Braamfontein: Jozi's epicentre of indigenous cool

06 September 2015 - 02:00 By Lwandile Fikeni

Capetonian Lwandile Fikeni finds a spiritual home in 'post-black' Braamies It is 3:10pm on a Wednesday at Daleahs in Braam. The place is full. In Cape Town, I reckon, this would be regarded as loud, but here it is just what it is - it's called being alive. Being in Braamfontein, especially for a writer of my sensibilities, is not unlike stepping inside a big Nike commercial. Everything here is possible and everyone has the balls to "Just do it" - whatever "it" may be.story_article_left1This is why I keep coming back every time I find myself in Joburg. Whereas in my city - Cape Town - one finds a weird obsession with Eurocentric cultural ideals and decorum led by a fascist-narcissistic-Nordic-hipsterism, what one finds in Braam's youth culture is a refined cool - black cool.If Cape Town cool is about veneration of imported provincial hipsterism, the youth in Braam seems to reach into the centre of that hipsterism with open minds and break it in parts; the result is something not quite as aesthetically organised - it is almost menacing, in fact - and no one race or culture can lay claim to it.This reminds me of Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness?, by the African-American journalist Touré, who says there are many ways of being black and that if there were, say, 50 black people in a room, there would be 50 ways of being black.Braam's youth challenges the very notion of the cultural field and the values attached to it. I think that what has happened in Braam is not so much a protest against the established systems of culture but a way in which the youth can express itself without the overbearing siblings of the Western and European cultural traditions, even the new-age ones, dictating to it.So, where it fits the purpose of the collective imagination of young creatives in Braam, they will borrow from US television or the clean, minimal Nordic conventions. But they will only do so in the service of something they own, something more nebulous and more nuanced than even the jazz era of Sophiatown in the '50s.story_article_right2I guess this sense of elusiveness has a lot to do with Joburg being many parts moving at once. In Mark Gevisser's memoir, Lost and Found in Johannesburg, the historic spatial boundaries are still intact to some degree. In Braam, the youth sidesteps those structural formulations. I've sat and drunk and watched and seen that the reality of being young and black here is to live in the present. And the present is very much attached to one's blood and flesh.Kids on Kloof and Bree streets in Cape Town only wish they could live with the urgency of the youth in Braam. Where interaction in the more affluent suburbs of Joburg is mitigated by a bit of capital and a bit of bling, Braam interacts with bodily immediacy. Umswenko is not just another fashion iteration, it is not an escape or a cultural fad, it is an inward dip, deep inside the language of struggle and violence, of dispossession and despair; the colour and the threads are, in fact, the audacity of hope. Nothing can be more black in the South African urban landscape.So, yes, Braam is a big chunk of "Just do it" and for the disenfranchised black youth, squished into a corner by a shrinking economy and growing unemployment, it is the sort of space that will shape South African culture and show what is truly possible if we all try not to escape what it means to be black.

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