Apartheid in my head

I have become an emotional person, a person whose days are rarely filled with laughter. Instead, I am confronted continually by an avalanche of grievances, of real, every day national and personal issues. My days are filled with stories of neglect, or crisis, of unsympathetic greed. My nights are filled with confrontations of my own creation; personal reprisals or guilt trips that weigh me down or choke me up. Yesterday I cried about an Apartheid atrocity, today I felt saddened by a South African song.

Having come to Johannesburg two months ago, I have been confronted by the real South Africa, the land I left behind when I was a naive eighteen-year-old. My world was an insulated racist mess, with me trying to break free from its confining narrow-mindedness. Then I went to university and made friends with black people. I thought that made me good. I thought that I had escaped the persecution of having been born during Apartheid, of having a family which contributed in its own small way. After learning to criticise my every thought, I then spent three years in a blissful first world city, geographically separated internally and externally from the crying, fighting, dying nation.

But, now I know that Cape Town is a dream land. I struggled to make friends, because everyone is trying to avoid everyone else. They are not willing to expand their worlds beyond what they know. Because what they know is safe.

I was safe until I had to integrate, until I had to confront my own life and learn from my own Apartheid. I had created Apartheid in my head, apart from the reality of poverty, of crime and fear. I had not made black friends, just acquaintances. I had not made concessions, or given enough or sacrificed enough. But now I don’t know if I can take any of those actions, compromising myself in the process. I don’t know if I can leave my cushy, learned office on the 16th floor of a building that overlooks this reality and walk out into the street and really be there in mind, spirit and body.

I am scared of what I might find there – the same life that many South Africans live. This reality of this country is that millions of its inhabitants live a life of desperation and fear. And I am their enemy.





The revival of Janis

The female singer-songwriter has been attempted so often. Yawn. It was perfected 40 years ago; think Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez. It was perfected again 20 years later; think Alanis Morrisette, Tori Amos and Tracy Chapman. These ladies, and others, have been an inspiration to feminists and non-feminists alike. So why do some local musicians think that they can do better? Sometimes I wonder if, in a male dominated music industry, local women feel that they are limited to certain genres of music; namely folk. Surely not? With women dominating international stages at rock and metal festivals, the doors for women are open to all kinds of weird and wonderful musical opportunities.

Meri Kenaz (c) C. Hahndiek

As South Africans we have unique subject matter to bring to the table. We also have a variety of really great female artists. Within the rock/folk sector we have the talents of Wendy Oldfield, Karen Zoid and Louise Carver (to name a few of the better known artists). Recently I have had the pleasure of seeing two unknown local musicians, both in Cape Town; Meri Kenaz and Natalie Lucia. I may be branching a little from the true concept of the singer-songwriter*, but these women all front and maintain the image of their respective bands.

The reason why I mention the latter two musicians is because they have both fascinated me in different ways. Meri not only has a unique and well-developed vocal style, she is also very proficient on guitar. Mostly, her unassuming and generous presence on stage makes you enjoy engaging with her music. Natalie is beautiful to listen to and to watch. She gives everything of herself to her music, all the strength and passion she can muster, which leaves her exhausted after a gig. She is also not afraid to venture into dark places, which I greatly admire. Watching her inspires a whole array of different feelings within you.

I have seen so many mediocre offerings by women who think that a pretty voice is enough to keep you interested; as is the universal subject matter of love and relationships. This is not true of today. Audiences are looking for more and better. A unique voice, talented songwriting, intelligent and thought-provoking lyrics that say something different, a person being their true self; this is what I am looking for. Enough crooning – I want a woman to open her eyes and captivate me.

* A person “who writes, composes and sings their own material” (Wikipedia)