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.

CHANNEL O-OH! AFRICAN VIDEO AWARDS AND THE VIP SYNDROME

Nigerian R&B duo P-SQUARE, doing their thing at the 2013 Channel O African Video Awards in Kliptown Soweto.

Nigerian R&B duo P-SQUARE, doing their thing at the 2013 Channel O African Video Awards in Kliptown Soweto.

“Gloom and despondency have never defeated adversity. Trying times need courage and resilience..” Former South African President Thabo Mbeki, 2008 September Presidential  Resignation speech.

The Fairy-Tale

Let’s just say I was a fish out of water. I traipsed through the darkness over the railway line in 6 inch thin Wedges to get to the other side of the tracks in order to arrive at the entrance of the Tenth Annual Channel O African Video Awards in Kliptown, Soweto.  I was there at the invitation of Mr Bob Nameng, director of the Soweto Kliptown Youth Centre (SKY) in old Kliptown. The center featured prominently during the show part of  Channel O social responsibility initiatives. The channel build a music recording studio at the center to help train aspirant musos and the youth of Kliptown  some years ago.

At the entrance I received my orange tag, tightly tied around my right wrist and was swiftly greeted by two crew members one of whom informed someone via the intercom that “We have another screamer” coming in. I asked one of them “screamer? What does that mean?” I soon found out at the entrance to the main venue when I was asked for a card or ticket which I didn’t possess. “Wait here” they said seemingly confused about where I should go.  After I was let in and showed to the “screamers” section I realized what the confusion had been about. I was not dressed like the “screamers” – a word which here is meant to describe die-hard, star-struck largely young(er) people who would stop at nothing to see their favourite artists up-close and personal and so are placed standing around the stage to shout and scream at the performers throughout the live show.  I was with those guys that the “stars/performers” shake –hands with on stage, who they throw their pieces of clothing or accessories to. Some did too, a pair of sunglasses and a hat were thrown to the “beloved” screamers “without whom the artists would not be the stars they are” (sic) 

I laughed at my own presumptuousness. I had actually asked for a chair, but realized that my orange tag only afforded me standing room in a cage –like – Kraal among screaming fans.   Seated on the gallery were Very Important People (VIPs):  the stars, musicians, artists, performers, Music industry leaders, managers, producers, the media with their wives, friends etc.  I even spotted  Randall Hall, the famed Idols judge whom everyone loves to hate, sitting in the front row seats at the gallery his demeanor unchanged from what Idols audiences have become used to.  I had been spoiled by the “perks” of being a member of the press, though admittedly I have never in the past (nor presently) used my press card to gain access to events I was not assigned to cover or invited to. Tonight I was here as myself – Jedi Ramalapa – and that only provided access to the fan section – which in production terms is equivalent to the role of an extra, without benefits (food and refreshments).

THE SHOW…

After I settled into my standing “Screamer” position and taking pictures with fellow screamers. I took out my notebook with a view to writing about the Awards from a very different perspective.  Soon darkness descended inside the Marquee erected on Walter Sisulu Square of Remembrance as the countdown to the live show began.

Fire-works, Lights, Stage Smoke erupted around the stage which lite up the dome in a spectacular fashion. The fire works though were dangerously close to the “screamers” raising  alarm from my side about our safety. Soon   Red, Green, Yellow and Red laser lights blitzed, whizzed on the stage revealing two statuette-like figures of two well-built men, who were to be the main MCs for the show. Naeto Super C and AKA, names and faces which were until that very moment were unknown to me.

BLACK & GOLD

The fashion theme for the show was overwhelmingly black and gold. Black Military-esque outfits, suits, body hugging evening dresses for the female presenters and Vjs embellished with thick gold chains and an assortment of jewelry from tooth to toe.   The show was fast-paced and I soon discovered the advantageous position I was in as I could see the performers up close and also had a view to the scripts they were reading through the tele-prompter.  From my standing position one could observe the demeanor of the performers and presenters as they propped themselves up for a cue to action and read from the set-script.  Many of them improvised, made up their own words as they went along and some did a poor job of reading which meant that had I been sitting on the main gallery, I would not have had a clue of what they were saying.   The stars read as if spitting a rap tune, but I understood this as they were in-fact artists who are more often than not prone to go off the script and perform whenever the mood arises. No one is perfect.

“I am just one poor woman among millions, in their name I want to greet a freedom fighter”   Belgian Woman to Patrice Lumumba following his release from prison and arrival in Belgium.

THE ASS (ET)   FACTOR.

What I found most interesting (read disturbing) about the show was the prominence and dominance in all music genres of male artists. Female artists were mostly supporting acts – dancers who gyrated half-naked, limbs in the air, massaging the floor with their thighs and buttocks in half-twerking-twists and splits behind King-Like- Male artists. My fellow screamers were in heaven. The women among us faked fainting and made comments to the tune of “he looks so delicious” – all is equal in love and war.  The Men wanted to leave “ let’s go and have a drink somewhere”  It was indeed a live show  true to what Channel O music videos are about –  the trusted old script of the Male lead supported by half-naked gyrating women behind them. It made me think about what it is in fact that make male artists more “successful” or prominent, hard work, less time looking after the family? Fraternal brotherhood?  Has nothing at all changed? I suppose women aspire to be background dancers because that is what popular culture sells to them, advertising excessive sexuality on the dance floor as a way to get in, be seen and admired by men and envied by other women.  I have often had my doubts about whether or not it would be prudent to force commercial entities such as Multichoice which owns Channel O to provide “diversified” forms of entertainment  thinking that it would be better for us to do our own thing on the side.

But “we” independent artists who function on the fringes of the mainstream do not have the platform, and one can’t influence popular culture if we don’t go were young people are – which is the Channel O and  MTV’s of the world. So how do we change? Change does take place yes, is taking place, but at a much slower pace – ultimately we’ll have more young people aspiring to those forms of entertainment as career options than we’d have true artists who have a real message  or craftsmanship. Independent artists need to infiltrate the established mainstream ultimately. How?

The performance by South African DJ Ganyani of her hit song  Chibombo  ( a former supporting act for Thembi Seete of  Boom Shaka) was perhaps the only powerful female  led performance act, which brought to mind images of the late 80’s singer Paul Ndlovu   and Brenda Fassie in one tiny package.  Admittedly non-gyrating-fully clothed male and female music duos received a resounding reception from the audience particularly a performance by The Soil. The audience stood up to sing with the artists word for word.  Mafikizolos’ 2013 hit song “Khona” also received a  warm reception as it brought the show down to a close with more fireworks, dancing Africans, stage smoke and confetti, to a spectacular close. Even the ever popular Alingo –  by the Nigerian duo P-Square;  which got me moving one Sunday afternoon, though popular did not  generate the massive support. It was altogether a night for South African artists, which also made me wonder where the  African(ness) was in the awards.

All things being equal, I imagine  that  certain sections of the public are also slowly getting tired of the male on top type music videos and are also looking for performances that are much more substantial – though the latter still dominates.

Michael Jackson was alive at the Channel O African Video awards, with almost all dance choreography mimicking the pop-legends infectious moves. This is also true to worldwide mainstream dance acts from Beyoncé to Chris brown. The show left me wondering if this generation has anything “original “to offer? Perhaps it’s time I considered adjusting my expectations.

The Sweetness of Brenda Fassie’s Zola Budd

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

Brenda Fassie: My childhood Icon

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 associated with starting something new.  This morning however I was tired and even though I woke up to my beep at five   this morning, 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 instead.  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 so popular and spoke to almost every facet of South African Society at the time, then in the 1980’s Apartheid South Africa. 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) it is 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.

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 women 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 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

Zola Budd The “Bare Foot Runner”

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 carry 14-16 passengers)  especially in Johannesburg as Zola Budd, because they were just as fast!  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…

I want to be in Your Zola Budd

“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 and run, 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 of 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 its sugary flavour is no more.  But I can still taste the  sugar in Brenda Fassie’s music today.  The song Zola Budd, which apart 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 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 the literally dusty streets of  Soweto (because that’s where I’m from) and I’m sure in all the townships of this country.  We all wanted to be Brenda when we grew up, even boys; we immitated 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 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 No No senor – Please, Pleas  don’t do this to me”, 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 identify 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 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, that our very own Runner and 800 meter’s record breaker, Caster Semenya, was almost stripped of her title and dreams of being an 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 like Brenda  Fassie.  This week marking 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 why 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.

What are you still waiting for….