“By developing editorial projects together and assisting each other in areas such as distribution, we quietly mainstream our own aesthetics and reduce our dependency on the global publishing system” Ntone Edjabe
Interviewed by Dzekashu MacViban
Ntone Edjabe was born in Douala and he moved to Lagos where he began his studies. In 1993 he interrupted his studies to move to South Africa. He works as journalist, writer, D.J. and basketball coach. He became co-founder and manager of the Pan African Market in 1997, a commercial and cultural space located in Long Street in the centre of Cape Town. In 2002 he created Chimurenga Magazine. In 2004 he was facilitator of Time of the Writer and in 2007 he participated in its 10th edition at the Centre for Creative Arts of the University KwaZulu-Natal. Edjabe is co-founder and member of the DJ collective Fong Kong Bantu Sound system. In 2009 he was Massachusetts Institute of Technology Abramowitz Artist-in-Residence. In 2011 Edjabe won the Principal Award of the Prince Claus Awards, with his Chimurenga platform. Writing for The financial Times, Simon Kuper says “I’d always thought the zenith of journalism was The New Yorker, but in parts, Chimurenga is better.”
In 2002 Ntone Edjabe became founder and director of the Chimurenga magazine and curator of the series of publications African Cities Reader with Edgar Pieterse. He collaborated with radios and publications. He became co-presenter of Soul Makossa, a programme on Bush Radio 89.5, a radio station based in Cape Town. He is curator with Neo Muyanga of the Pan African Space Station (PASS). Among the publications he contributes to Politique Africaine, L’Autre Afrique, BBC Focus on Africa. In this conversation, Dzekashu MacViban discusses with Ntone Edjabe and raises issues such as Chimurenga magazine’s radical nature, Fela Kuti’s legacy and decolonization in former French colonies.
Dzekashu MacViban: Chimurenga is very different from most magazines produced in Africa; it takes liberties with wordplay in its titles, it is unapologetically pan African, its most recent issue The Chimurenga Chronicle experiments with time travel, it focuses on African politics and popular culture and it is unafraid to tackle xenophobia and black gays. What is the philosophy behind Chimurenga and why is it so radical?
Ntone Edjabe: Generally one starts a publication because they want to add something to the publishing universe they inhabit, to transform it somehow. It’s not always the case with commercial publications, but often with small magazines such as Chimurenga. I have always admired magazines that imagined a world as much as they reported it – publications such as Transition, Black Orpheus, Staffrider and even the old Drum much earlier. These publications confronted their world but also mediated and shaped it. When I founded Chimurenga I wanted to create a space where we could speak with similar force and imagination in this time.
Do you think that Chimurenga’s dynamic/radical nature has been influenced by your dynamic artistic nature? How do you manage being a journalist, DJ, basketball coach and writer?
I don’t find anything unusual about having different activities and interests. And yes, my work as DJ, this constant process of re-creating and mixing naturally influences how I edit the magazine.
Can you explain the meaning of Chimurenga, as well as its sub title “Who no Know go know”?
“Chimurenga” is a word from the Zimbabwean Shona language, drawn from the name of Murenga, a mythic Shona warrior. It has come to mean the struggle for freedom – namely during the Zimbabwean wars of liberation. It’s also the name of the music made popular by political artists such as Thomas Mapfumo. “Who no know go know” is a phrase we borrow from Fela Kuti, and exemplary of his wit. I hear Fela signaling that knowledge is something that one makes (or takes) rather than merely receive – an active rather than passive process. This guides how we approach the editorial aspect of the publication.
Tell us about Chimurenga’s other projects like the Pan African Space Station (PASS) and the Chimurenga Library.
The printed word has its limits. And Chimurenga is a very irregular publication – it appears whenever we think it’s ready. All these other projects help manifest our ideas on different and everyday platforms. Interventions can happen through very spectacular once-offs but also on the steady beat that becomes part of our daily lives. We try to play on all fronts available.
Recently, Chimurenga has collaborated a lot with other African publishers and journals, especially Kwani? in Kenya and Cassava Republic Press in Nigeria. How crucial are these type of alliances or partnerships to the publishing industry in Africa?
These are friends and like-minded publishing projects – by developing editorial projects together and assisting each other in areas such as distribution, we quietly mainstream our own aesthetics and reduce our dependency on the global publishing system. At present it is difficult for a Nigerian author to be read in Kenya unless they’re published by a London or New York based mega-house. I think it’s also important to revive the spirit of solidarity that was alive during the 1960s and 70s – and regain the capacity to imagine and shape our own futures.
In a 2010 piece on politics in Africa, Achille Mbembe states that “Here we are in 2010, fifty years after decolonization. Is there anything to commemorate, or should one on the contrary start all over again?” What can you say about this statement?
In many countries in the class of 1960 there is very little to commemorate. The decolonization process remains incomplete on both sides – the colonizer and the colonized, certainly among former French colonies. In the case of Cameroon it is important to remember that the power in place today fought against independence – those who fought for it such as Um Nyobe, Moumie and many others are still obscured by history. We have a flag and a national football team but our political and economic structures and policies are in continuation of the colonial order.
But I think Mbembe (and before him, Fanon and other thinkers) also suggests that we expand our notion of independence, beyond the right to vote for political leaders of our choice – which I must add is still missing in many countries. We must also imagine new forms of leadership and mobilization.
As a writer and journalist whose writing focuses on the intersection between music and politics, how would you evaluate Fela Kuti’s legacy?
Fela’s influence as a musician and composer is well acknowledged. But I also think his Nietzschean stance against power of all sorts was an inspiration for artists and activists. He stands out among musicians of his time as one who walked his talk – whether one agrees with the talk or not. By breaking the divide between the public and the private he expanded our vocabulary of resistance – the musician was no longer simply an entertainer.