In the midst of finance minister musical chairs, powerful student protests, Emmy-winning documentaries, twerking Tokoloshe’s (!), the ongoing discourse around topics like identity, cultural appropriation, gender equality and being woke, Cassper Nyovest’s #fillupthedome (and love for trampolining), Woolworths bloopers and parody accounts, #mustfall, our resident funny-man hosting The Daily Show, the infamous fire-pool, or any of these trending topics, it certainly takes some doing to stand out.

As a publication we don’t deal directly with politics, but we do deal with art – and therefore, culture – in glorious abundance by seeking out and showcasing the best in local creativity. Each year we see a lot of new talent arriving on the scene; some people are propelled into the spotlight just as they’re beginning their careers, while others spend a long time working relentlessly until they make it onto the public radar.

Now that we’ve pooled together 15 local music acts who’re fast emerging and have revisited the most impactful stories published on 10and5 this year, we’re sharing the 9 breakthrough South African artists or duos who’ve been at this year, guns blazing, making work that’s vital and impossible to ignore.

FAKA: Redefining representations of black queer identity

For FAKA, art is not window-dressing. It’s a way of being and a way of being expressly political. The performance duo consists of best friends Thato Ramaisa (aka Fela Gucci, “a South African gay black boy who chooses to exist as he believes”) and Buyani Duma (otherwise known as Desire Marea, “a wonderful nasty thing that we have to pay honest attention to for the sake of our evolution”). In a characteristically glitchy, lo-fi aesthetic they explore and engage with alternative expressions of black queer identity.

“Performance forces you to look, and with what we are trying to communicate as FAKA, we are forcing confrontation. Look at these complexities and know that they exist.”

Imraan Christian: Documenting a defining moment in SA’s history

A few months ago, who could have predicted that Imraan Christian would take some of the defining images of the #feesmustfall student protests? His arresting shots have been shared far and wide – all over social media, international publications, this music video for Little Simz – and provided a first-hand account of an important movement in South African history. Before that, we’d interviewed Imraan about his film Jas Boude, which centres on a group of skateboarders who break out of the Cape Flats ghetto and infiltrate the Cape Town CBD in search of a freedom and power denied.

“Sons and daughters of the fire is kind of what we all felt last night, being there together, occupying the streets. It was like a force of old liberated us to the point where we could feel each other’s strength. The unity will be something I will remember forever.”

#FeesMustFall - Imraan Christian

Rich Mnisi: Fashion’s social contribution and the South African aesthetic

Since graduating from LISOF last year, Rich Mnisi has had a prolific output. The gorgeous lookbook for his SS16 collection (which got picked up by Dazed Digital) is ode to South African townships in the 80s and 90s, where the interrogation of traditional gender roles and stereotypes began to find expression in youth culture through androgynous fashion. This, and his Fall 2015 range, are a brilliant showcase of his aesthetic: simple and nuanced, with clean lines, strong colours that don’t overwhelm and patterns that border on the visceral.

“I got the itch while still in high school and being motivated by a lot of visual references in everything I do. I enjoyed seeing what others were wearing and how this was such a day-to-day thing for them, I wouldn’t say I was too interested in dressing up myself but it was the idea of fashion, style and its social contribution that intrigued me.”

Rich Mnisi

Tiger Maremela: Interrogating the myth of the rainbow nation

At 22 years of age, Tiger Maremela is impossibly talented and tuned in. His ongoing multimedia series, roygbiv addresses the politics of blackness, capitalism, sports and health in black communities, with an emphasis on how varying forms of black masculinity fit into this space. Shortly after we interviewed him about the project, he started a viral hashtag (#helptigerfindemployment) which not only gathered a ton of press, but landed him the job he was after.

“Honestly, I don’t know what lies next. But if it were up to me, at the end of the rainbow would be a land where queer black boys can finally breathe and find themselves beautiful.”

Jeanne Gaigher: Bursting into the art world with intoxicating allure

Jeanne Gaigher is on a fast-track into the contemporary art scene. Her debut solo show, Club, opened at Smith Gallery in August and a selection of these works were presented at the FNB JoburgArtFair the following month. Using an intoxicating colour palette and layers of paint, surface material and different mediums, Jeanne’s artworks suggest the permeability of a moment in time, which while defined for an instant, is in fact poised on the brink of dissolving, melting and merging with the next.

Club is about being present within situations or conversations that make you uncomfortable or that you don’t fully understand. You don’t have to have the answers to everything but we shouldn’t be scared to engage – it broadens your thoughts and ideas. We need this sometimes to get rid of our precious selves.”

Jeanne Gaigher 2

Caroline Leisegang: An upbeat and instinctual approach to classical composition

Since young Johannesburg-based classical composer Caroline Leisegang released her debut album, Øyeblik, on iTunes in October, it’s topped the charts as the best South African classical album for 2015. Translated roughly as ‘moment’, Øyeblik is a somewhat melancholic meditation for piano on the passing of time and an attempt to keep hold of the present before it drifts away into the past and the realm of memory. In contrast to the introverted and contemplative tone of the composition series however, Caroline’s approach to composition is delightfully upbeat and instinctual.

“At the moment I’m listening to Taylor Swift, The Gateway Drugs and Max Richter’s new album, Sleep. I think the two go together: I might have a little razzle in my underwear to ‘Shake it Off’ while also listening to it and thinking “yoh, that’s a cool progression”. So yeah, there’s as much inspiration and recreation in a pop song as in a piece by Ravel.”

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Gabrielle Kannemeyer and Travys Owen: A superbly talented image-making duo

This entry is a dual one because, while stylist Gabrielle Kannemeyer and photographer/filmmaker Travys Owen are mega talented in their own right, they seem to reach an astounding peak when working together. Their numerous joint projects have included some of the most beautiful lookbooks of the year, like the dreamlike and blue-tinged campaign images for Lukhanyo Mdingi’s SS16 collection or, more recently, a dazzling shoot for Simon + Mary’s safari-inspired headwear. In the unlikely case that you’re not yet convinced, watch the music videos they worked on (along with other brilliant minds) for supergroup Fantasma, pop outfit Beatenburg, and ‘Noirwave’ artist Petite Noir

Gabrielle Kannemeyer and Travys Owen

Dope Saint Jude: Practically performing complex realities

Catherine Saint Jude Pretorius grew up believing that everyone is entitled to certain basic human rights and this belief – as well as her admirable determination – continues to drive and inform everything she does. She began rapping as a teenager and would write her own lyrics over other artist’s songs. Having come full circle, she now makes her own music and performs under the moniker of Dope Saint Jude, using tracks like ‘Keep In Touch‘ and ‘Brown Baas‘ to comment boldly on race, gender and class and to foster a much needed dialogue around misogyny in mainstream music.

“I am driven by a need to make a change. It upsets me that we live in such an unequal society. Pursuing a dream is a privilege that is afforded to very few. I want to change this.”

Sipho Mpongo: Picturing South Africa’s youth

Sipho Mpongo is a young photographer who, together with two other photographers, spent 6 months traveling around the country documenting the ‘born free’ generation in 2014 (see our highlights from the ‘Twenty Journey’ here). A born free himself, his documentary style images are intimate and capture an innocence that is symbolic, perhaps, of an optimism for the future which currently feels so lacking in our society. This year Sipho was awarded a human rights fellowship by the renowned Magnum Foundation – making history as the first South African photographer to recieve this – and had the opportunity to travel to New York City for a mentorship program.

“I consider myself a social historian more than a visual storyteller. I am worried about our history as Africans which we know nothing about now. I want to make sure that does not happen for the next generation of children in Africa.”

Sipho Mpongo

Cover image: FAKA by Khongi Sono.

See part 1 of our 2015 Highlights: The Big Stories.

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