Art played a huge role in providing the masses with comfort, an escape as well as an enhanced voice in the struggle for freedom. This gave rise to a new culture of clubbing in Johannesburg. Red Bull has commissioned a highly skilled director to document this movement. Phumlani S Langa watches the free documentary and is adamant that all should see it.
Film maker Zandi Tisani’s new 42-minute online documentary, commissioned by Red Bull, takes a slick look at the birth of Joburg’s club culture and how this gave rise to some of the most unique sounds to come out of South Africa. A mix of stock images of old Joburg and interviews with those who witnessed the scene’s birth, the doccie takes us on a journey back to 1989 and the rise of youthful rebellion in a haven for the open-minded.
A highlight is interviews with some immensely pivotal figures as far as the birth of the inner-city club scene goes. People like Vinny Da Vinci and DJ Christos, Trompies, Lebo Mathosa and Boom Shaka.
This film homes in on the essence of rebellion that was happening on either side of the spectrum. On one, free-thinking white youngsters getting lost in the sounds of rave and techno at a club called Fourth World. On the other, black township youths with their more soulful take on House music, a movement we would come to know as kwaito.
The doccie unpacks the differences between both beautifully – everything from pitch and tempo to techno’s lack of vocal use and harder-hitting sound to that of the groovier kwaito and House. The film’s director had the perfect motivation to tell this story. How many of us are aware of how rich the culture of art that proceeds us is? Tisani aims her lens at the past to let us know.
“Focusing purely on ‘club culture’ would have given us a narrow and limited viewpoint, so what the documentary follows is a sound – the music that has come to be known as House,” she tells #Trending. “We needed to engage other spaces, for example the street bash, to get a broader idea of how the invention of South African House and its subgenres – namely kwaito – came to be.”
After watching her film I felt bad that I hadn’t paid for it as the quality of the work is far above average.
She says: “From the start, there was an agreement among everyone that this film should be as readily accessible as possible. We’ve always envisioned it as being part of the South African pop culture archive and that belongs to everyone.”
Tisani couldn’t be bothered by what is widely considered clubbing these days, which has deviated from its roots in the queer and alternative scene.
“When you think of the invention of the club space, it was a movement driven by the queer community. It was really about people who felt marginalised by the world outside making a place to go, where the music released your inhibitions, a form of liberation.”
This is a far cry from Taboo on a Friday night. It’s basically the polar opposite.
As for the dominant sounds of the day: “The current generation of musicians have delivered art that’s full of fire and conviction, but most of those people never trend or make it to the front page.”
The forefather of House
DJ Christos is one of the founding forefathers of the House movement in eMzansi. And #Trending had a chance to pick his brain at the Red Bull Studio ahead of the documentary’s viewing. I had to ask about his initial inkling when he was a teenager buying records and remixing them to reshape the local soundscape.
“We were at a stage when there was nothing we had ownership of. We were selling imports and we didn’t think we were good enough. It was a dark moment musically for the youth and so we just tried. We didn’t know what we were doing,” he says.
At the end of it all, he says, the movement blew up with consumers and creators seeing the light.
“It was great being in studio with some of the greats. We were unified in wanting to put a South African sound on the map.”
His views on our current club and music scene?
“We’re stuck with people just wanting to be hit makers and everyone is following trends, which is changing the landscape of the music and the quality.”
The older head, as most are, is disconcerted with the state of our local soundscape.
He says: “The past seven years have been a very pop era. Our country has always had a good foundation no matter how diverse, Afro-pop or House, there was always musicality behind the work. Now we’ve lost that and we’re seeing this techy, synthetic era. The sound on radio is cheesy. To be honest, I don’t know if we’re going in the right direction.”
He does think, given the strong musical heritage of our country, that things will loop around to more sincere sounds.
The struggle for the youth of today rages on. The musical eras that came before ours gave rise to fiery anthems and solemn ballads, which were timeless because of the adversity.
Christos mentioned something about us being musically oppressed right now. I can only hope we can look back through work such as Tisani’s Rave & Resistance to create more artistic gems with fire at their core.