Darkie Fiction

Darkie Fiction on Trying to Uncover the Workings of ‘Little America’

 

An Artist Profile written by Matthew Rightford:

 

I was lucky enough to see a relatively new and incredibly exciting South African duo called Darkie Fiction perform at this year’s Design Indaba Nightscape. They blew me away with a polished performance that was fun and positive while exuding a genuine coolness that was free of pretension. With a refreshingly accessible approach to live performance and equally accessible music centred on bubblegum nostalgia and kwaito, I remember thinking to myself: “Finally, new authentically South African pop music.” However, they went on to explain that many of the radio and TV platforms they approached in order to push their music told them that their sound was not commercial enough, which begs the question: How can we encourage artists to want to make authentic South African music if they’re only ever going to be considered as ‘alternative’ by the powers that be? Coincidentally, Darkie Fiction are currently producing a documentary for TRACE centred around this very question.

 

Based in Johannesburg, the duo consists of Yoza Mnyanda and Kuthulakwe-Nkosi Siboto aka Katt Daddy. Through both their visuals and music, ‘Selula’ for (a fantastic) example, Darkie Fiction is driven by nostalgia to tell their own stories, as well as the stories they grew up with. Mnyanda describes their upcoming debut EP, titled Sobabini (meaning “the two of us”) and out soon, as “a formal introduction to Darkie Fiction”.

 

Darkie Fiction

 

“It’s a bit of everything. It’s very suburbs-inspired, but also very kasi-inspired. A big thing about Darkie Fiction is that there’s this gap in South Africa between suburban black kids and location/kasi black kids. So Katt is more from the kasi side and I’m a very suburban black kid, so it’s also a merger of those two worlds. Like a shout out to everybody, you know? Because nowadays when you’re telling a black story, it’s usually the story of ‘I come from nothing’ or ‘I’m fine, my parents were shap, they made it out’ kind of thing – so ja, we’re trying to mix the two and bridge that gap.”

 

Katt adds eloquently: “We are here to change the game. We are here to bring back what is authentically South African. Sizophila grand sonke abo Darkie.”

 

The mission for their documentary for TRACE – out this August – was to uncover why there is still a strong tendency for large broadcasting platforms to favour Americanised sounds over authentically South African ones, and what could be done to shift this tendency. Yoza summed it up as follows: “What we’ve found is that it boils down to the compilers and producers of things in general. Because it still makes sense for them to play more Americanised music, then the generation they’re catering to becomes that music – it’s a vicious cycle. So it’s a matter of educating people on what authentic music is available to them because it’s often related more to ignorance than anything else. People have said things to us [about our music] like “This is what we’ve needed!”. That says a lot – people want more authentic South African music, but they don’t really know what that is or that it’s something they’re really going to enjoy. That’s why the internet is so great – you can create your own platform and bridge your own gaps.”

 

Darkie Fiction

 

I asked if they thought this shift in tastes to the more authentic is a particularly difficult undertaking in South Africa. Katt replied: “That’s a tough one because we can never really know without spending lots of time in other places, right? But what I can say is that it’s a problem that happens everywhere. I think it’s just that in places like America and the UK, they’ve been calling the bullshit out for a while which has lead to the development of infrastructure for niches or alternative scenes to thrive [and to then become considered more commercial]. So it’s a matter of time I guess, because they’ve been going for like 20 or 30 years now. In South Africa it’s a very recent question to ask, like ‘What are we actually listening to in South Africa?’ Also the question of ‘Why do we sound so American?’ – It’s very recent. The other thing is whenever you ask people in South Africa what music they listen to they usually go to hip-hop or house or gqom because it’s what they’re exposed to. People don’t necessarily research music beyond what they’re exposed to, so repetition on big platforms is also a huge element – people will naturally like a song if they hear it every time they turn on the radio or turn on MTV or whatever. So yeah, it also comes to people being kept ignorant to their options.”

 

Yoza adds to this by saying that their intention is not to play a blame game, but rather to create awareness: “We’ve also learnt that it’s not anyone’s fault, you know? There’s a system in place that needs tweaking. A South African rapping like an American is free to do that, like they must rap how they wanna rap, you know? We’re fed so much American culture that it’s only natural. But I guess the thing is helping people be aware of it, so that they can make an informed decision, you know?”

 

For now, because it is still a fairly recent phenomenon to ask some of the questions covered, it can make the undertaking of shifting perceptions seem overwhelming.

 

That said, when one considers some recent victories, we can see how constantly working to raise awareness is essential. Manthe Ribane, for example, was recently featured on the cover of ELLE magazine alongside Nonku Phiri and Rharha Nembhard and has worked with various brands like Nike and Moschino, but her music is never featured on radio. Here we see the internet’s potential to showcase authentic South African music, and how it can effectively be considered as commercial without the aid of mass broadcasting. In an even more convincing case, the past few years have seen gqom grow from a signature of the Durban underground to a national sensation.

 

Perhaps in South Africa it’s a matter of time, but also a matter of constant effort to push for the merging of the internet’s awareness-building with the reach of mainstream broadcasters, like TV and radio.

 

Darkie Fiction

 

Keep an eye out for Darkie Fiction’s debut EP, Sobabini, coming out soon as well as their documentary on TRACE which is being released in August.

Follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

 

Darkie Fiction

 

Article produced exclusively for The Jameson INDIE Channel by Platform Magazine Content Network

Words by Matthew Rightford.

Photography by Sivuyile Matsiliza of Pixel Kollective.

Styling by Name Your Convention.

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