A talk with Jane Penny, TOPS’s vocalist, at her home back in Montreal
Always been curious about the music scene in other cities outside your own little cocoon? We assumed you were! So we feed your hunger for insights and secrets in the Scene Report. This month we talked with photographers Nicholas Rawhani and Khanyesile Phahla, who’ll guide you through South Africa’s roughest metropolitan pearl, aka the city of Johannesburg – one worthy of its ‘true survivor’ descriptor, given its bloody Apartheid history.
The first thing you have to know about Johannesburg is that it’s known as the City of Gold. Not just because it was established on one of the world’s largest gold fields, but because it’s the economic hub of South Africa and perhaps even the entire African continent. It’s fast-paced, it’s energetic and it’s got a completely unique flavour. Nonetheless, Jo’burg is not as obviously beautiful as its sister Cape Town, but requires you to dig in and find out more. It’s a city that demands to be explored in all its diversity. There are people of every shape, colour and culture living here, and like any garden, the diversity of its flowers just makes it more beautiful.
In consequence, Johannesburg is host to countless artists and hustlers who are currently creating and imagining things that the world has never seen before, since their vision is the result of a cultural, political and ideological mishmash. We have pop-up stores next to World Heritage sites and photo shoots held in mine-dumps, which I think makes Jozie’s current artistic expression quite unique, seeing that it was founded in a long process towards freedom — a fact that requires not only celebration but also grieving and a lot of extra work all at the same time. This makes Johannesburg one of the most dangerous and exciting places to be in the world right now.
The thing about the scene in Jo’burg is that there are actually multiple scenes when it comes to music, arts and photography, since there’s a lot happening at the moment. There’s a great indie scene, for example, with musicians like Josh Kempen and – of course – an amazing Afro-soul scene with artists like Itai Hakim. Besides that, we have a lot of Afro hip hop and spoken word stuff from young artists like Sam Turpin – which relates to the strong culture of poetry in this city – and there are some already internationally renowned performance artists and acts going on – like, for example, The Brother Moves On. I feel like someone is always performing something somewhere in this city.
… the unique sight of a huge body of people openly sharing joints, jokes and anecdotes across the racial, social and economic divides
We also have a festival going on in Jo’burg, called the 4/20 festival. It’s a cannabis festival hosted by the Dagga Couple and everything about it is dedicated to all things weed-related. At 4/20 you can find a complete cross-section of South African society: from young to old, black to white, to all shades in between. There’s always that unmistakable odour of the herb in the ’hood from early on, setting the tone for the unique sight of a huge body of people openly sharing joints, jokes and anecdotes across the racial, social and economic divides. Another festival – outside of Johannesburg but worthwhile mentioning nonetheless – is Oppikoppi, adored by everyone in South Africa. It’s in Limpopo and there are all kinds of acts from jazz, world music, house music, acoustic things, to comedy and everything else in between.
When it comes to non-music related scenes, there are quite a few young people starting their own clothing brands nowadays and some incredible visual artists popping up everywhere. South African street culture is ever-expanding, and groups like BoyznBucks are doing a great job innovating that particular scene. I know it might seem like I’m inflating this, but I’m really not. We’re a city of people hustling and expressing ourselves in ways that weren’t there before. The photography scene, for example, is even more diverse and widespread. Subsequently, a lot of local photographers have made it their mission to show the world that Africa – and more specifically, South Africa – is nothing like we are or have been portrayed as. An example of this is a photography collective from Soweto called I See A Different You, portraying South Africa as they see fit.
As for places to go, Jo’burg has some really diverse venues. There are at least three central business districts and a whole load of cultural centres – think Mellville, Parkhurst, Newtown, Linden, Rosebank, Arts on Main and Braamfontein. Nonetheless, my favourite area to be right now is without a doubt the inner city. There is so much happening there at the moment in terms of city development and so much progress in terms of the arts, the city centre is buzzing and the buzz is expanding. There are art shows at the Kalashnikovv Gallery in Braamfontein or at the Wits Art Museum, live music and DJs at Kitchener’s bar, as well as an enormous amount of other parties and events that are being held all around the city. The thing that I really like about Jo’burg is that people aren’t lazy with their events. I’m always going to parts of the city I’ve never been to before because somebody is having some event in an old train station or a derelict post office or something. It’s a super-cool vibe.
… what is currently coming out of Jo’burg is so unique and nascent, I feel like if it’s allowed to grow it’s going to become incredibly influential.
Putting all of this together, the completely unique feel that Johannesburg is producing right now, that grungy and truthful mirror to a developing and yet developed, peaceful and yet warring, frustrated and out-of-place reality is what has been developing in this city while we as a country were challenged with our own adolescence. I mean, South Africa is only 21 years old right now, and what is currently coming out of Jo’burg is so unique and nascent, I feel like if it’s allowed to grow it’s going to become incredibly influential.
Places: The Whippet in Linden, Father Coffee in Braamfontein, Arts on Main, The Bioscope, The Maboneng Precinct, Kitchener’s, Wits Art Museum, Kalashnikovv Gallery, Pata Pata
Music: Bambatha Jones, Moonchild, The Brother Moves On, Josh Kempen, Itai Hakim, Sam Turpin, The Muffinz, The Soil