United Colours of Africa

As a cultural journalist I am based in Johannesburg for easy access to the world and the changing economy of South Africa's cultural fortunes. I have come to learn and love the abundance of energy and innovation in this buzzing city and through my passion for culture and colour can share so much this city has to offer

Johannesburg City is known as a rite of passage. An energy, cosmopolitan life, multi-cultural melting pot of people, thriving commercial hub and creative scene catering for a diversity of tastes and experiences.

Contact me on struan at afribeat.com for tailor made cultural tours in Johannesburg Gauteng :


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What leading city lights say:

"To be a true Joburger (while not my favorite term, it beats the competition) you have to believe that there's gold to be found and go after it. This city was built on the search for something elusive and precious. It's a place that enflames passions and has a distinct heartbeat. There is no slow lane. Joburg gets under your skin in the way of great cities of the world like New York and Tokyo. It's brash and alive, and with no mountain or sea, it's the people here who are the city's gold, citizens of the world who have made their home across the city, bringing the flavour and colour of where they come from to this dusty patch. One of Africa's most unique cities there's not much you can't find here, from little Ethiopia downtown to Cyrildene's Chinatown, the old Portuguese neighborhoods of the South of Joburg to West African Yeoville. Truly, many worlds in one place,"   Publisher Laurice Tait

"The energy  of the people , the cosmopolitan life … the mixture of Africa and the West … the Hybridity  of different cultures that makes Joburg unique. It is also the New York of Africa. Also  people in Joburg are very open to other people , in the workplace, community and to tourists. There is a genuine openness and acceptance of difference and diversity  in Joburg more than any other city in South Africa.  The people are beautiful,  there is colour and rhythm in the way they move, engage with you, dress.. and embrace difference.

Visit the Theatre: Joburg Theatre, Market Theatre, Orbit Jazz Club…, Check the programme at the Soweto Theatre,  have a meal in Parkhurst,  Visit Arts on Main, pop into the Apartheid Museum, Definitely take a drive to Cradle of Humankind,  Muldersdrift Meander,  if they have time visit the Sterkfontein Caves, Emmerentia  Park. ; lion park and Rhino park

The people give the city its energy and vibrancy and makes Joburg city people the most interesting in South Africa. The people also are affected by the pace of Joburg and the diversity  of opportunities that exist… in fact  the opportunities are in abundance in Joburg… comparable to most interesting cities in the world… Joburg is what you make of it and what it makes of you…

At the same time … Joburg  is not too large to contain  you … because of the network of people and organisation … you  never need to feel alone in Joburg  or an island… there are always  networks of people and communities to embrace and share as well as challenge your  world … and its views… …In fact for ordinary people … especially those with energy and attitude … the pillars of  power  and social life seem very accessible in Joburg… Government,  Con Court,  Courts, Police,  The banking ,Health, Universities, schools,  parks ,  ha ha ha and Prison life…

Of course being  a local has its advantages…but at the same time even if you were not a local, it all about the energy  and  openness you have to engaging with Joburg and its people . You don't have to be born in Joburg to  reap its   benefits of community and people , industry opportunities.,  industry networks.. unlike other places.. Joburg is what  you want to make of it and what you allow it to make of you." Festival Director Roshnie Moonsammy

"Newtown is home to the Market Theatre. With more than 350 awards and a 41-year history the Market Theatre is celebratory of its past, anchored to the present and visionary about its future. The Market Theatre remains at the forefront of producing and presenting cutting edge work that has an authentic African artistic voice and which is inclusive of the rich tapestry of African diversity. Newtown is a meeting point for diverse cultures and exciting innovation.

It is here where a visitor can brush shoulders with artists working in a range of genres including theatre, dance, music, film and graffiti art. Nestled between the old buildings are bronze statues of two of South Africa's most iconic artists, pop diva Brenda Fassie and the jazz muso Kippie Mooeketsi.

A vibrant addition to the Newtown precinct is the architecturally modern Market Square which is home to the Market Theatre Laboratory and the Market Photo Workshop. Across the road from the Mary Fitzgerald Square is the Worker's Museum and the Sci Bono Museum. A visit to Newtown could be fully day of inspiration, education and entertainment." Market Theatre Director Ismail Mohammed:

Profile Roving Bantu Kitchen : Food, Music and Freedom Café of the New South Africa

The Roving Bantu Kitchen is a multi-cultural and colourful venue, combining jazz, freedom and food. It is founded bySifisoNtuli, a long-time resident of Brixton.

“The Roving Bantu Kitchen is part of a wider South African vision of building a new society by recreating and retelling the South African story through music, food, art and contributing towards the national vision of creating a non-racial, non-sexist society of equality,” he explained.

Roving Bantu Kitchen is a haven for the soulful experience ofuBuntu. The intimate venue exudes the warmth of culture, cuisine, music, fine art and conversation, contributing to the vision of a rainbow nation. People of all different classes and races congregate inside and outside the venue, transforming the lonely street corner into a beautiful image and experience of culture and community.

The journey for Ntuli began more than 35 years ago when he first joined the ANC. It was 1981 and apartheid was celebrating twenty years of a white republic. During the celebrations on Wits campus, Ntuli set a flag alight which earned him the attention of the notorious Security Police.

“I was 9 years old when Timol was thrown out of room 1026 at John Vorster Square. And that story always traumatised me.”he recalled. “So, ten years later, when I was told to report to room 1026, I knew it was time to go.”

Ntulispent his early exile days in Swaziland, then Tanzania where members of the PAC, making fun of people in the ANC, called him, “A Roving Bantu, who will be jumping from one cloud to another and never on the ground.”

Ntuli's exile journey continued to Canada where he studied electrical engineering and also got involved with the Native American struggle. Culture was always a primary outlet for creating change.

He said, “My people's culture, such as poetry, music and gumboot dance, was the easiest way to tell the world what was going on here, without saying a word. Culture was a big thing in the struggle for freedom because it is who we are; who I am.”

During the years of struggle and exile, South African culture expressed itself profoundly. To illustrate the power of music in struggle, Ntuli made the radio documentary,‘Umzabalazo, the songs of struggle,' which was later transferred to‘Amandla: A revolution in four part harmony,'a successful documentary film, in which he acted as narrator.

In 1994 as a returning exile, Ntuli began to work closely with culture to create the conditions to sustain freedom and build on the concept of African Renaissance.

“We saw freedom day in 1994 as an event. Nobody asked what is freedom? We thought that was it, and now we were free,” he recalled.

However 1994 broughtwith it a growing cultural mediocrity and Ntuli'scultural activism metamorphosed into Pan African and reggae musicpromotion.

‘Dark City Jive'at the Tandoor venue in Yeoville started a reggae tradition there that continues to this day. And as co- founder of the Politburo digital and live music sessions and the House of Nsakomusic venue in Brixton, an initiation space was created for many artists of the era including BlkJks, The Soil, Tidal Waves and BongeziweMabandla aka Bongisoul. 

Ntuli's mission to “Free this country even after freedom,” as he puts it, is well articulated by his desire to share the uniqueness of South African culture and therebybreak down the metaphorical and physical walls that divide people.

The message ‘Aluta continua,' is still relevant he explained. “The struggle continues. It is not about me; it is about what kind of society, what kind of heritage am I leaving behind for future South African generations. How do we build on what we are calling the African Renaissance? Individuals, private citizens create communities. I am a mere private citizen trying to create and re-ignite that passion for life out of a rotten space that apartheid created as its home.”
Ntuli believes Brixton is a microcosm of Johannesburg and South Africa. “All the contradictions of rich and poor of black and white and corruption express themselves quite viciously in this little community. If we can solve these challenges, then we can provide an example to the rest of the country,” he said.

As a strategic high point of Johannesburg, the area was the African centre for the resident BaTswanaMokhatla people before 1902. During apartheid, African residents of Brixton were forcibly removed to Kliptown.

Today, Brixton is a neighbourhood in transition.High Street is part of the City of Johannesburg's‘Corridors of Freedom' development. Breezeblock is a new, safe and comfortablecoffee shopin the neighbourhood.

Ntuli provides a guided tour of the area known as ‘The Roving Bantu Trek,' which meanders from the high point, through the adjoining suburbs ofCottesloe, Jan Hofmeyer and Fietasand ends at the Braamfontein graveyard, at the monument to Enoch Santonga.

Ntuli's anecdotes, stories and observations preserve a fascinating history of Johannesburg and the contribution of African, English and Commonwealth, Afrikaner, Chinese, Malay and Indian people in shaping the city. 

The trek and the kitchen are part of a long-term commitment to create‘Temples of African Freedoms and Friendships (TAFF),' as African American philosopher W.E. Du Bois once suggested.Ntulibelieves this initiative can be replicated around the country.

“As they say in the new country – ‘the forces of the market will determine.' However, can I leave something so precious as to who I am to the forces of the market?If we can stick around long enough, it will shine,” Ntuli said.

The Roving Bantu Kitchen is open five nights a week with live music, film (DarkieMentary) and speaker evenings (Spykos Speakers Corner) with special events to reconnect with the African diaspora. The Roving Bantu Trek takes place on the first Sunday of every month.

Profile : Fak'ugesi digital innovation

Fak'ugesi digital innovation festival is a powerful centrepiece for the collaborative culture of art, futurism and technology that is emergingin Africa, the youngest continentwith 70% of the people under the age of 15.

Fak'ugesi is founded and directed by interactive media artist, and lecturer at the digital art department at Wits, Tegan Bristow. The festival has grown side by side with the Tshimologong Precinct in Braamfontein, a pivotal location for technology and innovation withskills development and incubation programs, particularly the Maxum Incubator which focuses on Animation, Gaming and Virtual Reality.

“From a University perspective, we feel the festival stands alone to serve communities outside of Wits and we want to see this continue,”said Bristow. “There is an important audience of young people in Braamfontein and the inner city that are central to our access objectives. We have also reached out to many of the private design, animation and creative technology education institutions.”

The 4 th annual festival, under the theme, ‘Brave Tech Hearts Beat as One,' attracted 4500 people to Tshimologong and many more online through social media, making it a pioneeringinitiative on a global level with events such as CairoTronica in Egypt, Arts Electronica festival in Linz and the Dutch Electronic Art Festival in Rotterdam.

Bristow said, “ Fak'ugesi is specifically a festival that interrogates the role of culture and creativity in regional technology innovation and its recognition and celebration of African culture and creativity.I do truly believe that the role of culture and creativity in technology development in Africa cannot be overlooked. ”

Keynote speaker, William Kentridge described digital art as the meeting of the intangible and the concrete through the relationship between movement and thinking.

He said, “Essentially the activity of art making is an embodied form of thinking. It uses the movement of the body as the gesture.Even if the work is done by the mouse or your keypad there is an extension which is a much larger physical movement.”

In November 2016 Kentridge founded “The Centre for the Less Good Idea,” as a space for art making with an interdisciplinary and playful nature.The name comes from the Tswana proverb: “If the good doctor can't cure you find the less good doctor.”

“Our primary focus is allowing the making of art to be more accessible. We are developing a sense of empathy for the art making process in that we open the art making mechanisms up to the audience,” said Centre animateur Bronwyn Lace.

The centre operates as a kind of collage, as curators and creators from all artistic disciplines form a coherent presentation through a process based on the Freudian concept of “tummelplatz.”

Kentridge explains , “Tumelplatz is the space between the psychoanalyst and the patient, the space for conflict or tumbling – playing, where anything is allowed to happen. It is the space for free association, where the impulse and the whim may have the benefit of the doubt. Having a space for surprise, uncertainty, doubt and stupidity is a central part of the creative process.”

Different curators are invited to the centre to collaborate with artists, performers, dancers and entertainers to presents two seasons per year, over four day festivals.

Where the first season explored the edge of languageand the old logic, season two explores the physical in the form of art meeting with the immaterial in the form of digital.

Curators on season two include actor director Nhlanhla Mahlango,cultural entrepreneur Jamal Nxedlana, and Bristow.

Bristow enthused, “The platform is challenging and wildly collaborative - making pushing boundaries that much more accessible. This type of innovation on what can be made with digital technologies and how it can be presented to a participant audience is not something that happens easily within the corporate environment.”

Her technology and art collaboration with Alternative Reality makers Rick Treweek and Garrett Steele together with Dondoo, 3D studio and William Kentridge has developed an Invisible Exhibition, “showcasing in completely new ways, work that has been made by more than 20 South African artists in full 3D space in Tilt Brush,” she described. Bristow also brought in Jarred Bekker and Daniel De Kok of Bushveld Labs in Riot, mechatronics multidisciplinary engineers, to train Google Artificial Intelligence with images that can only be found locally. 

Mahlangu's rich interplay between movement and sound as director of the Isichatamiya choir in Season One, earned him an invitation for Season Two.He presents his solo theatre work Chant which explores the relationship between human nature and technology from the perspective of growing up in a squatter camp.

Mahlangu said, “We juxtapose ideas because we don't want to be literal. We want to make beautiful art. It is a multi-layered piece that talks about the white privilege and the black condition, living in a squatter camp, how you die while you are still walking because of the conditions you find in this country.”

Kentridge described the power of this performance piece as “taking an oblique view to revealing the world,” as he makes particular note of the story of Penny, the dog taken from the suburbs to become a coconut dog living in the squatter settlement. The dog is fed the most expensive foodso that its standard of living does not go down.

Lace points out, “The making of digital art requires collaboration between two different ways of working -a programmer building the technology and an artist creating a concept or aesthetic. At the centre we have the luxury in terms of time, resource and capacity to establish a mutual language. We have begun with the question of whether digital art one day can be as nuanced or have as much depth as the trajectory of painting in the world for example.”

For Bristow the power of digital art goes beyond aesthetics and story-telling. She said, “ Digital Art is a very important location in which true interrogation and criticisms - both as medium and content - can be levelled at the globalised information economy and our technological futures.” 

Founder of African digital art website, Jepchumba a perennial visitor to Fak'ugesi said in her address, “Technology means the organisation of knowledge for practical purposes. It promises something new. It is a reflection of where we are heading in society. Africa has a disturbing technological legacy where countries are mined for their cobalt, lithium, ideas, resources, materials and culture which are repurposed and dumped back without any sort of credit.”

She inspired fellow participants to the unique opportunities the digital age provides in Africa, such as developing centres for myth making, creating tools for collaborative healing, understanding the importance for imagination and developing an online African archive of history, languages and ideas.

Visiting academic, Dr Sarah Cook from CRUMB, a website for curating in the digital realm said, “There is a space between art and technology for speculative thinking. Africa has a unique moment in the conversation but maybe we have to unlearn everything in order to get to this point.”


© 2018 African music, writing, philosophy and multi-media creations Struan Douglas afribeat.com

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