Alongside this militant rap expansion came a new and vibrant rap organisation, the African Hip Hop Movement. The authorities! were seemingly pleased that the youth seemed to have something to do instead of hanging out on the streets. Wrong move. History was beginning to catch up with Apartheid and it would be the new freedom of the global village that would inflict its biggest blow.
In the early days of the South African Rap scene, artists tried to imitate the American Hip Hop sound in particular the inspired attitude of Public Enemy. The Prophets of da City, a local group from Salt River-Woodstock were at the forefront of progression and were acclaimed for their innovative style, using riffs from SA jazz legends such as Abdullah Ibrahim [Dollar Brand] and even sampled tribal beats from marimba groups, This fusion of African and American ideas was crucial in fomenting the new sound as well as a source of pride, inspiration and a new medium for the message.
DJ Ready D aka Deon Daniels
“We saw the situation overseas, the violence; they have a similar organisation called Zulu Nation. We are the same as them, the difference is we are in Africa,” said DJ Ready D aka Deon Daniels at the time. Ironically it could be said that the original rhythm and breakbeats that had shaped the Blues, Jazz, Soul and Rock of the USA and the international musical landscape, was now returning to Africa, the source of the riffs in the first place. A study of history would show that the African drum beat was a cultural meme that had infected the Land of the Free by travelling with the slave ships of the South to later inspire a generation of American Soul Merchants. Mother Africa was having her revenge.
Rap Culture and the Fall of the Berlin Wall
Rap cultures major exponents in the city were Dj’s and spokesmen; Rozzano Francisco, Shahien Afriefdien, Deon Daniels and Bobby Hendrickse who ran the movement out of living rooms or from derelict apartments in Woodstock, an inner-city outpost. Subsequently companies like Making Music and promoters like Lance Stehr would organise concerts internationally with performances in France and the Montreaux festival in Switzerland.
According to Rossanno Franscisco, “What happened was that we were break dancers, we were in a vibe that was totally different to everything else, and then we stopped all that, and got into music.” Rap groups were being formed at an unprecedented rate. Some significant moves in developing the new style were made by; Organised Rhyme, AK47, Black Noise and John Dunlop’s MC’s from U.N.C.L.E. The survivors were the ones who managed to assimilate the local sounds and the anti-apartheid attitude of the hood. This deep pool of angry youth would soon play an important role in inspiring the transition.
With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, an unprecedented amount of change was unleashed upon the
entire world. August 1989 would be a major turning point for all South Africans because it was then that the politicians began to show signs that they were not unassailable.
The granite facade of apartheid was beginning to move palpably, when suddenly a defiantly small group of individuals – urged on by ring leader, Nat Tardrew [who would be the first to commandeer an SAP water cannon] – took to the streets of Cape Town in an attempt to defy a ban on political parades. Police reaction was swift and plans by the multiracial mob to overthrow the government were thwarted by armed riot brigades who sprayed the ragtag group with a purple dye.
This was the celebrated “purple rain” peace march. The resultant graffiti “the purple shall govern” would appear on a nearby wall later that day. The significance of this seemingly innocuous event, more than others, would be realised barely a week later when the nationalist government was forced to back down over its inability to prevent a larger peace march that included religious leaders and even the city’s outspoken mayor, Gordon Oliver .
The extent of the groundswell had unnerved the apartheid State. An entire city had shown that it had no care for the politics of segregation. The level of support was unprecedented, a direct result of the genuine desire for the peaceful change that had seemingly infected a diverse cross-section of citizens. South Africans had began to sense that if they pushed, the once impenetrable granite facade of Apartheid would move, that something was beginning to give way.
The effect on the general mood of Cape Town was immense. A feeling of optimism prevailed, spilling over onto the dance floor and giving dramatic import to a wave of new ideas, of freedom of association and expression. Surfing this wave was the city’s then only counter-culture magazine promoting earth love and smart culture, its name Kagenna self-consciously intended by myself and others as a resurrection of the Mantisheaded god of the original inhabitants of Cape Town, the !Kung San people. Its launch at the Base Club in Shortmarket St, along with marimba band & theatre act, Antoinette Kellerman and Azazi Mkweru, white rapsters and teenage black dance groups, served to add to the buoyancy that would serve to refocus and inspire a new generation of alternative media forays.
The biggest moment in the modern history of South Africa was yet to arrive. Although most South Africans had no way of knowing this then, after forty years of coercion and oppression. Carrying the momentum on to further cultural forces, was the hope and faith that things could change. The sheer pace of this change unleashed by a countrywide uprising spurred on by a new generation of turned-on, freak-out youth would be staggering.
In the next installment of an Unofficial History of SA Dance Culture….
Club Music and the Release of Nelson Mandela
With the build up to South African president – F.W De Klerks Feb 2 announcement -South African teenagers, intuitively it seems, were already beginning to celebrate change. Rap was taking an inclusive part in the ordinary struggles of the people. No political gathering of note could be complete without it. Groups such as Black Noise found their way onto nearly every open-air political meeting in the city. A generation of black school kids were finding that becoming active participant-performers was liberating and all you needed was a ghetto blaster…..