Style
Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

Beyond Vanity: A New Documentary Sheds Light on Cape Town’s Sneaker Culture

The film from Imraan Christian takes a hard look at Cape Town youth's obsession with "bubbles."

On the day a highly anticipated new release finally hits the shelf, a queue of sneakerheads snakes outside Shelflife in the Cape Town CBD. Shelflife is but one of many sneaker shops—Lost Property, Jack Lemkus etc.—in the city that service a large community of sneaker lovers, most of them from the city's coloured neighbourhoods.

To an outsider, sneakerheads are just vanity slaves and victims of consumerism. That's the immediate impression to their insatiable appetite for sneakers. A new documentary by renowned Cape Town filmmaker and photographer Imraan Christian reveals the politics behind Cape Town sneakerheads' love for sneakers. The documentary, which is titled Just Dala: Meet The Bubbleheads of Cape Town, is released by Highsnobiety.

"Like, you would say in Cape Town, in the Cape Coloured communities, people don't earn much. They live off the minimum," says Yaya Jeff, a member of the online sneaker store Unwanted Kicks, as he gets interviewed in Just Dala. "But when it comes to street swag and clothing lines, especially footwear, they would [rather] have less to eat and be wearing the most expensive kicks (sneakers). They put their all into it,"

According to Rolo Rozay, one of the country's well-known sneaker connoisseurs and co-founder of Sneaker Cartel, a popular sneaker shop on Long Street, bubbles (as sneakers with air bubble soles are known) are part of Cape Coloured culture.

"People say we're uncultured," says Rozay. "I'm like, 'Don't talk kak.' We got car culture, taxis, [and] we got fashion sense… I think bubble culture is big in the south: Wynberg, Grassy Park, but the bubbles just had that thing in Cape Town."

Some of the Cape Town sneaker scene's most notable names get interviewed and share their relationship with bubbles and what they mean for young Coloured people. Stashes of Nike boxes act as the backdrops for some of the subjects as they get interviewed in the documentary.

If you've been to Cape Town and challenged yourself to observe beyond Table Mountain and the city's tourist attractions, you might have noticed that, alongside Jordans, bubbles are a big thing to Coloured youth in the city—they are worn by anyone from gaartjies (taxi conductors) to school children and high profile personalities.

"Everyone needs to have a bubble. Newborn, old granny, grandpa," says Saeed "King Aitjie," founder of Unwanted Kicks, in response to Bliqees, "The Queen of Kicks," who states that her father used to get her pairs of bubbles.

She takes out a toddler-size bubble and says, "Kids are starting to camp out, waiting for toddler releases. One person sees you do it, and then the next person wanna do it, and it grows like that."

Popular Cape Town rapper YoungstaCPT's appearance in the documentary was a given. The artist has one of the most impressive sneaker collections in South Africa's hip-hop scene, specializing in classics—from retro Nike Air Jordans to staples like the Nike Air Max and the Nike Air Force One—as opposed to trending silhouettes like the ubiquitous dad sneakers.


In his music, YoungstaCPT has made enough references to sneakers to give you a clear picture of his taste even if you've never observed his kick game. Circa 2011, he released a song titled "Fresh Prince in Nike Airs." The song, which sampled the line, "Nikes on my feet keep my cypher complete," by Nas, details YoungstaCPT's love and obsession for sneakers. He raps about the different sneakers he has owned, from rare and exclusive gems to street standards:

"My sneakers, I can give you a full report/ I had to order these, you don't get them in usual stores/ Cortez was my first pair of Nike kicks/ I had the plain black suede with the white tick/ And after that, I got the white leather navy blue/ You can bet those there was my favorite shoe/ Now, I'm not saying that I only wear Nikes/ I like the Timberlands and my Jordan Air Flights/ But I couldn't buy those, I had to buy smarter."

His 2016 single, "Takkies," however dug deeper into the subject. In the song, the rapper uses sneakers as an entry point to issues faced by Cape Coloured people in the post-apartheid South Africa.

He raps:

"When I was eight, I tried my first pair of Jordans on/ Asked my mom, 'Can we buy these? She said, 'Sorry son, I just can't afford'/ So I hustled the money 'cause I really wanted to own it/ The boys in the hood, they saw me with it, so they broke into my house and stole it."

He later adds in the song that after his sneakers got stolen, the police couldn't help him, highlighting the high crime rate in Coloured neighborhoods, specifically theft and murder, and police incompetence in the areas that need them most.

Another layer revealed in the song is the importance of looking great when you are poor. He raps, "Live in the hood with low finances/ All that matters is the clothing matches."

During his interview in the Just Dala documentary, YoungstaCPT echoes that very same sentiment.

He begins his response by emphasizing on the importance of one's physical appearance, adding that it tells one's story. "So when you do that, you automatically want to come out in the most flamboyant or the most extravagant or… you know, the best of the best," he says. "And most of the time, it was a Nike. That was the most expensive shoes that were in a store. All these traps that have been set up for us. Whether it's from the education department, whether it's from the housing department, or whatever the case may be, all those things have been set up in order for us to fail. And yet, we emerge from these places, dressed to the fucking T like the elite, and that's why I say it's a miracle."

Half of life, after all, is showing up. Why not show up looking like money, in a world where we are getting more comfortable with embracing our vanity? The rapper says that bubbles are worn with the knowledge "it would elevate us to a temporary status of that privileged success."

"But it comes from a place of struggle," he adds, "the takkies, the jewelry, the outfits, it comes from a place of struggle. The whole identity that we have is from the ghetto."

Sneaker heads can be found all over South Africa, but just like with many elements of street culture, for Capetonians, it's observed with far more vigor. One of the most successful recurring event series in South Africa is Sneaker Exchange, which was founded by Capetonian sneakerhead Zaid Osman. Sneaker Exchange is a sneaker convention where sneakerheads trade sneakers and discuss the goings on of the culture alongside performances from the country's top hip-hop artists—Shane Eagle, Reason, Riky Rick and YoungstaCPT have all been on the event's lineup.

Osman says during the documentary that the series of events manages to bring people from different walks of life under one roof to speak the same language—music, art and sneaker culture.

Fashion has proven to hold a deeper meaning for disenfranchised youth. For instance, the subculture of Johannesburg's izikhothane sees young people from the ghettos of Soweto take pride in their exorbitant clothes, shoes and accessories. They compete about whose outfit collectively costs the most in the ritual known as ukukhotha.

While the bubbleheads of Cape Town aren't as extremely competitive, the link is that young people who typically don't have thousands of rands at their disposal, still manage to wear clothes and shoes that break the bank. At least if you aren't feeling good about being poverty-stricken and can't afford land, the least you can do is wear something that makes you feel like you're on top of the world.

Watch Just Dala: Meet The Bubbleheads of Cape Town below:

Cape Town's Sneaker Culture is Unlike Anywhere Else in the World www.youtube.com

popular

Watch AKA’s Music Video for ‘F.R.E.E’ Featuring Riky Rick and DJ Tira

AKA shares the visuals for his chart-topping single 'F.R.E.E.'

AKA's single "F.R.E.E" is one of the most played songs on South African radio at the moment. The song, which has topped many charts on the country's stations, features fellow rapper Riky Rick and house producer, artist and disk jockey Tira.

Keep reading... Show less
popular

Miss South Africa Zozibini Tunzi Crowned Miss Universe

South Africans celebrate Zozibini Tunzi's victory.

Today, Zozibini Tunzi got crowned Miss Universe at the 68th instalment of the global beauty pageant. The event took place at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta Georgia on the 8th of December.

Catriona Gray from The Philippines crowned her successor Zozibini Tunzi at the end of the event which was hosted by Steve Harvey as has been the case in the last five years.

Keep reading... Show less
Audio
GuiltyBeatz, Kwesi Arthur & Mr Eazi's "Pilolo" visualizer video (Youtube).

The 20 Best Ghanaian Songs of 2019

Featuring Pappy Kojo, Sarkodie, Amaarae, Kwesi Arthur, Shatta Wale, Efya GuiltyBeatz, Joey B, R2Bees and many more.

2019 was definitely an exciting year for Ghanaian music.

Right from the top of the year, we saw both new and established make their mark with songs that would soundtrack the nation's airwaves, functions, and nights for months to come. In 2019 we got to experience an E.L comeback, Shatta Wale and Beyoncé on the same song, numerous solid Ghana-Naija collaborations, and bop after bop by old and new artists alike.

We also saw the rise of brand new artists, starting from the likes of J.Derobie's wave making debut in January, to Kofi Mole's widespread trap anthem, to Fameye's declaration of brokeness, to the promising future superstar Sam Opoku. As far as projects go, 2019 was a good year for that in the Ghana music space as well. We were blessed with an EP from Sarkodie, an album by the superstar duo R2Bees, talented singer King Promise's debut album, Ko-Jo Cue's stellar debut, and M.anifest's 7-track feel-good EP, among several others.

Ghanaian music has been stepping its game up lately, and there's only one way to go from here. Below, we give you the rundown on the Ghanaian songs that stole ears and hearts and set the pace for the country's sound this year.

Check out the list below. Listen in no particular order.—Nnamdi Okirike

Follow our GHANA WAVE playlist on Spotify here and Apple Music here.

Keep reading... Show less
popular
(Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for AFI)

Cynthia Erivo Earns Golden Globe Nomination for 'Harriet'

Check out the full list of 2020 nominees (and the snubs).

Award-winning actress, Cynthia Erivo has earned a Golden Globe nomination for her portrayal of abolitionist leader Harriet Tubman in Harriet. She's earned a nomination for Best Original Song for 'Stand Up."

She's nominated in the "Best Performance by an Actress In a Motion Picture—Drama" alongside Charlize Theron, Scarlett Johansson, Renée Zellwegger and Saoirse Ronan.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.

popular.