Rhythms of the city

Denver Isaacs

The generation preceding the post-independence ‘born-frees’ is at last taking the entertainment industry seriously, giving it genuine local character while expanding its ambitions.

Windhoek, and a packed theatre audience erupts with laughter before just as suddenly returning to silence. Pacing the stage is a well-known face with expressively bulging eyes and short, spiky dreadlocks. “Come to think of it, it must suck to be a celebrity in this place,” the comedian continues into the microphone as a wave of sniggering anticipates his well-worn narrative of a famous local musician walking down a crowded Namibian street while his fellow citizens go out of their way to either avoid or whisperingly ridicule him. The audience shows their familiarity with the routine by roaring with laughter again.

It’s all rather ironic, given that since initiating his regular stand-up performances in 2008, the jester himself, Slick the Dick (Onesmus Upindi), has joined the celebrity ranks of his fictitious musician and his contemporaries.

Meanwhile, stand-up comedy (presented by Free Your Mind, a private company) and slam poetry performances (through Spoken Word Namibia) have become regular events.

When Namibia gained independence from its ‘big brother’ South Africa in 1990, the international community’s hopes for the young nation were similar to those for its southern neighbour four years later. Namibia inherited the same fragmented population in the wake of apartheid and resistance – resulting in expectations that the youth of the day would usher in a new age of national identity and widespread wealth.

Fast forward to 2012, and at fi rst glance these expectations have been reduced to little more than wishful thinking. Terms like ‘future leaders’ and ‘youth’ – which litter the ambiguous policy documents intended to steer youth development – have achieved mythical status. The government’s biggest success may have been putting 95 percent of school-aged children into education but these efforts for the citizens of the future tell only half the story, given that youth unemployment now stands at 60 percent, and only 12 percent of school leavers go on to tertiary education.

It’s the less credited entrepreneurs from the generation before the post-1990 ‘bornfrees’ who appear to have taken the wheel in today’s socialite-driven culture scene, especially in Windhoek. “Growing up, the only entertainment available was playing ball games in the location [residential neighbourhoods],” says local musician Daphne Willibard. “Or, if you were older, you may have been lucky and allowed to go to the matinee [dance clubs opened on weekend afternoons].” As part of girl group Gal Level, Willibard has spent the last decade developing the duo’s brand of Afro-pop music and collecting a host of international accolades, including Kora, MTV Base and Channel O music awards. But Gal Level is not the only success story.

The Dogg (Martin Morocky) and Gazza (Lazarus Shiimi), stars of the popular African music genre Kwaito (a mix of hip-hop and garage), are considered the pioneers of the current Namibian music industry, and are regularly confronted by the media over the way their passionate fans go at each other physically. The two were recently kicked off the throne they have long fought over by the latest Namibia Annual Music Awards (NAMA) winner, hip-hop MC Jericho. The prize consisted of NAD50,000 (US$6,000) in cash and a corporate-sponsored car, showing just how corporate Namibia is slowly beginning to buy into the music’s popularity. “The perception has changed. When we started, telling a friend you planned on becoming an entertainer was like saying you’ve decided to become a failure,” Willibard says, laughing.

The small Namibian market and the increasing numbers of youngsters who now consider entertainment a viable career choice have resulted in the established artists looking to expand their brands. Some local celebrities have become known across southern Africa, like Mr Makoya (Strausse Lunyangwe) who, in October 2011, became the first Namibian to sign a distribution deal with South Africa’s Gallo Records. For others, like The Dogg, it has meant expanding into bottled water and insurance interests.

Willibard, herself, recently took over the reins of Namibia’s first entertainment magazine, The Red Carpet. “It’s an extension of the brand, an opportunity to grow. And I think, in building this industry, it’s the next step,” she says. “Because to be in entertainment, there’s a certain lifestyle that comes with it, a certain etiquette. And I think that’s what we need as an industry. It’s still young. We need to educate it. Groom the ones who are coming next.”

About the author:

Denver Isaacs is a freelance journalist based in Windhoek


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