The pop culture landscape, 2020

King Lutendo. Picture: Supplied
King Lutendo. Picture: Supplied

Every journalist has at some point found themselves starting an article with the following sentence: ‘Covid-19 has changed the world in so many ways.’ Hackneyed as it now is, this sentence is certainly true. So what’s happened to the arts, music and pop culture scene? Grethe Kemp interviewed two editors in the cultural space to get an idea of where we are


Firstly, how has your year been?

This year has been tricky at best. I think I, like many other people, channelled the majority of my energy into surviving ... into getting to the other side alive and unscathed. I’m not really thinking like that any more. I’ve lost friends. I’ve lost family. I’ve been in various stages of passive mourning and ambiguous loss.

I’m becoming more and more aware that there is no other side, no return to normal, no life like it was before. Everything we emerge into – those of us who will be lucky enough to – will be altered. So this year has been a difficult initiation, with many hard lessons. An initiation into what? I don’t know yet. All I know is that there is no other side, and there’s some kind of strange comfort in that.

Tell us a bit about Arts24, which News24 launched this year, and your vision for the section. Has lockdown increased or decreased your readership?

I started at Arts24 in April, just a few days after the lockdown had been announced. We didn’t even have a site then, and there was a lot of anxiety around that, you know?

News24 had never had any arts pages before. I had not worked in mainstream media for a long time. Also, there were no shows, no exhibitions. The art world was trying to figure out what to do and scrambling for attention in the same digitised spaces it had shunned for decades.

My first interview was with JiaJia Fei, who left a job at the Jewish Museum quite timeously to open the world’s first digital arts consultancy. This was just weeks before [the Covid-19 pandemic] rocked the world and changed our relationships with basically everything. My primary concern then was how to speak about art without the art, without the shows, without the people.

I had a conversation with a friend, independent curator Kabelo Malatsie, which really helped ground me. She reminded me that art was not about the object; it’s the ideas. And the ideas haven’t gone anywhere.

With Arts24, we want to take a nuanced approach that kind of cuts through the noise and resists ahistoricity. Take big ideas and break them down, remove the clunky and intimidating words and ways of speaking that arts writing hides behind. In the past month, we grew by more than 40%, with 80% of our content behind a paywall, so I think it means our approach is working.

At #Trending, we’re all about spotting trends. Have you seen any big art movements or moments this year? Or artists whom you think deserve attention?

It’s a tough time to gauge that. I’m not much of a trend watcher. I’m realising that a lot of people were producing work – so much art, so many books, so much music – but nothing really stuck. Things just kind of flew past us. And I think it’s got to do with how social context provides meaning and gravity. Without people, without the aspect of community, the things were just things.

I’m always looking, and right now I’m loving Helena Uambembe, who makes complex work looking at war, displacement and generational trauma. Uambembe is from Pomfret, an atrophied North West community of former 32 Battalion soldiers of Angolan heritage, many of whom settled with their families close to the army base there around the end of the South African Border War in 1990.

Rivals to the People’s Armed Forces of Liberation of Angola, which emerged victorious in the Angolan War of Independence, these soldiers first fled to Namibia [then called South West Africa]. Rootless, they were recruited by the apartheid South African government to fight independence efforts here. After Namibia won its independence, the soldiers were moved to South Africa, where they manned the country’s borders and later violently policed its townships during the end of apartheid.

Having fought on the side of the previous South African government against their own countrymen and against black South Africans, the Angolan soldiers of the 32 Battalion could neither return home nor integrate into South African communities. When the unit was disbanded, a number of soldiers opted to stay in Pomfret. The army base was soon shut down and most basic services followed suit, leaving the town unsupported and decaying.

In terms of arts coverage, what do you think is going wrong and what do you wish would change?

I think everything has its own lane and, ultimately, there are a number of approaches and they’re valid – sometimes.

Personally, though, I’m tired of everything sounding the same. I think that, instead of writing to develop ideas and language, we’re in a phase of writing to knock people over the head with our own sense of importance – ‘These are all the big words I know’ – and because we’re just writing to impress other writers/people within the arts space, the writing has become homogenised and inaccessible, and really boring.

I’m grateful to be working with writers who aren’t intimidated by playfulness and curiosity.

What are you watching, reading or listening to at the moment?

I’m reading Reincarnating Marechera: Notes On a Speculative Archive by Tinashe Mushakavanhu. Tinashe and this book do so much to make Marechera human. None of that hypermasculine praise of his excesses. Here, Marechera is a human, a brother, a writer, a lover. Tinashe is a god with his pen.


Firstly, how has your year been?

Well, despite all the bad stuff that’s been happening, not just in South Africa but around the world, my year has actually been progressive professionally. Having to adapt to a new way of life, work and play has unexpectedly been working out quite well. So I guess it’s weirdly been a good but challenging year thus far. Things could be worse, so I’m thankful every day.

How are things going at Hype? Has Covid-19 increased or decreased your readership?

Interestingly enough, the Covid-19 situation didn’t really affect the Hype brand that much. Yes, when lockdown started, we were restricted physically and couldn’t tell stories through shoots or videography, but since we had started investing in our digital space [after Hype prints stopped] long before Covid-19, in a way we have been more efficient with maintaining some good online traffic to the site.

I honestly felt a responsibility to ensure that people received fresh local music and cultural content as a means of continuing the brand’s progressiveness as a supportive hub to our fellow artists, friends and creatives. The numbers have gone up, thanks to the team.

At #Trending, we’re all about trend spotting. Do you feel there are certain trends emerging in the local hip-hop scene or even globally?

I wouldn’t necessarily say trend, but rather a need – a need for purposeful storytelling. Globally, trends switch up quickly and that could be hard to keep up with, but I’m more interested in how our local hip-hop scene is growing purposefully. I’m starting to come across emerging artists who understand that, as much as there will always be a need for entertainment within hip-hop, there will forever be a silent demand to educate, inspire or uplift with the music that they make. An artist’s purpose is what attracts my ear, but maybe that’s just me.

How do you feel about the local scene at the moment? What’s good? Is there anything you wish could change?

This answer might relate to the previous one, but the good would be that there’s a willingness to succeed and go beyond within the local scene. Just look at Nasty C, right?

What I wish I could change would be the desires that the people operating within the scene have. There’s a huge demand to live fast lives and immediately pursue sometimes unrealistic material wants, especially among the younger group. I’m not saying to want all that is a bad thing; all I’m saying is that I wish people would create with progressive or positive intentions socially, mentally and spiritually. I just wish people cared more about things other than materials.

Who should we all be adding to our playlist right now?

Damn! There’s a bunch of people I listen to, but focusing specifically on South Africa, you have to add the likes of LEO, King Lutendo, Mass the Difference, Nalu, Costa Titch, Indigo Stella, Nyota Parker, Una Rams, Naye Ayla, Rowlene... There are so many others I’ll probably regret not mentioning here.


Grethe Kemp 

Lifestyle editor

+27 11 713 9001
69 Kingsway Rd, Auckland Park

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