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Xavier Livermon

Xavier Livermon is an Assistant Professor of African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. He has published widely in the fields of African Popular Culture and African Queer Studies. His forthcoming book, Kwaito Futurity discusses the rise of post-apartheid South African popular culture and its articulation with contemporary politics of race, gender, and sexuality.

"Kwaito Futurity: New Directions in South African Music and Performance"
The contemporary South African music scene is marked by its multiplicity, an almost limitless supply of polyvalent referents that are simultaneously local and global. In this paper, I am interested in examining the turn to the feminine in South African popular music and performance to imagine an alternative future for South Africa. If the shift from apartheid to post-apartheid was marked by contestations of competing racialized masculinities that continue to perpetuate the inequalities of apartheid in new forms, what does the (re)focus on feminine performance signal in this contemporary moment?

Gqom music is a form of electronic dance music that was developed in Durban townships but has increasingly spread throughout South Africa. It is closely related to, and considered by some to be a descendant of kwaito music. Increasingly, qgom has circulated globally, acquiring an underground cachet among electronic music connoisseurs in Europe (and to a lesser extent North America).

In this paper, I investigate the rise and circulation of two gqom artists, Babes Wodumo on the one hand and FAKA on the other. I argue that both challenge conventions relating to normative forms of black masculinity and femininity which signal new post-apartheid sonic futures. Wodumo, a product of the Durban musical scene is an artist that has enjoyed considerable commercial success as one of the few women artists in gqom. What I am interested in investigating is her use of “ratchet aesthetics” and why a turn to the ratchet might be what South Africa needs at the moment. Understanding ratchet as a gendered term with origins in Afrodiasporic cultural practices, I ask what is potentially liberating about its repurposing in the South African context at this moment? I suggest that as a form of expression being ratchet is about the rejection of classed masculinist performances. I look at how through her vocal, kinesthetic and sonic expressions, Wodumo enacts her ratchet performances and how these performances create a space for imagining alternative forms of gender and sexuality politics for young black women in South Africa.

FAKA is a Johannesburg performance duo that is invested in destabilizing gender norms in black/queer cultural representation. Using gqom music as an extension of their performance personas, the duo specifically revels in male femininity, producing jarring images and sonic textures that challenge masculinist representations in queer culture. Through their music and performance they perform queer desire and queer bodies through a radical decentering of masculinity. There is nothing discrete or normative about their non-binary performances in which long flowing wigs, elaborate makeup, women’s traditional attire, and high heel shoes draw from a variety of global black queer aesthetics ranging from Ballroom culture to the back rooms of Johannesburg.