Words: Angela Weickl & Ian McNair
Mainstream media platforms love to tout bold statements like “Africa is the future”.
Billboard charting artists collaborate with producers from across the continent, capitalising on the pioneering sounds emerging from all territories.
Yet somehow when artists and subcultures of the region secure the opportunity to be represented positively and (more pertinently) with accuracy, we are left disappointed far more often than affirmed.
Although South Africa has been spotlighted on several occasions for it’s various scenes and genres, we more often than not are misrepresented by either a lack of research or poor editing. On Monday 24 April, The Fader (often brilliant when covering what they know) published an article featuring an Applesap Festival campaign promoting the burgeoning hip hop scene in South Africa. The short read succinctly reveals that the writer skimmed the surface of their subject matter, while including the incorrect Soundcloud link for one of the featured artists, mischaracterising the images as representative of South African hip hop as a whole (all artists are Cape Town-based), as well as identifying an artist photo with the incorrect name. That last bit would be hilarious, if not so insulting, when you realise that the artist whose name was used, is pictured and correctly identified earlier in the article.
That said, the biggest issue with the article is undoubtedly the most damaging. An image featuring two hands with the words “Slew Dada” scrawled across the knuckles is an insult to the entire intention of this article by its inclusion.
The person whose knuckles are pictured is haphazardly featured in the same breath as Dope Saint Jude, an emergent icon in the South African hip hop community – as well as amongst the region’s queer-positive music movements. The problem here is that Slew Dada is an unashamed, unapologetic bigot who has openly discriminated against and denigrated Saint Jude specifically and the LGBTQIA community in general on all social media platforms.
Including the image of him in this feature is drenched in disrespect.
The demonstrated misunderstanding of the nuanced dynamics of the information tackled in the article illustrates the lack of contextual knowledge of the writer, and therein lies the problem.
Southern Africans are treated like we should be grateful for any international coverage the artists and subcultures of the region receives. That, and the idea that attention is beneficial – whether accurate or not – is toxic and disparaging to the growth and legitimacy that the players in the landscape are hard at work building.
The way South African music is perceived from an outside perspective directly affects the industry’s ability to sustain and nurture itself. In comparison to more developed countries and the global music industry as a whole, and in terms of building our post-Apartheid cultural conversation and an equitable arts industry, we are effectively in our infancy. A failure to instil confidence in the ground-breaking work being produced here every day at a grassroots level will perpetuate the latent stigma that our artists are not on par with an international standard. This in turn affects creativity and motivation – on the artist side as well as the management and support side.
All because someone on another continent was too lazy to fact check.
Would it be an unrealistic endeavour to hand the responsibility of features of this nature to writers who have more context than a brisk foray into Wikipedia? Is the integrity of the subject and the publisher of no concern? If that is the case then this entire exercise – of spotlighting artists from under-documented areas – is a facade shrouding empty, ill-considered intentions.
The story of a people, culture or industry should be told by someone who is both invested and immersed in the chosen subject, not by happenstance, disconnected and poor journalism from afar.
In short: enable the people embedded in a subculture to tell that subculture’s story.
[Publisher’s note: To their credit, the creators of the article imagery have since apologised and the offending image and incorrect labelling have been removed, limiting continued damage and fallout, but certainly not eliminating damage already done.
Added to that, we recognise the irony of a white writer making this observation in a region so often misrepresented by white writers, both local and foreign, but support the sentiment of the primary writer of this piece, who has more than proved herself as invested in the upliftment of the region’s electronic music worlds.]