Video

Premiere: South Africa's Flame, Umlilo 'Living Dangerously'

We premiere the video for "Living Dangerously" from South African Music's latest flame, Umlilo.

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“One thing that does propel me constantly is this incessant, burning desire to make art, to express myself and tell my story because I feel it deserves equal attention as anybody else's... I'm sick of seeing the same old clock turning. The world needs fresh stories, fresh ideas, new ideas and people who embrace that. It's also frustrating to look at pop culture and feel like no one represents you or the kind of person you are-- so the best is to become the person you want to represent you.” - Siya Ngcobo

In a wonderful convergence of dark and light, Cape Town creative Siya Ngcobo seems to possess as much of the passion and determination to deliver his art as his stage name-- Umlilo, meaning flames -- suggests. His brand new video premiering on Okayafrica, features Kyla Phil of The Exorsistahs on a track called "Living Dangerously", the first single off his latest EP, Shade of Kwaai. During our interview with Siya, we spoke about South African music what a difference being different can make.

Okayafrica: You have a wonderfully rich voice, when did you know that you wanted to perform?

Siya Ngcobo: Thank you! I've never heard anybody describe my voice like that. It's flattering. I guess when I knew I was a performer I would have to give into the cliché of what most performers say, it's something I carried from a young age. I used to be able to walk, talk, act and dance like anyone on TV so my family found this amusing... I even landed a role on the film Sarafina by mistake because my mom was working on set and I got to play Sarafina's little brother Jabu. I was only four years old at that time. The older I got, I just became more fascinated with the world of performance, music, film and theatre so I honed all those skills.

OKA: Where did the inspiration for the name Umlilo come from?

SN: Umlilo is sort of the delinquent love child of Siya Is Your Anarchist. I made music and performed for two years as Siya Is Your Anarchist, a kind of “shit-stirrer, fist-in-the-air” type persona in which I channelled all my music. As the years went by and my music began to evolve and I thought a new name in which to express myself would be great. Umlilo was perfect for where I'm at right now artistically because it means fire or flames in Zulu and that's exactly how I felt about my music and the kind of artist I want to be. I didn't know any other artist with that name so it felt like the universe approved of this decision.

OKA: It seems the universe graced you with some fine co-conspirators on the new EP! Who worked on the tracks with you and what was the process like?

SN: I initially approached producer/DJ Stefan Wyeth, who produces for Exorsistas, to master my tracks, and he loved my sound and went on to co-produce "Living Dangerously". Kyla Phil, who directed the video for "Living dangerously" also connected with the song and we decided to collaborate. Producer and guitarist for Beatenberg, Ross Dorkin, came on board mid way through the process and mastered all the other tracks in the EP and did a great job. The process was interesting, exciting and frustrating at times. In our case, it worked out pretty well and probably because everyone involved believed in the songs so much. As artists, I respect them so much and that's why it wasn't as hard as it could've been for me to hand over my work and entrust them with it.

*Photo taken from Skattie, what are you wearing?

OKA: How much does your gender-neutral, if not, androgynous lifestyle come into your music?

SN: Well I wouldn't call my "lifestyle" gender-neutral at all because I live in a society where there is no gender neutrality-- from clothes, bathrooms, filling forms, dating, everything has signs and symbols and people feel very uncomfortable without these boxes. I still get treated a certain way because of the colour of my skin, hair, how I look, speak, dress and act so the gender neutral lifestyle is non-existent. I think it comes into my music as naturally as it happens in my life. I think whether artists like it or not, your beliefs, thoughts, sexuality and point of view will always come across in your art.

OKA: So is that what the creative scene in Cape Town is missing, if anything? Embracing those things that make us unique?

SN: I think in every creative cycle there comes a time when everything stagnates and people run out of ideas (usually due to ignorance because Cape Town has so much rich culture and inspiration). What Cape Town is missing is an introspective look at its rich heritage, amazing gay culture, middle class tendencies and apparent social and racial divide, and turn it on its head and interrogate it. Also, a psychological shift that artists need to be poor in order to make credible art, that's bullshit. The creative scene in Cape Town needs unlikely characters and proper pioneers. We need art to challenge us constantly and reflect our society.

*Photo taken from Skattie, what are you wearing?

OKA: What was the inspiration for the video? Tell us a bit about the ins and outs of its makings.

SN: The song is about what happened to my family and about the kind of isolation/solitude we have to live with in South Africa. Stefan Wyeth added a sort of cool urban sound to the production of the song so Kyla Phil and I wanted to do something simple and subtle seeing as its the introduction video to Umlilo so we went with the idea of contrasting darkness and light, nature and an indoor space, and in a very subtle way contrast the idea of being

confined in an enclosed space and also being free in nature.

Video credits:

Song: "Living Dangerously" produced by Stefan Wyeth

Album: Shade of Kwaai

Director: Kyla Phil

Cinematographers and DOP: Rob Wisniewski, Sebastian Lemke, Hennie Le Roux

Styling: Jody Brand and Lauren Rose

Logistics & Production Co-ordination: Maak Los Projects

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Photo courtesy of CNOA

These Colombian Civil Rights Activists Are Fighting to Make Sure Afro-Colombians are Counted in the Census

When 30 percent of Colombia's Black citizens disappeared from the data overnight, a group of Afro-Colombian activists demanded an explanation.

It was the end of 2019 when various Black organizations protested in front of the census bureau—The National Institute of Statistics and Informatics (DANE)—in Bogotá, Colombia to show their dissatisfaction about what they called a "statistical genocide" of the black population. The census data, published that year, showed 2.9 million people, only 6 percent of the total population of the country, was counted as "Afro-Colombian," "Raizal," and "Palenquero"—the various terms identifying black Colombians.

For many years, Afro-Colombians have been considered the second largest ethno-racial group in the country. Regionally, Colombia has long been considered the country with the second highest number of Afro-descendants after Brazil, according to a civil society report.

Why did the population of Afro-Colombians drop so drastically?

Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists protesting erasure of Afro-descendants in front of the census bureau.

Last year, a crowd of activists gathered in Bogota to protest what they saw as erasure of Black communities in the Colombian census.

Photo courtesy of CNOA

In the latest national census report from 2018/2019, there appeared to be a 30.8 percent reduction of the overall group of people that identified as Black, Afro-Colombian, Raizal, and Palenquero, as compared to the 2005. After this controversial report, an Afro-Colombian civil rights organization known as the National Conference of Afro Colombian Organizations (CNOA), officially urged DANE to explain the big undercounting of the black population.

This wasn't a small fight. Representatives who hold the special seats of Afro-Colombians in Colombia's congress asked the census bureau to attend a political control debate at the House of Representatives in November 2019 to deliver an accountability report. "The main goal of doing a political debate was to demand DANE to give us a strong reason about the mistaken data in the last census in regard to the Afro population," said Ariel Palacios, an activist and a member of CNOA.

At the debate, the state released an updated census data report saying that, almost 10 percent of the Colombian population—4.6 million people out of 50.3 million—considers themselves Afro-Colombians or other ethnicities (like Raizal, and Palenquero). But despite DANE trying to confirm the accuracy and reliability on the latest census report it was clear that, for a variety of reasons, Black people were missed by the census. The state argued that their main obstacles with data collection were related to the difficulties of the self-recognition question, as well as security reasons that didn't allow them to access certain regions. They also admitted to a lack of training, logistics and an overall lack of success in the way the data collectors conducted the census.

How could they have counted Black populations better?

Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists playing drums in front of the census bureau.

Drummers performing during a protest against the Colombian census bureau's erasure of Afro-Colombians from the 2018 census.

Photo courtesy of CNOA

These arguments were not reasonable for the civil rights activists, partially because the state failed to properly partner with Afro-organizations like CNOA to conduct or facilitate extensive informational campaigns about the self-identification questions.

"CNOA has worked on self-recognition and visibility campaigns among the Afro community and this census ignored our work," says priest Emigdio Cuesta-Pino, the executive secretary of CNOA. Palacios also thinks that the majority of Afro-Colombians are aware of their identity "we self-identify because we know there is a public political debate and we know that there is a lack of investment on public policies."

That's why it is not enough to leave the statistical data to the official census bureau to ensure that Afro-Colombian communities are fully counted in the country. And the civil rights activists knows that. They made a big splash in the national media and achieved visibility in the international community.

Thanks to The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a human rights organization, Palacios traveled to D.C to meet with Race and Equality institution and a Democratic Congressman. "We called for a meeting with representative Hank Johnson to talk about the implementation of Colombia's peace accords from an Afro-Colombian perspective but also to address the gross undercounts of its black population," says Palacios.

For the activists at CNOA, the statistical visibility of the Black population is one of their battles. They have fought for Afro population recognition for almost two decades. "Since the very beginning CNOA has worked on the census issue as one of our main commitments within the statistical visibility of the Afro-Colombian people," says priest Cuesta-Pina. Behind this civil organization are 270 local associations, who work for their rights and collective interests.

The activists want to raise awareness on identity. Because according to Palacios, "In Colombia, there is missing an identity debate—we don't know what we are. They [the census bureau] ask if we are black, or if we are Afro-Colombians. But what are the others being asked? If they are white, mestizo or indigenous?" Palacios believes that for "CNOA this debate is pending, and also it is relevant to know which is the character of this nation."

Afro-Colombian Populations and the Coronavirus

Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists use mock coffins and statistics to protest erasure of Afro-descendants

Colombian civil-rights activist insist that undercounting Afro-descendants can have a real impact on the health of Afro-Colombian communities, especially during the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis.

Photo courtesy of CNOA

Even though the state recently "agreed with to give us a detailed census report" and make a different projection with the micro data, says Palacios, now with the Covid-19 emergency, CNOA and the government has suspended all meetings with them, including cancelling a second congressional debate and the expert round table meeting to analyze the data.

Unfortunately, it is exactly in situations like the Covid-19 emergency where data analysis and an accurate census report would have been useful. According to the professor and PhD in Sociology Edgar Benítez from Center for Afro Diasporic Studies—CEAF, "Now it is required to provide a reliable and timely information on how the contagion pattern will spread in those predominantly Afro regions in the country and what is the institutional capacity in those places to face it," says Benítez.

He adds that this information is "critical at the moment because the institutional capacity is not up to provide it at the current situation". That's why the Center for Afro Diasporic Studies plans to work with DANE information from the last census. According to Benítez, "We are thinking of making comparisons at the municipal level with the information reported in the 2018 Quality of Life Survey, in order to have a robust and extensive database as possible on the demographic, economic and social conditions of the black, afro, Raizal and Palenquera population in Colombia."









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