February 1987 - he is only one month younger than me. But relative to the community that he works within, he is a young blood, and you can see it and feel it.

In the eyes of a baby, I see more wisdom than I could ever hope to have. There is something about life that, through experiencing it, it taints our perception of what is possible. The ignorance and innocence of youth is the source of the beauty of youth; it allows the mind to stretch and conceive ideas that wouldn't penetrate the thick walls of lived experience.

The wisdom that comes with age is the anti-thesis of the wisdom of youth. Where the old say its impossible is where the youth will create the future. Lived experience, with the failures and scars that accompany it, creates mental blocks that limit our ability to think creatively.

No doubt, there is great value in experience, but it can also be an impediment to creativity. Experience is the collection of patterns one observes in life and these help to prevent us making the same mistakes over-and-over, but unfortunately they also keep us locked into familiar patterns, and familiarity is the death of creativity.

In order to be truly creative, in the rawest sense of the word, we should unlearn what we think we know, in order to cultivate the wisdom of youth, where the possibilities are endless, the fear of failure escapes us, and we break out of the familiar to create an original and moving piece of work. Raw creativity should stretch our imagination beyond the expected and be a light for our spirit, proving that creation (in the most non-religious way possible) continues each and every day, through us.

Lesson #2: Guard Your Aura
Quite a few people I spoke to afterwards complained that Theophilus was distant and didn't connect with many people. I think that despite his fame (as niche as it may be) - he seems slightly shy but I actually think he is simply protective of his creative spirit. When you've been given an overdose of swag washed down with a glass of cool, I imagine you have to be highly aware of how you nurture and maintain it.

I get the sense that he is meant to perform; it is almost as if he comes into being on stage, but when off the stage, he is a youth like us, navigating the social jungle.

There are energies all around us, and human auras probably have the biggest impact on our own aura. In the pursuit of creativity, the sourcing and harnessing of energy is central and in this regard nothing is more important than the people you surround yourself with. They push and pull you in different directions, so you better know which way you're heading and choose to associate yourself with those who are channeling their energy in the same direction.

Of course, humility and accessibility are noble characteristics, but at the same time, they are very often the enemies of higher forms of creativity. Most of the artistic greats in history have been very private people for a reason. This is not to say this is a good thing, but, in life, tradeoffs are inevitable. The true greats are able to shield their aura in spite of everything around them, but most of us mere mortals are forced to choose or at least find a balance that allows our aura to flourish.

Lesson #3: Be A Leader
This can be misconstrued as an arrogant position to take but I believe that if your life's endeavour is creative, then it requires of you to take on a role of leadership. Creativity is expression of self and the involves the production of a piece of communication that can be perceived by one or more of the senses.

Whether the creator admits it or not, every piece of creation is a message that allows the creator to speak. Therefore, every act of creativity is meant to affect the audience. Even if an artist paints solely for his or her own consumption, there is still a conversation happening - the art speaks to the artist and vice versa.

The fact that every piece of creativity affects the audience would mean that the more evolved creative person would take this into consideration and attempt to communicate clearly their intended message. This is not to turn creativity into a scientific process, it is just to say that creativity is made for an audience and it is the creator's responsibility to be aware of this power.

Every creative person can benefit from being a leader, of him or herself, and of the audience who receives their work. There is a responsibility attached to being creative and that is to respect the time, attention and spirit of the audience who has taken the time to give meaning to your piece.

A leader leads himself first and then others, and this is surely a principle that all creative people, who wish to see their vision manifest, should keep in mind, if not in heart. Moreover, we live in weird times and the world needs leaders to voice the complexity of life in a digestible way - and I believe creative people are best fit to do this.

Let me emphasize that I am not arguing that creative people need to be responsible leaders in the moralistic sense (although this wouldn't be a bad thing); but rather that creative people should take complete ownership of the story they wish to share, and believe in it with the conviction of a leader. This will result in "amazing creativity" - communication that penetrates and resonates with the audience - of one or of many.

Lesson #4: Creativity Can Never Stop
The most impressive thing I heard him say in this interview is: "I wrote a lot of songs in my hotel room." Maybe this is more of a personal thing, but I find it very difficult to produce work while experiencing new things. I like to sit and reflect before creating. It is safer and helps me maintain a sense of self.

However, after hearing him say those words, I began questioning this. Perhaps the rawest forms of creativity are created within the moments when the self is most fluid. This would make sense to me, because as your internal energy is most raw, the energy you put out will be equally as raw, meaning that it should carry more power.

In any case, creativity is a craft and it becomes better through practice, so there is no doubt in my mind that it is an important habit: to constantly create - whether the result is good or bad, it's bound to elevate your craft and help you find raw nuggets of emotion that are worth dedicating more time and attention to. If not, then all you'll end up with is more of the same - the stuff you're comfortable with, and the stuff most likely to move your audience the least.

Creativity is all about moving people's spirits and this is unlikely to happen while your spirit is static.

Lesson #5: Have Courage
This is something not to be taken lightly. We often place creative people, particularly those who've attained some kind of fame, on a pedestal. We see their outward portrayal of confidence and assume they have no insecurities.

But I'm more sure than ever that this is so wrong. In fact, I think the more famous they become, the more courage it takes each time, because there is always more at stake. In the beginning, the only people you can let down are your friends and family, but as you progress and speak louder and build a following, your responsibility becomes bigger.

Theophilus is an embodiment of courage - what he has done in the world of hip-hop could not be done without courage - which rapper makes a remix of a Whitney Houston track? But it works and it shows the beauty of hip-hop culture as a culture that holds knowledge and true representation of self as the highest prize.

It is courage that will keep the creativity going, not confidence. Confidence might allow you to continue creating, but courage will keep you growing. Courage allows you to be honest and to create what you feel, rather than what you think people expect you to create.

Lesson #6: Get Behind Your Brand
In this day-and-digital-age, we are all brands. As a creative individual, you take this to another level because you are actively trying to extend your brand into the production of pieces that you want other people to consume.

I don't believe any creative person that says they're creating for them-self but at the same time promotes their work. It's a cop out. If you're putting something out there, clearly you're aware that someone may consume it and clearly something inside you wants to be heard. There is nothing wrong with that, in fact it is a beautiful thing, and you should pour as much of yourself into as you can.

Brand-building relates very closely to life, especially in the case of a person-brand. It begins with having a very clear idea of who-you-are, which is a brand identity or knowledge of self; the role you want to play in people's lives, which is a brand proposition or a sense of purpose; and finally, how you are going to have this effect on the world, which is brand activity or life itself.

Take your brand seriously, get behind yourself, know who you're talking to and why what you have to say matters to them and then say it, loud and clear.

"Get behind your own shit and make it happen. That's the only way it's going to happen."

LVRS
The pinnacle of what I learnt is expressed in Theophilus' brand LVRS, an acronym for "Lovers", and he describes it as a "creative agency, for all things creative. Anytime you get a creative idea, and you need to process it, you process it through the LVRS."

Genius. It is amazing how much you can learn about people through the brands they design. I wish I'd come up with this idea, but it's all good, I'm now a LVR in spirit:

Those who Love, create. Those who Hate, stagnate.

As he said, it's also a couture fashion label, I cannot wait to get my hands on one of his pieces.



Timez Are Weird These Days
I haven't even listened to the new album yet, I'm so behind. I am going to BUY IT and I look forward drawing even more inspiration from it.


Theophilus is a youth like us, turning his visions into reality and being true to himself.

What more could you want from life?


Theophilus' Links:
Website 
Twitter
Facebook
Blog
Myspace
Last.fm
Wikipedia

Friday, September 2, 2011

Watch The Throne - Redefining Black Power?

This is not an album review, this is an intellectual-academic introspection-investigation of the album. Anyone who knows me, knows that I have followed Jay-z like the loyalest of Hovitos for the past decade. And more recently, I have been fueled by Kanye West's creative unfolding. However, in the past few weeks, I have experienced trouble in paradise and uncomfortable emotions rose in me that I haven't known what to do with. Hence this opinion piece is born of many hours sitting, reflecting and synthesizing my thoughts into a digestible form.

When I listen to the album musically and lyrically, within the abstract world of Hip Hop, I love it, I could gas the album up for days, but that would be too easy. When I listen to it from an ideological perspective, I feel more than slightly uncomfortable, and this I feel is more interesting for me to explore.

You see, music is not just music. Especially when it comes to Hip Hop. An emcee/rapper can transfer stories, knowledge and ideology in his verses. When it is done right and wrapped up in an entertaining beat and flow, it can be hypnotic.

So, my intention with this post is to critically analyze the ideology relayed on Watch The Throne. As individuals, artists and entrepreneurs, I have enormous respect for Jay-z and Kanye West. The way they choose to live their lives is up to them, however, on this album, they ventured deep into ideologies and I felt it necessary to discuss this, because ideology is a shared space not a private one.

Ideologies are usually something held within the corridors and libraries of universities but now, as they enter popular culture more forcefully, it is vital to keep one's thinking cap on at all times - to be aware of the ideologies that inform one's life decisions and thereby one's future.

Siya told me once that a writer's job is sometimes just to think so that others don't have to think as hard, I hope with this piece to do this job.

In Jay-z's words: "These are just my thoughts, just what I was feeling at the time, you know what I mean?" & I really do appreciate you taking the time to read them & nothing would make me happier than hearing your response to it - positive or negative - so long as we start a discourse. For the most part, this is a conversation I'm having with myself, but hopefully someone out there can identify with what I'm saying.

THE GANGSTER WITHIN US

I originally didn't see eye-to-eye with Jay-z. I am a struggle baby, so I naturally gravitated towards the more 'conscious' Hip Hop available at the time; I was a big Rawkus Records follower, for example. I believed money was the root of all evil and that socialism, etc. was the only hope for justice - how joyously naïve.

Then one day in 2001, like the silly teens we were, we 'borrowed' my friend's mother's Land Rover and went on a pointless drive around Cape Town. On this drive, my friend played The Blueprint album on repeat. Being forced to sit there and actually listen to what Jay-z was saying, I was immediately converted. Obviously it wasn't that simple, I was going through all types of change at the time, but in many senses, it was that quick. He was more 'conscious' (in terms of being aware of what was happening in the world) than any other rapper I'd heard before and I could relate to his story: raised by a single mother, big dreams, etc. And of course, I desired his success, financially but also his at-ease-with-himself despite all the money - he seemed rich and grounded, the ultimate combination.

At the same time, I, like most other adolescent boys within my social horizon, was also exploring the underworlds of Scarface, The Godfather and Goodfellas. These mafia stories spoke to us: a generation of young, ambitious black men who felt that the system was against us and that the only way we’d get the “money, power and respect” was to take it, By Any Means Necessary. We were young, we were naïve; but we had a point.

Jay-z was/is the King of this movement. Power-hungry, ambitious and confident young black men determined to live by the words “I’d rather die enormous than live dormant.”  Jay-z made the entrepreneurial mindset easily digestible – in the motif of The Hustler.


“Nine-to-five is how you survive/I ain’t tryna survive/I’m tryna live it to the limit and love it a lot.” and with these words a whole generation of youth wanting to be their own bosses was born.

THE COLLEGE DROPOUT

Kanye West on the other end of the spectrum, came up quietly but powerfully. In my opinion, he saved Jay-z at a vulnerable point in his rapping career by influencing the sound and texture of The Blueprint album. Kanye West at this point was still quite understated and reserved, compared to who he is today.

It still fascinates me to see this moment on Fade To Black and to see how much Kanye has really transformed [loooooove the gully beat that he kicks in with]:



Kanye is a bourgeois boy who had a fairly stable life. OK his parents got divorced but this is Middle Class life we're talking about...whose parents aren't separated these days? He dropped out of College to pursue his career as an artist.

To me, Kanye represents the battle of the Middle Class black man to remain connected to his roots the black folk in the hood and this is a theme that we see driving Kanye's lyrical journey - that of seeking acceptance.

ALTER-EGOS AS ARCHETYPES

My blog conceptually focuses on the alter-egos artists create to tap into their art form. However, with Jay-z and Kanye I have concluded that an alter-ego can also be an exaggerated form of the artist's actual ego. In this case, the artist comes to represent an ego archetype.

This was my aha! moment.


Jay-z is the archetype of the rags-to-riches, hood-to-the-penthouse story. He represents the far off dream of every ambitious young, black man in the townships scattered across the world. To escape their circumstances and become part of the upper-class; that's why he buys expensive drinks and cars and now collects art - to prove that someone from the hood can also have class.


Kanye is the archetype of the middle class black-boy who wants to get away from his white-boy identity connected to being part of the upper class; the desire to connect with the majority of 'your people' - the masses in the hood.

What is funny about this is that if you think of Jay-z, all he's ever wanted was to be accepted by people like Kanye; and all Kanye has ever wanted is to be accepted by people like Jay-z.

In this crude, over-simplified psycho-analysis of mine, I find it funny to note what the result of this is:

You have a thug turned art-fag in the form of Jay-z; and an art-fag turned thug in the form of Kanye. A dog chasing its own tail.

Please note: I say these words (including "art-fag") with the utmost respect. I mean, I'm pretty much an art-fag. Fagged out is the new swagged out.

PUTTING THE TWO TOGETHER

What happens when these two archetypes come together? The two most ambitious corners of the black community who come together and meet on equal footing - both with an extraordinary desire to prove a point.


WATCH THE THRONE


This is the name they have chosen to describe it. This name works on many levels. In Hip Hop, one can see it as a statement of ruling the rap game, a continuation of the ancient 'best rapper alive' discourse. Jay-z explains that the name is about defending Hip Hop as a music and culture, against the rise of dance music for example.

I am taking a slightly different take on it, because I can and because I think it becomes more meaningful this way. I am defining The Throne as the collective ambitions of young, black men - the horizons towards which we all look and therefore towards which we are walk, or desperately run in most cases. I find this the most important issue to discuss, because this trajectory will define our future.

I know many people reading this may question my sanity, "they're just rappers," I can already here people saying. I disagree. Rappers are modern day prophets, we recite their lyrics like Yogis recite mantras. The images on their music videos manifests in popular culture in the form of fashion and other consumption patterns. Based on my limited travels, I believe that the words rappers choose to use have more power over African youth, specifically, than that of politicians, teachers and businessmen. I mean who would you listen to: Jay-z or JZ?

SO WHAT ARE THEY SAYING ON #WTT?

1. No Church In The Wild

The album kicks off on an epic note with No Church In The Wild Frank Ocean's hook questions the relativity of power: 'Mob to King to God to Non-believer' - there is always someone or something that can strip what power you think you have away from you.

Jay-z kicks off the train of thought with ancient imagery of Roman empires falling, Greek philosophers being doubted in their time, etc, showing just how learned he has become but how he still feels inferior/shunned because of his drug-dealing past: "I’m wondering if a thug’s prayers reach / Is Pious pious cause God loves pious? / Socrates asked whose bias do yall seek / All for Plato, screech".

Kayne kicks off with his thugged out mess of a relationship with Amber Rose (I think, I could be wrong) - the drugs, the sex, the debauchery - showing just how street he is now having experienced "somethin’ that the pastor don’t preach /... somethin’ thata teacher can’t teach."

The track concludes with Yeezy explaining the highest truth of our times: "When we die the money we can’t keep, but we probably spend it all cuz the pain ain’t cheap ...Preach."

The Wild being this age of manic consumerism and even though we recognise the shallowness of this 'the pain' we are trapped in the cycle.


2. Lift-Off

After this, they just throw us off a bit by placing Lift Off next. They don't say much here, Beyonce's lines are probably the most powerful on the track: "we gon take it to the moon / Take it to the stars / How many people you know can take it this far? / I’m super charged / Bout to take this whole thing to Mars." I almost puke at the cheesiness, but it calms us down - 'shit for a second I thought they were going deep on us.'

3. Ni**as In Paris

On Ni**as In Paris they introduce a somewhat new sound, but the same old tired boastful lyrics. But this track gets you all worked up and is full of catchy lines. It's infectious. But all-in-all it's loaded with misogynistic crap that just taints the whole song. For example, Kanye saying: "Prince William ain’t do it right if you ask me, / Cause if I was him I would have married Kate & Ashley" and Jay-z declaring "I got that hot bitch in my home," referring to his WIFE and Kanye replying "You know how many hot bitches I own?" referring to who-knows-which-supermodel. It's honestly ghastly but like the way they cheekily tell us what they're doing in the middle of the track with a little interlude sampled from Blades of Glory:

(white boy) Speaker 1: I don't even know what that means.
(white boy) Speaker 2: No-one knows what that means but its provocative.
(white boy) Speaker 1: No it's not...
(white boy) Speaker 2: It gets The People going.

It was at this point that I really stopped to think about what they are saying and what they're trying to get me 'going' towards. I love the outro though, it's perfect orchestral dubstepified rap outtro - musically masterful in my opinion, get's me 'going' every time.

4. Otis

Next up we have their first music video track, Otis, which I will keep for the very end to discuss.

5. Gotta Have It

Gotta Have It the choppy Neptunes product seems to be Jay-z and Kanye telling the powers that be that they're here to get the money no matter what. Kanye states: "Hello, hello, hello, white America, assassinate my character / Money matrimony, yea they tryna break the marriage up," and they end off repping where they're from - it's all about street cred - 'fuck you, pay me' type steez. I could be reading way too much into this but that's about as deep as I think it can get.

6. New Day

The RZA connects with Throne on the next track, New Day, sampling Nina Simone in all her glory. This track we see the two big mouths come back down to Earth for a second from their gold throne in space. I find this track the most insightful because when a man wishes something for his child, more than often this is what the man wishes for himself. Kanye wants a boy without an ego, who's humble, likes white people and marries his college girlfriend - the straight-forward Middle-class life he has so furiously ran away from. Jay-z isn't as descript; he wants his child to have good values and live free of the torment of fame, essentially.

Anyway, I find it odd that they're both basically saying that if they lived there life over they would have done it differently - they would have rather just remained who they were, the average.

I find this odd, very odd, especially given all the boasting they're doing on this album. It makes me wonder how sad and empty they are in reality...It was enough to make me seriously question or generation's envy for their lifestyle - maybe we're better off the way we are?

As an aside, it is interesting, after all he said about wanting to guard his child from the press, Jay-z looked really happy announcing it in the most press-happy of ways at the VMAs.

7. That's My Bitch

That's My Bitch. I really have very little to say about this one too. I think it's about introducing black women to high society, yachts and museums. I might be wrong but I don't think it's necessary to interrogate it too much further. Lots of art-fag name dropping, like Larry Gagosian, well done, woohoo, you know an art dealer, whatever.

8. Welcome To The Jungle

Onto the Swizz Beats creation, Welcome To The Jungle, ironically isn't a pure dancefloor track, it's the first time we actually get the sense that these two are real humans, with insecurities and fears. But it's basically a Jay-z track, Kanye has a short 8 bars, but the rest is the introspective Jay-z that I truly respect. The whole track is interesting with Jay-z explaining the pain experienced in his life, with his male models dying and the rough side of the street life making him ask why he was born. But the most telling 2 bars on the track for me are "I'm a tortured soul/I live in disguise," because a little part of me believes that lots of the swag and bling is an a bit of an act, a marketing plan, feeding the public what he thinks they want to see and hear.


9. Who Gon Stop Me

Then The Throne makes its full-on assault on the rising dance music culture with it's Flux Pavillion sampled Who Gon Stop Me. It's a hype track of note, but then again so was the original. However, I do think Kanye actually improved on Flux's work. Lyrically, this is another Jay-z track with Kayne providing some support. Conceptually, Jay is on pretty much the same topic as on Welcome To The Jungle - it's about how he "Graduated to the MOMA/And I did all of this/Without a diploma/Graduated from the corner.." like I said thug to art-fag.

But it's also spelling out the power of sticking "to the G-Code," which is essentially "I went through hell / I’m expecting heaven," and by that they mean "Green Faces" a.k.a. Money. The G-Code as borrowed from Scarface: Money, Power, Respect - until they kill you. But at least they do recognise that the effect of this way of living is "something like a Holocaust," and it's got "Millions of our People lost," which leads us very smoothly into the next track, which comes as an answer to the previous track: "Black Straps, you know what that's for?"

10. Murder To Excellence

Murder to Excellence is most relevant track on the album in terms of commenting on our times and showing some sort of leadership. It's about black-on-black murder, but it's not clear what they mean by this...they can't be talking about the same stuff Pac spoke about, can they? I don't think so...

Jay kicks off with a verse about black people being on the same team, and that they should show each other respect, especially when one of them is winning. It's something I've heard in conversations often - black people don't like to see other black people succeed. I agree with this sentiment, there is a lot of jealousy and envy within black society. But then Jay loses me when he says: "Power to the People / When you see me, see you."

The entire album up until this point has been about how not-you all of us minions are. It's about the opulence, and art-fag snobbery that has consumed his life, that seems to have taken over his aspirations. One reviewer, Jeff Weiss, made me think hard in his piece where he says:

"Both Jay-Z and Kanye West are now part of tax brackets that subtract more money from their annual income than 99% of their listeners manage to even gross. Their economic realities are reflected in their castle-and-moat rap, their constant barrage of references to designer labels and high-society signifiers like Rainer Maria Rilke manuscripts. Their album-length collaboration raises the drawbridge to the point where it’s impossibly difficult for peasants to connect with the kings."

There is no denying this - in Jay-z most listeners see their dreams and desires, but they cannot possibly see themselves. People who are living the reality Jay-z lives probably squaff at the immaturity with which he handles his wealth - which wealthy person boasts about luxury brands, who you dine with? It's just childish. You do "stink of success" and you need to wash...

Kanye West poses a poignant challenge: "It's time for us to redefine Black Power." I couldn't agree more, except I believe that you, Kanye and Jay-z, are Black Power - so in effect it's time to redefine yourselves. Like Jay-z says: "My religion is the beat / My verse is like church," and this is true - rappers are pretty much the preachers of the youth - voicing our dreams, fears and ambitions.

11. Made In America

Talking about preaching, let me just skim over the next track, Made In America. I think you have to be Christian and/or American and/or ignant to not get annoyed by this song. Firstly, they say Jesus about 19 times. Secondly, Jesus was not made in America, at all, in any way whatsoever. This song was probably made to buy them another dinner with the President. It does shed some light on the degeneration of morals that The American Way allows, where a drug dealer is accepted as a natural part of the capitalist norm - I mean, what's the difference between dealing coke and dealing Coke?


12. Why I Love You

The finale track Why I Love You is an incredible ending. It speaks to every criticism I've laid out in this essay. At the end of the day, I love Jay-z and Kanye West and I love this album. I've always said that Jay-z is a master debater, he lays out his arguments in an well-thought out manner and it is almost impossible to dispute him - just look what happened to Nas...

Jay-z addresses some deep issues on this track. How alone he feels at the top. How all he wanted was to open the door. How he lived for 'us' and all 'we' want to do is bring him down. Now he's turned is back on 'us': "So we no longer wear the same uniform / F**k you squares / The circle got smaller / The castle got bigger / The walls got taller / And truth be told after all that said / Ni**as still got love for you."

ALMOST FINISHED

When I first heard that Jay-z and Kanye West were doing an album together I was more than excited. I wanted to see what the two most powerful black performers in the world would say. I knew it would be epic musically and lyrically, but I was really interested in seeing what issues would they choose to bring to the table?

They most focused on what they're familiar with: opulence, wealth, bragging and luxury brands. But they also raised some important questions about where black power is going and the difficult situation its leaders find themselves in.

I said I would speak about Otis at the very end, so here it is. This is the premier music video they chose to represent it:



I think it's a beautifully shot video and it makes them drip coolness, but it made my heart sink. All I could think was you guys are 34 and 41 and you're behaving like children. Jay-z, you're married, why do you have little ('yellowbone') models in the back of your cut up Maybach? What are you doing besides boasting? We know you're rich and successful - how about telling/showing us something we don't know?

At the end of the video there's a notice that says: "THE VEHICLE USED IN THIS VISUAL WILL BE OFFERED UP FOR AUCTION. PROCEEDS WILL BE DONATED TOWARDS THE EAST AFRICAN DROUGHT DISASTER."

Ncaaaw, that's very sweet of you guys...no. This, instead of excusing their opulence makes it even more sickening. It's an after-thought, a cover up.

I would have been impressed if they had launched the album with Murder to Excellence and if they had been brave enough to go to Somalia and shoot the video there. That would have redefined Black Power.

 REDEFINING BLACK POWER

On this album, they speak of teaching niggas to be Kings, they talk of Thrones, but they know nothing of it - like The Guardian's Kitty Empire says in her review they need to read the basic theories of power to see how trapped they are in the instruments of power.

They only know the capitalist King - basking in opulence while the masses suffer. A true King does not go to a banquet when people under his protection are dying.

They know very well the effect they have on young minds - that's what they sell to the corporations/brands that have helped them gain all this opulence. Of course I am not implying that Jay-z and Kanye West are responsible for all black people across the planet, or anyone as a matter of fact, but by opening this ideological discussion they have opened themselves to this kind of criticism. It's the penalty of leadership, in Jay-z's words.

I believe that Jay-z and Kanye West are ultimately good people - this piece is in no way intended to judge them personally. They are however caught up in the shallow, hyper-materialistic world that is America - where you drown your soullessness in consumption. I like to believe that they truly do want the best for black people across the planet, but I don't think they have the sensibility to see past the Star-Spangled Banner, which makes them unfit to think critically. By virtue of being American, they are ignorant, in the way only Americans can be: as a result of their extreme absorption in themselves.


When discussing "Redefining Black Power" as an ideological discussion, I don't believe opulence and arrogance are what we need. I think we need a new definition of leadership. We need a new bling. One that is not based solely on material possessions.  We need to boast about how many mouths we've fed, not how many brands we've spread.

We in Africa know our situation. For the majority of our people, it is pretty bad. Let's not get lost in these music video dreams, let's stay rooted in reality.

Our social consciences are far more aware and awakened. Let's celebrate the doors that people like Jay-z and Kanye have opened - but let us be smart and not follow them down the road of greed and opulence to our own demise.

I think deep down inside, all men want to be positive role models, but the ego is a powerful thing - it craves attention, acknowledgement, a sense of superiority - and it usually consumes the heart, drowning the real yearning.

It's hard, I wrote this and I'm struggling to publish it because I don't even know if I have it in me to live by these thoughts. But I know it's the right thing to say and I will do my best to put my ego to the side and think of the greater good in what I do with my life.

I have the Bad Boy spirit flowing through my veins but all I really want is to be a Good Man.

To Redefine Black Power we would need to let our social conscience lead our efforts and let the money be an after-thought, not the other way around as it is today - then we would know what it truly means to be Kings.

Peace & Light.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Too Leite - debut performance art exhibition directed by Carla Fonseca.

Bare Breasts. Dictators. War.

That is Africa according any media company owned by Rupert Murdoch. However, this is not what I expected to encounter when I went to check out my first real performance art exhibition on Wednesday 15 June 2011.

There was a small storm brewing - bits of lighting happening in the distance and a cold breeze blowing through the trees (we were in Observatory so forgive me for observing-the-trees). An obscure, empty double-storey building in Barrington Street, was the venue and it only added to the uneasy feeling I had inside.

As I got out my car, I bumped into a couple of familiar faces and we proceeded to get into the usual chit-chat. I calmed down. Nothing to worry about. After about 15 minutes of jealously watching them smoking cigarettes (I used to love smoking in cold weather), I got fed up and bored of the banter so I walked away from the crowd to make my entrance into...well, I didn't know what I was making my way into.

Through the hallway and straight into the first room.


My jaw dropped and I think I twitched slightly. It was the kind of shock that a little boy experiences mistakenly walking into the girl's bathroom. I shuffled awkwardly out the room without taking note of anything other than the variety of nipples on display.

Breathe.

There was only one thing to do at this point: down my first glass of wine and take the second glass with me. I peered back at the door of the room and saw a few people exiting with similar half-smiles on their faces.

"Okay," I told myself, "don't go straight back into the room, you'll look like a pervert." So I asked one of the full-clothed hostesses if there was anything else to see. She pointed me towards the second room at the back of the bottom floor.

This was much easier to digest, more like what I'm used to in the world of so-called'art'.


There was a projection of documentary footage on war in Africa, amongst other things onto a jarred backdrop of African fabrics. This was safer, but my mind was working over-time trying to digest the previous scene. And that first glass of wine wasn't really helping slow the thoughts, so down with the second...

"Where to next?" I asked. "Upstairs," she said, almost daring me.


Here I found the House Nigger serving shots, shots of milk. I couldn't decide whether the prospect of rediscovering my love for breast milk was strong enough so I declined and continued sipping my third glass of wine. I nodded respectfully as I walked up past the coon, looking back as I walked up.


Coming up the stairs, I could vaguely hear war-like sounds approaching - army general-like speeches and exploding paraphernalia. But I was so thoroughly mixed up in my thoughts that I just kept going as if nothing was happening.

As I approached the next room, what the cape coloureds call a klappetjie went off...okay...walk slower...gulp...


There was the Dictator sitting taking notes, devising her plans whilst a speech about freedom that I vaguely remember hearing somewhere was blaring in the background. She kept throwing klappetjies against the wall, adding to the unapproachable atmosphere of the entire installation. Above all of this commotion was the violent humming of the breast milk pump...


I couldn't figure out if this made me want to go back and take those shots of milk or not. I lost my composure and slipped into the next room like a scared little rabbit when gets out its hole not knowing where it popped out.

Escape. Next room. Be calm. BE A MAN!


Fresh, bleeding hearts with the flags of African states pierced into them.

Shit! What the fuck?!

I went downstairs to join the crowd outside. A place of safety. More hipster chit-chat. I made irreverent jokes about breasts - I don't like to project myself as an art aficionado.

But the truth is: I was moved.

Art is meant to move something inside you, if it doesn't then it has failed. And art is really art when you're left feeling unsure what inside you has changed. But who am I to say what is and isn't art?

I hung around for two more hours and finally managed to work off my immaturity and took the time to notice the nuances. The writing on the wall surrounding the breasts. The milk being collected beneath each of them. The photographs and scraps of paper around the Dictator.

But I am not go an artistic interpretation of the meaning behind all of this because a) I do not like to present myself as an art critic because I am not one; and b) I do not yet have the right words to describe my interpretations.

I went to dinner with some people straight after this and the one girl who is definitely an artist herself said: "Never show the nipples, they're too powerful, no-one will take anything out of the performance."

I must admit, this is somewhat true, the breasts were pretty dominating. But I find this interesting. I had no idea that nudity could have such a profound impact on my ability to digest information. But I do believe that this was part of the message. The breasts were not randomly placed in the middle of nowhere - they were the message.

The power of the female form and the centrality of breasts to human life was demonstrated brutally. Breasts are the source of our first comfort and sustenance in this world. Aren't breasts the real reason why we love our mothers so much?

But in later life, men find all sorts of new ways to feed this hunger and to seek comfort from this world - one of which is the lust for power, much like my seemingly uncontrollable lust for breasts...and one of the most ghastly aspects of war for me is not the killing but the raping that goes mostly unspoken. Why are men such beasts?

Am I a beast?

I salute the creators of this brave piece of art. You have shown me just how raw human nature really is and how much I still need to learn about myself in order to be able to digest the reality of the issues facing myself and our continent.

The poster said "get the taste out your mouth" and I haven't quite yet managed to.


Photography courtesy of Adam Kent Wiest

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Film Review: I'm A Cyborg But That's OK

A friend of mine recently nagged me into watching this movie. I was hesitant because I'm wary of subtitles, I'm not sure why. I think I assume I'm lazy. But I usually love movies with subtitles, once I watch them. This is one of them.

When I was in India in 2007/8, I met a guy with the most awesome taste in world film. He told me back then that Korea was producing the most conceptually advanced film in the world. This movie is, shamefully, my first real taste of this.


The title of the film is: I'm A Cyborg But That's OK. The plot centres around a girl, Young-goon, who is admitted to an insane asylum because she believes that she is a cyborg.


The opening scenes are masterfully crafted and the line between reality and insanity is never clear; for the whole film you're left guessing. I was left enthralled from the beginning to the end.

It is so interesting to view life and the world through a totally different cultural, historical and philosophical lens. It's something only creativity can do: give you a glimpse into the soul of a mind you will never know.

Anyway, there are many other characters but the other main character is Il-Sun — played by the Korean pop-heartthrob Rain.


He plays the role of the antagonist. He is a thief, and he steals the thing that is most dear to you. But he is also The Saviour, the character who brings relief to the storyline, but I won't give away what he does.

I am purposefully not going to speak about the storyline. I may have my own interpretation that is skewed and I think it would be boring to hear my rendition of it. However, let me briefly explain what intrigued me about some of the messages in the film.

The first is that a cyborg was used to explore human emotion and existentialism. There is a beautiful scene where Young-goon is meditating via her radio and speaks to the Machine God or whatever it is. She says that all machines are created with their unique purpose of existence, and she wishes she knew hers.


The film is largely about this seeking but without being directly about it. It's not an entirely philosophical movie, it's also fantastical, odd and funny.

The second is the key to her finding her purpose, the rule-book, the formula. It's the seven deadly sins for cyborgs.


The 7 Deadly Sins are:
1. Sympathy
2. Being Sad
3. Restlessness
4. Hesitating about anything
5. Useless Daydreaming
6. Feeling Guilty
7. Thankfulness (shown in the picture above)

I can agree with most of these, when it comes to creativity, except for thankfulness and sympathy. But that could be my euro-centric socialization at play, perhaps there is great wisdom behind this, I don't know. In any case, I liked having my moral assumptions tested. But the result of her finally losing her sympathy kind of makes me feel sure that I'd like to keep mine. I won't give away what happens but it's pretty crazy.

Lastly, the film also addressed the idea of energy. Machines use electricity as energy, but it doesn't work for humans. So a large part of the film is about trying to get Young-goon to eat - food, instead of licking batteries...I think this applies to a larger theme of where we draw energy and inspiration from and the need to remain cognizant of whether our energy source is in fact giving you energy or if it's all in your head...That aside, I find it cute the way her toes light up when she gets energy.


Conclusion

Artistically, this is a beautifully crafted film. Philosophically, it's very interesting and mind-opening. It's not for everyone's taste and people with a better knowledge of Asian films might know better films. However, as an introduction to the breadth to which film can take us, this was a fresh experience for me.

Philosophically, I found one thing stuck in my mind. It's very Foucaultian but reality is such a fluid thing. The line between sanity and insanity is subjective and relative.

What you believe to be true is equally as important to what is actually true. Belief creates reality, or at least the two an inextricably linked. This begs the question of the meaning of truth: is it what we believe to be true or what is truly true and how can we ever know other than what we believe? But that is a whole other debate for another day, or perhaps another lifetime, if you believe in shit like that.

Here's an interesting music video/trailer that gives you a good idea of the artistic feel of the film, but none of the content, you have to watch it for that:



Finally, I actually have a point.

In South Africa, we're suffocated by American pop film and music because of the massive power of the American entertainment corporations, the four major distribution labels.

But this shouldn't kill our creativity. What is up with us?

Nigeria has a hustling, bustling film industry. What about us?

Okay, we have Tsotsi and District 9 and White Wedding, but can we claim that these have a uniquely South African film aesthetic? Or are they just South African stories done according to some international (American) standard? Or am I just ignorant to volumes of monumental South African films lying in the dusty corners of the SABC?

When you see a Nollywood movie, you know it. When you see a Bollywood movie, you know it. When you see a South African movie, you see...Hollywood?

I believe there is space and a need for a uniquely South African narrative style, philosophical lens, political message and aesthetic approach.

Other than Leon Schuster.

Monday, April 4, 2011

YOU ARE THESIS.

We all have individual and collective identities that battle, fuse & combine to make up our social reality.

I've been thinking for a while about whether the alter-ego theory can be applied to groups. I've always felt that it can but haven't been able to express it.

Then I came into contact with Thesis.

Thesis a fashion/lifestyle brand that has it's base in Mofolo, Soweto, Johazardousburg, South Africa.

It's run by five Sowetan youth who've been building the movement since 16 June 2007. But let me not say too much myself: here's an amateur video I put together from my various visits to Thesis over the past 6 months:



Thesis stands out to me because of the rich concept behind; its social dimensions and the way that it is aimed at changing people's approach to life.

Thesis pays homage to the slain youth of 1976, through it's opening date.

This conceptual link interests me. It shows the passage of time and the connectedness of history to the present. The youth of 1976 were fighting against being taught in Afrikaans - a language that clashed with their sense of identity.

In many ways language is a cornerstone of cultural identity because it determines your mode of thinking. I've heard that Native Americans couldn't grasp the concept of a wave crashing; they saw the wave continuing into the land, all because their language had no punctuation. There is no full stop.

In this way, if you are forced to speak a language, you are forced into a cultural mold & ultimately you will change.

The youth of 1976 wouldn't accept this imposition - they fought and died for their right to oppose Afrikaans cultural imperialism. It was a symbolic fight; one that said: we will not allow you to define our identity.

Identity is one of the great youth conundrums. Trying to figure out where you fit, what you want to become, who you want to be.

The old and wise advise: just be yourself.

The Thesis slogan speaks to this wisdom: "wear your own identity, culture, style and experience.”

Essentially, the concept of Thesis challenges South African youth, especially in the townships, to define/redefine themselves according to their own terms & then use this as a springboard to nurture a creative culture.

The youth create the future & by addressing our identity head-on, we create ourselves.

Thesis is an alter-ego for a collective, providing a portal to escape the boxes of what we think is impossible.

You are Thesis. I am Thesis. We are Thesis.

Check out my full profile on the Thesis Social Jam Sessions in the latest issue of one small seed