The Portfolio: Sabelo Mkhabela

I’m always reluctant to call myself a photographer; rather, I’m a writer who can take photos. I don’t make images, I take them. I never stage anything: I just capture what I see in front of me. This is why I enjoy shooting live performances. There, nothing is staged. Every moment captured is real. I like that, in most cases, as much as the artist sees the cameras in the media pit, they are focusing on their audience.

This image of Joey Bada$$ performing at Oppikoppi in 2017 is one of my favourites. I was at the festival to document [Reason’s] performance. So, I didn’t have access to the media pit for the stage Joey was on; I wasn’t even sure I’d catch his performance.

I was just walking past the stage and happened to have my camera when he was announced as the next performer. I was in the crowd with everyone else, so I had to work my way through euphoric fans to the front, as close to the stage as possible.

Joey Bada$$’s performance was impressive to me because he kept it hip-hop — just him, a mic and his deejay. No live band or any other contraptions rappers usually bring on stage to complicate their sets and, in the process, lose the grit that makes hip-hop hip-hop, all in the name of seeming “musical”.

In this picture, Joey was performing the song Temptation, and he mentioned how big of a deal it was for him to perform in “the motherland” and particularly perform a song dedicated to black people. After all, our struggles as black people across the continent and the diaspora tend to mirror each other. Such lines as: “The government been tryna take away what’s ours/ It’s really all about the money and the power/ I just wanna see my people empowered,” resonate with any black person around the globe.

Joey Bada$$ performing the song wearing the infamous Black Panther beret, dressed in all black, and rendering his set without distractions, made me view Temptation in a different light. It’s the power of live performances. If I don’t revisit a song an artist performed on my way home or when I get home from the show, it’s probably because the artist didn’t do it justice on stage.

I can hear Temptation every time I see this image, and the album the song appears on, All-Amerikkkan Bada$$, remains one of my favourite albums across all genres.

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