King Adz is a Brit by birth but he has been living in between the UK and South Africa both mentally and physically since 1996. He has spent recent years travelling around SA; from inner city Johannesburg to tiny dorps, meeting people and learning about South African youth and creative culture. His latest book, ‘My Mzansi Heart’ published by Jacana Media, follows his encounters with different South African creative figures as well as his own personal history; including a drug-fueled time in the advertising industry and the experience of his family first moving to South Africa. ‘My Mzanzi Heart’ focuses on his complicated relationship with SA and his love for the country. King Adz is also known for books The Urban Cookbook: Creative Recipes for the Graffiti Generation, Street Knowledge: The A to Z of Urban Culture and The Stuff You Can’t Bottle, and the film Blek Le Rat – Original Stencil Pioneer, among other video work. We found out more.
Your book ‘My Mzanzi Heart’ is a memoir of sorts on your time in South Africa and your involvement in the SA creative scene. What are your perspectives on the future and potential of South African creativity?
South Africa is a unique place and the creativity reflects this. I’ve been stunned by how creative the place really is. OK, so these days people always bang on about places being creative, but they rarely are – it’s usually just spiel to get the global youth to get their asses there and stay in cheap shitty hostels, in order to eat burgers, drink the local brew, gaze at sub-standard street art, buy some moody takkies and generally prop up the flagging economy… But South Africa is a world leader in all aspects of what is lazily referred to as ‘creative culture’: art, design, writing, fashion, food – blah blah blah. Fuck, by now I’m bored of explaining this shit. Two examples of why South Africa kills it:
One – Sanele Cele/Tempracha – the next major South African fashion designer to have a global effect – from Umlazi.
Two – Dean Pozniak – who now runs Simon & Mary hat-makers – from Jozi – a lekker lekker company that has mutated through the ages and generations but still produces top notch goods that are cutting edge thanks to their timeless iconic design.
Both of these examples are exclusive to South Africa. They could have only come out of the place. One this, another that!
Another good example is Garth Walker who created iJusi magazine which is one of the most influential pieces of design and has had a HUGE effect on my graphic work – Garth is also from Durban, and is still slaying it graphically – past, present and future.
You have said that you view SA as your real home in a sense despite experiencing living in different countries around the world. What draws you back to South Africa?
The food and the people. Both are warm and nourishing. May sound like a cliche – but it’s the truth, Ruth. I was born and raised in the suburbs that circle London and for me the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town or the central suburbs of Jozi slay the opposition like Darth Vader. There is nowhere else that comes close.
You made the promo video for this book. Please tell us about your previous involvement with filmmaking? Have you worked on any local projects?
Back in the 90s I went from being an advertising creative director to being a director when I shot my first brand film for Smirnoff for long-gone agency BullCalvertPace, back in simpler, yet chemical-enhanced times! Fun fact is that the ‘Calvert’ from this agency went on to set up Instant Grass – and through this chain of events I was introduced to Anthea Knows Best. I also made some film titles for the legend that is Roger Young, and shot a load of very dope things when I was working at Blades Media, but I can’t talk about that. More recently I’ve created/directed/whatevered a couple of music videos for fresh talent MUZI, and I shot my favourite and most honest film for a long time about the aforementioned legend that is Sanele/Tempracha.
You have been involved in advertising, filmmaking and writing about youth culture, art, food…the list goes on. What is the next step?
Unfortunately it appears that I am too deeply embedded in the whole brand world thing, and this can be a nasty business for a sensitive writer such as me. But deep down I’m a brand activist as I want to channel this power to do good. I’ve done the shop window stuff and now I want to work on the soul. I want to harness the power of brands to do good, and this would work really well in South Africa, and then across the continent. Not that it’s ever that simple. Brands can be so stupid and never take the path of least resistance and I don’t like to fuck around. This usually gets me into trouble but what the fuck. I’m not known for my diplomacy…
You have formed relationships with many different creative South Africans in your time here; which creatives are most prominent in your book and why?
Rian Malan is a god. In my opinion he is the greatest living male writer. Jonny Dubin is a dope-assed copywriter and even better bloke and a loyal friend (something that I value above most things in life). Daniel Sher who runs Me.Plus.One is such an open and honest bloke and eager to learn that I just want to move in with him (I don’t think his smashing bird would like that, lol). Anthea Knows Best lives up to her reputation. Jack Parow has no ego for such a legend that I wish all rappers were like him. Thandi Mamacos is a true shining light and a glorious example of the ‘born free’ youth that makes up the rainbow nation. How open and honest Thandi and her teenage friends are gives me so much hope. Jana & Koos are the future of African branding, design, fashion, and much other good shit. I have genuine love in my heart for all these people, as life is too short to work with people I can’t get along with.
‘My Mzanzi Heart’ is quite different from your past books and is far more based on the literature than the imagery, what led to this decision?
When I started writing 30-odd years ago, all I wanted to do was write novels – and if you read My Mzansi Heart you will find out how I got on with this. This is still true, and I’m still trying, but it’s not an easy path to travel if you don’t read English at Oxbridge and are a literary black sheep from the school of hard knocks. Try getting published!!! MMH is one step towards that goal. My next book UNBRANDABLE is a non-fiction book about how to succeed in the new brand space and has no pictures in it whatsoever. Out early 2015 – shamless plug, lol. Then comes a novel, maybe. Literary fuckers just don’t/won’t listen.
You have written about the contradictions and ambiguities that you have encountered in this country; after living here for a number of years and numerous return visits, what are the main conclusions you have come to?
Rich and poor/black and white. In the olden days you knew your enemy but these days it’s harder to tell. On my last tour of duty of Jozi an old black oke told me that he prefered it when ‘they were in power.’ I realized that he was talking about Apartheid and challenged him on this. He was like ‘No, really. I’m serious. At least I knew who was fucking me…’ My uncle from the book and his racist volk have left the country at the wrong time! But there are still a lot of selfish, self-promoting people about. The other day I asked a china to help me with the PR for My Mzansi Heart and he was like ‘Am I or my company in the book?’ I was like ‘yeah!’ – which was a blatant lie – ‘but that isn’t why you should help me.’
Who would you say is the ideal audience for this book and what do you hope they get out of it?
This is a quote from something I wrote in 1998:
Skaters, hackers, photoshop manipulators, the urban architects, freestylers, blunted heads, nip-hop innovators, roots and culture reggae generals, the underground, the queer folk, the street poets, the Bontheuwel head-drillers; whoever…
and in 2014 I add: the youth. The bookworms. The bergies. The different. The glorious. The freedom thinkers and forward-looking folk who can see the good of the red red earth of South Africa and see way past the present bullshit of corruption and hatred.