All photos by Synthia Bahati
It was 2008, just before the bell for morning tea rang, when I dropped down, squatted and flashed my fingers in front of my knees. I was giving my Year 10 dance class project presentation to Ms Thompson and the rest of the class and my dance of choice was the ‘Hot Wuk’ popularised by dancehall artist Mr Vegas.
I was obsessed with dancehall culture, from the queens to the dance styles to the inhibited freedom that wells from deep within and comes bursting forth with each rhythm. There wasn’t a video of Dancehall Queen Shisha and her dance crew Why Dem Faya that I hadn’t memorised, from the ‘Willy Bounce’ to Tony Matterhorn’s ‘Dutty Wine’.
There was something I felt as my hips gyrated to ‘Love is Wicked’, it was a window into a world I felt cut off from. A world not too distant from what I had grown up with, the understanding that dance and movement is as vital to life as breathing. I yearned to be in the spaces I saw on my screen, to be listening to music that felt familiar and to be around people that looked like me and understood me.
In those days, nights consisted of house parties where sound systems would be set up in the lounge, couches pushed to the side and speakers scattered on window sills around the room. The bass of the latest riddims would bounce off the wall, mashed up with some old school flavours and whatever music the boys were getting through WhatsApp from back home. Some of the sweatiest nights I will never forget were in Onehunga at a spot known as Gaza, named to pay homage to all things Beenie Man, Vybz Kartel and Spice.
Away from these spaces, I would flick through magazines, libraries and bookstores and there was a certain void staring back at me. At the time, my father’s Pan-African philosophies were too much for me and I couldn’t see the parallels of what he was preaching and what I now embody. While my family isn't short of our migration tales of survival, losses, settling and everything that comes with being far from home, one of the things my folks did was share books, stories, music and narratives of Black people.
Naturally when my internet usage transitioned from My Scene to Myspace, MSN, Bebo and YouTube, I sought blogs, music and content that connected me to reflections of myself. It was comforting to have somewhere to run to when real life deemed you invisible.
Often I wondered if I existed or if I was an illusion due to this ever present inevitable dismissal of your existence. From what you see and don’t see on TV, magazines, content, education to the walk to your local dairy down the road and in people’s eyes when you walk into restaurants, parks or your place of work. It’s what Toni Morrison in Bluest Eye referred to as “the total absence of human recognition and the glazed separateness” behind the plastered smiles. Not much has changed in that regard, but I digress.
As I told the class about the importance of maintaining balance, a straight spine, chest out and acceptance of everything you are, I presented the second part of the project; a magazine called Pon Irie. It was about all things music and culture for people of African descent and celebration of our sounds. It was a massive nod to Afro-Caribbean culture, which I now regard as a term that does nothing to encompass the vast gloriousness of our cultures and sounds.
There is something about ngoma (the drum), when you hear the beat you can feel the vibrations verberate through you. That drum beat is the foundation and the root of all our sounds and these are the sounds that across millennia have connected us to the continent, to our heartbeat no matter how far away we are.
The beat and the sounds become the soundtrack to some of one’s best moments in life. After we moved to Wellington, I remember going back home to Zimbabwe for the first time and my cousins were thrashing Sean Paul’s ‘We be burnin’. The video was replayed over and over again until we mastered the dance.
On another trip back home in 2009, I vividly remember being introduced to Afropop. It was P Square’s ‘Do Me’ and it was an amalgamation and meeting of Black cultures, a Middle Eastern influence and techno-house. As a child of Southern Africa, my exposure to musical stylings from the continent were mainly Kwaito, House, Urban Grooves and Rhumba. With the continent being made of 54 countries and being the origin of people who have pioneered and influenced music and the arts globally, there’s a lot to tap into.
The expansiveness of the genres is why Half Queen, DJ and mother of Filth, fell in love with dancehall. “There’s so many genres packed within these sounds and there’s so much music coming out and in creating Filth, we wanted a space to play and hear music that we liked.”
It’s a Thursday morning and I’m having a Zoom date with JessB, Half Queen and Yordi. We’re chatting about the moment we realised we were in love with music and how that had an influence on the spaces we’ve created.
A couple of weeks prior to our conversation (and lockdown 2.0), I had been to Filth one weekend, hosted Afrodaze the next weekend, and nursed a hangover the next day while Yordi hosted her first Looped event. Thankfully, Auckland got to bump to some hip hop, RnB and mashups across all genres one more time before lockdown at the second edition of Looped, and I got to witness the birth of another night hosted by an African woman in Auckland.
There’s something historic to be said about four women creating and nurturing the spaces that we do while straddling the intersections that come with a host of barriers in an industry that’s made up of the old bro’s club.
Yordi smiles as she remembers her love for Sean Paul and how Rihanna’s arrival on the scene was life changing. “I always knew I wanted to host events and parties. I remember watching Rihanna’s Pon De Replay video and thinking the vibe of the club, how it was set up, the clothes and dancing was something I wanted to do. It’s still the vibe I aspire to have in a space.”
“My journey with my identity has always been tied with music,” JessB, musician and Filth’s other mother, says as the four of us come to the end of our Pon De Replay dance break. “When I started listening and participating in hip hop I was led to dancehall and Afrobeat.”
We both laugh as we remember how we overplayed Spice’s ‘So Mi Like It’ after the night we met headed to a Faf Swag Ball in 2017. “When it comes to Filth, it meets in the middle of two needs. A desire for a space to hear music that we like and a need for a queer space.”
As Jess and Half Queen reminisce about nights out in London at Boiler Room, a rave in Melbourne and party in LA, we all agree that a night out is a combination of the music and people you’re in attendance with.
I nod as Yordi speaks about the importance of being in a space that we’ve created for us. It reminds me of Afrodaze’s mood board: Fela Kuti’s Shrine and the musseques (townships). Spaces where music, its roots as a political, spiritual and connecting force, is celebrated.
It’s in these margins where all these sounds, spaces and I suppose, reflections and manifestations of ourselves come from. The genres of hip hop, dancehall, Afrobeat, Afropop, kwaito, amapiano, gqom, bashment and so on.
Our cultures, histories, stories, memories and ways of being neatly tucked in each beat, bar and note.
Of course as promoters, cultural curators and producers of sorts, we are aware of the dynamics and complexities that exist in the spaces that we create. Like really and truly, what does a safe space for our people look and feel like when our needs are varied, when our needs evolve as we evolve and when our spaces are bound to be infiltrated?
Our cultures, ways of lives and spaces are continuously appropriated, co-opted or reduced to “fun, edgy, trendy” without being regarded as the labours and realisations of love they are.
As we end our chat, we touch on the sustainability of the legacies we are building on. From memories of nights of Fela Kuti vinyls on Ponsonby Road 25+ years ago by AFFNZ chairman and Malian native Boubacar, to nights of kwaito on the fringes of Newmarket in the earlier 2000s according to a South African Aunty; Africa Sounds to ORIKoL and the nights at KFM in 2012 with Infrequent Flyer. Everything we do is done in-house and has always been done that way and as such, we need infrastructures that support what we do.
I end the meeting honoured to be in the company of three women as the iteration of the continuation of the legacy of the spaces we create for our people.
Structurally there’s work to be done to dismantle the barriers that limit the resources and access to opportunities we have. Thankfully, we come from people that have always made delectable tables bountiful and abundant for themselves, and we look forward to hosting more nights for our friends and communities.
Y’all should know by now we welcome any opportunity to dress up, whine and go down; it’s in our DNA.
Makanaka Tuwe is Afrodaze’s muvah and Sesa Mathlo Apothecary’s Nyaduri (Storyteller) and Herbalist. When she’s not telling stories, researching, teaching or doing the dutty whine she can be found infusing oils and playing with her sound bowls.
The next Afrodaze event is on November 6; buy tickets here. Listen to Makanaka's Afrodaze Fridaze playlist here: