Ours is a song of songs.
It’s a song of forms and positions that the times and our place (under-world) assume. The times or places that our songs seem to obey and reject, at the same instant.
One concern is common in all these songs. It is the terror of breathing (the clean air of the Almighty God) under pressure. And the common response is: I must live, by all means available to me, now or in the future.
(The future isn’t guaranteed, of course).
The songs as such engage in what is seemingly an endless search for other means. They search for troubled idioms in a dislocated sound.
Some songs emerge and find a Maskandi, for instance. They are the Maskandi – not because they want to sound Zulu in remote Kwa-Zulhostu-Natal or at a taxi rank or in a hostel. The hostel and the taxi rank are part of their history, to be sure. An inescapable history that they will want to forget, since a hostel or the rank are a constant reminder of the fact that they emerge from the cracks of life: the ‘urban setting’.
Our songs – in the vein of Maskandi, for instance – are a ‘ghetto’ being in the city and a little bit freer, difficult and easy to follow. They are songs you can follow anyhow, songs about you or someone you know, someone you will meet in due time. They say anything and sound anyhow, in short. So that the one risk of singing what you like is the risk of starving to death.
The inescapable is the market place. A moving market: always moving towards anyone who tries to cut ties with the urban. It matters little whether you are a so called conscious rapper or a malombo player. Everyone (player/song) ought to eat. The question is what and how to eat, a question of form and style. It’s easy for a song to eat the wrong and degenerate, and, by extension, fail to build itself a house, a place of refuge to guard against the time of evil. It’s what the song says that it either expresses a desire for “evil or holiness” See Bheki Khoza (Imbamba, 2018).. It’s what and when the song says what it says that it remains a being for or a being beyond the market place.
In other words. Our kind of songs must confront the fact that they live for the market place. And that the market place is a sign or the measure of an open wound, a recorded wound that the original song can touch in a certain way, for better or for worse, depending on the evil or holiness in the song.
The wound is open for whites too. Hence Johnny Clegg and his ‘zulu’ music. Hence he fiddles with the wound, the wound that a white touch finds hard to heal still. He tries hard to heal the wound – to no avail, since a wound cannot heal another wound. We all know by now that white hands are a proper wound, irreparable. A white touch – a Johnny touch – makes the wound bleed more than blood… Johnny makes money from the wound, instead. And we’re happy for him. Of course, we’re happy for his mates (his black players/dancers), too – even if they do not make as much money.
It’s fair, then, that our songs should convert themselves into recorded wounds. Our songs should sell – at any pace and, sometimes, at any price depending on the nature of the buyer, the listener. It’s the buyer that determines the extent to which the song lives beyond the market place, when the market becomes a mere place and no market at all, when the buyer listens to the formally recorded wound and recognizes that no ‘formalities’ of recording the wound are necessary. It is the buyer that may recognize the fact that the wound is never final, never official and can remain dis-recorded.
The buyer may know that our songs are available for free in the last instance – whether or not they are officially recorded. After all money buys nothing of proper value: truth is here and yet to come.
Song is truth. Kosa ke Nnete: the meaning of BLK Thought Music whenever it thinks what it feels. Ke Nnete when the BLK Thought stage is a place of sound-making, a space of ethical-combat, under the influence of things and beings. Under the influence of every child, of the church bell and the noise, of life through chaos. The influence of voices in the wilderness.
It’s no small task to usher in the idea of truth. It’s a meaningful task when you sing in the rustle of the ghetto, in the street when the sound suddenly interests a drunken passer-by, while cars force themselves in to say ‘No to your random pop-ups’, when listeners play dice close by (seemingly disinterested), while children begin to dance when a few adults sit and watch, when children stand and watch while adults go on a celebratory rampage….
Our point is not to overrate our song. Quite the contrary. We want to show that songs – and music as such – are less important than life in blackness. We want to show that our music emerges from a tradition and a network of dislocated movements, a network of ugly things and horrid conditions. Our songs are an index and a critique of our possible desire for mass suicide.
More: Our songs need not compel listeners to listen and stop whatever else they’re doing. No one is entitled to serve our songs. None in the ghetto is compelled to listen to any song or music, to be precise. And our kind of song has no rights at all, except for one: the right to be known as our song: the listeners’ song when they share our experience of living in the hole that is possibly inescapable, and that the South African hole is akin to a corpse that rots from within.
It’s a corpse that has traces of life, nonetheless, full of migrant kinds of movements all the time. Hence our songs are on the run, in the sincere defense of their views (of the under-world). Hence our music is unthinkable outside the age old ‘diagonic’: death for life. Hence our songs are not different from migrant labour songs …a song that make sense, perhaps better than the songs that engage in decadence, a type of nihilism, the fear of the future in the name of afro-futurism.
These are the songs that think our kind of present (concrete time) is overrated, experimenting in urban witchcraft, in the name of high-art, often claiming the glorious past to be their influence. They engage in negative art that neither thinks or ‘feels’. Art that will make it to a world stage, for instance – a stage of order and the legible. A stage we’ll desecrate – for the time is ripe to go there and say this or that (for the black-fun of it).
The world stage is a matter of a minor concern, since BLK Thought Symposium is a being in the street, a street Treatise.
A street Treatise on our beginning: an inevitable meeting outside a lecture hall every Friday afternoon, forming a universe in and outside Wits University, a university beyond redemption. We read this or that in Law, History, Literature, Sociology, Musicology and Philosophy, all driven by a need to dialog, searching for things, for modes and methods of speaking.
We created a log book of the black experience.
We could have tried or stayed in one political party or another. Some of us realized the obvious: the party is nothing more than gimmicks of self-enrichment. The current party offers no possibility of the wonderful, to say nothing of a ‘revolution’.
Necessary for us, then, was a turn towards the practice and politics of culture. Therein is a small and obscure opening…We’d see the form of the black radical, by way of black aesthetics. We’d suggest a possibility that some moments of black aesthetics might be a form of the black radical, and that the black radical must become the vein of black aesthetics.
It’s quite obvious that the relation between the black radical and black aesthetics is a difficult association. We doubt aesthetics as such have a meaning for us, suggesting at once that we’ll always give it a new signification. We’ll give it a new form, for as long as we desire the beautiful in the hole, a desire we’re not obliged to have all the time.
Gabe Morokoe Letswalo
Sive Mqikela (for Blk Thought Symposium)
Steve Biko portrait by Graeme Arendse
|1.||See Bheki Khoza (Imbamba, 2018).|