The rewriting of Kwaito

The Born to Kwaito book launch met the quorum for the attendance of politicians, but no kwaito stars graced it with their presence.

Actress Rami Chuene chaired discussions with the book’s authors, Sihle Mthembu and Esinako Ndabeni, at the SABC launch on Thursday evening.

Chuene expressed how much she had enjoyed reading the book, especially Mthembu’s storytelling, which was complemented by Ndabeni’s academic contributions.

The room was filled with a generational mix of young creatives, politicians and family. Among the guests in attendance were author and artist Lebohang Masango, Uzalo actress Sihle Ndaba, co-creator of a podcast on African (Black) literature Letlhogonolo Mokgoroane and activists from the #FeesMustFall movement as well as Ndabeni’s grandparents and her mother, MP Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, with her comrades.

After a late start, Chuene gave context to the dashing red book we all braved the cold front to celebrate. She lauded the bravery of the two twentysomething authors for writing a book on a genre whose great moments were lived by a generation neither of them were a part of.

It was disappointing, though, to note that none of the kwaito artists mentioned in the book turned up for its launch.

However, many saw the event as an opportunity to celebrate and encourage black literature, content and consumption.

Thabiso Mahlape, founder of publishing company BlackBird Books, took to the stage to explain the importance of Born to Kwaito.

She also took advantage of the presence of MPs in the room, including the deputy ministers of trade and industry, agriculture and rural development and land reform –Bulelani Gratitude Magwanishe, Sfiso Buthelezi and Mcebisi Skwatsha, respectively – to plead with them to not only mark black literature and publishers as an achievement, but to also invest in the literature.

Mahlape also stressed the importance of creating spaces that invite writers to confidently write books to influence the South African narrative, while making a living doing so.

“I live and practise in a country whose authors cannot make a living off their craft. And we are largely ignored by a government whose ruling party is happy to cite your work as part of a good story to tell, but never check to see what help we need,” said Mahlape.

The MPs nodded in agreement to cheers from the young crowd.

Mthembu said he believed the book “speaks to the way women have been erased in the history of kwaito”.

“A lot of women wrote and sang on songs they weren’t credited for. This book credits them where history may have failed to do so.

“It also discusses violence and how we deal with violence from people we love.”

He hoped the book would “enrich young people and give them a sense of belonging”.

The authors said they intended to take the launch to many schools, townships and other areas where kwaito finds a home and resonates.

Those in attendance felt it was important for the book to form part of the school curriculum and that it was an opportunity to invest more in young South African writers and African literature.

The book would also be the subject of discussions and talks at universities and institutions of higher learning across the country, the authors said.