The Voguish Cultural Operation of Hip-Hop Among The Indigenous Xun and Khwe Youth of Platfontein, South Africa

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Hip-hop is regarded as a “cultural” form because it contains the key elements and patterns of symbolic action and meaning that are deeply felt, commonly intelligible and widely shared among members of the hip-hop community. The culture of hip-hop incorporates four prominent elements: rapping (i.e. the oral), tagging or bombing (i.e. the visuals: marking the walls of buildings and subways with graffiti), DJ-ing (i.e. aural: collaging the best fragments of records by using two turntables) and breaking (i.e. physical: break-dancing). It later expanded to include verbal language, body language, attitude, style and fashion.

Throughout the Indigenous world(s), the music culture of hip-hop has become increasingly popular, prompting scholars to tag it as “the new native anthem” and a central site for unpacking ideas of authenticity and contemporary Indigenous identity.

Among the Indigenous !Xun and Khwe of Platfontein, South Africa, the global hip-hop music culture is appropriated and localised to negotiate restrictive urban spaces and project self-identity and counter-narratives against externally imposed colonising ones. The Xun and Khwe are descendants of the Indigenous hunter-gatherers San (popularly known as Bushmen) of Southern Africa who traditionally occupied the Kalahari region across Southern Africa, and whose identity and practices have historically warranted the intrusive curiosity of researchers, journalists, filmmakers and tourists.

Hip-hop has become a platform for young Khwe Bushmen to negotiate restrictive urban spaces following the tribe’s resettlement near the city of Kimberley in the Northern Cape province of South Africa. Previous studies on music discovery tend to ignore the plight of indigenous and rural youth who struggle to keep up with the pace of global trends.

The resettlement and relocation of the displaced Khwe Bushmen to Platfontein (near the city of Kimberley) in 2004, after years of living on the fringe, meant they were thrust into postmodernity or even hypermodernity. While the older people struggle badly in their encounter, the younger Khwe generation seem to have adjusted to their new milieu, appropriating urban popular cultures such as the hip-hop music and style for local expression.

This is facilitated by the local radio station, their proximity to the city of Kimberley, as well as their gradual access to new media technologies. In an attempt to provide a snapshot of the resulting complex identities, radical changes, generational rifts, tensions and clashes; the dissertation ultimately reveals the Khwe Bushmen general response to globalisation in a late postmodern era.

Hip-hop – a global youth culture is thus used in this study to reveal the extent to which globalisation affects the traditional Khwe Bushman indigenous culture and structures. Although as a marginalised group, hip-hop offers the young Bushmen an avenue for expression and creativity as they negotiate through the restricting features of post-modernity, nevertheless, the culture seems to influence youth delinquencies, deviancy and class based youth structure, a pattern that radically alters the once pre-modern traditional Bushman society.

The notion of class which has long been dismissed by many postmodern youth scholars as the basis for identity formation, is in fact applicable in a modernising society such as the Khwe, where only a tiny fraction and class of people have access to new media technologies and hiphop. The study, a result of a lived experience among the Khwe people relies on ethnography and the subculture theory, to understand and make sense of the activities of the young Khwe hip-hoppers as well as the emerging class among the Khwe people. The dissertation contributes to the discourse on the contradictions between global and local cultures in post-colonial and postmodern Africa; a reminder that global cultural forms are taken up in diverse ways in local contexts.

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