When W Magazine Went to Johannesburg

They used the same examples every trendy Western fashion or pop culture publication do, when they run special issues on South Africa.

Lindani Buthelezi of BLK JKS in 2010. By Christoph Lenz, via Flickr CC.

Praise be to W magazine for its vanguardism! They have finally and single-handedly put the rest of the world on to how hip, cosmopolitan, and modern the city of Johannesburg truly is. At long last someone has acknowledged the existence of a “multiracial creative class utopia” in downtown Johannesburg. The city is even home to those most crucial indicators of modernity and civilization: hipsters! Who knew?! And best of all, people do not have to be quite as concerned for their personal safety in Johannesburg any longer since crime is not quite as bad as it used to be (even though “one does not feel particularly safe walking” in the city – nonetheless, it’s not really that bad. I promise!).

But wait a minute. The article keeps mentioning a group of young fashionistas calling themselves the Smarteez; a South African indie band known as BLK JKS; and the rap-rave internet phenomenon, Die Antwoord. This is all sounding vaguely familiar. These are the same examples that every trendy Western fashion or pop culture publication has been using for the past several years now, whenever they run special pieces on South Africa.

Not to toot our own horn or anything, but we first talked about the Smarteez back in 2009, in the blog’s earlier incarnation, Leo Africanus. Then, last year, the ‘video magazine,’ Stocktown, published a short documentary on the group, which has been around for something like seven years already. As for BLK JKS, it would be hard to forget how they had American hipster blog The Fader drooling all over them in the run-up to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. And the same goes for Die Antwoord and the well-known American music site Pitchfork after the (Capetonian!) group’s music videos were featured on the uber-blog, Boing Boing.

Isn’t it time for Western taste-making outlets to ‘discover’ some new South African creative darlings to present as evidence of the country’s (as well as of their own) hipness? Moreover, bands like Die Antwoord and BLK JKS really were only culturally relevant within specific South African niches two years ago, so what makes a publication like W magazine think they would be any more relevant now? They remain South African culture and music for export (much like Spoek Mathambo or Dirty Paraffin). This is not to say that these musicians are making bad music, but I guarantee that if you were to go around Johannesburg asking young people if they liked the BLK JKS, quite a few would wonder who the BLK JKS are.

How about all the great and wildly popular house and kwaito music being produced throughout the country? Musicians like Black Coffee and Zakes Bantwini (members of the South African label, Soulistic Music) are putting out some great ‘deep house’ and slowly beginning to chip away at the global dominance of European and American house acts like Louie Vega and Quentin Harris. Then there are artists like DJ Sbu, Professor, and Shota who are blurring the lines between house and kwaito. In another realm altogether, there are neo-soul and R&B acts like the lovely Zahara, the immensely successful Mi Casa, or the young up-and-coming crooners, The Muffinz. These musicians may not fit the standard hipster mold, but they are certainly hip, cosmopolitan, and creative. It’s a shame that so many fashion and pop culture publications with American readerships are stuck in this groove, writing about the same things for years at a time, whenever their focus is on how cool and stylish South Africans are.

Further Reading

Edson in Accra

It happened in 1969. But just how did he world’s greatest, richest and most sought-after footballer at the time, end up in Ghana?

The dreamer

As Africa’s first filmmakers made their unique steps in Africanizing cinema, few were as bold as Djibril Diop Mambéty who employed cinema to service his dreams.

Socialismo pink

A solidariedade socialista na Angola e Moçambique pós-coloniais tornou as pessoas queer invisíveis. Revisitar esse apagamento nos ajuda a reinventar a libertação de forma legítima.