Feature Interview

Dookoom: Champion Of The Have Nots

The disparity between the haves and the have nots has never been more apparent than right now in South Africa. Cape Town rap crew Dookoom know this better than most artists – their last video for ‘Larney Jou Poes’ caused so much upheaval, AfriForum laid a complaint of hate speech against them. Yet another example of South Africa’s highly sensitised reaction to all that it refuses to internalise and understand.

Dookoom’s new video for ‘Dirty’ was directed by lauded photographer Pieter Hugo, famed for his work in Nigeria (The Hyena & Other Men) as well as stark portraits of people who suffered “the failure of the South African colonial experiment” (Kin).

Visually, ‘Dirty’ is much more abrasive than ‘Larny Jou Poes’ in its carnal, animalistic portrayal of a man who’s basically screwing himself and a lily-white woman (well, she starts off all-white anyway) who stands in between them.  To my delight, Dookoom were eager to chat about their current work.

Tecla: Pieter Hugo told The Guardian in an interview in 2013 – “I don’t fit into the social topography of my country and that certainly fuelled why I became a photographer” – do you feel a certain kinship with Hugo where his statement is concerned?

Human Waste: If you look at the history of ‘Doekoem’ in the Cape Flats, they are figures of fascination and fear. They are outsiders who are often misunderstood because they practice arcane arts which could be mistaken for sorcery or witchcraft. I guess we see ourselves as outsiders, whether in South Africa or anywhere else in the world.

Isaac Mutant: Ok I’ve googled the meaning of the word ‘topography’ and they talk about the configuration of the natural land and the contours of the mapping of it. I don’t know about that, all I know is I never really fitted in anywhere. And that’s besides being a coloured in apartheid. At home, in school same thing. I sneaked off to a Club called Planet Base Saturdays when I was about 11 years old and met people like me. So yes I agree with Hugo.

spo0ky: When you deal with things others fear, you are an outsider. I’m also happy to be an outsider in South Africa, the lack of compassion and understanding between our different cultures boggles my mind and is difficult to accept.

How did working with Hugo come about?

Human Waste: Our spiritual guide, The Roger [Roger Young], sent our music to Pieter. He loved the track ‘Dirty’ and pitched us a treatment. We were all aware that the song could be misconstrued as condoning sexual violence against women, so we wanted to make sure any treatment didn’t reinforce that possible misconception. We liked Pieter’s idea of an inner journey with Isaac confronting and ultimately ‘killing’ himself.

Conservatives are probably going to stay far away from the uncensored version of video, what would your response be to the people who think the only reason your videos exist are for pure sensationalism?

Human Waste: We don’t see ourselves as sensationalist. We just make music about things that interest us. There’s enough music about having fun and drinking and material success and buying stuff. We like to make music that has some depth – that can start a discussion, or evoke an emotion. So much music just washes over me with no effect, nothing more than product to be mindlessly consumed.

Isaac Mutant: I wouldn’t want to argue my point since, first and foremost, it’s art. Whether or not it is provocative or for sensationalism isn’t relevant. But to me it exists to shatter the boxed way we as society live and think in. For example, it is unheard of for a ‘rap artist’ to dress and act like that in a music video. Says who? Does that mean I’m not a rap artist?

Did you go into shooting with a very clear aestheticism for this video or did you leave some room to see how far you can push the envelope?

Human Waste: Pieter pitched the video concept in detail so we had a very clear idea of what we were trying to achieve. There’s obviously a performance element that comes into the process on the day of shooting, but we stuck to a rigid schedule. When you are working in that type of professional environment with a big crew, there isn’t much room for deviating from the shot list.

From, your body of work I get the impression that you don’t want to fit in, but rather create a corner that’s all your own – and even though there’s a clear undercurrent of anger there, you still want to welcome those who feel the same way and let them know it’s okay to be and feel different?

Human Waste: You are right, but we don’t want to exclude people. We just happen to be interested in difficult subjects; race, poverty, social justice, inner turmoil, sexuality, anger – a lot of people are uncomfortable engaging with those topics. We’re interested in creating friction and dialogue. It’s OK to hate what we do. So many artists just want to be loved. They’ll do anything to be loved. They’ll make formulaic music. They’ll avoid controversy. They’ll embrace fashion and trends and musical styles. We love anyone who engages with us but we don’t need to be loved in return.

Isaac Mutant: Look, everybody wants to belong. ‘Cause it’s a safe place. And the world is full of anger. It’s everywhere and it’s bubbling under because that’s how we are told to be; happy on the surface. That don’t work for me. I’m trying to create a world where people understand that if you get fucked over it’s ok to be angry because you were born with emotions. Anger and violence is spelled differently in the world DOOKOOM is creating.

spo0ky: We’re creating a space where we deal with hard subjects, and anybody wanting to engage with these topics are welcome. Our society currently says that anger is bad, that we should only be positive, but we’re not really taught the purpose of anger and how to use it efficiently. It’s like therapy, it’s hard, you may hate it but at the end you come out stronger and wiser.

Dookom posted yesterday that, in light of the discussion surrounding ‘Larney Jou Poes’ 3 farmers raised their workers’ pay “not because they were scared but because it made them think.”

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Watch the video below.