GlowLDB: The Musical Household In Cape Town's CBD

Music, web and graphic design, events, teaching, video production... and the list goes on. We'd have an easier time listing what Cape Town creative collective GlowLDB DOESN'T do.

*All photos by Donovan Marais. Styling by Thando Bawana

Mohato Lekena, Ross Dorkin & Robin Brink are three young men full of bright ideas, coming together under the moniker aptly named GlowLDB; a creative house of multi-disciplinary proportions, including web and graphic design, beat making, mixing and video, with the odd event, band practice and DJ set for good measure. With Cape Town as the backdrop for World Design Capital 2014, the city is abuzz with new ideas, projects, refreshed attitudes and creative all-arounders like these dudes - setting new trends with the spotlight placed firmly over the country and it’s burgeoning potential for greatness. We had a chat with Mohato, Ross and Robin about technology, focus, their creative environment and the future of Cape Town’s creative scene.

Shiba for OKA: Go ahead, introduce yourselves...

Robin: Hi, I’m Robin Brink. I'm a drummer, designer, artist, and music producer.

Ross: My name is Ross Dorkin. I’m a musician, composer and aspiring mix engineer.

Mohato: Yo. I’m Mohato Lekena and I’m primarily a Computer Scientist with musical inclinations... I code musical software and use a lot of it myself. Some time soon I also wanna make art.

OKA: People say that with the World Design Capital 2014, Amsterdam Dance Event, and Bridges For Music bringing global attention to Cape Town, our city is about to hit a creative renaissance of sorts... How do you feel about this?

Ross: I think the more happening - the better. We need all this stuff to be happening for the scene to develop and for it to maintain a healthy and active existence. I think we have to find ways of drawing attention to our local talents, in all disciplines, and at the same time make sure what we’re doing is achieving a high production standard, both technically and artistically. I think that this is the only way we’re really going to open up to the world and to a more global artistic exchange. Of course this is happening increasingly these days, but there’s still a lot to do. I'm feeling positive.

Mohato: The South African creative scene is cool. There are things we do well, and so we do them - but what this leaves, in my opinion, is a gap for people doing things differently. So in that sense, now is a good time to be in the creative scene, if you have something different to offer - either in terms of new tech or ways to reach the people that the design industry has traditionally marginalised in our country. If you look at someone like Okmalumkoolkat who is in a sense the product of 90s South African music and culture meeting today’s internet - I think you can see a way to make an impact in the scene. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just ready to have my mind blown, I wanna see installations of dinosaurs shooting laser beams in Thokoza!

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*GlowLDB's 'remix' for TEDxStellenbosch

OKA: Tell us a bit about the space you’re living in now in the city centre and how these surroundings have aided your creative process...

Robin: We live in what used to be an insurance broker's office. This means we've got space for our 7,000 vinyls, and a recording/production studio. Our place is full of instruments, pictures, books, plants, ceramics, my paintings, and a lot of vinyl. Mo’s got a fun comic book collection too.

Ross: Rob and I spent a while looking for a space that we could live and work in - basically somewhere to make a lot of noise. Mo happened to be looking too, and was the perfect addition, considering our shared interests and plans to work together. I sincerely feel that living in the CBD and in our area has opened my eyes to the diversity of people, places and spaces. Just observing everyone getting up everyday and working and occupying the city in such different ways is incredibly educational and ultimately very inspiring. It’s a big contrast to my ultra-suburban upbringing, and I’m very thankful for it.

Mohato: I was really roped into this space through a project with Robin which was called Lightworks. I think - aside from one event or experience - I’ve learnt a lot by not passively consuming my surroundings, rather I actually think about where I am and ask questions. I reckon this also applies to creative fields, for example: if you hear a great chorus or beat ask why it makes you feel that way. You’re likely to gain something from that mindset.


OKA: When did you first feel that you were meant for a more creative kind of life? Do you think that the popularity of certain things overshadows the creative aspect of them and therefore cheapens them?

Robin: As a kid I used to cut up spaghetti boxes to build 'rollercoaster' structures for rolling marbles. You could say I've been in the creative game for a long time.

Ross: I don’t think I’ve had much of a choice. I love learning, and growing constantly, I think that’s what being creative is: exploring and challenging yourself. It gives me energy. I used to make floral coats for my GI Joes, actually, they were paisley.

Mohato: My first answer to the question “what do you want to be when you grow up” was “an inventor” (I imagined that I could go to inventing school and probably get a BSC invention or something like that). This led me eventually to doing a degree in computer science, which is not inherently creative but I happened to attend some lectures on applying ICT to design and socio-economic development and that changed everything.

OKA: Ross, when teaching how does it feel to see your students get from making noise to making music?

Ross: Teaching can be incredibly rewarding if you’re in the right head-space, and I mean this both in term of my head-space and the student’s. When someone has the motivation to learn, and to be creative with the information that you give them, then something quite magical happens. You end up just guiding them, and I often feel I end up learning more about myself from the interaction. I am lucky that most of my students have a great attitude and are willing to learn. They don’t seem to make any noises I don’t like.


OKA: And to you, Rob. How do you keep yourself focused as an all-rounder? Surely you have to focus your creative energies carefully when you do as many things as you have been.

Robin: My feeling is this: I play drums - music - which is the application of rhythm and harmony. Music is interpreted and composed in ratios and proportions. Ratios and proportions are fundamental to design. What I'm getting at is the idea that music and design (or art) are similar - if you're receptive to this kind of thinking. I should add that you can obviously break symmetries or systems too, as in free and improvisational music. Some bloke said 'architecture is music frozen in time'. That's a fun image to bear in mind.

OKA: Mohato, how do you feel about finding that happy medium between science and creativity?

Mohato: For my masters degree I’m developing a mobile music making application (on the Nokia Lumia). It really is amazing to be able to express my creative interests through my “real life” job as a researcher, but it’s also made me realise that there needn’t be a separation. I think the idea of the “lone maverick genius” is dying and being replaced by a more agile, multi-disciplinary, collaborative idea of what a creator is. I think this is the future - and it’s also more fun.

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*GlowLDB recently dropped this video from their last event and interview called Aperture, which aims to expose local artists/beatmakers.

OKA: We all have that ‘something’ that has made the biggest impact on your creative life thus far. Care to share those experiences?

Robin: My family. My dad’s a lawyer and my mom’s a social worker - they’ve instilled in me a feeling for social justice while also encouraging my creative endeavours. My younger brother is an inspiration beyond words, a complete musical and intellectual genius.

Ross: Well, yes. Once upon a time, I ended up in the ICU; my heart stopped and I was dead. That has certainly had an effect on me, as did the morphine. But it obviously makes one think of the value of life and living. It also had a few spiritual side effects, but overall I came back because I still have a lot to do here - the next dimension can wait.

For more on GlowLDB go here.

Photo courtesy of Sam Soko.

Interview: Sam Soko is the Kenyan Director Behind Sundance Hit, 'Softie'

We meet filmmaker Sam Soko who has made a stirring documentary about the Kenyan protest leader Boniface Mwangi

Filmmaker Sam Soko didn't intend on making a documentary about Kenyan photojournalist-turned-politician Boniface Mwangi.

The original idea he had was to make a manual of sorts, a short video guide, on how to protest, the do's and don't's. Soko, himself an activist artist who cut his teeth convincing friends to let him create political music videos for their apolitical songs, knew Mwangi's experience on the streets both photographing protests and staging them meant he had a lot to share with others.

But then came the blood. A thousand litres of it, to be precise. And the pigs. Dozens of them, with words like MPigs written on them. Like the graphic photos Mwangi had become known for taking—it was a sight you couldn't look away from. It was a protest Mwangi organized, in 2013, to decry corrupt members of the Kenyan parliament who had decided to increase their salaries, 2 months after taking office. And at his side, through the thick red liquid of it all, was Mwangi's wife, Njere, ready to be arrested with him.

"Once I was witness to his relationship, I started seeing him as a family man," Soko tells OkayAfrica. "Because he's planning a protest and all, but when you look at the footage, you start seeing the kids and you start seeing Njere. That's when it started hitting me, in the sense, that she was with him in such a crazy space."

Soko formed a creative and activist hub, called PAWA 254, with Mwangi, as they became part of the groundswell demanding democratic reforms in a country still left scarred from the division sewed between Kikuyu and Luo people by British colonizers. "We had a new Constitution at the time, and there was this hope that we finally could picket without being tear-gassed or being beaten, Like, our civil liberties could be held up." Instead, the government strengthened its police force into a notorious organization condemned by human rights activists. "That's very salient in the film," says Soko. "If you see how the police dress, for instance, at the beginning, it's very different; they become more militant towards the end."

Soko's debut feature-length documentary, Softie, which became the first Kenyan film to ever premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, earlier this year, is at once a love story between Mwangi and his wife and their three children, but also between Mwangi and his beloved Kenya, under president Uhuru Kenyatta. Central to the film is the tussle between how these different loves bump up against each other: what comes first — love of country or love of family?

We spoke to the Nairobi-based director about making the film, which opens in virtual cinemas, starting this Friday, September 18th.

Boniface Mwangi with his wife Photo courtesy of Sam Soko

OA: Early on in the film, we learn how steadfast Boniface Mwangi is — he talks about being willing to die for the ideals he believes in, which made me think of Nelson Mandela and his Rivonia Treason Trial speech. Boniface is someone in the present day who still shares this belief?

When we were working on the edit, and kind of crafting and thinking about what the story was going to be, something that we found that was really, really interesting is, with a lot of the stories, like the story of Nelson Mandela, you'd never see the other side. That's something we see later, up ahead, as a retrospective. We'd hear about Martin Luther King and then we'd read about Coretta Scott in, I think, 1990, like, 'Oh, this his was her struggle.' That sort of thing. But for me, Boniface and Njere represented a present day reality struggle that showcases what Mandela was going through, what Martin Luther was going through. That was kind of like unravelling the curtain; when you see Martin Luther marching, Coretta's at home, trying to help their kids do their homework. And this is the reality.

OA: And the film poses that question of love for your country versus love for your family, and which one should come first?

Exactly. They see it in different ways. Boniface sees it that if you improve the country, you improve the lives of those who you love. Njere's like, you have to have your family's back first. And that means everything else comes second. And she's right; she's not wrong. And he's not wrong.

OA: The film really is privy to some really private moments in Mwangi's life — how did you gain his trust?

When we started filming the short video, he was really involved with the protests, and we started doing the protests with him. So we were—quote, unquote—in the trenches with him in the protests, and somehow that's how he kind of welcomed us to his home. When you've been with someone in the streets, and you're tear-gassed together more than once, you already have a common bond. But then I started developing a relationship with him that was beyond the streets. Just checking up on him and asking, what's going on, what's taking place? That sort of thing. I think it took a while. And I think even from Njere, we kind of developed a kind of camaraderie that was separate from my relationship with Boniface, because I would actually be like, 'Hey, he said that, how does that make you feel?' And not necessarily on camera. But over time, he kind of accepted us to be there with a camera. At some point, I kind of felt like they were talking to me, and not necessarily the camera; like, the camera is kind of this thing that's there, but not there. That kind of trust, again, was built on a respect that I have for them and their values and what they're doing. I think that's something they saw. It made them trust me with their story and trust me with their family.

You're the director of the film, but you're also producer, writer and cinematographer. Did Boniface's own style as a photojournalist influence you in any way?

The film has three cinematographers, and a lot of my cinematography is within the intimate moments, because that's when they would only engage with someone they trust. But him being a photographer actually, to a point, made the work a bit hard because he's constantly looking at how you're doing it. He's in your face about the angle. He's like, 'Hey, why are you standing there, you should be there.' But in some places he did help 'cause he's been filming in the streets and filming protests for a very long time. So when you're there filming, he'll easily tell you, 'Dude, don't stand there. They're about to start tear-gassing. Go to the other side.' And it's weird, when you're on the other side and you're filming, and all of a sudden you see tear gas, you wonder, 'How the hell did he know?' You do that 234 times and you start knowing yourself, 'Oh, this is how,' and he was really helpful in that sense.

I can imagine that filming during the protests must have been one of the big challenges of making this film but what else did you struggle with? There were death threats for Mwangi, did that happen to you as well?

It's so funny, when you're filming and when you're in the protests, it's adrenaline talking. So you're not really thinking about whether you're going to be okay. This one time, I got arrested because the cop said I was a spy for the protesters. [We had everything] from cameras breaking to sound equipment messing up, but when it became a more political story, with death threats, it became scary even for editing the film. Because you don't know who's watching you. This one time, I was with him in the car, filming, and we were being followed. So we kind of had to be very careful who we are telling about the story. It was a very deep secret that we were making this film and there are people who are watching it now asking, 'How could you keep this from us from all these years?' Because we had to do that. Especially when the family was in the US. We had to do that for the sake of safety for him, Boniface, for his family but also the film team. I remember doing the pitches with different names. But then we were also lucky that we had our co-producing partner in Canada, Eye Steel Film, so they were able to house the edit there. I went to Canada to edit and that kind of also gives you a kind of freedom to think and work and create. That was the reality, and now I think we have PTSD from the film. I can't film another protest. I'm sorry. I'm out. Like, it tapped me out.

There are similarities to the Black Lives Matter protests here in the US, against police brutality and violence but the slogan takes on a different resonance in places like Kenya, where the police force is particularly heavy-handed. How do you see these protests as being similar but also different?

There are two things that you learn with the film. One, our voices can never be silenced. They will try, but I think humanity is like a pressure cooker. The more you boil us, the more you put that heat, the more explosive we become. And through people like Boniface's life, you see that there are human beings who exist, who do extraordinary things.

The other thing is the idea of activism doesn't necessarily just speak to the person who's on the street. It doesn't necessarily speak to the person who's holding the placard. An activist is someone like Njere and her life, and her family. And Khadija [Mohamed, Mwangi's campaign manager]. She's such a strong and powerful activist in her own right. She was Boniface's campaign manager for free. The work they did was so powerful. And you have these other people in the background who are doing such incredible things. The sum total of what they've done is [to] instigate… We have an election next year, but I am so sure that we are going to have so many candidates who are going to be like, 'We want you to donate to our campaign. We have these values and beliefs; this is what we want to do.' That is how we need to go about change or add on to the conversations of change.

The same thing that's happening with the Black Lives Matters movement. Yes, there are people going to the street and we should keep going to the street. But we need to push people to engage in policy and make sure these policy changes are made.

We need to stand for what we believe in, as filmmakers in spaces where we feel oppression exists. Like the rules that have come out with the Academy Awards, these are rules that should be celebrated because they add on to that conversation of diversity and representation. All these things—that sum total—is what makes the difference. It's going beyond the streets and going beyond our Tweets, going beyond our Facebook messages, making films and sharing films. We just need to keep pumping up the volume, keeping the heat up, keep pushing. It's gonna take a while, but we'll get there.

Photojournalist-turned-politician Boniface Mwangi during a protest in Nairobi, Kenya Photo courtesy of Sam Soko

That's where you as a filmmaker come in—this film was the first Kenyan film to get into Sundance, where it won a special editing prize.

There's another film I'm producing and, and, yes, I had my film at Sundance, that's great. But there's this other filmmaker who's making another film, and it's so cool, and this is the thing—we need to keep bouncing off this energy and this light and this vibe, and just keep pushing and making sure that the wheels keep turning. That's what we're all about.

How do you renew your strength, as a filmmaker but also as a Kenyan and as an African?

Being a Kenyan is hard. I think being an African is hard. Like, it's hard. There's a line I heard Boniface say once: 'I love my country, but I am afraid of my government.' But the way in which, personally, I find energy is when I meet new filmmakers, or you know, people who are like starting out and they want to make films that sound totally crazy. And they believe that they can do it. And I'm like, 'yes, yes, keep going!' We are planning to do a premiere. We have not confirmed the date yet but we're thinking it's around going to be early October in Kenya, because Kenyans haven't watched it. The government gave us an adult rating. They're putting us on the same level as porn.

This is the same government that banned Wanuri Kahiu's Rafiki because of its homosexual theme…

Exactly, that's what we're getting but the lemonade that we've made out of all this is, 'Guess what? This is cinema!' We're going to take it to a cinema. People are going to come to watch it in a cinema or watch it at home or watch it in the best way possible. And the people who've watched it have appreciated it as a film and a story, and their story. They've seen a reflection of themselves. That gives me so much joy because the Kenyans who've watched it, when they give you feedback, they say, this is truth; this is our truth. And they don't see just an activist. They see a couple struggling with love. They see our history in the last 10 years. And they're like, 'What the hell, we lived this?' and they see the things that are unresolved — and many things are unresolved. Seeing that reaction gives me so much strength and hope. But it's hard. It's very hard. Because, you know, you have to wake up and see the policeman getting a bribe. And you're like, 'Homie??'

"SOFTIE" Movie Poster

Watch the trailer for Softie here.

Softie | Official Trailer | A film by Sam Soko

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