New York, New York

Checking into the Millennium Hilton after 13 hours of flying.

I have such a strange relationship to travelling. I usually spend the entire time being very cautious about every single thing and counting down the days until I am back at home, in my bed, breathing my suburban, South African air where everything and everyone feels familiar. It’s only after I am back home and safely in my bed, that I begin to appreciate everything in hindsight. It’s as though once I have had a safe trip and confirmation that nothing untoward will happen, then I feel like I can go back, live all those days again and really have a good time. Of course, that would mean that life is a dress rehearsal and we all know that it certainly is not. Sometimes I do wish I was a more carefree traveller but I think I’ll just stay the way I am, even if it means staying in my hotel room a little more than exploring. My personality keeps me safe and I like that very much. Plus, America is scary. We know that.

I was so excited to be back in New York again. The first time was when I attended Goalkeepers, held by the Bill and Melinda Gates’ Foundation in September 2018. My second time in New York was just as wonderful. I was there along with all of the lovely women of the Zanele Mbeki Fellowship (ZMF), including our beloved founder Mrs Mbeki, and we were having our third module there. In this module, we were learning about global feminist community by being immersed in the fast-paced world of the United Nations’ 63rd Commission on the Status of Women (UN CSW). I believe it’s the largest gathering of women-related NGOs in the world. Our mission was to attend as many sessions as possible, learn and discuss amongst each other in order to understand grassroots level to world level feminist organisation.

We had such a fun itinerary. One of our first stops was a trip to Washington, for a guided visit of the National Museum of African American Culture and Heritage. The structure and in the interior are all so beautiful and infused with so much meaning. From pre-colonial Africa to contemporary United States, the museum has taken such great care to document the important histories of known and unknown people, the music, documents, art works and esteemed figures who shaped Black people’s liberation. Finding photographs of our beloved Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba in the section chronicling music filled me with so much pride because, though exiled under difficult circumstances, these great South African ancestors used their gifts to create indelible trans-national connections. Listen, Hugh was a rock star in the realest sense – please read Still Grazing: The Musical Journey of Hugh Masekela by Hugh Masekela and D. Michael Cheers (2004). Although it’s easy to think of America as being a giant that influences everyone who encounters it, the truth is that Makeba, Masekela and Keorapetse Kgositsile contributed to Black American culture and swag as we know it, by infusing it with their individual, African elements and, in the case of the latter, by literally giving it Hip Hop’s most talented sons. This often-erased fact of mutuality and cultural exchange among all parties matters to me. I am an Anthropologist after all. I also got to see a Kehinde Wiley painting with my own two eyes!

Craig Fletcher by Kehinde Wiley. He painted his partner. Swoon.

Among the many panel talks and events being hosted during that week, we as the ZMF had the opportunity to host our own. I had been asked by Naledi, our co-ordinator, to contribute to our panel with our guest of honour, Indian feminist economist, Dr Devaki Jain. The panel was about reflecting on the intergenerational connections of feminist thought. It was interesting because we had a women from different parts of the globe speaking, one from Sweden, the US, Zimbabwe, India and South Africa. So, it also became an interesting glance into how people’s various histories and positionalities may have shaped their politics. Definitely one of the most nerve-wracking things I have ever had to do but, worth it.

 

While I was attending CSW sessions during the day and ZMF debriefs in the evening, I had left my mother in South Africa with an important green folder containing my whole career. The New York Trip overlapped with my MA submission on March 15 so I asked her to please go to school on the 14th to submit on my behalf. New York is 6 hours behind Johannesburg so I stayed up all night making little corrections so that she would wake up with a polished thesis in her email inbox. She went to PostNet to print, bind and download my thesis onto a disc then went to school to do the admin between faculty and fees office and getting my supervisor to sign my paperwork – it was a whole lot and she was flustered but she got it in! I was thrilled! I actually cried when she sent me the receipt of my submission because it took so much to get here: sleepless nights, torrential tears, attacks on my self-esteem, self-doubt, feeling not-smart, making a children’s book to give myself joy and other forms of procrastination.

That Diplomat pass. Highest VIP on this planet, haha!

I had planned well for this occasion though so I had gifted myself with a ticket to Cecile McLorin Salvant at the Jazz @ Lincoln Centre to say “congratulations for completing your Masters, my love!” The last time I was in New York, I hadn’t realised that we would be doing our daily activities at this iconic Jazz venue and failed to make plans to watch any of the shows. It’s so disappointing, but this is exactly what I mean about having to go to a place first for practice so that I can do better next time. So, this time I was blessed because my favourite Jazz vocalist was performing on Thursday night. It was amazing! Cecile honestly has the best vocals and best dresses in the business. What a delight. I even found the video from that exact night: Look! And on Friday night, I joined my fellow fellows for some NY exploring by going to Red Lobster. We had such a great time. I also have to put it on record that Red Lobster by Times Square makes the best Old Fashioneds, ever.

 

“When he ____ me good, I take his ___ to Red Lobster!”

Saturday ended up with a late afternoon, bottomless mimosa brunch at Brooklyn Moon in Brooklyn. Then did the brave thing of taking a train by myself to Harlem because I had gotten myself a ticket to Salon Africana at The Africa Centre, curated by Somi. This month had Thandiswa Mazwai and Nduduzo Makhathini headlining and I obviously was not about to miss out on that so I attended with Musa and Amelia. It was such an incredible night. Soon enough, it was home time so we went back to JFK Airport, where we experienced a 7 hour delay before our 13 hour flight home. Fun, really, because I had all my sisters with me. This time in New York was astounding, overwhelming, enjoyable and so, so unforgettable. So excited to go back again and do even more!

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Thank you, Zanele Mbeki Fellowship for the memories!

On living, loving and learning

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On Curious Cat, it comes up often for people to ask me either about loving myself or about my productivity. I understand that I am asked a lot about my productivity because I share a lot on social media about my work and its progress. It’s interesting that the perception is that I am so methodical and diligent. You know, every now and then, I actually wanna tweet: “Oh my god, where can I buy some focus because it’s lit!” but I don’t because my social network includes people with whom I have some kind of deadline at any given time. So, there are some things that I don’t share with as much ease as the next person, that’s all.

Another thing is that I do share about my disappointments, although minimally. I allude to being up all night and crying over drafts and things not going my way but I’m never going to sit there and be self-deprecating on social media. I don’t like to give light and energy and oxygen to those parts because I would rather use as much as I can on the good. When my work isn’t going as well as I would like: I leave it alone. I rest, I go to my favourite restaurants, I pick up a book to read or my colouring book, I build a puzzle or I watch television. I stop and process that I need to get battle-ready for this next thing and maybe I’m not in the mood today or the next two days but eventually, I will get back to it and give it my all. So, that is the ebb and flow of my self-love. I am always giving myself room to feel and do what feels necessary in that moment. If today isn’t the day to get it right then perhaps tomorrow will be.

I also think it’s interesting that self-love and productivity are the things I get asked about often because for me, they are the same thing. It’s important for me to always put my humanity to its best use and my work in Anthropology and with children is exactly that. My work is a testament to loving myself. Doing my work, all the work, is how I love myself. Me being productive, me being creative – it’s all the source giving back to the source. I suppose I am fortunate that my work happens to be exactly what I came to do on this planet. Some people have also asked me: “when or how did you learn to love yourself?” and my answer is usually the same about how all I have in this world is myself and so it follows that I should treat myself with an abundance of goodness. But the question kept tugging at me. I kept thinking: “Is my answer incomplete? Is there something that even I’m missing?” Eventually, I got up and went to my bookshelf, thinking. Continue reading “On living, loving and learning”

I love my work.

NalibaliSandton (5 of 55)
Sandton, South Africa – February 1, 2019: Nal’ibali, a South African reading initiative attempts to break their previously set World Record, by reaching 1.5 Million children on World Read Aloud Day. Children from across South Africa took part in various events in schools and libraries. The main event, saw hundreds of children reading with author and activist, Lebohang Masango, who gave a multilingual reading at the Sandton Library in Johannesburg, South Africa. Picture: DANIEL BORN for NAL’IBALI

Continue reading “I love my work.”

#CoilConversations with Jabu Stone

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Photographed by Jess Sterk.

When I think about it, the best part about being an Anthropologist is being able to occupy really interesting spaces and speak as an expert on the topic – because that’s what the long days and nights of academic productivity are about. So, in my capacity as a scholar and children’s book author, I was invited to be a panelist at the #CoilConversations event hosted by the Jabu Stone brand and engage in conversation with the MC, Noluthando Nqayi, the legend himself, Jabu Stone and an audience of beautiful, natural hair influencers from around Johannesburg.  Continue reading “#CoilConversations with Jabu Stone”

UNICEF South Africa appointment

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It is my immense honour and privilege to accept the appointment as UNICEF South Africa’s Volunteers Advocate. This means that I’ll be working with the organisation to establish some volunteer programmes in service of the children in our communities; to come together and do what we can to make their childhoods safer, healthier and more joyful. I’m really excited to make my contribution to this amazing cause. You can read more about it here.

The Syllabus: An Introduction to Essential Hip Hop Scholarship

Quiet as it’s kept, Hip Hop has had an immeasurable impact on my personhood. I’ve always been fascinated with the powerful self-affirmations that constitute rapper’s braggadocio bars. From Notorious BIG to The Score era’s Lauryn Hill and Rah Digga, my queen Lil Kim and even Jay Z, growing up while hearing how “I’m the best/ baddest/ hottest/ freshest/ dopest/ illest” on repeat has done some amazing things for my confidence and my insistence that I can make my dream life an everyday possibility. Through Hip Hop, this masterful tradition of weaving words, I continue to build and believe in the best ideas about myself.

As a baby Anthropologist, my life involves the deepest appreciation for knowledge production, particularly the scholars who respectfully theorise Black people’s vernaculars and art into the archive. Through the fruits of their intellectual labour in writing our herstories and stories, it is our collective hope that future generations will not have to endure the racist and existential drama that claims that we “didn’t have texts or science or complex political structures or knowledge”. For women and queer people especially, we hope to counter the lies of erasure that claim that “women made little contribution to Hip Hop” or that “there are no queer people in Hip Hop”.

Over the next few weeks, I will explore what Hip Hop means to me and, of course, I will use my words. To start, I’ve compiled some critical texts in Hip Hop scholarship to highlight women as producers, consumers, scholars, political agents and critical thinkers of the culture. I hope you read and engage with this work as we all open our minds and learn more about how difference has played such an important role in making the culture what it is.

1. Hip Hop Feminism

Read this because it is a discussion of the political sensibility that emerges from a generation that grew up with Hip Hop, an art form that has been simultaneously affirming yet marginalising, especially for women and queer people. Hip Hop Feminism aims to go beyond the gains of feminism’s second wave by doing the additional work of interrogating norms and the intersecting ways that representations and images are constructed in order to empower women to participate, critique, counter, enjoy and claim full ownership of the culture.

Peoples, Whitney A. (2008) “Under construction’: Identifying foundations of hip-hop feminism and exploring bridges between Black second-wave and hip-hop feminisms.” Meridians 8:1, 19-52. Read it here.

2. The Role of South Africa in the Origin of Hip Hop.

Read this because the work and life of South Africa’s Poet Laureate, the late Professor Keorapetse Kgositsile is examined to illuminate the golden, diasporic thread that runs between Hip Hop’s founding, through The Last Poets engagement with Prof. Kgositsile’s poetry as a freedom fighter exiled to the United States. Of course, Prof. Kgositsile was not just a brilliant intellectual and writer, he is also the father of Earl Sweatshirt. I have had the pleasure of reading and listening to Dr Phalafala, who is also his biographer. I love that she has taken it upon herself to document his immense contributions to scholarship and Hip Hop music.
Uhuru Portia Phalafala (2017)Black music and pan-African solidarity in Keorapetse Kgositsile’s poetry“, The Journal of South African and American Studies, 18:4, pp. 307-326. Read it here.

3. The Aesthetics of Black Women’s Sexuality

Read this because one of the most contentious debates is whether the misogyny inherent within Hip Hop is responsible for the hyper-sexualisation of women and the extents to which women’s agency in our own sexualised representations contribute to aspects ranging from the full ownership of our bodies, commercial viability and further marginalisation.

White, Theresa Renee. (2013) “Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott and Nicki Minaj: Fashionistin ’Black Female Sexuality in Hip-Hop Culture—Girl Power or Overpowered?.” Journal of Black Studies 44.6, pp. 607-626.

Read it here.

4. Queering Hip Hop

Read it because in the same way that supposedly straight women have an equal stake in Hip Hop, it is necessary to know that queer people have contributed to this culture too. We know that Hip Hop is dynamic and multidimensional, so it cannot only emerge from black heteromasculinity with straight women as its relational figures. Hip Hop is comprised of many fluid and intersecting sexualities. According to Rinaldo Walcott (2013),

…a case could be made plausibly that hip hop is queer, always has been, and always will be... I would argue that it is precisely in the context of a straightened out hip hop that a queer sociality and definitely a homosociality animates some of hip hop’s most excited moments as the soundtrack of contemporary urban life and beyond.

Walcott, Rinaldo. (2013) “Boyfriends with Clits and Girlfriends with Dicks: Hip Hop’s Queer Future.” Palimpsest: A Journal on Women, Gender, and the Black International, 2:2, vol. 2 pp. 168 – 173. Read it here.

5. Representations of Women in South African Hip Hop Videos

Read this because it is a comparative analysis of how women are represented in a selection of music videos by Hip Hop Pantsula, Slikour and Zuluboy – artists who have been recognised as making music that acknowledges the disparities in society and would therefore be assumed to portray women in a progressive manner.

Nyirenda, Zgagula (2014) “Analysis of gender construction in South African hip-hop music and videos”. MA Thesis. Read it here.

Please note that some of these articles may be difficult to access. Please try to log in to your institution of higher education or consider signing up to the sites to read the work.

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#ComeSeeMe: Youth Day Roundtable

Technically, you won’t be “coming” to see me because you’ll be viewing me from your couch. I’ll be on 1Magic (DStv channel 103) on Friday, 15 June at 19.00. I’ll be in conversation with Sho Madjozi, Sjava and Frypan/Mpumelelo about the state of youth in our country. Tune in!

‘Mpumi’s Magic Beads’ has a new publisher.

Do you see this image? Mpumi’s Magic Beads is being translated into all of our South African languages and it will become widely available from August, September and October. You’re welcome to pre-order: here.

Even this moment starts with a story and I have to tell it because I have been smiling to myself when I think about how all of this came to be. It was a hot Saturday in December. My friend Lisa had invited me to her other friend’s house in Morningside for a day party. It was fabulous. Our hosts, some lovely Ghanaian men, prepared West African food in the kitchen while we women sipped on bubbles and shared good conversation. Later that evening, Shaka, whose acquaintance I had made before, arrived and we got to talking about my children’s book. He told me that his family owned a publishing house and that he’d put me in contact with them. I was still quite set in my desire to continue to self-publish but I also believe in the importance of allowing opportunity in, so I thanked him.

Thank goodness for that. Self-publishing has been an interesting journey. Would you believe me if I told you that producing the book is the easy part? The challenge comes when other people become involved and your expectation for common decency to be common is sorely disappointed. (When the legal proceedings are done, remind me to tell you about how unethical your fave is.)

I love everything I do as a baby Anthropologist and poet and a student and I would never want my literary and imaginative work to suffer because business admin in this particular path is sucking the joy out of me. So, after a good run with Thank You Books that had me taking the steps to conquer my doubts and do what truly makes me happy, I am ready to hand my baby off to David Philip Publishers/ New Africa Books! I’m excited to see how this dream will be nurtured by capable hands who have been giving worlds to children for much longer than I have.

I appreciate all of the support you have given me throughout this time. I hope you all go over to www.newafricabooks.com to place your orders and keep this dream growing and glowing for me but, most importantly, for little readers everywhere.

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Thank you, Lisa. Thank you, Shaka. Thank you, Dusanka.