The YOBO Report Part 1: White back at you

It’s 5am and I’ve been up since 3 because I can’t stop thinking about being white.

I’m not trying to BE white.  I am white.  I’m trying to figure out what that means, or what it means to me anyway.

I have been trying to figure it out for the last year, ever since my wife and I pitched our idea for a new show to the Grahamstown National Arts Festival for inclusion in their 2015 Solo Theatre program.

I have never obsessed over a piece of work to the level that I took it to with this show.  I know this because I wasn’t alone.  My wife, the greatest wonder of my life, also happens to be my director and the co-creator of “YOBO: You’re Only Born Once”.  This made it very hard to leave our work at the office so to speak.  Actually, that never happened.  Not even once.  In the final two months of pre-production we agonized over every aspect, more so than with any of the other work we have produced together, because we knew that this one was going to take us to some as yet undiscovered places in our personal journeys as theatre-makers.

Iain ‘Ewok’ Robinson performs in YOBO: You’re only born once in the Thomas Pringle hall in Grahamstown on 8 July 2015; at the 2015 National Arts Festival. Robinson’s spoken word and poetic lines are used to tell the story of a solitary white South African man, discovering his position in a post-apartheid SA and realises the contemporary issues we face that link to our history. (Photo: CUEPIX/Niamh Walsh-Vorster)

Iain ‘Ewok’ Robinson performs in YOBO: You’re only born once in the Thomas Pringle hall in Grahamstown on 8 July 2015; at the 2015 National Arts Festival. Robinson’s spoken word and poetic lines are used to tell the story of a solitary white South African man, discovering his position in a post-apartheid SA and realises the contemporary issues we face that link to our history. (Photo: CUEPIX/Niamh Walsh-Vorster)

Hold on a minute.  What the fuck?  I sound like I’m trying to publish an article in a journal here.  If you want to know, we broke our intentions down like this, and critics have written about the show here, here and here. 

I’m over that though.  I’m blogging so that I can get some shit off my chest. 

Cut the kak: YOBO has forever twisted my guts into knots that are both a painful strain and a pleasure to massage away.  This show freaked me out, and I wrote the sucker.  I wanted the artistic glory of creating something that would provoke and challenge, and then to a degree it did, and I freaked out.  I realized that I wasn’t as ready to handle genuine real responsive and responsible critique as I had made myself out to be.  The show had people on their feet, both in ovation at the end AND in exiting during the performance.  I didn’t know how to handle it.  I’m still figuring it out.  That’s why I’m writing this.

I set out to script pieces that honored the work of authors and writers I had discovered in my digging the depths of WHITENESS.  Digging the depths is the wrong way to describe it actually.  Whiteness isn’t deep.  It’s on the surface.  It isn’t buried, it’s exposed, it’s evident, it’s even obvious.  So obvious that it is beyond observable and has become invisible, invisible in the way that it has manufactured itself as “normal” (making everything other than white, well, “other”).  As it turns out, this invisibility trick isn’t that clever really, because it only seems to work properly on white people.

What is clever about it is the way that it manages to hide (pause for dramatic effect) by being seen.

I met a street artist once who told me that he used to bomb bridges during peak traffic times (Bomb with paint, not bombs.  It’s a graffiti thing).  The more obvious the act the less people seemed to construe it as anything other than somehow sanctioned, or at least much harder to question.

That’s whiteness.  It’s so in your face that it is your face, so you can’t see it.  Unless you look in a mirror, but even then, it’s white like light so it reflects back into your eyes and you have to look away or it hurts.  Either that or you freeze.  Paralysis.  Oh Deer me.  Like a bright light right in your eyes, so all consuming that you can’t look away.  You can’t see anything else.  So you start to forget that anything else exists.  So you’re shocked and unsettled by the notion that anything else exists that isn’t this light.  The light is the primary focus and everything else is the periphery, or if you will, everything else is the margin.

Apparently, according to the critics, some people watched the show and had to look away, or in the case of the theatre, walk out.  I know, I heard them.  I couldn’t see them though.  The light was in my eyes.  That’s what happens when you are on stage, the centre of attention, always in focus.  You don’t see anyone else.  They’re in the blackness, you’re in the light.  You’re aware that they are there, but you can ignore them easily.

I used to do this thing in performance where in order to shake my nerves I would blur my own vision so that I didn’t focus on the audience.  I could look at them without actually seeing them.  It’s a neat trick.  It works both on and off the stage, you just keep your eyes white open.

So, the show.  It’s about how whiteness is an addiction, a comfortable habit that won’t be broken until the addict starts to suffer, to suffer enough that they are desperate to do something about it, anything to break it’s hold.  Some addicts never get to break free, they keep reaching out but all they ever get to grab onto is more net, another hook, barb-wire that cuts them back into their prison of unsustainable highs.  Whiteness is about getting high and trying to stay high.  Strangely enough, this is where whiteness stops being about race and starts to become more about a shared savage survival instinct in all animals, definitely in humans (you know the story about the Mom monkey that stands on the baby monkey to escape the heat?).  We all want to be at the top, and no one wants to be knocked down.

White people don’t see it, but we suffer from a superiority complex bred into us from centuries of imperial cultural conquest of those our ancestors deemed “other”.  We understand this, but we don’t really see it or know it, like we don’t really own it.  It’s like the difference between SAYING sorry and FEELING sorry.  I had to capitalize those words because I have decided that I can’t speak softly about this issue anymore.  White people, especially white artists, that have chosen to have this conversation need to recognize that choice as part of our privilege and I don’t think we can placate ourselves or others anymore by waiting to feel comfortable before diving into this white hole of self-reflection.

So this is me, diving in, the first part in a series of however many it takes as I keep coming white at you.

Peace be the journey, education be the destination, knowledge be the train, the track and every station.


Dealing with some New Brand Of Dad

"Art director" Phyf and main Dad Audiophile 021 talking Ninja Turtles and nappies.

“Art director” Phyf and main Dad Audiophile 021 talking Ninja Turtles and nappies.


“Aight listen! Ye inna position te make a difference if you stop look an listen an make it ye main mission…”

The New Brand Of Dad project is all about how having kids makes us want to be better.  Better artists, better humans, just better overall.  Better at life really, while still working on its personal definition.  The New Brand Of Dad project is about how our little kids have pushed us to make sense of things, letting us strip away all the petty shit and focus on what is really important in our lives.  Having a kid seems to bring that into a fairly sharp perspective, and quickly.  No lie, having a kid is like adapt or die.

Look, before I start getting too motivational speaker on the reader, just to let you know that NBOD isn’t anything new as such, in that it is an album of music recordings, rap and beats, Hip Hop at our finest.

What is new is the perspective that has guided our approach.  We are producing the album from the perspective of being new to the parenting game, while being longtime in the music making and performance game.  This project is about prioritizing quality in the way that we work.  This is about legacy, and longevity, and making a mark that we will always be be proud of.  The ideas contained in this project are timeless, but the production is setting a higher standard that we aim to promote, develop and progress beyond.

It makes sense then that we would want to set the highest standard possible, so that any progress made would be taking us to a new level, just like the commitment to being a good parent.  You have to be able to adapt if you are going to raise your kid right, because that little life is in constant development.  The kid you knew yesterday is the one that you learned about today, and will become a new kid tomorrow.

To raise kids you have to be ready to raise yourself.

The dads involved in this project know all about not dropping the ball, about not compromising your craft, about taking yourself seriously enough to risk and to roll with the possible punches.  It seems like that’s what being a dad is all about.  You don’t always see things coming so you can’t always be prepared.  All you can do is commit yourself to the process, and when you do trip up or stall for whatever reason, quality of character is what pulls you through.  Hip Hop is the same.  It’s all about the recovery.  When breakers slip or MCs tongue stumble, the way they turn that into part of the routine or the rhyme is how you can identify real skill.  Kids are like that, they don’t have all the control so you have to be there with them, to help them recover so that they can discover.  That means you have to be on point, more then you ever thought possible.  You have to find plenty extra energy.  You have to take more time or at least maximize the time you have in making sure you make the best move possible in the moment.

Look, again, this is all pretty obvious stuff if you are even a slightly positive person that drinks coffee and gets busy on a serious level of attack when it comes to life.  It’s just having a kid makes it seem less like a mission and more like a purpose.  This album is about having a clear purpose.  Like we want our kids to have a quality life, we want the listener to have a quality experience.  Our kids are teaching us about perspective, and we want to put these lessons into practice.

NEW BRAND OF DAD is due for a JULY 2014 release.  Like us on Facebook, follow us on twitter, stay tuned and keep practicing that perspective…

East Jerusalem story

I heard a story today, about East Jerusalem.  It’s about a family, a Palestinian family of Islamic Arabs, that want to build a home.

This family goes back generations, maybe 6 or 7, back into the histories of this land and this city.  Jerusalem is their home, they have known no other. This family wants to build a home, or at least an addition to their family house.  This house that they have lived in for years is on land that they have occupied for centuries.  Like any modern home owner in any city in the world, they pay rates to the municipality to reside on that property.  The young children are getting older, bigger, and the family is expecting a new baby soon.  They want to extend their house, so they apply to the municipality for the rights to do this.  They wait, months go by.  5, 6.  Then a year.  Then two years, then six, then ten.  There is no response to their application.  The children are all much, much older now, the baby born is already almost a teenager, the house has long outgrown them and still they hear nothing.  They cannot wait any longer, so they build an extension without the necessary permit.  When it is complete, they move the furniture in, followed by the family.  Life carries on in this new space, 5 months, 6 months.

Then it happens.  One night the family wakes up to the sound of heavy machinery maneuvering just outside their home. They are surrounded by large demolition vehicles and security forces. It is dark and the only lights are the strong beams from these machines, and the torches of soldiers, armed, some of them masked, who give the family only a short time to evacuate whatever and whoever they can, before the machines start to tear down their home. The destruction is not solely leveled at the new extension, only recently added on, but on the entire home. By the time day breaks and the machines lumber away, it is over. Nothing is left standing. What furniture they managed to move in the terror and the darkness stands exposed, scattered randomly where it fell when rushed from the house. The rest lies in amongst the rubble of the home. “This was an illegal house.” they are told again and again by the bland faced soldiers.

The property is still subject to tax, and if the family does not pay, they will be expelled from East Jerusalem.  They must continue to pay the rates that are due on the rubble of their former life.  There is a final rub here, a last official stamp that marks them as the second class citizens they have become.  The city will not cover the cost of the machinery hire.  The demolition vehicles that performed this operation are legally attached to the home owner who transgressed the city permit laws.  They must pay for the hire of the machinery that destroyed their home.  If they do not, they will be forced to leave.

This is just one story, from one day, from one family in East Jerusalem. There are many, many more.

Boycott Apartheid Israel.  Free Palestine.

rubble of lives


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BRICS that don’t build.

Durban (my home base) is a city with a history of protest and revolutionary thinking. The man who founded the ANC (the majority party in our current self-styled government of liberation) was from here, and successive leaders of that original organization of unity have been based here. The Natal Indian Congress that coordinated and conducted effective passive resistance stay aways and go slows and such civil disobedience, was based here. Gandhi began to develop his legendary ideas of ‘satyagraha’ by acting together with the civil society movement of Durban. Our International Convention Centre has welcomed on many occasions variously foreign leaders, diplomats and captains of big business, and on as many occasions has had to build barriers against communities and social movement members who gather outside that cathedral of capital to let their voices be heard.

It’s on this old battleground for civil and human rights that a fresh fight is forming.

Brics from below

This fight will be one that unites many communities into a single entity, as we collectively acknowledge a clearly defined ‘enemy’, recognizable to us all in it’s various shifting forms, from government and capital collusion, to brutal policies of forced removal, to environmental destruction. Together with this oncoming wave of fresh marginalization of our civil society voices, and it’s building brutalization of the poor and disenfranchised, the way is most certainly being paved for the type of high-level corporate corruption we have grown so used to in our young democracy.

“Capital B to the R to the I – C – S / 5 letters suggest who writes the cheques / but never checks the Rights / so the peoples lives are economically blocked by some Capital lies…”

B R I C S stands for Brazil – Russia – India – China – South Africa. These five countries are defined in money talk as “emerging economies”, which basically means that up till now they haven’t been allowed to eat at the big table with the traditional leaders of the global economy. These “emerging economies” are seen to pack significant weight in import and export capital and what opportunities they offer others in terms of infrastructure development both at home and abroad. Now, with this growing power, they are more interested in working with each other (economically speaking) then with the ‘old guard’ (the USA, the UK, the EU) who have been scrambling to maintain any credibility/superiority through the last few years of managing a financial crisis that might have been avoided.

That’s what BRICS is: a group of new heavy-weight economies that want to start doing business with each other to create a collective fresh big swinging dick on the Global playground.

“Maite tells us not to criticize / coz they’re bringing us a BOOM like ‘industrialize’ / but we don’t want more construction, corruption and drama / eyes still wet from the tears of Marikana…”

Economists, politicians, government planners, and other such people whose careers are based solely on legitimizing this sort of international gamesmanship, will call up all kinds of verifiable figures and concrete facts together with clear government sanctioned policies of implementation that will lend massive credence to the notion that this is collective is going to “benefit” all of the countries involved.

Here’s where it get’s tricky, sticky and straight-up bull-shitty: isn’t a country largely defined, not by it’s global economic standing, but by the well-fare, the wellbeing, of it’s people? Can a country even be said to exist, if it’s natural resources (again, NOT it’s economic resources), it’s actual natural beauties and environs, no longer exist? Can there be any “benefit” in asking a people who’s lives, even in the last twenty years of “freedom”, are largely defined by continued hardship and a struggle to access even the most basic of human rights (shelter and dignity), to sacrifice on behalf of an unseen entity like ‘the economy’?

If the answer to the first question is yes, and to the second two is no, then how is it that the South African government, thought its parastatal TRANSNET, in an apparent attempt to punch above it’s economic weight and justify its standing in this arrogant acronym (BRICS), would sanction the expansion of the Port of Durban in an effort to make this city the “Gateway to Africa”, if that means the displacement (forced removal) of 6000 South African citizens, the destruction of a series of natural African eco-systems, an increase in the already rampant and chart topping pollution of the Durban South Basin, and the undermining of a local manufacturing market that employs thousands?

“It’s just another power BLOC / fokkol change / 99% playing in a 1% game…”

When the Occupy movement grabbed the worlds attention in 2011, when they moved to shut-down Wall Street in New York, when they camped outside St Pauls in London, inspiring multiple synonymous movements around the world to take up fresh arms, the common paradigm was of a world where 99% of the population worked and in many cases slaved for the benefit of the 1% few.

BRICS has set itself up as a clear case of the operation of the mechanics of maintaining this absurdly weighted percentage paradigm. While the biggest ‘players’ in this game, the leaders and ministers of these countries who are in control of ‘international cooperation’ (foreign policy) together with their private capital counterparts, continue to meet to discuss the easiest ways to ensure the quickest and most effortless profits, the people on the ground that will be directly affected by any moves made “on their behalf” are consistently excluded from this policy making process.

Unless of course they decide to find alternative routes to reminding those at the top that the foundations tend to crack, that the base starts to get shaky, when the people decide that movement is necessary.

Once again, Durban plays host to just such a social civil society movement: The South Durban Environmental Alliance . This movement, that is built from below by real “human bricks”, while operating in protest to the Port of Durban expansion, is in effect operating in protest of ANY type of traditional top-down political play that seeks to make pawns of a people while the Kings breathe easy.

This meeting took place today. Don’t worry if you missed it. It won’t be the last, not by a long shot.

BRICS from below Durban action

[Follow @BricsFromBelow to link with a growing movement of eThekwini communities mobilizing against this juggernaut]

New Video: BLUE GENE “Blue Gene”

Lyrics by Creamy Ewok Baggends
Music by Charles Amblard and BLUE GENE

Looking for the animal in man? Here I stand / cat cooler than polar bear sweat gland / top down / check crown / microphone controller / skew peak speak o’ street poetry persona / hang with the slang when ye world grow colder / sparks off the page like the pen’ll solder / picking up the pieces after blasting boulders / lava flows but eruptions over / HEAT / it’s a climate crisis / venomous pimps selling kids their vices / now they wanna battle over who the nicest / all about the cake and the means to ice it / some catch crumbs from some that slice it / some want more then crumbs and pull the gun / Blam! Blam! / gunshots gangster cool / got Godfather types that’re still in school / wanna break / first you have to learn the rules / study the machine then select your tools / wanna mess with the engine / better believe / I got more then an oil change up my sleeve / I twist nuts / while these suckers bust them / all the shit talk and I’m supposed to trust them / selling me the same when I paid for custom / never spin the wheel when the roulettes Russian / got my name on ye slug but ye bullets a blank / tryna buy me out you’d have to blow the bank / I be the Grandmaster Caz not the Big Bank Hank / I be all about the think so remove the tank / my posse roll on the track so the trail got a bump and a groove you can feel like braille / to the snakes we’re bringing in the anti-venom / BLUE GENE / you’re dealing with the deadly denim…

Throwing scripts off the stage like I’m sick of rehearsal / director it’s time for a role reversal / the kid’s taking charge of the dough dispersal / no more feature film following your cheap commercial / this quality come at you from first to last / if it’s all about the bomb then be the first to blast / if it’s all about the function / meetup at the junction / I’ll point to the show where we show you the point / of leaving microphone’s wrecked’s to connect like a joint / make it count like I’m number crunching / down for the count like I’m doing the punching / step into the space like I took the gap / worldwide iconic like a Yankee cap / never that / I’m just a regular rap chap / check it from my kicks to the rest of my claptrap / people want to know what I’ve got in my backpack / ’nuff books ’nuff beats ’nuff reason to rap / tough times never easy when you’re talking the truth / they put the poison in the pudding when you’re looking for proof / people kill for a cause so the cause don’t die / people die for a cause and never question why / so I ride on the track to keep my poetry primed / to cut the head off the spine just to change a mind / coz the answers there / the question’s clear / what kind? / you don’t know what you know until you’re forced to find / you only find the groove when you’re doing the time / you won’t find where you’re at if you’ve never been / sometimes you support / sometimes you lean / sometimes isolated / stand alone unseen / sometimes you connect through a blue gene…

Suli Break(down): Why I will not let a YouTube video do all my thinking for me

Some people think that I’m trying to battle Suli Breaks.  I’m not.  Before you read this, watch his video:

Now watch my response:

Now dig this:

A lot of people might think that I disagree with this cat.  I don’t.  Before we go any further let me just state openly that I have big respect for Suli Breaks, and for anyone like him that uses a true talent and impressive skill to inform and inspire others beyond the self-gratifying nature of most contemporary pop culture that only seeks to serve itself and sell that self to others.

This cat walks the talk.  As I said, much respect.

What he has done here has inspired me to respond.  People think I’m battling him.  I’m not.  The purpose of my piece was to take his argument further.  There is a competitive edge to it, it seems to be provocative, and in a lot of ways begs a response, but that’s the nature of what we do as Spoken Word artists, and I’m pretty sure that he would understand my intentions here better then anyone.

I’m not battling him, I just don’t think he made enough room in his exam argument for the teachers and parents that are out there with a broader view of their role as educators.

Now I never like to explain my poetry.  I think it’s like explaining a joke, and a good joke needs no explanation.  However, there is more to this piece then simply the poem.  There is the question of context, his British versus my South African.  There is the question of audience, the difference between the pupils he is talking about, and those who came up to me after class one day, excited, saying “Sir, have you seen Suli Breaks?  You have to see it sir!  It’s Spoken Word sir, go check it out!”.  I did check it out, and I wasn’t going to respond, until one of the teachers in my department said to me how she felt like her students were using this video to attack her, how they seemed to be accusing her of some kind of collusion in what was to them a seemingly corrupt system.  Hearing that, the way the video had been picked up as a kind of banner to be flown in the face of teachers and parents without considering some of those broader questions, I had to respond.

My response was in the form of a Spoken Word piece that mimicked Suli’s style and production, a direct reference that openly identified with the genre and stood in the same space to literally re-focus the argument.  When they heard it, the fellas at the school I teach at part time wanted to create a video version as a further direct reference to the original.

As I said, and as you hear me reciting in the piece, I think that there is more to exams then the final mark, and that the real benefit that comes from any test is not in the final result, but in the process of preparing, studying, and honing mental skills that will serve you beyond any specific subject.

In one sense, as a friend and colleague pointed out, exams results do matter.  For example, if you had the choice to drive over two different bridges, one built by an engineer who got 100% on his finals and the other by an engineer who got 98%, which would you choose?  If you had to have open heart surgery and you could choose between two surgeons, one who got 100% and another who got 95%, which would it be?  I don’t think you could be blamed for wanting to go with the one with the higher score.

However, I think Suli knows this, and I don’t think that is what he is saying, so I tried to say it like “Exams are a way of working out a kind of worth, but students who are working will always be worth more then exams…”.

Okay, now I’m explaining my piece.  Bad joke.

I’m going to leave it up to you to decide, one way or the other, because the ability to be able to do that, to be able to take in information and develop your own opinion, to be able to use your brain to assume an individual position, that’s the education that I think we are both banging on about.

Once again, respect due to you Suli.  I know you didn’t mean to, but you’ve sparked a worldwide debate.

Much thanks to all of the staff and students of Clifton College Durban for making this happen.  If it is a battle, I’d rather it be for education, and not entertainment.

p.s.  This is dedicated to my father, who educated me about teaching, and to my mother, who taught me about being an educator.


It must be one of my greatest honors, to be associated with the 031 FLOOR ASSASSINS, a crew of hard working concrete cracking blood stained Breakers that I have had the pleasure of watching progress over the last (almost) 10 years. I will let them speak for themselves with the video clip below, but just to know that these fellas are one hundred percent homegrown Hip Hop talent, and I can vouch for that, having watched them take literally every step of their journey to international success and status. I was there when they took the title of Durban Champions way back when at the Life Check All Elements Battle of the Year. I was there when they travelled as a four man squad to compete in the African Hip Hop Indaba in Cape Town, their first experience of the world of professional Breaking and Battling. I have seen them broaden their perspectives and in embracing contemporary styles, broaden their horizons. They have grown from kids into choreographers, carrying the roots of Hip Hop culture and its philosophy of expression followed by freedom into every aspect of their craft. I have nothing but respect for these fellas. They keep the fire burning and bring us all in from the cold.

If you didn’t know, now you know. Floor Assassins forever.