Reimagining family and luxury with FAKA

Mam’khulu Queenie is a woman of sparse words and quiet grace. She is my grandmother’s sister — in that nebulous sense in black families where a cousin is a sister and an uncle is a grandfather and every woman who has ever held you is your mother.

Mam’khulu Queenie’s recipes, including her coveted instructions for sweet date cake, rest in a binder that she keeps in her room divider. Like most gogos, this room divider is where she keeps photographs of her family, alongside lace doilies, brass vases, plastic roses, cups and ceramics.

It’s unsurprising then that something in me jolted when I watched the visuals for Queenie —FAKA’s newest, astonishing music video-cum-short film and single.

The video opens with a shot of a room divider: framed images of Desire Marea and Fela Gucci adorn the shelves in a variety of picture frames. Many of the images are iconic such as their celebrated shoot for Bubblegum Club, in which the duo stands on dusty ground in black leotards and fishnet tights, photographed by internationally renowned Dutch photographer Viviane Sassen. Others seem older and more intimate.

As the camera pulls back, we view FAKA over time, and their treasured snapshots rest in front of gilded ceramic plates, acting as markers and framed as beloved effigies.

This first image, as Queenie’s thrumming, Angel-Ho-produced beat unfurls in the background, presents a memory, and I can’t help but think of my Mam’khulu.

The video, directed by filmmaker Jabu Nadia Newman and Cape Town performance artist Luvuyo Equiano Nyawose, traverses the boundaries between short motion picture, fashion film and conceptual videography. Piecing together confessional voice notes, muted cinematography, free-form choreography and lush decorative set pieces, Queenie offers a sparklingly fresh vision of queerness that flickers between viewpoints like a cheeky apparition.

We get our first glimpse of FAKA in the flesh in a space that appears to be an empty schoolhall. Fela and Desire appear as bold incarnations of kwaito singer Lebo Mathosa, crowned with flowing honey-brown curls, glistening metallic make-up and angelic white outfits. They stand against a blue tie-dye backdrop, bulbs flashing as they pose for the camera.

Over the beat, we hear a voice confessing: “I was never given the luxury of discovering my sexuality. I think, at the age of three, I was told that I was gay.”

This idea of luxury is immediately subverted as Desire’s rich and syrupy vocals reply in the song’s opening lyrics.

They dance and move around the school hall, their hands fluttering in loose and fluid vogue formations. Fela mirrors Desire’s movements, white sleeves billowing like clouds. In one heart-stopping sequence, Fela slowly flips their curls and looks over their shoulder at the camera —their gaze is at once soft, powerful, feminine, flirtatious and playful.

As the voice note implies, so many of us did not have the luxury of naming ourselves (or evading narrow categorisation). Yet here we have FAKA reimagining and reshaping luxury in their own image. We watch them reclaim a school hall with their bodies, a space that remains deeply stifling to so many trans and queer children, in real time. And it is glorious.

In another shot, Fela and Desire lie head-to-toe on the hall’s floor, in a circle of chairs intersected by a bright turquoise line. The aerial shot then echoes and transmutes, only this time we see six figures in the central circle of a basketball court, their arms outstretched beneath a ring of hands.

A basketball is tossed into the air and we watch FAKA play among familiar trans and queer faces: model and activist Glow Mami, experimental artist and producer Angel-Ho, and Cape Town DJ K-$. Dressed by Quaid “Queezy” Heneke and Sarah Hugo Hamman in pale green and neon pink outfits, the group jokes, shoots and clowns in a slow-motion tableau of joy.

In one shot, Fela dances and sways with their tongue out, finger-guns pointing in a direct gaze as if to say: “Ja, wena”,simultaneously a cheeky greeting and an admonition, implicating the viewer in a challenge that demands recognition of their presence.

Later, we see the group back at home, seated at a table at what looks like an alternative Christmas feast. The table heaves with food and sparkling wine as more familiar faces, such as queer advocate Mziyanda Malgas and director Thandi Gula, join FAKA at a raucous family meal.

Between celebratory selfies and coloured gloves flitting in and out of frame, another set of overlapping voice notes sneaks in underneath the insistent beat: “There was also a stage where I thought that I was straight. I thought! (laughs)…And even looking back at diary entries…It just breaks my heart to see how I was just trying to change myself…But after I came out at the end of Grade 10, I just started taking shit from no one.”

It’s this energy of glittery defiance that carries the rest of the video. We see our family squeal over their gifts and strut proudly for each other in their multicoloured armour in an impromptu pageant, shifting finally to a party at Cape Town’s famed Zer021 Social Club where we see couples kiss tenderly in blue light.

It is far too easy to rest on facile adjectives such as “fierce”, “sassy”, and “revolutionary” when referring to FAKA’s body of work. With Queenie, FAKA force us to think collaboratively, to see how movements are anchored in radical reimaginings of family and kinship.

Alongside the various artists, FAKA are asking us to think about gender and sexuality in relation to the past: to our childhoods and our upbringings; to the conditions under which we began to form and mould our fledgling ideas of ourselves and our place in the world. Often, many of us only had our imaginations.

Like all powerful art, Queenie presents us with a kaleidoscopic vision of a slice of reality. The video is both a mirror and a telescope, through which I saw so much of my own journey reflected back to me, while thinking beyond myself to my community, my family and all the way back again to a corner of my Mam’khulu Queenie’s maple-brown room divider. 

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