OUR EVERYDAY CONCRETE HEROES
With hip-hop MCs People under the Stairs rhyming in my ears and change for a loose kept safe, the street is the place I catch myself smiling off-guard. There’s a feeling of wonder. Dialogues I hope one day to understand hustle past in rising tones, and I find rhythm to gooey electro beats that resonate around me. Visual indulgence and sensory delight.
I fucking hate the word trend I never have enough cash to buy them or the magazines that tell me what they are. In a society that finds solace in forecasts and structure, there’ll always be definitions and commodities of contemporary ‘cool’. But out on the streets, aside from high-end mass production, there’s something magical happening. People are starting to think for themselves again. The street is celebrating the carnivalesque, liberation and pleasure.
The youth, brazen and unpredictable, strut the new catwalk — the street. A reservoir of stimulation, the street is a show we’re all part of, you and I all part of the revolution of Concrete Couture. Before you cool kids start freaking out, this isn’t a piece about what we’re seeing on the streets. It’s about what the street represents. And who’s representing it.
I found four individuals, four friends, all collaborators who epitomise the liberation of raw aesthetic self-expression. Meet Jamal, Jade, Illana and JR. Spreading their vision throughout the arts, they collaborate with various mediums, with each other, and with you. They’re a quartet that orchestrates controversy. Fun controversy that’s full of texture and form. Forgotten items are given second chances, and the Salvation Army skank to the wub wub wub of the underground.
Jamal, Jade, Illana and JR are designing and styling, capturing and documenting fashion in ways that represent what, to me at least, the street is all about. Energy, colour, motion, surprise, shock and raw beauty. All these elements find form and integrity in their creative rendezvous.
Association, intertextuality and colour-coding, Jamal Nxedlana’s designs are lyrics of the city — construction sites, cultural strife, the illusion of the high life. His concepts are bold, vibrant and visually enthralling. Think the beautiful flamboyant frenzy of Durban’s Warwick Junction turned wearable.
Sarah Claire Picton: Is there much androgyny in local fashion these days?
Jamal: There’s a fair share of it. Like the androgynous vagrants in Cape Town.
SCP: You’ve collaborated extensively with the other three, such as in the fashion/art website The Beard and on various
shoots. What’s your plan for 2010? London
Jamal: I’m preparing for a trip to the Congo with Justin McGee and JR… we’ll be undertaking a few creative projects that side.
Early Kwaito and bad taste pulled off, condom beanies and 2010 forecasts of sleaze: time with Jamal is all pins and needles. And for his lady, Jade, it’s all needles through noses and brightly coloured hair. Bring back PVC, Buddha print tees and “those plastic chokers that look like tattoos” and they’ll both be smiling diamantés.
A Swiss at birth but Cape Town girl at heart, Jade’s been spending time abroad, assisting SA artist Mustafa Maluka in Berlin and collaborating with Jamal in London.
SCP: Where do you stand on the ideology of ‘trend’?
Jade: The pendulum always swings and the current liberal attitudes in our cultures look to daring individuals who break the rules.
SCP: Complete this sentence: ‘Out on the streets, we call it…’
Jade: Out on the streets, we call it shante! Or sashay away!
Another prolific girl shouting a big fuck you to fabrication and buying individualism from an over-priced boutique is Illana Welman. Forty pairs of sunnies, a 14 full-piece cossie collection, one pink fur coat and a girl named Illana. Coming from the Zulu Kingdom’s poison city, Illana moves gallantly through the realm of fashion, all teethy smiles in her cherry-smelling black-and-white Melissa brogues. A fallen angel, charmed and armed, she’s a femme fatale of fashion and has lots to say.
SCP: So, aside from your professional time spent with Jamal on shoots in London, talk to me about your time with our dear friend JR.
Illana: JR… well, we lived together along with Justin McGee, ‘the photographer’ (ha ha), and we all created creations (ha ha) every day. All the time. We had so many clothes it was easy just to have fun and create like that. I can’t even remember if we did anything professional together. It was great, it was fun. It kept us inspired.
Like me, she’s inspired by the street’s everyday heroes: “Like the local African at the shisa nyama shop. African brothers bust some crazy styles, and old grannies never fail me.”
And an African brother that really needs no introduction, and comes with no warnings, is Jene Rene Onayngunga. Born in Kinshasa DRC, JR aka Pacha aka DR Pachanga is possibly the only other person I know who is louder than me. I can’t keep track of him, and hope he can’t keep track of me. Except in summer, and on weekends.
SCP: What you doing now, Kid?
JR: At the moment I’m pushing street photography and journalism. It’s basically a little memo of DR Pachanga on the streets of SA. (Check out elementofsuprize.blogspot.com)
He’ll come to my house, eat my cheese and trade a pair of sunnies for two Black Label quarts or a bottle of Tassies. And then we’ll both end up so wasted we’ll hustle off his other 12 pairs to a German on Long Street and spend the profit on tequila. Jozi’s red skies, Cape Town’s blue waters and Durban’s green poison — he’s all over the country, having fun testing people’s patience and pissing off all the original fake fucks.
SCP: The word ‘fashion’ — what does it mean to you?
JR: Fashion means the power to manipulate, dictate many floors by disguising and dominating the norm.
Street ‘style’ doesn’t exist for JR. Or for me. Trends and seasonal cools are fading as we begin to see the street as a space for free creative dynamism. “There is no such thing as High Street, Street Street or even Hippie Street. Street Fashion is what we see every day on the street, the outfit someone puts on the minute they walk out.”
Functionality and accessibility have taken over; it’s now about finding ways to implement expression in these two variables. And that’s what these kids are helping us with. Thank god.
A little bit of JR’s faultiness revealed…
SCP: What do you miss that isn’t seen much in today’s designs?
JR: Zoot suits!
SCP: Your favourite street to walk down?
JR: Grey Street
SCP: Do you sleep naked?
JR: Only when Justin and creepy Steve are not around.
High-spirited and high-dressed, Jamal, Jade, Illana and JR are fresh, rough deviants of fashion. They’re part of the Concrete Couture subculture, crucifying the fake and resurrecting the new. B-boys & bergies, emos & pigs, a blur of kinetic energy… out on the street somebody is always somebody else’s muse.
“We’re taking it back to the concrete streets, [us original freaks, all fashion MCs]” Or maybe we’re not? What do I really know? I’m just another undignified street renegade you’ll pass on your way to buy a loose tomorrow. Just another everyday hero trying to find what she’s looking for.
“Out on the streets… I call it life”.