Collage by Ta'Ron Joyner.

Pearl Boshomane Tsotetsi.

Aspiration is a Beautiful, Expensively-Packaged Scam

'Just because aspiration is given a Black face, that doesn't mean it's for us, cares about us or has our best interests at heart,' writes Pearl Boshomane Tsotetsi.

This essay is part of OkayAfrica's SA Reframed series, featuring personal writing from some of South Africa's best young writers edited by Verashni Pillay.

I was still a lifestyle journalist when I lost respect for my own beat. It wasn't one particular incident or moment that triggered it, but rather the result of various moments and experiences. One of them occurred very early into my tenure as editor of a lifestyle supplement. Our cover at the time featured a famous, celebrated black personality. The decision hadn't been mine - it couldn't have for I'd had my occasional "Maimane in the DA" moments: the Black leader with no real power.

Yet I was excited nonetheless because, yay, representation.

I showed the cover to a colleague who stopped short of rolling their eyes as they said: "Why do they always feature the same type of Black people?" Slightly taken aback, I asked what that meant. They elaborated: "You know, the Black person who probably lives in Sandton, drinks champagne and is one of their friends."

Now, of course, there's nothing wrong with being a Black person who lives in Sandton and loves champagne, but that shouldn't be the only type of Black person deemed worthy of lifestyle pages.

But the "they" who kept featuring these kinds of Black people was that portion of the newsroom that's always felt far removed, out of touch, elitist and, rather inaccurately, as vacuous: the lifestyle journalists.

While I will die on the hill that lifestyle features are among the most difficult to write, I did come to understand that lifestyle writing was – and still is – treated as an exclusive, "on Wednesdays we wear pink, you can't sit with us" club.

And it's that behind-the-scenes friend of a friend vibe that ends up being reflected in the reader's hands. The same way coders' biases result in algorithms that are problematic race- and gender-wise, the race and class biases of those running lifestyle newsrooms are mirrored in the final product.

And this brings me to the primary selling point and purpose of lifestyle writing: aspiration. Unlike the news or politics pages, lifestyle is meant to provide some respite from the realities of everyday life for the reader: no doom and gloom, just vibes. Okay, I'm being unfair. Lifestyle writing, when done right, is intelligent, delightful and, above all, enriching to its audience. Whether it presents new ways to cook aubergines or tells you where the next hot travel destination is, it strikes a delicate balance between telling you – the consumer – what to do and think, and being at your service. It's a teasing dance where the reader is given content that is both attainable and out of touch (an easy midweek recipe a few pages after a pair of shoes that cost a year's IEB school fees).

But the aspiration that's been sold isn't just problematic, it's exclusionary.

It's not only lifestyle media who are guilty of selling an exclusionary dream – music, fashion, advertising, television and film do it too. And, because of the people making the decisions, publications tend to feature the same tightly-knit circles and networks appearing in the pages of the fashion, food and arts sections across the country.

And while half the people featured are doing things that are quirky, innovative and/or interesting, the other half are simply friends of friends.

If they're not well-connected, they fit into preconceived notions of what we should aspire to be, where we should aspire to live and what we should aspire to eat and wear. This means, as my colleague had said, a single type of Black person deemed "acceptable", refined in the right places and sometimes "radical" enough to make editors feel like they are edgy or progressive. It is an image we didn't create ourselves but we're told to mould ourselves into; an image where pages sometimes fetishise rather than celebrate the different elements and experiences that form part of Blackness.

The lifestyle journalism industry in South Africa, in the way it's packaged and presented to us, is a microcosm of what's wrong with aspiration. It's not just about what's being sold, it's about who is selling it in the first place. Aspiration is a beautiful, expensively packaged scam.

For a long time Black faces on the pages of "nice life" publications were few and far between, but that's changing. However, the increase in representation isn't indicative of changing times or a new, societal kind of liberation. If anything, it's performative and is simply the same stale ideas of achievement and aspiration painted a few shades darker: all they did was give it an afro. It's the Fyre Festival of inclusivity.

Since the pandemic began and the Black Lives Matter movement has gained prominence in the South African discourse, publications have been changing their MOs: they are scrambling to embrace the same "wokeness" they spent years dismissing and talking down on. It's interesting to watch some previously luxury and unattainable products suddenly trying to sell relatability to their audience.

Is this, cough, a new dawn, or is it the journalistic equivalent of the wolf pretending to be Red Riding Hood's grandma? Until the faces making the editorial decisions mirror the ones littering the editorial pages, I'm going with the latter.

In her book of brilliant personal essays Trick Mirror, US journalist Jia Tolentino writes: "The psychological parasite of the ideal woman has evolved to survive in an ecosystem that pretends to resist her. If women start to resist an aesthetic… the aesthetic just changes to suit us; the power of the ideal image never actually wanes."

While Tolentino is commenting on the media's portrayal of women and society's obsession with femininity, that concept can be adapted to fit the context of this conversation.

When Anna Wintour, Bon Appetit, The New York Times and co were publicly giving mea culpas, self-flagellating and falling on their swords for their sins when it came to diversity and inclusion (performance art at its finest), some South African lifestyle writers and editors tweeted about microaggressions and horror stories they still deal with from the most powerful people in spaces that pretend to be progressive.

Spaces like that cannot and should not be the sources of and authorities on aspiration; not when the people running them don't represent the audience they pretend to speak for.

In South Africa, there are now almost no publications left on the shelves that predominantly target black audiences and consist of black editorial teams. That means our sources of aspiration are even more depleted. Those left standing are more powerful – and therefore dangerous – than before. They're the public face for spaces that portray themselves as racially-inclusive. Meanwhile, the story behind the curtain is rather different: black faces with titles, but without the accompanying power.

Until structural change occurs and the people selling us lifestyle aspirations are in touch with the multiplicities and complexities of the country's majority, we have no business letting them tell us what we want. And just because aspiration is given a Black face, that doesn't mean it's for us, cares about us or has our best interests at heart.

Until further notice, it's assimilation sold as aspiration. Don't fall for it – it's a trick.

Pearl Boshomane Tsotetsi is a journalist, columnist and over-tweeter. She is the editor of Destiny Careers magazine.


Listen to a Fela Kuti Tribute Album Featuring D'Angelo, Questlove, Nile Rodgers​ & More

2002's Red Hot + Riot albumis available on streaming platforms for the first time.

Red Hot has made the their Fela Kutitribute album Red Hot + Riot available for the first time on all streaming platforms to mark its 20th anniversary.

Red Hot + Riot features notable contributions from an all-star guest ensemble that includes D’Angelo, Questlove, Femi Kuti, Talib Kweli, Sade, Tony Allen, Macy Gray, Nile Rodgers, Jorge Ben Jor, Baba Maal, Meshell Ndegeocello, Dead Prez, Kelis, Roy Hargrove, Archie Shepp, and many others.

The updated 20th anniversary version includes bonus material including a remastered version of the entire project. The project also includes a cover of “Sorrow Tears & Blood” by Bilal, an acoustic version of “Trouble Sleep” with Baba Maal accompanied by the legendary kora player Kaouding Cissoko and an extended version of Sade’s “By Your Side” by Stuart Matthewman.

The original album had to be heavily edited to fit the time limit of a physical CD. This new version includes a vast amount of bonus material that includes an extended versions of many tracks, including early mixes, acapellas, instrumentals and more.

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News Brief
Photo by Oupa Bopape/Gallo Images via Getty Images

South Africa Shocked After DJ Sumbody's Fatal Shooting

The popular Amapiano pioneer, DJ Sumbody, was tragically killed in Johannesburg.

News recently broke that the well known South African Amapiano music producer Oupa John Sefoka, popularly known as DJ Sumbody passed awaythis past Sunday, November 20th.

The family reported that specific details of DJ Sumbody's passing could not be released because the issue was a part of a larger, ongoing investigation.

"Artist and musician DJ Sumbody has died. Details of his untimely death cannot be released but the artist allegedly ran into an unfortunate incident that led to his passing in the early hours of Sunday morning, November 20 2022," the family released in a statement, according to News24.

According to several unconfirmed reports, the renowned South African DJ was traveling on Woodmead road in Johannesburg when gunmen attacked his vehicle with a hail of bullets, which instantly killed him and one of his bodyguards.

He was en route to perform at an event in Woodmead for the All White Veuve Clicquot Picnic on Sunday. Apart from being an Amapiano pioneer, DJ Sumbody was a creative force in the South African entertainment industry. In the early hours of Sunday, Sumsounds Music, his management team, confirmed the news.

DJ Sumbody was a pioneer of the well-known viral Amapiano sound, a word that translates to "the pianos" in Zulu and is an eclectic genre that started in South Africa in 2012 and fuses house, jazz and lounge music for a unique sonic experience.

During the pandermic, OkayAfrica featured him in the pieceDJ Sumbody Is Ensuring Amapiano Stays Alive During Times of Coronavirus and Social Distancing.

Social media users went online to share their shock about the unfortunate event.

Photo Credit: Sope Adelaja

Travel Diary: The Warmth & Beauty of Senegal is Unparalleled

In OkayAfrica's latest Travel Diary, Nigerian photographer and storyteller Sope Adelaja heads to Senegal to learn what it's like to embrace the "Teraanga" lifestyle.

After about 10 hours of flying and stopovers I landed in the city of Dakar, Senegal at about 11pm. I approached immigration to have my passport stamped and then proceeded to get my luggage. I immediately noticed that almost everyone spoke French and very few people understood English. I understand little French, so I knew then that it was going to be a struggle. With the help of Google Translate, I was able to then negotiate and hire a cab to drop me off at my residence for the night.

Photo Credit: Sope Adelaja

The language barrier was not as much of as an obstacle as I thought it would be. This largely had to do with the generosity and warmness shown by the community during my visit.

Senegal is known as the “ Land of Teraanga." Teraanga, which is a Wolof word, is often defined as meaning “ hospitality." But that is a very loose way of translating it. It's so much more complex than that. It is a process of discovery and expression. It is a way of Life. Teraanga is aimed at showcasing a narrative of hospitality and beauty that exists across different cultures.

Photo Credit: Sope Adelaja

Unity over adversity is a running theme of Saint-Louis, a town located on an island at the mouth of the Senegal river. It is an outstanding example of a colonial city by its natural setting and colonial architecture which gives it a distinctive appearance and identity. (These features are why the island is on UNESCO's World Heritage Site list.)

Photo Credit: Sope Adelaja

Saint-Louis is a city that will charm you. Beyond tourism, this community has come to embody its resourceful spirits. A big part of the way of life is fishing. It is the main occupation of people living in Saint-Louis, also known to the locals as Ndar.

Photo Credit: Sope Adelaja

When shooting in Africa, it’s easy to lean on visual crutches — like ornate jewelry or bright, striking clothing. But that’s only skimming the visual surface of the community of people. Digging deeper requires an extended stay, as well as collaborating with locals who have grown up in the area.

Photo Credit: Sope Adelaja

In the course of digging deeper, i discovered Ndar had a lot more to offer beyond beautiful aesthetics, very rich culture, and history it holds strong remains of past colonial times.

Next up was Gorée Island and the destination is an exceptional testimony to one of the greatest tragedies in the history of humanity: slave trade. Even with its complicated history, Over the years, Gorée Island has become a well known destination, with figures like Nelson Mandela and even Unisted States President Barack Obama and his family visiting the island.

Photo Credit: Sope Adelaja

Storytelling is so powerful. And as a photographer, it's my intent to show the warmth, beauty, and hospitality of Africa across different regions. I strongly believe we as people of Africa have a responsibility to further shape the narrative of Africa’s unique culture and people.

See more photos from Senegal below.

Photo Credit: Sope Adelaja

Photo Credit: Sope Adelaja

Photo Credit: Sope Adelaja

Photo Credit: Sope Adelaja

Photo via Mavin Records

The 9 Songs You Need to Hear This Week

Featuring Mavin Records, Asake, Stormzy x Amaarae x Black Sherif, Fally Ipupa, Pheelz x French Montana, and more.

Every Friday, we highlight the top releases through our best music of the week column, Songs You Need to Hear. Here's our round-up of the best tracks and music videos that came across our desks.

If you like these music lists, you can also check out our Best Songs of the Month columns following Nigerian, Ghanaian, East African and South African music.

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