Dashiki ­Dialogues: The meaning of dashiki

2013-10-22 10:00

Here’s is a quick take on the meaning of ‘dashiki’, the word that gives this soapbox its name. Apart from the word itself, this is also a catch-up chat about the ideas behind the rap rants we’ve come to call the Dashiki ­Dialogues.

This is because many regular readers keep asking for an explanation of what it all means. As a way of starting, it’s useful to acknowledge that a dashiki is the colourful men’s garment widely worn by pan-African types. It’s colloquially simply called “tradition”.

The poetics therefore suggest that to wear a dashiki is to drape yourself in tradition.

This choice of name is not mere deep posturing on the part of this scribe. I must remind you that I was born and raised in Ga-Rankuwa.

This is the township to the northwest of the city of Tshwane. It’s the cross-border neighbourhood that marked the end of the old central South Africa and the beginning of the old Bophuthatswana.

There’s a whole history of political and cultural activism in Ga-Rankuwa that, as a child, I was taught to revere. It is working class centred and left leaning. It is always artful and jealously puts a love supreme at the centre of its resilient charge through the miles of time.

Central to that heritage is a band of jazz men and poets who were also painters. The band was called Dashiki and was formed by Lefifi Tladi, Rantobeng Mokou, Gilbert Mabale and Laurence Moloisi in 1969.

It was renamed from the Malombo Jazz Messengers. They were at the time aligning themselves with their immediate elders, The Malombo Jazz Makers and The Malombo Jazzmen, which included Philip Tabane, Abbey Cindi, Julian Bahula, Lucky Ranku, Gabriel “Mabi” Thobejane, Oupa Monareng, Fish Phale and Raymond Motau.

This constellation of creative genius was spread out across the Pretoria area into other townships like Mamelodi.

There, the late Geoff Mphakathi provided guidance to the youthful fire of this lot. Hence visual artists like the now departed Motlhabane Mashiangwako, as well as Joburg-based artists Fikile Magadlela, Dikobe Martins, Cyril Kumalo and the late Winston Saoli, came to make the circle bigger.

Their spirit of community work through art as a force against repression was, of course, part of the black consciousness movement at the time.

The likes of Steve Biko would travel to Ga-Rankuwa and Mabopane to engage the likes of Lefifi ­Tladi on the usefulness of art in the struggle against apartheid.

Many of these had already gone chest first into the barbed wires at the border towards exile when I was born.

I see myself as an heir to their tradition. I named this column to align myself with their efforts. Hence theirs is the dashiki we don when we indulge in our weekly dialogues.

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