Opinion: Art mArtyr – Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Why Don’t We Collaborate?

November 11, 2014



I have a sneaking suspicion that artists are missing a beat when it comes to what they can do to rescue our ailing arts, besides highlighting the lack of funding and the government’s inadequate support.

This thought was sparked by Mi Casa’s music video for their latest offering, Turn You On. Telling a love story with a twist – including the trio in white laboratory coats, trying to study the laws of attraction using experiments – the video sees the house giants taking advantage of one of the most powerful tools available: collaborations.

Mi Casa worked with choreographer and dancer Michelle Oppenshaw (who partnered with Terry Sauls) to bring audiences a truly enthralling piece that could be seen as a well-delivered mini theatrical production. In one video, a choreographer (Somizi Mhlongo), dancers, and Mi Casa are not only assisting each other creatively, but are creating employment for others too.

When the band – beats master Dr Duda, vocalist J’Something and saxophonist Mo-T – began in 2011, they were making radical music but displayed very little understanding of making notable videos, until they started looking to professionals. Suddenly professional dancers, choreographers and actors were being featured in their music videos, enhancing everyone’s profiles.

This brings us to the subject of arts practitioners learning from other disciplines such as sports. We often hear of sports clubs signing ever younger talents as they know that very soon, these players will be polished stars who will dazzle the world. Do the arts have dedicated scouts whose job it is to spot raw talent in the making, whether this is in Gugulethu or Constantia, Sandton or Alexandra?

As an aside: please, scouts, stay away from KZN’s first nudist zone at Mpejati Beach, as most of our arts ministers are fairly conservative sorts.

All you have to do to confirm that collaborations as solutions are being missed out on is to take a slow walk or drive through the metropolitan CBDs of cities such as Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and Port Elizabeth. Bedfordview alone has a number of street entertainers who have been plying their trade for years without being roped into a single professional act, such as a touring circus, perhaps.

Comedy Central has woken up to the power of collaborations by using, for example the services of “living statues” to play pranks of unsuspecting members of the public. And even talk shows usually have a live band to perk up the cheesy jokes and to dish out drum rolls.

There is a reason why washed-up hip hop artists from the Nineties collaborate with current pop stars. There is a good reason why dead artists such as Michael Jackson, Brenda Fassie, Nat King Cole and 2Pac keep making appearances in today’s music charts. There is a very good reason why Nic Socks from Cape Town is taking over the world of socks, as he is planning to collaborate with artist William Kentridge to have some of the renowned artist’s works embossed on his range of footwear.

When you think about it, arts and culture are all about collaborations: War Horse, for instance, is a working together of craftsmen, musicians and actors and The Market Theatre’s Ketekang boasts vocalists brainstorming on stage with poets and Vuyani Dance Theatre. So if collaborations have worked to get us this far, why would we not use them to go further?