HOW SANTU MOFOKENG’S PHOTOS SPEAK TO AN AFRICA FINDING ITSELF AWAY FROM A GLOOMY PAST PHASE

I was moved beyond capturable words when I came across Santu Mofokeng’s photography a few years ago. I had found my interest threading into the field of street photography, to capture moments which made up stories that could rather be fleeting experiences if not stored onto photographic memory. With time, I’ve paid attention to Santu’s journey and made several visits to his online galleries for inspiration, and also to disocver the connections that his stationary stories make with the past and present sociopolitical scene.

“Home is an appropriated space. It does not exist objectively in reality. The notion of ‘home’ is a fiction we create out of a need to belong.
Home is a place where most people have never been to and never will arrive at. Except, below that patch of mound that has a number you notice as you glide past on your way to nowhere anywhere.”

“Billboards capture and encapsulate ideology, the social, economic and political climate at any given time. Apartheid billboards were very austere […] The economic boom of the sixties introduced American style highway advertising billboards thus rendering Apartheid ideology anonymous and opaque. In the politically turbulent period of the ’70s and ’80 the overtly political billboards made their return. This time the struggle was for the hearts and minds of the populace. Recently, with the liberalization of politics the billboard is chiefly used to address the rising consumer culture and the anxiety caused by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. In the name of freedom of speech one’s cultural sensibility is assaulted by textual and visual messages.”

Santu’s style marks a perspective of poetry in a lane of its own. We see the depth therein and gap that a cultured lens devoid of the spoil of myriad mounts of technology’s vaults leaves the new school. Photography is one of the best methods of visual documentation, especially when it is done for a cause- in Santu’s case to echo the woes of apartheid. Black and white photography evokes a simple but sophisticated texture for the eyes to ponder and upon focus, it renders a poignant resource of crystallized lamina of awareness.

How does widespread easy access to technology and social media tools affect the art of photography? Old school Photographer Ken Van Sickle thinks; “Technology doesn’t change the way photography is. It makes it available to more people, which means there’s going to be much, much more really terrible pictures taken or pictures that are totally dependent on subject, which is all, all right. If you were there when the Hindenburg caught on fire, and you took a picture of it, that’s a great photograph. But you’re not a great photographer, because you can’t repeat that in everyday things.”

Santu makes a detour from prevalent themes and indulges in inquiries into spirituality, political landscapes, bodies under oppression due to subjected control, thus creating very sound and profound outputs. His interrogations analyse the broad meanings and possibilities of space and belonging as well as social encounters within these constructs. With politics of landscapes, he approaches the subject through angles of ownership, power and memory. We find Santu Mofokeng’s projects going beyond political and social commentary to realistic meditations into deconstructing borders or pollutants and reintroducing sanity.

Mofokeng’s most recent exhibitions include A Silent Solitude- Fondazione Fotografia Modena, Italy, Centro Municipal de Arte Hélio Oiticica- Rio de Janeiro and Between States of Emergency- Nelson Mandela Foundation, Johannesburg.

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NIGERIAN RAPPER MODENINE, ON BRAND UNIQUENESS & LONGEVITY IN THE AFRICAN HIP HOP MUSIC INDUSTRY

modeeBabatunde Olusegun Adewale, popularly known as Modenine the Polymaf, is the type of musical artiste immersed in the art of expertly cooking hip hop sounds officially as an outreach for the African youth with a talent that undoubtedly makes him a global voice. I spoke with Mode a couple of days ago and was impressed about how knowledgeably passionate he is aside his amazing content, especially in terms of ideas about what could make the bodies that promote good music in Africa more formidable and strategically productive. He’s the type you’d want to just pause and listen to, because he seems to have the answers to your subsequent questions on brand awareness and longevity in the African hip hop section.

Though I came across his music about a decade ago when Nigerian hip hop was simmering while Ghanaian artistes like Reggie Rockstone, Obrafuor, DJ Black and Lord Kenya were pushing the hip hop/hiplife envelope, I find his art evolving dynamically with the significantly spry African hip hop caravan. Talk of enthusiastic Naija acts like M.I., Phyno, Naeto C and Ice Prince holding their spots, you still find Mode projecting his views and garnering that respect he deserves due to dedication to brand uniqueness.

“I am a hip hop lover. I produce music myself but I am working with fresh minds in the sound engineering field. I don’t believe in artists who don’t believe in spending time in writing their music. That is disposable music. If I was still on radio, I wouldn’t play that. Hip hop is a competitive art. In America, the industry wants black people to sound like savages. It used to be ‘whips and chains’ till today, it’s still ‘whips and chains’.”

Presently with 8 hip hop albums to his name, the Lagos and Abuja-based artist maps his territory between the blurred gaps of survival, experimentation and playing a definitive role as an independent musician since he showed up with Paperback Time Records. Mode now kicks it with Redeye Muzik which he calls a “personal platform but not a label”. Before Redeye, he worked with Ostracon Records, then Question Mark Entertainment (2005 – 2008).

Though it was a humble beginning to be precise; working as a radio presenter and even pursuing a course in building tech at some point in time, now the artist can be seen waltzing it to the red carpet spaces sharing stages with the likes of Nas, T-Pain, LL Cool J, Junior Reed, Talib Kweli, Akon, Kanye, Wyclef, to mention a few. His feature on the Naija BET Cypher in 2011 shot him back in the limelight though he never left, and with 8 albums including Da Vinci Mode, Paradigm Shift, Above Ground Level, Malcolm IX, and now Insulin, he’s undoubtedly one of Nigeria’s hottest and the continent’s kings in the art.

Currently, Mode is working booth shifts with DJ Jimmy Jatt, and we see the musician cutting out new trends with the good old lyrical spaz, still putting Pidgin English in some of his lines and layered metaphors in most that could keep one abusing the repeat button for days. Mode chips in the detail that, we should look out for his connection with the fashion industry by way of UK soon.

I tell Mode I was bumping to his piece Politics and Lies way back in 2007, and he recommends I listen to The Sound on his latest album Insulin which was released on the 16th of August, 2016. This is the type of artist who doesn’t sit on the bench of comfort with the easy loop music vibe which has kidnapped the radio nowadays. He keeps coming with the boom bap rhythms but never forgets to pay attention to lyricism and I must confess the combo is heavenly. Insulin is 21-track LP packed!

The album opens with the track Insulin; a DJ Jimmy Jatt collab which has already aired its ravishing visuals:

Open Ur Eyes puts some hausa in the music ft Jeremiah Gyang. My Country with features by Amuta and Rockstar speaks to sociopolitical concerns the artist interrogates in Nigeria and beyond. No Matter What with Maka and Blind Man’s Symphony point at critics. Warriorz (Worry Us) has a reggae touch and is surely a club banger. Police is a poke at law-enforcement officers from Naija to SA. Nibo is a conscious outreach concept with saxophonist Mike Aremu. Other features like Tonie The Emperor, Holstar and Nuel put some depth in the music. International Emcee featuring Elom 20ce & DJ Raiko is a must listen. Bye Felicia brings the emotions docking in, though it is not your ‘everyday’ breakup song. Same Girl, Chapter Four, Bird Scheme and the rest make the album too good to be true.

We spoke about the impact hip hop music has had in Nigeria and vice versa and the artist disclosed the impact of sociopolitical divides and the problematic insurgence of the Boko Haram which has stalled the juicy performance market in Jos, where “hip hop is more respected than in Lagos or Abuja” but on the other hand, about the financing and promotion of the trade, Mode states that “businessmen in the West here run the game.” On Mode’s list of trendsetters, he mentions  and confesses his admiration for some Nigerian musicians, the likes of Patoranking, 2face, Banky W, Yemi Alade and Burna Boy, as well as Ghanaian acts Sarkodie, Jay Town, EL and QDL whose music he chanced upon a couple of years ago.

Though Mode is a Nigerian born in the UK, he is usually likened to an Afrobeat musician whenever he visits there or abroad generally, obviously because fans are a tad lazy or generally careless nowadays about finding out which tag goes to what content. As he kicks off a Euro Tour this September, the artist spends time promoting his new work (which is worth purchasing here) and writing a paper on 1989-2016 Nigerian Music. I’ll be posting the audio of our interview in a few days, so don’t forget to keep looking at this space to follow the interesting journey and good vibes!

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