Spoek Mathambo’s Skeletons

I first heard about Spoek Mathambo because of his hot group Sweat.X. But I almost missed that he released an awesome solo album late last year; the hybrid sounds are teasing and unexpected and in your face and usually political.

Below is his song “Mshini Wam,” which is a contraction of the phrase “Umshini Wami” and means “Bring me my machine gun.”

Impressions from South Africa

I found South Africa to be a strange place: caught between a painful past and an awkward present, and not knowing what to do with itself, kind of like the Deep South. My memories of Cape Town are multi-layered: on one layer, thrilling, because of the sheer beauty and randomness of the city, and on another, unsettling, because of the segregation that was everywhere I turned. Black artists living in South Africa under Apartheid faced endless hurdles. But they somehow managed to thrive through underground and alternative art studios and print workshops.

In two weeks, the exhibit “Impressions from South Africa” will open at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The show is a collection of over 100 posters, wall stencils, and books that display the huge range of printmaking done by artists during and after Apartheid. These prints, products of periods of repression and upheaval, reflect both the personal and political longings of the diverse printmakers. And they also reflect the New South Africa, still unsure of what it wants to be.

Photo via MoMA

Long Live the Dead Queen

Mary Sibande, a South African artist, is one of the sharpest visual critics I’ve seen in a long time. In her latest series, “Long Live the Dead Queen,” she takes a look at a popular, persistent portrayal of black women in South African society — as the ever faithful maid — and then subverts those images in gloriously stunning ways.

The images are featured on billboards and sides of buildings as large murals throughout Johannesburg. Sibande originally sculpted the figures, then took photos of the sculptures, and then had the photos splayed in gigantic scale across walls, photos of women in Victorian-style gowns with layers of delicate, jarringly bright tulle and satin.

An excellent story came out last year about the transportation problems of black women who live in Soweto and other townships and who commute to the rich suburbs of Johannesburg to clean the houses and take care of the children of white families. One in six women in South Africa work as a maid or nanny, nearly all of them black. Despite the country’s considerable progress after the fall of apartheid, too many things have stayed the same. See more of her photos here.

Blk Jks


I love South African rock, as I’ve said here before, and especially the members of Blk Jks (pronounced Black Jacks). The still-new band was the headliner of World Cup. As usual, they lit up the stage with their blend of moody, punk-ish, rousing music. One of my favorite songs of theirs is the short hymn “Mzabalazo” (they played an expanded version at the Cup).

Listen to it below:

Photo via The Fader

The Very Best

I almost can’t believe I haven’t mentioned The Very Best here before. They made my favorite album of last year (and to be honest, this year, too) and are one of a few new acts that I have fallen in love with recently. Made up of Malawian singer and musician Esau Mwamwaya and British DJ-outfit Radioclit, The Very Best is this weird, wonderful, addictive mix of southern/eastern African and electronic music that somehow became the hit of clubs in both Kinshasa and New York.

Mwamwaya and Radioclit happened to connect one day in London after one of the Radioclit guys bought a bike from Esau (aren’t bicycles great?). The rest is music magic. Listen to “Salota” from their album below:

Photo via The Fader

An African World Cup

I won’t repeat all that has been said about the historic significance of Africa’s first World Cup. It’s a big deal, obviously. While South Africa is still the continent’s most economically advanced (and) politically stable nation, and even though the ways in which Africa will financially and diplomatically benefit from the tournament are severely limited, the fact that a global sports event of such importance is on African soil is an idea that was unimaginable to many not so long ago.

And for this World Cup at least, there’s no better place to watch it than on the continent. The opening game was during my first weekend in Uganda, and I couldn’t have ignored it even if I tried (I didn’t). The local supermarket played a radio station that announced players’ every move in the Luganda language, dimly lit bars nearby blasted the game on small boxy televisions and the city even erected a giant screen in the middle of town that lets commuters precariously drive and watch the game at the same time. It is more than World Cup fever, it’s World Cup malaria. It slowly built for months and has now taken over our bodies and minds, and it refuses to let go until it is finished. The malaria doesn’t discriminate by nationality. We’re not just cheering for South Africa or Nigeria or the Ivory Coast — we’re cheering for Africa, for her present, for her future.

Photo via Row One Magazine

South Africans and Their Bicycles

Lifa Mabena, Esselen st., Sunnyside, Pretoria, South Africa: 'I've had it for the last six months, I like it because, you know, it’s light, when you are riding this bike you don't have to feel like you are riding something like a mountain bike with heavy wheels. This one is flexible and quick. This is my second bike, I had a mountain bike before. This bike is strong, it has thin wheels that last. I use it when I want to run errands, just to beat traffic, like going to the bank. I've got a car, but with this I save and the more I use it the more I exercise my body.'

Stan Engelbrecht and Nic Grobler are both South African and both cyclists in a country that doesn’t have much of a cycling culture. Instead, in South Africa and several other African countries, bikes are prized more for utility than leisure or sport: a good way to get from one place to another, an efficient way to make a delivery, an often dangerous way to crisscross through town, depending on how hectic the traffic is.

But there is still a wide range of reasons why South Africans own and use bikes, and Engelbrecht and Grobler recently set out to find out why. In a project that they hope turn into a hardcover photographic book (help them do so here where you can watch a vivid short film), they photograph and ask everyday South Africans about their relationships to their bicycles. Both the photos and the answers are surprising, visually arresting and a portrait of the new South Africa. The project is called Bicycle Portraits and many more photos can be seen here.

Henderson Gwadan and Samuel Manje, Cnr. Main rd. and Paddington rd., Diep River, Cape Town, South Africa: Samuel: ‘I’m coming from work and I’m going home now, to Plumstead.’ Henderson: ‘I’m going home also. To Capricorn. I’m coming from Plumstead. We just met each other on the road now! We’ve been friends for 2 years... we’re both from Malawi. We both rode bicycles in Malawi as well.’ Samuel: ‘We came to South Africa because Malawi has no work. Malawians like riding bicycles! And now I use the bicycle to go everywhere. I cycle to work in Hout Bay, Pinelands, Fishoek. All over we use our bicycles. I don’t like taxi’s because they always make us late!’
Louisa and Johanna Mokoaqo, Jan Louw st., Prince Albert, South Africa: Louisa: ‘If I want to go somewhere and I want to go quickly, I ride my bike. My boss, Juan, bought it for us as a present in December. We come from Lesotho. I like Prince Albert, it’s a nice place - I love it, especially in winter, sjoe! I never had a bike in Lesotho, I started to learn the bike here, in 3 weeks I got right. Last year September , October - but it was my twin sister who started to learn the bike, when she got it, I was jealous! I also wanted to ride a bike like my sister! And I got it! I love to ride a bike! Now I also want to put a crate on the back to carry something - my sister she put a crate on the back. When I do shopping I’ll be able to put it in the back.’ Johanna: ‘I think I inspired my sister to learn how to ride a bike, I did! I didn’t know how to ride a bike before, and I was just like - how hard is it? Last year August I decided to set a goal, I thought - I’m tired of saying I can’t do this, let’s try it! I tried and an I thought - this week, at the end of this week, definitely I have to know how to ride this bike! I didn’t fall, but still I was scared of falling! I learned balancing, up and down and little and my mind said - I can get into this! I taught myself how to ride, all alone! Louisa saw me riding and riding, and she tried it, and slowly but surely she got it right. And in December our boss gave us each a bike, they just surprised us, and we were so happy! It wasn’t long before we were on our new bikes! No one could believe I learned how to ride. People were seeing me and saying, “Sjoe, you ride like a crazy thing, eh! I can’t believe it is you riding a bike!” It’s changed my life, really!’
Ezweni Moyo, Oxford Road, Rosebank, Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa: 'I just use it for delivery. Maybe ten or fifteen times a day. Just around two kilometers, not more than that. I like it but it is not safe sometimes - too much traffic. I've never had an accident, I'm very careful. I don't have a bicycle at home, I used to have one when I was young. I have children back in Zimbabwe, they don't have bicycles, my dad is the one who has a bicycle, maybe they are using it.'
John Mungamba, Main rd., Diep River, Cape Town, South Africa: ‘I’m on my way to church in Maitland so I’m in a hurry! I bought this bike because of the train strikes, so I bought it for me to help me get to my job and church, and if I have to go somewhere then I just use this bike. I had it now for something like 3 weeks. I like it because it helps me! It helps me too much...’
Akhona Kuhlane, Sulani dr., Khayelitsha, Cape Town, South Africa: ‘My name is Akhona Kuhlane and I am 17 years old. I got this bicycle from my friend. I asked him if he was still going to use it because it has some rust and he just gave it to me -so I can ride to school, I can go to Stellenbosch, just for riding... you see. Stellenbosch, also Cape Town - 2 minutes and I’m gone! It’s a powerful bike, you see. I trust it. I’m thinking of going to join a cycling club so that I can go places. Maybe be on television one day! Then I will ride and get paid for it! I want to fix this Colnago so that it can look like a new one.’
Marnus Human, Duncan st., Hatfield, Pretoria, South Africa: 'I cycle to get to work, I work as a waiter and I don't have a license to drive. So a bike is my only option. I live in Queenswood and work in Hillcrest, cycling everyday for three years now. I really enjoy cycling, as it keeps me out of trouble. You know I just made a choice, drugs or cycling... and cycling is the healthier option. This bike might not look like anything, but it means a lot to me.'

South Africa’s Street Style

There was such a stir on the web and among this blog’s readers about the stylish gentleman of the Congo that I wanted to give a shout out to the photographer Nontsikelelo Veleko and her portraits of street style in South Africa.


Veleko reminds me of The Sartorialist in some ways, but without the superficial and recycled gloss of designer labels. This is original, creative style at it’s best, in one of the world’s most alive and hippest cities: Johannesburg. I was blown away by the outfits I saw on the streets of that town, and Veleko manages to capture the daily sidewalk fashion show in her photos.


Go here for more of her photography.