In a couple of hours Young Fathers will have their first concert in Africa. ABC caught up with them at a conference yesterday, where they spoke about their impression of the South African music scene, their complicated yet surprisingly simple musical identity, and the controversial title of their new album: White Men Are Black Men Too.
WeHeartBeat, Assembly Radio and the British Council brought the YF’s over as part of a cultural exchange program, but these guys say that South Africa is already a place they look to for new music. Proffering a huge compliment that SA is “artistically one of the most forward thinking countries”. They mention inspirations off the top of their heads like Mujava, Mafikizolo, Professor, Oskido and Dj Vetkuk. A collaboration has already been done with three people from Durban, and they say they are thinking about collaborating with many more South Africans, but don’t want to drop names.
After the get together with the media reps they went to perform in Soweto, which is one of the places they said they were looking forward to visit.
When asked about their main objective in South Africa, Alloysious excitedly shares, “I wana see them mixing black and white people together.” They also reflect on their own diversity, “Look at us. We’re a living testament that different cultures can make something.” They speak candidly about how remaining fixed in a cultural niche becomes a hindrance that limits people, something which they consider themselves a voice against.
The title White Men Are Black Men Too comes up, and the group elucidate its origin from one of Alloysious’s raps, “it seemed to metaphorically say that the world is not a simple place that you can divide into black and white..”
I asked them if they have considered the phrase in a South African context, and if they would share any such significant meaning with us.
Graham responded immediately, ‘”We are pretty much aware that our experiences differ and can’t comment on what’s going on here because we don’t live here”.
“Music is traveling now, so when you see that title it might spark an idea or spark some knowledge. That’s the power of music” Alloysious added. They proceeded to collectively clarify it as addressing a ” global issue, its a conversation that needs to be had, and everywhere is going to be different… its focusing on the positive side ‘coz its a world issue.” They further explicated that they could not take any half measures with the statement as, “if people are not talking about it then it probably hasn’t served its purpose. ”
After this dialogue about their process and wishes for the title, they decided to bring me in the conversation through some classic reverse psychology, “How does that make you feel?”
My first response was to restate the question and emphasize that due to our past with a segregationist government- that South Africa presented an antithesis to their statement- but that I understood that art forms can transcend basic reality, and I was interested to find out if there’s anything they might want to share with us. At this point I needed a reclining chair with my three shrinks, “Yea, but how does this make you feel?”
“What the White Men…” I receive nods of ‘go on’ approvals, and decided to take the opportunity to to explain that well I get their conceptual aim to express equality, in SA there is an embedded racial inequality as we are still fresh in our ‘democracy’, and its important that we first learn to be aware of equality structurally and functionally, as opposed to idealistically.
Graham answered in a very solemn tone, “I think we are definitely not blind to the fact that the world is not equal. That actually was one of the strongest reasons for having the title- To get people to talk because it’s not equal. We are not trying to say this is a blanket statement, ‘The world is equal’, we are saying this because it is not, and we want people to talk about it so it can get better.”
A theme presented itself in the interview; they were challenging simplicity with a more heart-felt, and therefore more complex form of simplicity. It seems to be a reflection of how they see themselves in the music industry, “We call ourselves a pop group even though some people see us as some left field, strange group- we didn’t believe that that should be kept in its corner… TV and radio always influence the masses, and we don’t agree with them keeping it a kinda very linear thing. We want/think it should represent everybody- so they should make a time for things that are maybe a bit strange and maybe not so simple… The media has a responsibility… that’s why we call ourselves a pop group because we want to be in there with everybody else even though we’re a bit weird..”
The interview ended on an insightful note as they explained that pop music is the hardest music for them to make as it requires the “balance of so many things”, and even if you get everything “right”, it does not mean that people will gravitate towards it- which is, I’m supposing, an ultimate measure of success.
S/O to Young Fathers for coming to visit and perform for us. And an ever bigger S/O to their good natures!
Look after them Cape Town! We’ll take care of them tonight!