Arts + Culture

African Hardcore: Behind the Continent's Porn Explosion

From Mapona to Afrocandy, African porn is just taking off. We look at who's making it and, more importantly, who is watching it.

When I was barely a teenager, I found a stash of old porno magazines in my house. I ripped out some of the pages and used them for months to stimulate my sexual curiosity. When my mother eventually found them, she gave me a proper hiding. There was never an open door for us to discuss my sexual urges—something which, when I later spoke with friends, I found out was pretty much the norm. For many young men of my generation, our sex lives began with a dirty American magazine mistakenly passed down from an elder.


For years, my interaction with pornography was coloured with shame. So much so that I began to wonder if there was an African articulation of the primal sexual desires I encountered in American pornography. An articulation that was not so shameful and saturated with dishonour. As I ventured into film criticism I also became acutely aware of the visual language of porn and how it shapes sexual interaction.

There is little writing about African pornography by African academics either from a gender studies or film studies perspective. But while the last seven to nine years have seen a decline in the global output of professionalised porn films, on the African continent the opposite is true.

Porn films from the continent are not immune to the identity questions that plague the wider film community of the region. The very notion of African porn is disruptive because it is not merely geographic. The hyphenated identities of those who categorise themselves as African transcends definitions or geographic binaries and often spills out to the diaspora and beyond.

In the simplest terms one can define African porn as sexual material that is concerned with the sexual pleasure of Africans and is made primarily with those living on the continent and the diaspora in mind.

The reality that most consumers on the continent consume their porn via blue-toothed cellphone videos, bootlegged DVDs and streaming “tube” sites like YouPorn, RedTude, XVideos and PornHub has meant that production values have been severely compromised even as production output rises. But despite this the world is hungry for African pornography. One example is the South African hit Mapona, which has been viewed over seven-million times on XVideos alone and has sold thousands of copies on DVD.

With the growing consumption of pornography also comes an emphasis on locality.

They are tapping into a tradition of storytelling that is part and parcel of the DNA of the genre. Although the films are unapologetically intended for sexual pleasure this does not mean they compromise on storytelling. Mostly influenced by the American camp and highly stylised flicks of the mid to late nineties, films coming out of what is now known as Nude Nollywood as well parts of East and Southern Africa, are narrative driven.

In an impatient world where increasingly the penetration is the only means to an end, African porn films are making an argument for the entertainment value that can be created around the spectacle of sex as opposed to the act itself.

Car chases and tales of witchcraft live side by side with scenes of sex and seduction. Films like AfroCandy's four-part Destructive Instinct series are a prime example of this visual style as well as its popularity.

On the African continent, as is the case with much of the world, sex and money are interlinked. Wealth and access as a direct pipeline to sexual pleasure is also a recurring trope in the visual aesthetic of African porn. The films seem to suggest that uninhibited sexual pleasure is a luxury only available to the rich. Most of the professionally sanctioned pornography that is shot on the continent takes place in settings of pristine beauty. Even with low production values, poor quality sound and a lo-fi look, simulated wealth is the engine that drives African porn forward and gives it urgency.

Usually the rich man is allowed to have his selection of multiple girls whichever way and wherever he would like. One of the most telling moments in Mapona comes at the tail end of a threesome where a pot-bellied man has been having his way with the two younger housekeepers, post-climax and out of breath he says, "It's nice to have maids."

Where pornography is often pure escapism, African porn can also be anthropological. Another example of this is the way in which African porn films address the HIV/AIDS epidemic. A condom is used in most films coming from the continent and unlike in American productions where the act of putting it on is often cut away, we see it happen in real time in these films, adding emphasis to the fact that this is an act of safe sex.

Fetish porn and the exploration of sub-genres is almost non-existent in the region perhaps because of the economic realities and the desire of filmmakers to hit as wide an audience as possible. But the lack of fetish porn also speaks to a sexual conservatism that still exists on a wide scale.

This is a natural byproduct of the men and women involved in these films coming of age in the 90s and early 2000s and their sex lives coming to be in the shadow of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. An era where gratuitous sexual pleasure and certain death were seen as connected dots.

The films are also more and more being forced to respond to the habits of increasingly savvy consumers. According to a report by Pornhub, Africa has 65 percent more searches of the term BBW—”Big Beautiful Women”—than any other part of the world. The bulk of this traffic can be traced back to West Africa.

Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania also have an above average interest in porn with pregnant women compared to the rest of the world. Another report revealed that Rwandans, for instance, frequently used "Uganda," "Congo" and "Nigerian" in their porn searches, a clear indication of the interest that Africans have in the way other Africans engage sexually.

Porn consumption in parts of the continent is also not just a male affair. According to the same Pornhub study, South Africa has one of the highest porn consumption ratios by women in the world. 35 percent of the porn streaming traffic from the country is driven by women. The world average is 24 percent.

The porn industry along with its consumers are subverting western expectations about how black bodies behave in sexual states as well as shifting our understating of black love and transactions of intimacy. African porn is making sex ordinary and celebrating the black body in its diversity.

It’s not unusual to see men with stretch marks, broken teeth, scars and big bellies being sexual with women with husky voices, flabby arms and curvy butts. The way that African porn is writing black sexuality into a previously oppressively white space is not just radical, it’s afro-futuristic without being a gimmick.

Having seen what is possible with the increased presence of people of colour in digital spaces like Reddit and Twitter and witnessing the decolonisation of memes over the last two years, it’s impossible to not get excited by African pornography finding its swagger and having a wider reach, not only for economic reasons but because a billion people finding their sexual voice could be the greatest sexual revolution ever.

 

Bio: Sihle Mthembu is an award-winning South African journalist who wants to write books, to make films and to die without shame. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter.

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popsnotthefather on His New Album: “It’s just vibes”

Interview: Emerging South African hip-hop artist popsnotthefather and his producer 808x didn't overthink the process of making his latest release 'NNNN (Not Now Not Never)'.

popsnotthefather and his producer 808x explain that when making NNNN they wanted the music to have a "vintage feel".

They nailed it. NNNN, which is the emerging Joburg hip-hop artist's first full-length project, is deliberately mixed to sound dusty—there are deliberate distortions in the vocals and the music that achieve the imperfect sound of vintage music.

Understanding each other's visions for pops and 808x comes with their long-time friendship which they display through inside jokes and typical banter between people who grew up together.

Just like all members of innanetwav., the collective they are part of, (alongside Southside Mohamed, The Big Hash, Nicole Nyaba, Oshoku, Solve The Problem etc.), pops and 808x have been friends since high school years and the network of friendships is still ongoing.

"When we stayed together in Midrand at the mansion for a year and a half, I think that's where we got to understand each other's sound and what we were trying to do with this music shit," says 808x. "So, I don't overthink anything, really. If he comes through with a hook, I'm going to hear the hook, and then I'm going to cook what I think will complement whatever he's saying."

As a result, the soundscape 808x designed for NNNN creates the perfect mood for pops' crooning which is mostly about boy-girl relations. In the project's lead single "KARMAKOLLEKT", popsnotthefather lets his partner know he's aware of her unfaithfulness.

popsnotthefather - KARMAKOLLEKT (Official Music Video) www.youtube.com

The song's video shows him breaking up with her over her spending time with "funny n*ggas". The skit is the main premise of the whole project—he meanders between different scenarios and relationships.

NNNN is tangy and expansive, as it takes inspiration from both modern hip-hop and vintage popular and soul music. Songs like "REDWINE" and "RAPSTARCAVIAR" sound pristine while on the likes of "PVCJUNKY" and "KARMAKOLLEKT", the music appears slightly muffled under a veil of analog hisses and crackles.

The lyrics on the songs on NNNN are scant, leaving spaces for the reverb-heavy vocals to breathe. Unorthodox melodies and lyrics that segue between cynical and earnest make for an intoxicating listen.

OkayAfrica caught up with popsnotthefather in an interview and he detailed working with 808x, getting recognition and releasing music under the current lockdown among other things.

Editor's note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

What does the title Not Now Not Never mean?

I'm affected mostly by music, that's like... in the moment it comes through, I might not like it or I might not be in the mood for it. But the kind of songs that always come through and hit you later, a lot of those songs are songs that will even be songs you keep on your phone forever, whatever phone you have, in the moment you like it.

What's your working process with 808x like?

We spend a lot of our time together, and when you work in the studio, you work on something new together, every time from scratch. So if I have a melody or something I had written down on my phone, I'd just try and say that, and we'd try and catch a tempo, then we'd get it going.

You explore relationships a lot in NNNN. Is it from personal experiences, or do you create scenarios just for a song?

It's mostly what I learned from different relationships. So it can be a story or it could be just how I think or how I think another person thinks. Like "PVC Junkie", for example, I was talking about a specific girl, but she had something in her that I saw in a lot of the girls that I'd been with.

popsnotthefather and 808x. Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela. Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.


How did you become part of the innanetwav.?

We always made music together. I started making music with them. We went to high school together. I went to high school with 808x, and we weren't really cool like that until I discovered them in their studio. And I was like, 'Oh, you n*ggas on this shit,' so it started from there. So, I was just there as a studio artist, I just laid down whatever for whoever wanted the song. And then I started making my own stuff.

Read: Inside J Molley and The Big Hash's War of Words

What has the experience of releasing music during a pandemic been like?

It's a different vibe. You feel like you have to just keep working. When you doubt whatever's happening right now, you just gotta think about making more, creating more. That's all you can do, because you can't doubt yourself like that.

How did you get into music?

I started making music in high school, in grade eight. I was in a music college, I did music as a subject. I also did music theory and I switched between playing trumpet and violin. But I quit music because I wanted to do fashion. So I started hanging out with some guys who were into fashion. But my teachers thought I was a bad kid, for no reason, so I was like I'm not with it. And then I found Kayz (808x) when they were in matric. They were doing music the whole time and drama and all that cool stuff, they were in touch with their inner artist. So, when I found them, it was lit, they lived in a mansion and it was lit. That's when we found ourselves, and we saw who was who and what they're trying to do, and everyone knows themself from that moment. Like in the book Lord of the Flies where there's a band of gents, and if you're not for this cause, you get cut off. But in that, it's like we were building something very strong. I feel like we have that.

This is a question I pretty much ask everyone from your generation. Do you see the new wave being where Cassper Nyovest, AKA, Riky Rick, Kwesta etc. are? Like, do you see The Big Hash or yourself filling up a stadium?

Yeah. I feel like we'll do that multiple times, multiple times and over. We have to go hard. They came up and became who they were in times like those, we're in the new time when everything's supposed to be easier. So, if you're not coming out like it's made easy for you, then you're not the real deal, I don't think so.

Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

You think South Africa is ever going to open up their minds to the kind of music you guys are making?

Yeah. It comes with exposure to different stuff. I feel like everyone should find their own taste, everyone should create their own taste in what music, art and fashion they like. Your house needs to look like your house. I used to have friends who used to ask, "How to find these new tracks?" and "How do you find these new artists?" [And I was like,] "You have the same apps as me, but you always ask me what song I'm listening to. You never browse and listen to what you want to listen to and judge for yourself." For instance, I never used to not like Gunna, my friends were playing a lot of Gunna. But then when I heard "Drip or Drown", everything changed.

How would you describe the innanetwav. to someone who doesn't know about you guys?

I don't know… It is what it is, I don't know what they call us, we're brothers. It feels like we're brothers. We've all been in the same neighbourhood this whole time. So we just made a name for it so you can know what you're talking about when you're talking about us.

Read: Interview: Nasty C On His Forthcoming Def Jam Debut 'Zulu Man With Some Power'

On NNNN, what were you trying to communicate, if anything specific? Or is it just based on vibes?

Yeah, when I was making it, it was just vibes. I used to know what I was trying to do with the music a long time ago, but right now it's just vibes, and we'll take it from there.

What are your plans for the remaining five months of the year?

I'm just trying to explore all different avenues that I know. I'm a designer, so I'm just trying to make every artistic dream that I had before come to fruition, because we have a lot of time now. That's five months that we can take as timeout or time in, like you tell yourself, "Oh, I'm starting, I can't do this, I can't do that." There's so much you can do, because there's so much you're away from.

You were Apple Music's New Artist Spotlight for May. How did that feel and what did it mean to you?

It was lit, but I feel like it would have been a lot cooler had I been outside. But that's in the past. You can see something happening to you as something good or bad, like you drop your stuff during the lockdown and everyone's stuck in the house, and you can't do this and that. But the fact that you couldn't do this and that, you'll never know what would've happened had you been in those elements. So yeah, I'm grateful that happened.

Stream NNNN on Apple Music and Spotify.



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