“But do you think it exists though?” asks a voice through the car radio. “Does witchcraft exist and if so, would you use it against someone?”
The radio was tuned into a talk show on one of those youth stations and the presenter had been discussing, amongst other things, witchcraft, traditional healers and black magic in the workplace. For the most part, the discussion was superficial and offensive, focussing almost exclusively on the various scenarios that would unfold in the event you decide to curse your co-workers. A cheap laugh while you’re stuck in traffic, really. There was one caller however, a young woman, who called in and spoke quite simply and clearly on spirituality and how it can manifest in the everyday. As it goes, she was casually dismissed by the presenter, but her words hung in the air for a good while after the show. As I sat down that day for a late lunch with the Ribane siblings, the words began to take shape.
Now if you’re a keen internet cruiser, culture consumer or the like, there’s a high chance you would have stumbled upon the Ribanes. They’re those three liquid magic individuals who routinely pioneer new ways of interpreting and acting out fashion, dance and music in our daily lives. There is the 27-year-old Manthe, the 26-year-old Tebogo, and the 22-year-old Kokona who mostly goes by Kay Kay. Together, they are Dear Ribane.
“The name came about through how we resonated with ourselves,” explains Kay Kay. Every time we work on something, we like to reflect so it’s more like a letter to ourselves and to our parents. The whole point of Dear Ribane is us writing our message and our daily journey to ourselves and to everybody else.”
It’s difficult to sum up – technically at least – a group like Dear Ribane. The three collectively spill over into the realms of dance, music, photography, fashion, art direction and then some. A super group of sorts who are continually looking ahead, visiting the past to reflect, and imbuing all that they do with a familial bond. “It means a lot,” says Manthe about their collective moniker. “Because whenever we think of our surname we think of our history and we realise that there are certain jobs or ideas we shouldn’t take on, so it really grounds us so well and we all appreciate that.”
“So that’s also part of the schedule – every week we’ve gotta learn about each other.”
The three are no strangers to the spotlight either. Their mother, a schoolteacher with a penchant for dance, inspired their creativity and passion for learning while their father, a big name in sports and entertainment, opened their eyes to the industry. Their first ever gig? Kay Kay says it was at the Rand Show. Tebogo thinks it was an Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs game. They eventually settle for Nelson Mandela’s 80th – a significant performance for the family. “It was our first time performing with different artists and dancers from Soweto and with other kids,” recalls Manthe. “When we got back home, our granny had made this big dinner for us to celebrate this big achievement so ja, it was a great one. After that it opened up new doors, and eventually we got into the media and commercial industry so from an early age, we were ready!”
Since then the trio have gone on to perform internationally, get booked for some of the biggest local gigs and events, and regularly do their rounds on the internet through striking photoshoots, lookbooks, and other visual projects. They’re a busy bunch, the Ribanes. An average day in their shared household and creative station goes something like this:
“Wake up, house chores!” states Tebogo. “On Mondays we always clean up our space and have a meeting for the week ahead. We’re always discussing new projects, new ideas, and checking in with one another too. Sometimes you get surprised you know? You can propose an idea that you thought was in everyone’s interests, but you find out it’s not and you end up learning more about each other every day. So that’s also part of the schedule – every week we’ve gotta learn about each other.”
They’re a tight-knit group too. From the way they weave in and out of the interview, echoing each other’s thoughts and building on each other’s statements, right down to their very movements. To see Dear Ribane on a photoshoot really is a spectacle. Each click of the shutter spurs on a new formation from the trio, all moving seamlessly with each other, not once fumbling. Click, swish, click swish – an elegant, creative cloud, fluid and more striking with each transition.
“It’s just this beautiful synergy we have with each other,” says Manthe.
“Yeah it all interlinks,” adds Kay Kay. “I mean every time we’re with each other we wanna see each other do well. That’s the best thing about being together and working with your family – you always wanna see them do great and when you’re in that position where you’re able to influence each other and help that greatness, you’re benefiting yourself too. It all just comes together beautifully.”
“That’s why we’re not taking this for granted. It’s serious. This is serious. This is our life.”
We sit and speak about family and sibling bonds for a while, before those words from earlier begin to resurface. I recount to Kay Kay, Tebogo and Manthe, the story of the radio station caller, and I ask them if they believe that spirituality can manifest in something as seemingly simple as the way one dresses.
Without skipping a beat, Manthe begins. “We see spirituality as a form of self-respect. So just by how someone dresses themselves and how they present themselves, you can already tell so much about how people create and what they create.”
“Yes and how you dress is most often how people perceive you,” adds Tebogo. “So it’s very important to know who you are and to tell your own story through your exterior. With spirituality, you can’t really get it across in words, so you let your exterior speak for your spiritual being.”
“We’re always thinking about the longevity of our work. The fact that the world is looking at us, that we get invited to international shows, that means we’re doing the right thing,” says Manthe. “But it means you have to stay true to yourself and what you put out. That’s why it’s important to keep in touch with that spiritual side, because someone else is looking up to you like ‘Yo, be my healer today, say something that will spark my life’ and that’s why we’re not taking this for granted. It’s serious. This is serious. This is our life.”
For the busiest siblings in Jo’burg, Manthe, Kay Kay and Tebogo are also three of the most centered and driven individuals I’ve ever had the pleasure of speaking to. They’re a fiercely passionate outfit who seem nearly impervious to stress or self-doubt. Perhaps it’s their bond that keeps them so resolute in all that they do. I imagine it’s a lot easier to be a member of a multi-talented and widely known collective when you know two of the most important people in your life are doing it with you.
The four of us finish our coffees and for a while we speak on about spirituality and its intersections in dance and music and fashion. We could’ve spoken for much longer, but time was ticking on and we all had homes to get back to. As a closing question I ask Dear Ribane to speak on the future – what’s the dream?
“Owning an anti-gravity warehouse where everyone is welcome to visit and just float and escape for as long as they need,” says Manthe. “Providing a space where anyone can escape everything that’s bringing them down and just focus on their own dreams for a while. A place where innovative ideas come alive. A place with new subjects where we can all see a better way.”
“New subjects new skills, new subjects new skills,” begins Tebogo.
“New teachers new material, new teachers new material,” a grinning Kay Kay chimes in.
Manthe sits quietly between the two before looking up with a smile. “You could be a teacher too if you like.”