Tseliso Monaheng: Writing the state of the arts

Tseliso Monaheng is a writer. There’s no better way to describe him. He also happens to hold a great deal of passion for music, art, culture and literature coming out of the African continent and frequently writes on all of these things. Luckily for us, he does it damn well, too. Having written professionally since 2007, Tseliso has contributed words to publications such as The Mail & Guardian, Mahala, TrueAfrica, Africa is a Country and many more over the years. His writing, always incisive and engaging, weaves together a cultural zeitgeist of sorts, be it in the form of a review, an opinion piece, a profile, or a simple blog post. Certainly, he is one of the most prolific and insightful writers in the realm of African arts and culture.

Tseliso Monaheng x Bayeza 2016 (1)

Tell us a bit about your ‘Youth’ series you’ve been experimenting with.

That’s just me trying to understand this idea of YOUTH and what it means. I posed this question on Twitter and homeslice Bogosi gave me a response which fucked up my whole shit for like, a week! He said: “Speculative bubblegum”.

Like, great artists have ways to use words fam. When I hear that phrase, I’m seeing Chicco and Brenda in the 80s; I’m having visions of beret-clad PE- townfellows gazing at Gerard Sekoto paintings at some gallery. I see so much shit. And then I’m forced to live within this narrow scope, no doubt induced by marketing agencies with agendas to push, which portrays youth as being 18-25, or whatever range they continue to adjust it to. So, really, what is Youth? To me, Lesego Rampolokeng and Miriam Tladi and Lerato Bereng are hip as fuck; they’re from different generations, and don’t fit into that YOUTH age-range. What’s this YOUTH the marketers speak of?

Are there any overarching themes you’ve noticed through documenting this?

Young people? Yeah, I mean, I focus on young black people. There’s a hunger man. There’s a need to break free and be given access to all the shit the white kids and the well-off Indian kids, and the privileged black kids have access to. I also believe it’s a continent-wide thing. You go to Maseru, it’s the same feeling. You go to Nairobi, same shit. Senegalese youth are fuckin’ shit up, and it’s through that same thread which hasn’t been named yet, but is there and ties us together all over the continent.

Your writing, be it a review, an interview, or an immersive piece, always seems to tie into a modern cultural zeitgeist of sorts. Is this largely an observational element or is it more of a case of immersing yourself in the spaces you write about?

Immersing, and observing. One can’t exist without the other for me. But the respect for space and the elements and energies within it – that’s what brings about that feeling. Write from a place of love man. Connect with the topic. Attempt to understand without passing judgement. Then, when the time’s right, the words’ll just come.

How representative do you think the local arts writing scene is of both young, black writers and artists? Can anything be changed in this regard?  

Everybody’s doing their thing man. They may not be making money from it. They may not have a lot of followers. But everyone’s doing their thing.

I must say I don’t understand this focus on black. Why, when we’re in a continent that’s home to blackness in all its shapes and forms?

Shoutout to the blogs springing up all the time: Rapfornication, Culture Review, the goons on Facebook who push the latest rap download links and rip singles soon as these selective memory new school suckers drop their trash onto iTunes. Shoutout to goons all across the continent too, from AccraDotAlt to Ba Re to Jalada to Notjustok (fuckin’ pirates!), AfricanHHB…man, so many collectives.

Sharrout to the North Africans too, why aren’t we conversing more?

Tseliso Monaheng x Bayeza 2016 (3)

In your opinion, what’s the most underrated or disregarded aspect of South Africa’s youth? 

People who are comfortable tend to think that shit like #FeesMustFall’s just a waste of time by brats who’ve nothing better to do. What we all fail to realise, and this is including those at the core of the movement, is that such collective action dents a system built on corruption and lies and deceit. Yes, it won’t fall now because those bastards were fuckin’ smart. Yes, UCT will forbid you from ever setting foot on their campus. And slap a R250k bill on you. But that’s just because they know; the system knows and the government knows — that the kids are angry, yes, but they’re also hopeful as fuck!

So hope…the hope here is understated because it’s accompanied by the frustration of neither being seen, heard nor acknowledged. Like, everrr!

You’ve interviewed so many young artists and groups over the years. Are there any stand out individuals or groups who you believe are doing great things in the art world? 

People are always doing great shit man, so I can’t pick.

I can tell you who I’m feeling at the moment. It’s not a comprehensive list or whatever, and it would’ve changed when this get published…but still: Sam and Joe Turpin, Nolan Dennis, Rendanii (bae4lyf!), Jabulile Newman, Youngsta…and that’s just the young people. And that’s just Joburg and Cape Town CBDs.

Shoutout to DJ Sbucardo and all goons in Umlazi and Inanda and Clermont and Polokwane pushing that Gqom shit; to Xolani and Msaki in Eastern Cape showing youth the righteous way; to my man Al and DJ Eazy in Cape Town giving their time and sharing life experiences with young at-risk women; to Bob and Soweto Kliptown Youth fuckin’ shit up in Kliptown…errbady mayne!

What would you like future generations to remember your writing for?

Hymphatic Thabs told me: “Never compromise!” So yes, the guy who never did that. And the guy who wrote from a place of love.

Not sure whether the writing will be gone. They’ll probably still have that and they’ll give it an interpretation fitting of whatever context they’ll be existing and engaging the work within at that time.

Any tips for young individuals hoping to make it as a writer or arts journalist in South Africa?


Tseliso Monaheng x Bayeza 2016 (2)

Photographs of Tseliso by Olivia Mortimer.

Meet the 16 young South Africans defining creative culture now. #BAYEZA16


Between 10 and 5