Soundz of the South

by Jan 13, 2023Amandla 85/86, Articles, Culture

Amandla! spoke with Anele Selekwa

Amandla!: Could you give us a little bit of the history of Soundz of the South (SOS), like when you started, why you started, where you are from as a collective? 

Anele Selekwa: We started in 2008 as a loose collective of activists, who were involved in single-issue struggles like housing, antieviction, water. But some of our comrades came from different parts of the continent, like Zimbabwe and Cameroon, and we were looking for a weapon to fight xenophobia when the xenophobic attacks occurred across South Africa in 2008. Hip-hop came to us at the time of need and Soundz of the South was born.

A!: Soundz of the South describes itself as an anarchist hip-hop collective. Why did anarchism speak to you as a collective?

AS: We were looking for something that would acknowledge each member of the organisation without invoking a certain kind of hierarchy, but at the same time to speak to developing counterculture that would do away with some of the oppression that existed not only in society but as well in different other organisations and circles that we were moving in. So all of these principles that we spoke about, including solidarity, mutual aid, we didn’t necessarily know at the time that that was anarchism. But we were looking for certain principles and these are the ones that said we are with you. So as part of deepening our work theoretically, we then realised that most of these things are captured in some way by the anarchist tradition and particularly anarcho-communism.

A!: Can you speak to making the music and the importance of that and how you do that, but also beyond just making music and performing, you found other alternative ways to reach people with your music.

AS: One of the things we wanted to deal with is that we came through the time, or the context, where the world was celebrating individual artists. You must be on your own. You must become commercialised. You must become a brand. And this is the thing that you sell – culture. But at the same time, within the political spaces and circles, more and more cultural work was being seen as something that is separate, is something that you need to sprinkle around as a form of entertainment, not necessarily as resistance on its own, as a way of political education and a mobilising tool. So we were trying to deal as well with some of those things.

We are conscious about how we make the music, that it must be a process as well of many people, not one person. We try and go through a lot of materials in trying to understand what we’re trying to do and what we’re trying to say in the song at the same time, because we know that the process is important as much as what we are fighting for.

What we’ve then been trying to do is to capture spaces that existed in our communities, but as well in the city. We did a lot of open mic sessions in taxi ranks, in community parks, in community halls in and around Khayelitsha, but as well a lot of “‘jam for justice” events outside parliament and in and around the city of Cape Town. And what we were raising with those activities as well is that we need to understand that oppression continues, and it continues in many ways that are similar to the past. But as well, there are different new mechanisms that are being put in place to deepen our oppression.

We looked at our music as the music that will make people dance, for them to realise that they’re actually in pain; as the saying goes, “those who hardly move, hardly notice that they are in chains”. We then have found many people doing similar work in Zimbabwe – we were building with something called Uhuru Network. We linked up in Angola with the activists who got arrested for reading political materials, who were also charged for treason for trying to overthrow dos Santos. And we actually spent time there and created work.

But beyond that, we’ve linked up and begun to create work collectively with a movement called the Haga Que Pase, which is Colombian. In Colombia they identify as Afro Colombian and are tracing their lineage back at home as well as facing their oppression in Colombia, based on not only class but as well as race, which is something similar to many of us in South Africa.

In our latest project that we released, we worked with quite a number of political activists, musicians from the Global North, as well as taking up issues against fascism and other forms of oppression. We have collaborated with Spiritchild from New York who does a lot of work on liberation of black people but as well as supporting political freedom. We did a song on Toyitoyi Vibrations with a Swedish rapper called Pro Fuma who has been doing political work for about 20 years.

A!: You describe yourselves as cultural workers, not as individuals but as a collective. What do you think the role of cultural workers is in movements? 

AS: I think cultural workers can contribute in shaping and inspiring movement building. I think we are in difficult times in South Africa, because, you know, there’s also stomach politics. But I just think there is room for a genuine one, who, you know, is interested in being in the trenches, and doing the hard work with activists and not only those audiences. We have a very rich history of cultural work being revolutionary, and being involved in activism, and in education. I think more and more young people are finding their voice, their political expression, art.

A!: Do you think that movements have lost that space of imagining and utilising music and theatre and art to shape politics, but also to share the politics of the spaces?

AS: Yeah, you see many of the unions have in fact believed the lie of 94. And you see that in the ways that their regalia look like; they no longer make their own t-shirts. It’s outsourced to some company. You see this in how they make their posters; the whole thing is designed by some professor that is not involved in the movement.

And even when they do protests, you know, it’s KFC and all these things. So, I think that’s the struggle and some of the challenges that we find in our time. There are newer formations that are coming to the fore, that I think they are a lot closer in terms of thinking to us. But in general, most of the organisations, they still don’t see cultural work as work. And they don’t see it as a potentially revolutionary weapon. We’re still seen as an item to clean the stage for some big politicians or some big narcissist activist leader. So it’s an item to entertain; it’s not part of the programme. And we always have to challenge this, even though when we start, we look like we’re not thankful for the opportunity that we’re being given.

A!: How do you think we can organise ourselves politically at this moment? I think we’ve normalised the crisis that we’re in. How do you think we need to organise ourselves out of this crisis? 

AS: I think what we need to first state is that we were defeated in 1994. And that the more people think that a political party will save us, the more we are in trouble. And secondly, I think we need to start from scratch. We need to not make any assumptions about where we are politically and what we know. We start completely from scratch, with the things that people think are elementary: your door to door, organisers involved in street committees, block committees and all these things. And political education is needed more and more. We need to think about having our own methods of spreading messages again. We need to rethink how we utilise arts in those spaces.

The last 15 years, except for these few moments – the one being the Marikana workers organising in the ways that they did, and, and Fees organising in the way that they did – we’ve been talking to the same circles. People lack the imagination and are repeating culture that they know from the ANC and other previous moments in the country.

A!: Please say something about the role of Soundz of the South in challenging misogyny, sexism and patriarchy within our communities through music.

AS: For us, I think, not only in society broadly, but even in our own organisations, we need to get rid of sexism, misogyny, and create spaces. So that’s what we are trying to do with the record The Cypher and beginning to offer alternatives to some of these things.

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