The Portfolio: On the beauty and importance of joyous Black gatherings

It’s the first week of November, a few days before the Mangrove stoep is set to resemble a scene from Kalakuta Republic’s enchanted Shrine for this year’s edition of Felanation (headlined by Femi Koya), the pan-African celebration of Fela Kuti founded by Sthembele “Black” Ngobeni, 12 years ago. 

I am at Ayanda Mabulu’s Space Mecca Studios trying to syphon extra funds for the event because of escalating costs. Mabulu is refining some lines on an almost completed art piece and replies in whispers to a young man; a visual arts student, I presume. The bespectacled young cat stands in front of one Mabulu’s completed works with his right palm clasping his left wrist behind his back, speaking about the role of art and the passion required to make socially engaging art. 

On hearing this, Mabulu abandons his brush and gives full attention to the cat. He embarks on one of his famed, expletive-laden soliloquies about ideology; what creating art takes from him and does to him spiritually, emotionally and physically. Compares it to shitting a grenade. He seeks to divorce the young fella of any romantic notions associated with making visual art. It is a job, albeit a well-paying one for him, that many rely on. He tries to get me to fakaza now and again, but I am not in the mood. I just want to take the money and run.

It has been a long year organising cultural events alongside co-founder, Shawn Danisa, for the online platform, Culture Review Magazine, which included the inaugural Kulture Blues Festival in partnership with the South African State Theatre in May. The festival featured Iphupho L’ka Biko, Thandi Ntuli and longtime collaborator Makhafula Vilakazi. 

It’s been a year that saw the publication of the platform’s first book, The Lives of Black Folk, a short documentary titled Rea Bereka, a collaboration with the Goethe-Institut’s Cav’ Platform. The documentary talks to artists about looking at their creations as work; labour to be produced for capitalist exploitation. The collaboration also had a written component, in which writers reflected on finding ways to navigate the system through their own personal journeys.

Planning for the live events has been haphazard because of the intermittent lockdowns. We had to find gaps and run with it whenever the cabinet decided to ease restrictions. This has made fundraising a nightmare, forcing us to rely on our community of artists, friends, family and, ultimately, our own pockets to stage them.

For the most part, this is the nature of Black cultural work. It is almost impossible to pull it off without the help of a community of artists who share the same vision and ideals, rooted in Black Consciousness and creating spaces for Black artistic expression.

At a conceptual level, the events, documentary and, indeed, the book, rely on writers Mbe Mbhele, Perfect Hlongwane, Sive Mqikela, Nondumiso Msimanga and Tshepiso Mabula ka Ndongeni, and photographers Andile Bhala and Thembinkosi Hlatshwayo for the words and images that make the ideas possible. Of equal, and pivotal, importance are the graphic designers, namely, Slovo Mamphaga, Mzwandile Buthelezi and Mkhokheli Dlamini, who illustrate  the vision. Filmmaker Sanele Makhubu is often tasked with archiving the events and making promos that whet the appetites of event-goers.

 In times of peril and self-doubt, when money is short, Danisa regularly quips, “Remember we are doing this for Blacks: let’s find a way to get it done,” to which I retort, “Blacks didn’t ask us for shit, but we move.” 

We often reflect on why we do what we do, and the answers vary with time. But for the most part, the joy is personal — seeing the artists on stage expressing themselves to a packed Black audience is immensely rewarding. Dignified.

Back at Space Mecca, Mabulu has decided to give me his ear. He inquires about the why, and I make a case about the beauty and importance of joyous Black gatherings that are underpinned by solidarity and community. I also tell him that it has been a long year and we equally want to drink and shake our nyash. He smiles, and says, “How much do you need?”

The second instalment of the Kulture Blues Festival will take place in March 2022

We make it make sense

If this story helped you navigate your world, subscribe to the M&G today for just R30 for the first three months

Subscribers get access to all our best journalism, subscriber-only newsletters, events and a weekly cryptic crossword.”

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Latest stories

Spaza shops take centre stage in township economy

Consumers living in such areas are spending more at spazas than big retailers, according to a report

PODCAST| Monkeypox: How it spreads, when to test and why...

The smallpox vaccine provides 85% protection against infection with monkeypox, but South Africa stopped vaccinating people against smallpox in 1980

Nike x Jacquemus collab: What to expect

The Nike x Jacquemus collaboration drops on Tuesday 28 June online. So far, no ludicrously tiny handbags in sight, but luxurious feminine twists on activewear that make this the collection you didn’t know you needed

Test cricket is dead, but not for the eager Proteas

Even before the demise of this format of the game was predicted, the women’s team had little opportunity to experience and enjoy it
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×