In April, I spoke with Anele Selekwa, one of the key figures behind the anarchist hip hop collective Soundz of the South (SoS), based in Cape Town, South Africa. SoS have performed internationally, but have especially been involved in organizing within the continent as a driving force behind Afrikan Hiphop Caravan.
Check out Soundz of the South on Bandcamp.
Cisco Bradley: How are things in Cape Town right now?
Anele Selekwa: It’s an overwhelming situation. The lockdown has just been extended for an extra two weeks. At the same time, the city of Cape Town is on some offensive level. I mean, just yesterday they had shut down a community of people and evicting them off the land. Whilst on the other side also, they’ve been cleaning the streets, taking homeless people and putting them far out of the city. For the last couple of months, there’s been some kind of resistance that is done by the so-called foreigners, requesting the government here to protect them from violence, particularly xenophobia. Their main demand was that they want to be taken to different countries where they would be safer. The response, even from the beginning, was to ignore these groups of people and at times tried to move them with force. As a result, these groups had then occupied a square in Cape Town and have been there for a couple of months.
So with the lockdown that came in, soldiers together with law enforcement and police had moved these groups of people off the city, far out, I think something like 25 km out of the city and put them in a tent. Of course all these things around hygiene and safety and linked into COVID-19 were completely ignored. Just yesterday, there’s one person who passed away from there. On one end, it’s that kind of violence from the state and them pushing some kind of an agenda. On the other, particularly in working-class communities, you get the sense that people are struggling, they’re not sure what is happening, but they can’t go anywhere.
You don’t really see the soldiers until you want to leave the community, then you would meet soldiers and the police who have set up a station in the exits. So on one end, you don’t get a sense of the urgency around this thing because people are roaming around the streets, in their own yards, some are drinking heavily to relieve frustration. On the other, you don’t have anywhere to go and you have to be in your area or in your house. Many people, from where I’m staying, they live from day jobs or they work for themselves. In this period, in the last two weeks, it’s been absolutely frustrating for them because they can’t do those day jobs and they don’t have savings to fall back into. It’s not easy also to access the government support. I suppose people have been able to survive through solidarity networks done by social movements, local NGOs and we were able to deliver a few parcels. It’s uncertain how things will be, since now there’s an addition two weeks in addition to that one week that we were going to go through going forward.
It’s a long answer, but pretty much that’s what is happening. It’s frustrating for creatives and activists because they cannot really respond because they cannot meet. For us as artists and creatives, cultural workers work collectively, then it also becomes difficult for us. Now, we can’t really meet in the studio and work on something. Of course, in other parts of the world, it’s easy for people to simply just say, no, I will do a show live on Instagram or Twitter and people must just tune in. Here, the access for a computer, a cell phone that can do some of these things and internet, is also something that is distant. So, yeah, it’s a difficult time,
CB: Who is being removed?
AS: It’s three groups of people that I’m mentioning. One, I don’t know what is the politically correct term, to refer to brothers and sisters who come from different countries from the rest of the continent. Who over the last 12 years, have found themselves in different situations being attacked through xenophobic violence be it at work, be in the community or even at school. So these groups of people, many of them are from Rwanda, Congo, Central African Republic, Angola and so on, have been organizing themselves for the last, I think six months.
At first, they occupied the the United Nations Human Rights Refugee Center. When they were removed from there, they then were staying outside a church downtown next to the Greenmarket Square. I don’t know if you’ve been to Cape town.
CB: I have not, but I have a little bit of an idea of the layout.
AS: So Greenmarket Squire is like central downtown CBD. It’s also somewhat a craft and arts market. Just opposite, is the Methodist Church that at one time had opened its doors for these communities to be there, which in some way was an inconvenience to law enforcement and City of Cape Town. So COVID-19, in some ways, gave them an opportunity, gave the City of Cape Town an opportunity to use force in the name of protecting people and in the name of curbing the spread of coronavirus. So people in that way, then agreed to be moved out of the city and were promised to be given a space that would be safe and so on. What really happened, they were put in one big tent without sanitizers, without proper water, without mattresses.
So that’s one group. The second group is the homeless people who usually stay in the streets. I mean, something similar again, they’ve been rounded up forcefully and put in a place where they’ll be invisible and so on. The third group, of course, is the housing movement. Apartheid is known for forced removals and evicting people out of the city and the creation of townships. These housing activists, what they’ve been doing in the last three years at least, is to occupy open pieces of land and erect structures where they would call this their home.
This particular community here in Khayelitsha has been there, I think for the last year or two. I think no one saw Anti-Land Invasion soldiers and police and law enforcement coming. There was somewhat a moratorium on eviction, but it did happen yesterday. I’m hearing these words today as well, that these housing activists and communities, their structures were demolished and people were kicked out of the land.
CB: I’m sorry to hear that. Sounds like the situation is pretty intense. When I am there next year, it would be great to meet you and meet other activists there and everyone who’s involved in all these struggles. I’m curious to talk to you a little bit about your work at this moment. I happened to notice that that Soundz of the South released a single a couple of days ago. Would you like to talk about that?
AS: Yes, definitely. Hopefully coronavirus and the lockdowns that are happening throughout the world will be lifted soon and that people will be able to return to their normal lives. The theme is called Thina, meaning, us or we the people, we the workers. Thina is the Xhosa language, which most of the members of Soundz of the South speak. So the idea is that, we were in conversation with an independent NGO, called International Labor, Research and Information Group, about the works that they were doing around precarious work. In that conversation, we had agreed that it’s important as cultural workers to be part of the project because in any case, we can characterize our work as precarious work as well.
The song tries to map experiences and struggles of precarious workers. So in song, we talk to domestic workers who are not unionized, who have to go through all kind of struggles, leaving very early from their home, leaving their children without necessarily any care or guardianship. Then for them to go and work in the city, in very harsh conditions, where job description changes from day-to-day, sometimes from hour-to-hour. We also talk about security workers who find themselves in difficult situations where they’re working for the boss who doesn’t really care about them. At the same time, they are seen as the enemy from the community that they come from.
We also talk about supermarket workers. Workers who work at places like Pick n Pay, Shoprite, again, who come from similar working class communities, who go through all kinds of hardships. Then to make it at work and to create millions or a fortune for bosses who don’t really care. So we’ve been working on that song since late last year. We collaborated with an illustrator to put together some of these ideas into an illustration. And particularly talking about struggles that is faced by farm workers who, again, work in a export-led industry and food and grapes particularly, that is steward towards creating wine for export industry. Of course there’s a lot of injustices that happen in the farm, not only in terms of pay, but also in terms of the evictions that happens always.
That’s what we were trying to do with the song, is to map these kind of struggles, but with a message that says, we will not give up, we will organize, workers will come together. So on one hand to raise the struggles and hardships that they’re going through, but on the other hand to inspire workers to come together and find ways where they can build the system that is an alternative.
CB: That’s amazing. I understand that Soundz of the South doesn’t have a set membership. Who’s involved in the current projects for the group?
AS: Members have come in and they’ve left, but the crew that we work with now has been around at least for the last six years. The beats, even of that song Thina, is done by a founding member who was a producer who is now late, DJ Inffo. The current group is made up mainly of Sister Anela, who’s on the hook on that song, Karl Myx, I think he’s on the third verse, Java, who’s on the first verse on that song, Sister Tsidi is on the last verse, Sister Millz who’s on the second last verse. There’s one other member who is not on that song, who is not necessarily an artist in that sense of a performer, but someone who’s involved a lot in the education work that we do, that is Sister Atule. Then there’s another member who is also a perform, but somewhat is taking time to finish his studies and he’s in another part of the content and that is Azela.
I suppose that’s the main members. Other members that are involved are free to come in and contribute there, but also free to explore other artistic ventures that they want. That list is long, so I don’t need to mention them. The point I was getting to is that, majority of current members are mainly young women and there’s three of us who are men and involved in the project.
CB: Did it grow out of the hip hop scene in Cape Town? Is that where it started?
AS: Some of the original members grew out of the social movements space. The other, of course, is the hip hop scene, but let me give you some details. In 2008, what happened was xenophobic attacks, violence throughout the country happened in the month of May. They happened after we had had conversations about conditions of nationals who were from other parts of the continent in the community. We were particularly having a problem with government, particularly Home Affairs and police. They were doing all kinds of raids, deporting people and what not. As soon as we were busy with that conversation, I think a week or two later, then the violence broke out throughout the country. We were not necessarily clear as to what we should do.
Some of the people who were involved in that conversation became founding members of Soundz of the South. Here, there was the Cameroonian activist whose name is Lumumba. There was a Zimbabwean activist, his name is Tinashe and few other activists. At the same time, some of the top artists with the hip hop scene were not really making any kind of impact. It felt like the scene had become a depoliticized space. The conversation happened between, cultural works who were hip hoppers and activists who loved hip hop, but were not sure about how we deal with the violence that was happening there and then. So we thought, maybe a place to go to in that time of need, was to experiment with hip hop and pretty much that was the beginning of Soundz of the South.
CB: So there’s always been the kind of an international orientation, a trans-African kind of outlook on from the group? Because I know, I think beginning around 2011, you were involved in the Afrikan Hiphop Caravan.
AS: Yeah, I was involved. True, I mean, we’ve always tried to sing about the work that we do to impact, not only locally, but also internationally and find ways where we could learn and unlearn things from different parts of the world. The word South in the title, definitely, is to precisely convey that message, that we’re talking about oppressed people all over the world and particularly the Global South.
CB: So it came out of a political consciousness. You’re focusing on everything from poverty and people who have come from other parts of the continent, who are living in South Africa, who are facing all sorts of challenges. Was that what propelled you to take a leading role in Afrikan Hiphop Caravan?
AS: It’s true. We were somewhat fortunate that, already when we were having those conversations in 2008, we were plugged in in different networks within the region. For example, when the World Social Forum came to Nairobi in 2007, we were there as different activists and interacted with each other. Again, in 2011 when the World Social Forum was in Dakar, in Senegal, the conversation about a hip hop movement that is continent-wide, took center stage. In some way, those conversations propelled us into thinking about a festival that travels throughout the continent, a festival that tries to build collectives, a festival that tries to build some kind of a network of artists, but also politically engaging artists.
At the same time, we were also impacted a lot by what happened in Tunis and what political artists were going through in Syria and of course in Palestine over the years. They’ve always gone to hip hop for protection, for inspiration, but also they’ve always gone to hip hop to find alternatives in terms of what they do in their own communities, in their own countries. In dedication to this, when we were in Senegal and we were just walking around in the different city, in the different locations and areas, hip hop there was visible and was political. You could see in the walls, people, they would scribble, “Your time is over Mr. President.” Not only was it beautiful, but it was local and engaging and direct and relevant.
So when we got to Cape Town, we were like, okay, there’s an interesting group in Senegal, that has put together a hip hop document. When we looked at that document, Democracy in Dakar, these were people like us that were doing this work, women who were rapping and poets and so on, which already by 2007 shared their political aspirations through hip hop. They’ve challenged the then president and they’ve done it again in 2011. So that in many ways did influence us to think about, how do we take some of these stories back to where we come from, but also find a way we carry this messages from country to country in the form of the Afrikan Hiphop Caravan? Just as we were beginning again, when movements and trade unions they defeated thoroughly in Angola, a group of young people came together and were starting to organize. Again, they were using hip-hop. The idea of occupying the square and then transforming the square into a concert and then politicizing people to a concert, was another thing that impacted us.
Here, we were talking about corruption, dictatorship and we’re also dreaming about a new Angola post being dominated by one family or by one political party. They paid a serious price because they now couldn’t have study circles. They couldn’t now read political materials because a group of about 14 of them got arrested and were charged with plotting to overthrow the state. In any case, I think over time when the fought their trial and they won in the end and got released, that became a very inspiring story. One of the things we were saying, we need to find way to link up with them and go to them with the Afrikan Hiphop Caravan.
CB: What was the group in Dakar that you said was inspiring or that was opposing the opposing the reelection or the next term of the president there?
AS: In Dakar, the group became known as Y’en a Marre. Before them becoming public and well-known, there were groups of MCs, for example, Amadou Fall Ba, who works with artists in the group called Africulturban. We had worked with Studio Sankara. That’s Didier Awadi’s institution. Even when we were there in Dakar in 2011, when everyone else was in a commission discussing serious things, we were trotting with artists through open mics throughout the city. That’s how we were able to build connects. By the time we were now talking about Afrikan Hiphop Caravan, setting up the first caravanning experience in 2013, we were building on those experiences and connections.
CB: And what kind of work were you doing in Tanzania and Zimbabwe?
AS: Yeah. By this time already, 2013, 2014, 2015, we had also linked up with Michael Crenshaw, Portland, Oregon-based artist who we had met in some other festival in Zimbabwe. We had been trying to find a way to link up with the East Africa hip hop movement because it was very strong socially as a force that unites young people. We also wanted to link up specifically with Mama C and Brother Pete, both have a small center and were now running some kind of a music school in Tanzania. With the Caravan that year, what we were trying to talk to, was the importance of unity between African people, but also unity within the movement of hip hop. At the same time, we were trying to find ways to talk to dictatorship and the unemployment that is happening seriously throughout the continent.
Around the same time, there were political activists, particularly in Zimbabwe that were disappearing due to the state violence. The way we were seeing things is that Tanzania was, in some ways, showing signs of going the dictatorship route. Because the president at the time, who had just been elected, was doing interesting things that other people liked and that we also liked, but at the same time it looked like he had way too much power. We had seen what too much power in one person does in Zimbabwe. We were trying to find a way, where Zimbabwean artists and young people can have a conversation through hip hop with artists in Tanzania, but at the same time learn from the experiences from these two former Panthers, who have built estates in Tanzania and Arusha.
The Caravan, I think what it did successfully was to consolidate the caravan as a presence in Arusha specifically, in Tanzania. I think in some way, the conversation between at least Zimbabwean artists and Tanzanian artists began. I want to be honest, I’m not sure how far the process is. I think in some ways, Michael Crenshaw and Mama C were able to build some kind of network between the two and they’ve done a lot of interesting work since then. They were familiar with each other, particularly because Michael Crenshaw here now is organizing in the US and there was that whole violence that was happening against young people in the US, particularly police killing children. At the same time, Michael Crenshaw was coming from an experience of anti-racism work. Mama C and Brother Pete, of course, they know what that looks like and how that feels.
I think in some ways we weren’t able to have the conversation that consolidates what we mean when they talk about Africa. We’re talking about a geographical space or we’re talking about history of people that has impacted the whole world and history of people who are all over the world and who are going through oppression right now. So it was an interesting an exchange and Caravan that we want to build on. There were conversation at the beginning of this year to have a big Afrikan Hiphop Caravan 2020 that will go through Zimbabwe, but also go to Arusha and Zanzibar. What we’ve realized that there’s a whole experience and movement that is in Zanzibar that maybe is important to begin conversations and continue building with.
I was in Zanzibar two years ago and they were having 50th anniversary independence celebration. The celebrations were happening, at the same time what you cannot miss was the desperate situation that Zanzibari people were going through. Pretty much everyone has adjusted to the concept of tourism. When you hear about Zanzibar, generally, you think of a nice, beautiful place, but I don’t get the sense that the locals have the same experience. Because pretty much all over the airlines they find ways to survive and surviving means making space for your European tourists to expropriate, extract and pretty much exploit the island. We thought perhaps that kind of expression through hip hop needs to come out more.
CB: So there’s ongoing stuff there that you’re hoping to continue to work on or work with other hip hop figures and activists in Zanzibar?
AS: Yes. That’s the intention. We want to use the Afrikan Hiphop Caravan to do that.
CB: Amazing. It’s all sounds like amazing work. You’ve done this different site specific work in different parts of the continent, a solidarity movement. After an event in a particular place, those kinds of connections, are they enduring? Has it been a process of building a coalition and kind of solidarity across the continent?
AS: Yeah, I think the intention is definitely to build a hip hop movement and of course open up channels of country-to-country, people-to-people, community-to-community solidarity. That’s what we’re also trying to do with the Columbian. The point that is reassuring for us is, first, we had to deal a lot with other young people and other artists here in Cape Town, who were challenging us on the function or what we’re trying to do as an organization. That, what is the point of doing political music or politicizing it? I think there are a lot of people who are questioning their parts and what they do. Sometimes just to be in the same room with other political artists who are dealing with other issues from their own countries, in some ways, just reassure and in some ways, it does make you not feel lonely.
I think only when we will build these kind of collectives and movements, I think that’s one of the most important things that you need to do, in terms of propping up the alternatives. Because I think the people who keep questioning what we do, in some ways they’re convinced by the market, by the government. They, in many ways for me, have failed to think and dream of a better society other than this. Pretty much what they’re doing is adjusting and trying to survive and keep the order as is.
CB: Right. Solidarity is the main line of defense against capitalism, against the superstructures of power everywhere. I mean, in a way I feel like the only thing that can really counter it at certain times is solidarity. Because oftentimes the people who hold power are actually very few in number as opposed to mass movements that may not have lots of money, but they have lots of people. I’m curious now, in these events as I’m understanding, you have performances, but you also have kind of public discussions. How would you describe it exactly?
AS: I think for us, what is important is the conversations. If the music is able to begin the conversation, then we’re getting some way. What we’ve been trying to do in a very systematic way is to schedule, specifically in the Afrikan Hiphop Caravan, when we began, we called it the Afrikan Hiphop Conference or symposia. The idea there was to have artists, activists, but also the scholars and people who involved in knowledge making to come together and have conversations that matter about hip hop. Also, to open up a space for people to challenge each other about what they know and what they don’t know.
Out of that experience, it was challenging because one, for artists, maybe I mustn’t generalize, but it does happen that stories will be written about people and their point of work, but the people themselves wouldn’t necessarily go through that material or those stories that are written about them. So what we were trying to do there is that, artists write stories about people and sometimes it’s stories about themselves. They write about stories that people can relate to or identify with. In a similar way, scholars, they write research papers and books and whatnot about people as well. We were not sure whether there are spaces or mechanisms where people can hold each other accountable.
We were not sure whether all of these people would write stuff and make body of work, whether they think collectively and if they have spaces where they can reflect collectively about what they’re trying to do. As a caravan, what we were trying to do is at least to contribute for that to happen, but also to reflect about, do the things that they write about matter? Does it make impact? Ii there’s impact, to what extent? I think for us what is important is transformation and it’s people-led transformation. So the idea of conversations of people from below and a program of people that they can agree on and then carry it out. That’s what we were trying to do and we think that is an important thing.
Music or arts in general is amazing and it’s good to have, but in some ways, can play as a pacifier if it’s not kept in check, if people do not hold accountable the artists. Because it is power to be able to perform in front of people, that’s power there. Sometimes I think we see this a lot on radio and television, people are okay, sometimes, to just mess around with that power and not use it in a way that transforms society.
CB: What kind of resistance have you encountered? Is it primarily coming from state apparatuses to prevent you from performing in these different places or holding these kinds of events?
AS: What we’ve been trying to do since 2008 is to transform people’s parks, squares and that kind of thing in the community into artistic spaces or into artistic classrooms, where music can be used to have these kinds of conversation and entertain people and celebrate and so on. Those platforms or classrooms, we’ve given them different names over the past. At one time, it was Poetry and Protest. At the time, we were celebrating poets like James Matthews and Dennis Brutus. Over time, we then called it, Toyitoyi Live and there’s another space that is called, Rebel Sistah Cypher.
Anyway, our experience, particularly around that kind of work, we’ve not necessarily been faced with violence or force. What we’ve experienced is that, local elites and politicians would use their power to shut us down. When we started in 2009, doing these events in the community, the first response from the local elites … sometimes here in Khayelitsha, local elites means local politicians. They are the business people and also the political people. What they’ve done was to then see an opportunity in the space. So they started a beer shop in the space that we were using, so they saw a business opportunity. We’re trying to engage them, that no, this is a serious space, it’s not an entertainment space. Beer shop you can open it anywhere else, but not here.
At the time we were strict because what we were trying to do, we coined it, Counter-culture for Counter-power. Some of the things that we were trying to counter is beer culture and alcohol abuse. All of our events and stuff we were doing, we would insist it’s alcohol free. So this was a direct violation of our space. We were using, Lookout Hill, is a building that was built by the City of Cape Town. They were hoping that they would make it a tourism center, craft and arts center, but anyway, that didn’t really fly. It was a building that was standing around and no one really using it. When we started using it, 300, 400 young people evert Friday would flock in to come to these events. Here it is local, people saw a business opportunity.
When we raised this issue with them, very quickly, to get the space we had to go through the people of the beer hall. There was an agreement at first that, okay, fine, if people do buy beer, they would not leave the premises or the parameters within the beer hall, they would not come to our space. That became very difficult to police. The next thing they decided to do was then to outcompete us. They would bring celebrity performer to come and use the space at the same time, which would mean we can’t use the space in that day. Over time we then realized we were being pushed out. So that’s one experience.
The second experience was to then occupy a community park. In the true sense of parks gem, people are in the parl. There we got frustrated because the issue they raised with us was that, you guys are talking about things you don’t know. You are too political and this will stand in your way. You are really talented, but why are you using politics? You shouldn’t involve yourself in politics. When we dismissed that, we thought we were done, but what then happened was that, we were now getting complaints from the top manager that we are exhausting the grass. Mind you, we were pulling electricity from his office. So must not eat in the park, which then meant now we must get a really massive extension leads.
We overcame that and that was not the last time we heard from them. What then happened is that they then wanted to involve recreation and events department from the City of Cape Town. They were now saying we’re attracting about 1000 people every Sunday, so this is a festival it’s not a small function like they thought it would be. So every week what we must now do, is apply to host the event, which would mean every week we must have meetings with events people. We must prove that the event is safe, that people can have access to water, they can have access to sanitation, there’s police, there’s traffic, there’s paramedics. All the things that one needs to do, we must comply as a festival and we must negotiate these things on a weekly basis and prepare them on a weekly basis. We were prepared to do this. If we were to negotiate for a whole year and then just try and make that these things do happen, but they refused.
The we understood this, they were trying to set us down with the paperwork. Mind you, all of us we’re doing this voluntarily association thing. None of us are paid to do work. In fact, we were paying a lot to be part of this kind of work from our own pockets and our members still need to sustain themselves, find a job here and there. So it then became difficult. What I’m trying to say to you is that, this is how we were shut down from doing that kind of work. As a result, what we’ve then decided to do is to engage the City of Cape Town, to give us a lease agreement for a community hall that we can then turn into our space, but also a space for young people to come together. Now they’re stalling on that specific engagement, they’re not coming through. We’ve been sent from pillar to pillar, from post to post and it’s not coming through. That’s how they’ve decided to respond to that.
At one time we wanted to engage the election mantra. That was 2011 and 2014. Anyway, it was local elections and our stance as an organization or as a collective we thought, okay, we’ve seen what this election is, it simply reduces people to putting X and then that’s it. It’s not political engagement. It’s not political expression, it’s simply just choosing one master from the other. What we then decided to do, was to do events that we’re asking people to sing about organizing themselves instead of voting. Then we received straight up threats.
Because we were unhappy with both parties, we were accused of giving the vote to the white supremacist party because we were telling Black people not to vote in a city that is divided racially. Where we work is in poor Black communities that vote for the ANC. Where we don’t work is the suburban white communities, it’s the stronghold of the white supremacist, right-wing party that runs the city. So we were pushed into that corner, but what we were saying is that, we are not choosing any of the two. People need to think way beyond the elections and they need to think about the power they have politically.
When we stood up, when we were winning that kind of argument, we were given all kinds of threats that we would not be able to sustain what we were trying to do, we’re entering a dangerous game that we shouldn’t involve ourselves. These are the things that were said to me and different other members. There’s one time we were on an interview on the radio and we were talking about this campaign and what it is. Of course, I mean, it was interesting for the radio host because they were also getting a lot of money from the Independent Electoral Commission to run election debates. They thought this is something interesting, but at the same time they felt, they could argue with us. You now that argument of, people died for us to be able to vote. So they were trying to sensitize the radio people, but callers who called in, whom I think were somewhat coordinated by the local elite, did utter threatening words straight up.
CB: Death threats?
AS: Yes, I took them as real threats because since 2014 we have not been able as a collective to take on the election. We though we need to find a different way to work. In the discussions that we had at the briefing, our experience, threat to a life is a real thing politically in this country. There’s statistics that talk about 250 protestors who have been killed since 1994. We know of different members from the different social movements that we interact with, who have been killed. I 2011, we made a song, “Murdered by the Ruling Class,” commemorating a protestor, Andres Tatane, who got killed by police on the 13th of April.
Also we know here in our area of two protestors who were killed quite recently. These were protestors that occupied a piece of land to erect shacks for them to live and they got killed straight up. So when those threats came through, we didn’t take them lightly. Of course, we finished the campaign, but we thought maybe we need to find a different way to bring about the message that we were trying to share.
CB: You are clearly doing amazing work on the front lines. Can we shift over to talk a little bit about what you were planning to do in Colombia? Have you previously done work in South America?
AS: We as Soundz have never been to South America, but we’ve always been inspired by movement and people’s styles from that region. We spent a lot of time trying to study the party styles to begin with. We’re inspired by how they took seriously, the idea of alternatives and experimenting with different kinds of democrats. We were lucky, I mean, a housing activist was in some forum with activists from Colombia, who were taking struggles around issues of land and sustainability, but at the same time were involved in the hip hop movement. We got to learn about these activists from there, Haga Que Pase. Until then we’ve had biweekly conversations via Skype to think about building solidarity, to think about learning from each other, but also to create together.
It took us two years for them to come to Cape Town. So they came here last year and they spent two weeks in April. I think in that interaction when they were here, what was clear is that we were right to talk about collaboration and to build together because they similar experience. The violence that we experience in Cape Town, in Khayelitsha, they receive and experience violence in the form of states, but also in the form of the guerilla groups who, many times, are fighting government or government is fighting them. What happens is that young people get caught up in that fight. At the same time, they are also experiencing colonial legacy right now in the country, in a similar way that we are and state neglect in the form of neoliberalism where working-class communities are nothing but just potential customers.
So what we’re trying to do is to build on the experience that we had with these artists last year, when they were here. And that is to take a group of young people from Khayelitsha to go there and experience the life. When these brothers and sisters were here last year, they didn’t stay in fancy hotels. They didn’t stay in any hotel, by the way, they stayed with us in our homes and ate what we ate and slept where we slept. Having the real sense of the experience and also building and doing community work through us. That’s basically what we are also going to do when we send young people there and that is, they will experience and see things for themselves and feel it themselves.
What is important is that, how do we then involve millions of other people in that process? That’s where the music is important, that we capturing and harvest those experiences and those feelings into music and music that is done by both these collectives. When these brothers and sisters were here, they were surprised. We have told them what is Cape Town and what Cape Town looks like. But when they were here and we showed them Rhodes Statue and all other cultural, architectural and legacies that remain here, they could actually point to some of these things, to experiences that they’ve ignored or forgotten about in their own home. I think that that is important.
There was a time, who is this writer now? There’s someone powerful, I’ve forgot the name. That sometimes what happens is that people get comfortable and get used to oppression to the point where, when they don’t move, they hardly notice that they are in chains. For us, this is part of trying to open up people’s minds, not only ourselves, but also young people that we work with. The idea with this say Colombia-South Africa exchange, the intention is for it to go beyond Soundz of the South as the main qualities, but also other artists to be involved and experience the things the things that we experience.
I think it was Harriet Tubman who said, she could have saved a lot of slaves, but many of them didn’t think they were slaves. In fact, they didn’t see the alternative, they didn’t see the point of running away from the slave fields or slave quarters. So pretty much, this is what we’re trying to say that Cape Town is the fields and Khayelitsha as a place is the concentration camp and people need to wake up to that reality and take it as such. Then from there, maybe then people would be clear as to what they need to do.
CB: Who are your collaborators in Colombia?
AS: So in Colombia, the first collective that we connected with is a group called Haga Que Pase, amazing group. They’re actually a full band. They perform live essentially with beats and the DJ, in the old sense of rap in the Bronx. These guys they have evolved and taken their craft into another level, which in some ways, artistically challenged us to think about where we want to go artistically, in addition to politically. They have a drummer and someone one keys and someone different kinds of horns, bass and so on. Their lead vocalist, rapper is someone who’s been involved for years doing youth work through hip hop. For the last two years he’s been in hiding. Again, the issue of financing his community displaced him and forced him into hiding.
I think he was 16 years old when he was beaten up by the guerillas. Recently before he ran away he was nominated to become a poet laureate in his city and he rejected it saying, he’s not going to take an award from people who are pretty much the enemy, who have impoverished his people and so on. As a result, he had to run. Through him and that whole collective, we then got in touch with another group and I think these are the founders of Colombian or Cali hip hop, a group called, Zona Marginal. These guys are largely educators and have moved on in the kind of work that they do, to work with younger people in schools and that kind of thing, but they still think it’s important to keep the ties within the hip hop.
Pretty much most of the groups, from Haga Que Pase, have come through their teachings and their education work. A third group that we’re in touch with is something called Hip Hop Peña. I don’t know what Peña means. So it’s three big groups or three collectives that were in touch with. Most of them are young people except the Zona Marginal. They’re young and into decolonial practice. We’re tracing their lineages and they’re serious about understanding the continent, its people, its culture, but also we were serious about building a movement, across the continent and across boarders.
CB: I appreciate all your extended discussion and all the details about all the work you’re doing. I’m hoping that this can be maybe the first of maybe a series of conversations. I’d love to keep the conversation open with you and maybe to have conversations with other people in Soundz of the South. Then maybe also, have conversations with some of the other people you’ve been talking about, people you’ve been collaborating with and stuff, to see how we might help also, with supporting the work and there’s obviously a lot of various types of hip hop, other music and arts of resistance happening here in New York and other places, that I think could learn a lot from what you’re doing.
AS: Definitely. We’re interested, we can definitely do that. I appreciate the conversation and of course, we’re always keen to link up and build with people and also learn from other groups. We believe in the idea of internationalism and definitely believe that between all of us, there’s a lot that we can do and the beginning of that is the solidarity.
CB: Thank you so much, Anele. Good luck with everything. Take care and be safe.