Tuesday, July 13, 2010


I’m very excited. I’ve just been commissioned by ANC Youth League President Julius Malema to write songs about politics. There I was, wondering how the recent tirades on my debut album would come across, when all of a sudden, Bra Julius opens the floodgates! Last week, he addressed the Southern African Music Conference in Johnnesburg and all but handed me my manifesto. “Never dissociate music from politics”, he said; “Music is politics”. Wow! Is that permission or what?

     During the apartheid years, most political protest music was made, understandably, by black musicians. Sankomoto, Lucky Dube and Hugh Masekela, to name but a small few, expressed their frustration and rage outstandingly. There were significant contributions from Whitey, too: rock bands like Dog Detachment, Bright Blue and Tribe After Tribe also gave voice to white indignation, for what it was worth. Anti-apartheid music was, however, the black musician’s domain, and to a huge degree, rightly so.

     Fast-forward 20 years, and what does Bra Julius see? “Bling”. Lots of it. “All of you grew up dedicating your life to bling”, he told his young, star-struck audience. “We must be like Venezuela, where there is a hit song about Che Guevara. We must be more like South America”. Yes, Julius, yes! At last, an inclusive statement from one of the most racist politicians South Africa has ever produced! OK, fair enough, he’s not exactly talking to Rich Suburban Whitey, he’s talking to his Peeps. What do I have to protest about anyway? I benefited from apartheid, I vote white liberal, I live far from a disgusting township, I can emigrate when I want to, and my skin colour is wrong.

     Well, Bra, let me tell you. This is a democracy now, which means everyone, and that means everyone, has a voice. I agree with you, Comrade, that politics and music are a potent mix, however ineloquently you phrased that. Watch out, though, that someone, regardless of his or her skin colour, doesn’t come along and turn that pointed finger back in on itself. This isn’t ‘us vs. them’ anymore, it’s ‘us vs. YOU’. You Glorious Victorious Revolutionary Leaders are answerable to us now, and so far, we’re not happy. That ‘us’, by the way, is comprised of all South Africa’s skin colours. It’s no longer Moral High Ground Black pitted against Evil Racist Minority White. The ANC is in charge, and so far, despite Madiba’s outstanding example, you have failed everybody and broken every promise you made. And damn right, we’re gonna sing about it. Be careful what you encourage, Bra, you might just get it.

     Oh and Comrade, one more thing: you’re the first target. Check out the 7th song on that John Ellis guy’s “Come Out Fighting” album. ‘Champagne revolutionaries’ indeed!

(With thanks and apologies to Carien du Plessis’s article, “Make Political Music, Not Love”, published on July 8 2010 in The Star).

Monday, July 5, 2010


I think I may have glimpsed the future of South Africa last week. If I sound uncertain, it’s because I am. As Leo Di Caprio told us in his pretty-accurate best-Rhodesian, “T.I.A.” This is Africa, pal. Nothing is ever certain, from one day to the next.

     Nevertheless, a glimpse is as good as a wink to a blind bat, and I got mine at a youth camp near Spion Kop. In the shadow of one of the most famous battle sites of the Boer War, forty or so young South Africans un-self-consciously (and unwittingly) created the next phase of South African democracy, and it rocked. It also bobbed, weaved and heel-tapped, because they were doing the Diski, the famous Made-For-FIFA soccer-inspired dance created by Sowetan choreographer Wendy Ramokgadi. The 43-year-old dancer created more than he bargained for: it’s become a sublime nation-building ritual, and I saw it with my own eyes.

      I spoke and played a few of my songs for the kids, and we had a good time, but afterwards the pantsula came out and the bussed-in locals showed the private-school fortunates more than a thing or two about grooving. And suddenly, unobtrusively, there it was: a roomful of black, white, Indian, and coloured kids, all doing the difficult moves the Diski requires, oblivious to each others’ skin colour, teaching and helping each other, laughing with each other, all grooving.

     I instinctively knew that a corner had been turned, and maybe only in my own understanding of things, but a corner nevertheless. When I was 16, things in South Africa were way different, and you would never have seen suburban white kids dancing with so much abandon with kids of other races. I’ll unfortunately always see race as the elephant in the room, because that’s how my all-knowing, all-wise National Party leaders trained me, but post-1994 kids (heck, post-2009 kids) are dancing to a different drummer. 

And it’s definitely not Sepp Blatter.