The African Consciousness Institute recently held their second edition of African First, an Africa Day celebration rich with storytelling, and thankfully, free of most of the prescriptive, projected definitions of Africanness that I’ve come to expect from similar spaces.
PHOTOGRAPHY: DAVID WEIN
WORDS: MODUPE OLORUNTOBA
At least that’s what I appreciated, walking into the House of H’s basement as the day’s conversation drew to a close and the night’s entertainment began. The open conversation, following a panel session making use of Kanye West’s recent off colour outbursts regarding slavery to question African ownership of space in Cape Town, had reached a tense point when I joined it. The height of the tension? A closing call for togetherness among Africans.
You may think it strange that the idea of unity would elevate tension, until you peel away the surface and interrogate the true nature of the unity we had been challenged to embrace. Perhaps it was misunderstood, but the unity presented seemed to disregard the less than admirable yet all too common reactions of Africans to the diversity of our own races, genders, sexualities, abilities, and even cultures, making no mention of the imbalances in agency and power that these reactions breed daily, and the pain that generations of cultural othering causes. Asking a room of strangers to put all that aside is simple. Shifting the weight of your own lived experience is not.
Reflecting on the conversation now, I think we all understand that a large chunk of who we become is the sum of our formative experiences, influenced by factors like community, migration, identity, and as uniquely varied as our personalities and bodies. Where our understanding falls short is in acknowledging those differences as a collective strength, a reason to draw close; instead of as a reason to distance ourselves from each other, as though a difference is something to fear. While it is only amplified by the intersections many Africans find themselves living in every day, it’s an issue of the human existence, and not just an African one. It’s always seemed to me that our rejection of a difference in someone else is often less about what’s strange or what’s familiar to us, and more about an internal fear of being rejected, of being misunderstood.
With that final point sufficiently defended, attendees seemed satisfied to leave with the challenge of finding their way, and for the rest of the night, enjoying each other’s company while enjoying the work of talented African artists. The evening’s sound palette was an eclectic blend, well received by an equally eclectic but open and unprejudiced crowd. A Pan-African selection of DJs and producers started, lifted, and ended the night: Cape Town-based Malawian Andrew “NDRZLA” Mkali; Kenyan audiophile and EA Wave member Sichangi; Ivorian creative LNS in collaboration with South African sound engineer KRXNKO; and South African beat mistress Flōyu, all lit up the dark space with electric mixes throughout the night.
The first vocal set was performed by the multitalented Tankiso Mamabolo, a Fleur du Cap Award-winning actress and dancer who on the night, flexed her songwriting and vocal skills in a short but sweet set, accompanied by an all-star band: guitarist Tyrone Marinus, bassist Franco Mannel, keyboard player Yvan Potts and drummer Keith De Bruyn. Her original songs reflected an inquisition into self and surrounding, beginning with reflection and ending with awareness. While most of the set was in English, Tankiso included her first Sotho language song, and the crowd eagerly sang along.
Somali-Zulu vocalist Purity Zinhle Mkhize followed and wowed the crowd as PURE, her latest performance iteration, preceded by her roles as a frontwoman for Durban-based bands The Pranks and Fruits & Veggies. PURE’s look is a world away from the Ska Punk format she adhered to while lead singer of The Pranks, embracing a mystic sensibility with black robes and white contact lenses. Her compact set of songs was an immersive experience broken up with notes about the music in between songs. She talked about presence, energy, sleep paralysis and how these songs are the first project she’s embarked on intentionally sober. Accompanied by Sasha, a producer some may recognise as an instrumentalist for The Plastics, PURE sang in a free flowing form, interacting with the crowd throughout and adding spontaneous verses in the moment. All in all, the night was successful in its celebration of African consciousness: aware, untethered, and self-actualised.