Back to the City 2012

A look into the past and the present

It is April 27, 1994, a slight cold wind blows about in the presence of a lukewarm sun. Wounded and resentful South Africans form millipede-like-queues outside voting stations. Young unblemished faces with dreams etched into their lambent skin, and old wrinkled faces with resentment etched into their dry skins, both systematically queued to cast their votes and divorce themselves from Apartheid.  Altogether 19,726,579 votes were counted and 193,081 were rejected as invalid. The ANC however fell short of the two-thirds majority. As required by the Interim Constitution, the ANC formed a Government of National Unity; the ANC formed a government with the National Party and the Inkatha Freedom Party.

The date is now a public holiday in South Africa. It has since been clothed with a heavy name, Freedom Day. Several joyful events fall on this day to honour it. None of these events can be see in isolation from Freedom Day or they will be as weekend drunken revelries in clubs are, only debauchery exhibitions.

One cannot help remember this potent past when attending the Back to the City festival which is all but a political statement from the youth. It takes place on Freedom Day on Henry Nxumalo Street; named after the infamous photographer from the Apartheid era.

On that fateful Friday morning, in behaviour and intent the Festival partygoers appeared offspring of 27th April 1994 voters. They formed millipede-like-queues as the 1994 voters had done, the youthful crowd eager to get to the ticket gate and let their heads loose to the music. Unlike 19 years ago, on this 27th of April the youthful crowd’s face had idyllic expressions etched into their skins. The queues turned corners around Newtown buildings, slowly making its way to the ticket gate. Their blood still warm, bones still strong, they appeared the type to stand for hours to get what they want; cigarettes, zol, bubbly smoke already drawing memories of the day in the open sky.

The festival got weaving at 10am with a seminar held at Museum Africa. The topic was an apt one, ‘Digital Era in Music’ but turned more into a discussion about ‘South African music artists being too influenced by American’. Well-founded points were made but none worthy of pondering upon for they have been repeated into boredom. Unanimity was reached however, owing to Thapelo Mokoena’s (of Hunters Dry fame) sentiments. He punted one point, SA hip hop needs to be relevant to their societies. Simple unanimity but complexities triple it. Morale’s pronunciation is undoubtedly very American but over 100 people followed him on Twitter after the ‘girlfriend’ song was played on Live. That 100+ group deemed his word pronunciation relevant. The sounding American issue is complex and mind numbing. Leave each to himself/ herself on this one.

The lineup of artists, DJs, and dancers was insane, so to speak. Concrete built bridges between heads and heaven, its sombre dense shade creating an ambience fit for conscious minds. The venue slightly descending from the beer enclosed den to the DJ/ dance stage to the main stage. Hogging the only entrance to the venue were the BMX and skater zones.

Hymphatic Thabs’ performance was followed by Robo “the technician”. Need more be said? HHP killed it with his precise flowing performance. ‘Bosso kemang’ proved a more familiar hit than the rest of his songs. It is however, the least dope track on a hugely potent album by HHP. Zakwe was the last to be on the stage. His performance was nothing different from the CD, disappointingly. No live-stage element. Red Button had the crowd licking his palm. Pro (kid) rose above the sound hiccups and gave an amazing set. Die Antwoord killed it when they filled AKA’s abrupt cancellation.  Hip hop veterans, Amu, Selwyn, Wikid and Optical Illusion blessed the crowd with performances as well. By far, the DJ stage was the place where all heads found refuge. The DJs held it down on the night.

This was all to celebrate Freedom Day and honour those who died for our liberation. The freedom was present in the weird fashion sense and the insane bopping to the music and the integration of mixed races. One hopes the Back to the City partygoers are well versed in the history of the day. Ignorance is not a liberty the SA youth can afford, not on Freedom Day.
Into the night, time went. Into surrealistic visions, heads went. Then the end came. Coming too soon if people’s reluctance to leave is to be taken into account. It was an amazing night to celebrate Freedom Day.

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Myolisi Sikupela

Image credit: Flo Mokale

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