The Portfolio: Tseliso Monaheng

 

 

The founding members of Prophets of Da City hadn’t performed together in years. In 2015, the group that defied the man while blazing multiple trails from the late 1980s through to the mid-1990s got booked for a once-off performance at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival. Rhodes’s statue was about to fall; students were demanding that fees follow that fellow towards the ground. It was lit!

This performance was a celebration of 25 years since their debut album, One World, got released.

Their show happened on a Friday at the Bassline stage. In this frame are DJ Ready D, b-boy Ramone, and emcee Shaheen. They make up three of the four core elements of hip-hop.

Prophets of Da City represent the evolution of young activists coming into consciousness during the heady 1980s, surrounded by The Genuines on one hand and Public Enemy on the other and feasting upon early hip-hop films dubbed on to VHS tapes — stuff like Wildstyle, Beat Street, Krush Groove.

When 1976 was having its rewind moment, here came this group who was banned from the radio, who had to tour Europe until they burned out, reminding us that nothing’s changed. At the press conference before the performance, Shaheen said that they didn’t change the content of their lyrics that much.

There was an eerie undercurrent of the past communing with the present; of ghosts coming back to remind us — black and brown people in this land of dispossession — to keep marching, in a way.

Prophets of Da City also represent what hip-hop heads become when they grown older. Ready D is a broadcaster at Good Hope FM, a champion of the drifting scene, a mentor to young people across a range of disciplines, and an innovator who’s in tune with the latest trends. Ramone still breakdances and continues to impart jewels to youths who need them, especially those living in outlying dorpies where talent abounds but no one is willing to mould it. Shaheen is part of the academy now, an anthropologist ripping apart concepts in lecture halls while still ripping mics in his spare time, as evidenced by his timeless flow and swagger that night.

My friend, Sibongile, gave this image to Professor Adam Haupt, who wrote his doctoral thesis on the seminal group. The symbolism therein is a story for another time.

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Tseliso Monaheng
Tseliso Monaheng
Photographer Tseliso Monaheng is currently writing and editing a series on South African hip hop.

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