THE SWEETNESS OF BEING YOURSELF…

Hello, Hello! Today I thought I should share a surprising fact I learnt about my blog in the new year. I started writing this blog three years ago since then it’s gone through many name changes from What’s Art, Between The Lines, to The Bottom Line. In many ways the evolution of this blog mirrors my own life. Trying to figure out if I was indeed an artist, a writer and how to make ends meet while I figure out who I am and what I am good at. The journey has been full of challenges, adventures, phenomenal highs, risks, heart-breaks, a taste of  life on the streets, loneliness, discovery, joy, peace, new friendships, new countries and always having to start over and over and over again. Because Just when I thought okay, I can do this, something would happen to change all my best laid plans. Each time it was harder to make decisions, nothing was black or white.   So I could not believe my eyes when I opened my email and read the  Annual  Report for The Bottom Line in 2014.  The Bottom Line was viewed more than 6,000 times in over 100 countries around the world. South Africa came first, followed by EU countries and America. You make me feel so important 🙂 .  Seriously, Thank you!Click here to see the complete report.

The biggest surprise of all however, was discovering which post was read the most in 2014. What was most surprising was that it was  an old article, written in 2012! I’m sure you’re curious about what it is right? Hang on a second, it’s coming. Let me thank you first. It has been a humbling experience learning  to write in the public eye. I appreciate all your support. But the coolest thing about the whole thing is  that a  tribute to my childhood icon, a woman who inspired millions of African black girls and boys to dream bigger dreams for themselves especially in South Africa, Brenda Fasssie, is the reason people were drawn to view The Bottom Line.  I love this woman. That’s  just awesome! So here’s the coolest story on my blog since 2012 and counting.

The Sweetness of Brenda Fassie’s Zola Budd

04 November 2012. Today is the 1st day  of the 12 Week The Artist’s way challenge to myself,  I wrote about it earlier this week.  I started writing my morning pages two days before to avoid the dread associated with starting  something new, to limit you know, the anxiety and high expectations..  This morning however I was tired and even though I woke up to my beep at five, I went back to sleep instead of writing. When I did eventually wake up at  7am, I am normally at work by this time, I debated whether I should spend time writing my morning pages, three pages of hand writing can be daunting when you don’t have time. So I decided to write them anyway.  They went pretty fast and in no time I had crossed the road to hail a minibus-taxi, pointing my index finger up to the heavens signalling that I am going to Jozi. And what a surprise when I climbed into the Taxi, which was at that very moment playing late South African Pop Icon, Brenda Fassie’s – Zola Budd song!

A song which was once so popular and spoke to almost every facet of South African Society at the time, Apartheid South Africa  circa 1980. That’s the  genius of being an Artist,  I am slowly finding out (bear with please those of you who have been down this road before)  that being an artist is having the ability to provide commentary, reflect on the sociopolitical concerns of the nation while making people smile, have fun and forget about their misery even for just a moment.   Brenda Fassie was gifted in this way. She was a true entertainer.

Zola Budd ( now Zola Pieterse) is a former (white) South African  Olympic track and field competitor, who in less than three years broke the world record in women’s 5 thousand meters twice.  She was the fastest woman in the world and  a little peculiar because she ran barefoot. In 1984, aged 17 she broke the women’s 5000 meters record with a time of 15:01.18.83.   But she  ran in Apartheid South Africa ( which was then excluded/ sanctioned from international athletics ) So her time was excluded in the official world record. Ag shame, broken dreams.While (White) South Africans were going on about the unfairness of the exclusion (I assume it was talk  of the Nation at the time, I was three), Black South Africans  found a way into the conversation by naming  a new fleet or range of  minibus taxi’s (public transport used mainly  by black Africans in South Africa which carried  14-16 passengers)  especially in Johannesburg as Zola Budd, because they drove just as fast as she ran. Then comes little Brenda Fassie, the newest boldest, black girl making music in town, with a Hit Song, Zola Budd (taxi, runner, you decide), the lyrics are pretty simple…

“Bhuti (brother) Ngiceli’ lift ( can I get a lift)In your Zola Budd, Zola Budd, Zola budd!

I wanna be in your Zola Budd, Zola Budd, I want to be in your Zola Budd,  Zola Budd, Zola Budd!!

Two very simple lines  and a melody that still makes me want to stand up run and dance on the spot like she did in the video , with her index finger flaying in the air. The Apartheid Government could not ban her (music/song) like they did so many more  other  black revolutionary  artists at the time.  Brenda’s Music was classified as “Bubble Gum” music. You know what you do with bubble gum, you first chew it , play with it, make bubbles, then spit it out when the sweetness is gone.  But I can still taste the  sugar in Brenda Fassie’s music today.  The song Zola Budd, which apart from having a pop theme in the beginning ends with a soulful  choir like hymn with her almost crying..slowly repeating Zola Budd.. Zoooola Budd, Zola Budd!!. It echoed the pain and aspirations of both black and white South Africans at the height of the country’s state of  emergency, her song  spread and became popular like wildfire.  No only putting a shine on Brenda the artist our beloved star, but on the mini-bus taxis  (which the majority of black south african workers depend on to get to work everyday)  and even Zola Budd herself ( she has a song and taxi named after her)

You can imagine then how Popular Brenda Fassie must have been to little black girls like me  who growing up in the literal dusty streets of  Soweto (because that’s where I’m from) emulated her.  We all wanted to be Brenda when we grew up, even boys; we imitated her from head to toe voice to actions. She  popularized braids (we called them singles)  with colourful  beads  ( like those worn by traditional healers sometimes) because that’s how she wore her hair. She was a trend-setter. She had bad teeth, but  nobody cared, she was more than her tiny frame, bigger greater and larger.   I used to love doing impersonations of Brenda Fassie as a child, any chance I’d get,  especially the “No senor”, track about  a woman being held hostage by her spanish lover.  I was  dark and awkwardly beautiful like  Brenda,  so even as a child in the process of becoming aware of myself and what made me different from other humans I could see myself in her, I identified  with her. She embodied mine and South Africa’s aspirations.  She inspired me, made me believe in myself. That I am black , and that is beautiful. I think my mother took me to TV auditions once, because I believed I could be a star, like Brenda Fassie. Maybe she did too.

So later on in her career Brenda Fassie released another hit song “Indaba ya’m i straight – ayifun’irula” [ My story is straight it doesn’t need a ruler]. It was a response to media accusations, if I am correct, about her sexuality or sexual orientation and activities, she was often rumored  to keep  multiple partners  – male and female. I think she was mostly seeing women at the time of her untimely death.

I think about that song and wonder what Mabrrr (as she was affectionately known) would have to say to the state of the nation today, when women are being raped and assaulted  on a daily basis, others only because they are gay – to “correct” them. Or what she would have to say to the fact that  our very own Runner and 800 meter’s record breaker, Caster Semenya, was almost stripped of her title and dreams of being an international athlete  because she was accused of being a man, running as a woman.

So this  got me thinking about writing and how we document and celebrate our history,  our heritage and those people who had an impact in our lives such as  Brenda  Fassie, as we mark  the  UNESCO World Heritage and Archive week .  I  have always wanted to be a performer, an artist , an entertainer. But since art didn’t pay,   my mother who was and still is my greatest supporter (and I)thought journalism would be best.  So now I would like to be myself, today, and use what I have now, today, my journalism education and vast experience ( Thank you mom)  to live out those childhood dreams wherever possible, so that when I do have children one day, I can allow them to explore  and accept who they are sooner, so they are more balanced and happier adults.  One of my colleagues who is celebrating 15  years as a  journalist at the public broadcaster today came to my desk this morning and said to me ” I wish I had the insight, 15 years ago, of using what I have been given to the best of my ability. I wish I had known then what I know now, that life is what you make of it now, here where you are, not somewhere in the future,  I’m glad I’m doing it now but I swear, I could have kicked myself”  – She is in her 50’s.

” Nothing has a stronger influence  psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life  of the parent” C  G. Jung.

What are you still waiting for.

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