Sights and Sounds: Johannesburg on Africa Day
Johannesburg is a lovely place to be right now. “Winter” consists of 70 – 80 degree days and 40-50 degree nights and the sun is always out. I have yet to put on a coat. This past Saturday was Africa Day, so there was a lot going on around town.
I spent the afternoon with friends in Braamfontein – the part of downtown that is full of Wits University students and hipsters (I say without disdain or judgement) and good looking youths milling about with their friends outside Kitchener’s and Neighbourgoods Market. It is basically the portion of downtown that is most rapidly gentrifying in large part due to the vision of Adam Levy, a local guy with lots of inherited money who has gradually been implementing a vision “to make Johannesburg the Manhattan of South Africa.” This analogy-based vision has some serious flaws which I am not in a position to unpack. I will inquire with my friend/colleague who American/South African and studied Urban Development at Brown and then LSE for an elaboration (perhaps an article is somewhere to be found) as to why the vision of gentrification by any means is perhaps problematic. We saw Levy while drinking our cappuccinos and americano at the newly opened Father Coffee run by brunette men with beards, ray bans, and button-down shirts with Lamy pens tucked in at the chest. Levy looks like he belongs on a yacht, or in Sandton, the affluent Johannesburg suburb full of people who want to experience and flaunt their money in the clubs and malls.
I saw a spectacular exhibit of Gerard Sekoto‘s body of work at the Wits Art Museum sponsored by Merrill Lynch. Banks sponsor a lot of art in this country. He painted township life – farming, markets, shebeens, churches, women talking/shopping/cleaning, children playing – in Sophiatown, Johannesburg and District Six, Cape Town up until the mid 1940’s when he left the country to live in exile in Paris where he lived out the remainder of his life. The township paintings are spectacular portraits and scenes on relatively small canvases. He did a series of water color and ink of the Sharpeville Massacre (1960, so he didn’t see it first hand) that really got to me. Okay, I digress, but the point is the exhibit was amazing in large part because most of his work is part of private collections so his work being displayed together is kind of a big deal.
We spent the evening in Newtown which is where music, theater, and warehouse space for art shows are located. I went to a photography exhibit in which the subjects are Traditional Healers (or songomas) and there was a Q&A with the women in the photos. It was ridiculously educational and a weirdly alert vibe among the audience. I could have easily spent another hour listening to the healers answering the audience questions. I’m not a spiritual person but it was so interesting (intellectually and emotionally) to be immersed in the audience’s curiosity and the language of spirits and healing of these women.
We capped the night with a concert at Bassline (the major live music and DJ venue set in an old industrial area on the cusp of Newtown). There were musicians and bands from South Africa. Guy Buttery from Durban and Alhousseini Anivolla from Niger; the super energetic ensemble Tanga Pasi from Zimbabwe; Della Tamin from Cameroon who rocked the audience hard (I was somewhat unmoved but perhaps in part due to physical discomfort); and headliner Thandiswa Mazwai with her all-women band. I liked the openers and the headliners best and a couple of them have been playing solo shows in Joburg this week. The crowd felt like massive loft party and the sartorial urban-vintage-traditional mixing among both the men and women was a pleasure to absorb.
This weekend I am off to Parys for quiet, reading, and excellent company with work friends. There will be less to report but just as much richness I am sure.