Dope Saint Jude just released the music video for ‘Brown Baas’ directed by Kyla Phil, along with a series of evocative stills shot by Jabu Nadia Newman. At our Creative Women Conference in August she delivered an impassioned talk about the personal being political, and how economic structures define – and often limit – the opportunites available to young South Africans. Using the mediums of music and performance, she parades and parodies positions of power to practically perform complex realities.
Accompanying ‘Brown Baas’ is a photographic series shot in a corner cafe. It alludes to the many corner cafes found in black and coloured communities and the social dynamics ocurring in these public places where you can meet others and see local fashion at it’s best. Of the ‘Brown Baas’ collaboration Dope Saint Jude says, “it is important to me to emphasize that this is a project completely done by women of colour”. To coincide with the release of her new track, we caught up with her and Kyla to find out about the creative process and inspiration behind it.
This track seems more personal and sombre than ‘Keep in Touch’ ft. Angel-Ho. What inspired it?
DSJ: I am multifaceted and have many dialogues, monologues and narratives. This track is about my experiences, but it is also commentary on society right now.
The word ‘Baas’ has contentious connotations, can you tell us what’s behind the title?
DSJ: The term “BROWN BAAS” would have been a oxymoron not too long ago, so I wanted to have fun with the name by celebrating the fact that it is possible (even though it may be difficult) to be a “Brown Baas” today. Also, the idea of being a “boss” is a common archetype in the hip hop world. So I was playing with that, because I consider myself a BOSS in that regard too.
There’s reference to you reading about anti-apartheid activist, Steve Biko and in previous interviews, you’ve identified yourself as a human right’s activist. Tell us about the rights of a ‘Brown Baas’….
DSJ: Well, it isn’t so much about “rights”. It’s about pride. Biko taught us about PRIDE and this I wanted to pay homage to that. The mere act of what I do as a performer speaks to the sense pride Biko taught.
In one part of the lyrics you mention slavery, even though we live in a democratic country where everyone – in theory – has equal rights. In your opinion, how does the notion of slavery still play out in society?
DSJ: I believe that many of us, regardless of race, are mentally enslaved by outdated rules and notions. Too some extent, even I am mentally enslaved. This sometimes limits my interactions. In the track, I am alluding to the kind of mental slavery that affects the way we treat one another.
“Do you know what it’s like to be brown for a girl like me?” implies some distance between your personal perception of cultural identity, and that held by the general public. Can you comment on this?
DSJ: I use myself as a prism to practically perform the problems I see. When I think about #luister, #rhodesmustfall #blacklivesmatter and then something like #alllivesmatter, it is pretty clear that there is a great misunderstanding about our lived experiences. This misunderstanding naturally creates frustration. And this frustration informs the chorus of the track.
At one point you say, “I’m representing the voiceless and don’t you forget it, and I have the power and passion…” How do you keep the balance between expressing strong viewpoints and keeping the music entertaining?
DSJ: I don’t need to balance it.They are not mutually exclusive. Expressing strong view points and the act of entertaining can exist together in perfect harmony. I think any good artist knows this. I speak what’s on my mind and I make music I enjoy and I believe in the integrity of my music. SO OF COURSE MY MUSIC IS DOPE!
What did you enjoy the most about creating this track and what impact would you like it to have?
DSJ: I enjoyed the entire process. The idea popped into my head and two days later, the track was done. I then rushed to Kyla’s spot, played the track for her and we both went crazy for it. A week later, the video was done and edited. It was a truly great experience working closely with people who share and support my vision whole heartedly. As with all of my projects, I hope I make people ask questions. Progress can’t exist when we don’t ask questions.
Can you tell us a bit about the process of creating ‘Brown Baas’?
KYLA: The process for this video has been really interesting. I haven’t made film work that I’ve had complete creative control over for a while because I’ve been very preoccupied with navigating my professional, social and physical space. Catherine is dope because she likes to share with me, gift me with previews of her tracks and generally we just enjoy catching on kak together, vacillating between super serious to silly to emotional. We’ve had many conversations about me doing a video for her and we’d finally settled on a song called BGP (which I like to think was inspired by me) that I am currently conceptualising and working on a treatment for. So, two weeks ago we’re talking kak on the phone about the type of image and sound that gets glorified in OUR city (a pretty disheartening conversation) a day later, she rocks up at my place super hyped and excited on some “I just recorded such a dope track, you have to do a music video for it” and because I’m so chill and cool I go “ok let’s hear it” meantime I know it’s going to be so fire. Have you heard that song? That was pretty much the process; we shot Brown Baas two days later in Elsies River and Woodstock, significant spaces for both Catherine and myself.
What inspired the moody atmosphere and look for this music video?
KYLA: Stylistically, I’m cautious of moving too far away from reality, particularly if there aren’t budgetary allowances to effectively do so. The motivation behind the narrative for Brown Baas was to subvert our learned consumption of a “Hip Hop” video. I attempted to realise this through three acts: The first act allows the audience to be lulled into a sense of familiarity around a dope car, a rapper chilling with their squad. The second act being a safe, yet solitary space. I really want one to get the sense of her strategizing, organizing, realising, creating and finally, demanding the empathy she deserves, visually creating a metaphorical “headspace”. The third act symbolizing the immense power that lives within my friend, a brown woman, walking down that street, late at night, performing a revolutionary anthem, looking more fly than any rapper you’ve ever come across.
How do you identify personally with the themes expressed in ‘Brown Baas’?
KYLA: It’s like when you read Minna Salammi for the first time or Frantz Fanon and you just say to yourself “wow, this person is honestly speaking from MY heart”. The immense pleasure of knowing that someone is able to articulate your struggle, those things that eat you up inside and cause you trauma and pain, having those nuances of your lived experience being spoken back to you, that is healing. To know that there is a space of solidarity within our resistance as women of colour, that knowledge, can save lives.
Full Credits: Performed and written by Dope St Jude / Directed by Kyla Phil / Photography by Jabu Nadia Newman