Crixeo: South African Artists
South African Artists You Need to Know
“Please, people of the world,” cried Wara Zintwana, “bring instruments to Africa. We don’t want arms and cheap clothes. We want instruments. Music instruments.” He holds up his guitar with pride. “This is my gun.”
His bandmate, a gifted guitarist named Ongx Mona, explains how he angered his churchgoing father by choosing a guitar over the Bible. He jokes with the white filmmaker of The Creators: South Africa Through the Eyes of Its Artists, “Do you know what your people did to I? They came with their Bible and said, ‘Kneel down, close your eyes and pray!’ We closed our eyes, we prayed, and when we opened our eyes, all of our land was stolen!”
After winning a recording deal with a local label, Ongx hoped he could escape a life in the slums, but the studio never released the album. Now he sings on trains and in shacks, hoping to get a lucky break. He says, “I never thought that I would be sleeping in a place where a dog sleeps.” But even in his shack, he continues to dream of a life on the other side of the ghettos, where people speak English and demonstrate their success with shiny cars and well-built houses.
And while it’s true that the white population of South Africa, which makes up a small minority, enjoys the same high living standards of many Western countries — and certainly the highest living standards in Africa — the Black communities are living in obscene poverty as a result of centuries marred by land and racial disputes. To this day, roughly a quarter of the population — mostly non-white, indigenous people — live on a mere $1.25 USD a day. And in such a tense atmosphere, torn apart by gang violence, income inequality and racism, it’s very difficult to find anyartists who are successfully producing original work.
Ongx and Wara blame the inferiority complex that has been ingrained in native South Africans since the days of the East India Trading Company, which brought Dutch and British explorers seeking to claim the land as their own. This situation escalated even further when, in the late 1800s, gold and diamonds were discovered to be plentiful in the region. As a result, the wealthy white minority fought to maintain control over these valuable natural resources, pushing the poor majority into the slums.
Then in 1948, South Africa experienced one of the worst acts of institutionalized racism in recent history: the infamous apartheid installed by The National Party, who called it “a policy of good neighborliness.” In actuality, it meant that all people were classified into three separate races, each with separate rights available to them. Art and music were censored, and gangs rose to power in the slums. Despite apartheid ending in the 1990s, the effects can be felt to this day, which is what initially attracted American filmmaker Laura Gamse.