Meet the new generation of Johannesburg creatives finding true inspiration by looking inwards

today30/11/2023 5

share close

For the fifth and final instalment of Vuse’s Street Covers series, we travel to South Africa with international DJ and producer Anfisa Letyago and award-winning album art designer Brian Cannon to visit Johannesburg, one of modern underground music’s undeniable capitals. The Vuse Street Covers docuseries has seen Anfisa and Brian embed themselves within burgeoning underground art and music scenes across the globe, with stops in Dubai, Medellín, Barcelona, Liverpool and now, rounding it all off in Jo’burg.

To mark a decade of showcasing up-and-coming talent and charging beyond in creativity, Vuse established its Street Covers platform to champion the people and places pushing underground creativity forward. In Johannesburg revives the art of the album cover, viewers get to experience a different side to this up-and-coming dance music mecca — a city that is simultaneously looking optimistically towards its future, as well as grappling with the lessons to be learned from its past. “Not just Johannesburg, but the whole country continues to face a great deal of problems, which we witnessed first-hand during our time in the city— but there’s immense community spirit there despite the adversity people are facing”, says Brian.

“Before heading to Johannesburg, I was curious about the music scene and local culture,” says Anfisa. “I am a huge fan of Afrobeats, and it felt like such a cool time to visit – there is such a buzz around the music there at the moment! I was so excited to dive into the unique electronic genres South Africa is known for globally and connect with the local music community. It didn’t disappoint.”

To experience Johannesburg through the eyes of the city’s creative community, we meet DJ and Cultural Creator Lelowhatsgood (aka Lelo) and graffiti artist, illustrator and designer, DAMN VANDAL (aka Shaun) — two artists who are helping to redefine Johannesburg’s cultural identity.

The pair had known each other before starting the project, but this was the first time they had worked together. “It was such a pleasure to work with Lelo, especially after we had just had two amazing trips to Tomorrowland together,” says Shaun. “As South African content creators, it just made sense for us to collaborate and put our talents together. He’s such a great guy and easy to get along with, not to mention his music which is next level”.

Alongside his work as a DJ, Lelo is spearheading ballroom culture in South Africa with his passion project VNJ Ball, which creates a safe and celebratory space for the LGBTIQA+ community to foster the vogueing scene, and is heavily involved in queer club night party Pussy Party. “Getting to share the success stories of VNJ Ball and Pussy Party through the Street Covers film was such an honour.”,” says Lelo. “These are more than events; they’ve become institutions within Johannesburg and around South Africa and I hope to see more people from around the world learn about these incredible scenes and the people behind it.”

“With the global popularity of genres like gqom and amapiano, the whole world is keeping an eye on South African dance music right now,” Lelo adds. “Beyond the music, it’s an exciting time for our culture to be celebrated as well. We’ve come to a point where we don’t have to look anywhere else but at home for inspiration and that makes me happy. We’re building an industry that’s sustainable and interesting, and we’re making it all happen by ourselves. I think that’s powerful.”

Shaun tells us how he works to infuse a sense of bold, modern Johannesburg spirit into his street art, attempting to move away from the traditional forms inspired by US and European pieces, and instead investigating what it means to be South African now. “As a South African, I think it is very important to showcase our variety of styles and cultures,” he tells Mixmag. “We want to emphasise our bold attitude, whether it’s in art, music, or fashion. We just need the platforms to showcase this and the Vuse Street Covers project was the perfect opportunity to do so.” Shaun adds that the city is ‘always pushing the limits’ and that he’s had ‘crazy opportunities within Jozi’ which he believes says so much about the city’s music and art scene.

“The art scene in Johannesburg was similar to the other cities that we visited in so far as they’re all derivatives from the New York hip hop graffiti scene way back from the late 70s and early 80s,” says Brian. “However, each one of the cities we visited has put its own spin on that original influence, and Johannesburg was no different – it clearly has an African influence to it; it was very vibrant, very colourful, and very competent as well – I saw a lot of really quite technical pieces which I thought were very, very good.”

Shaun, reflecting on the guidance Brian gave him during the Vuse Street Covers project commented, “Working with Brian was great, he is such an insightful person when it comes to design and album cover layout, and has such rad stories about his past, which are really inspiring.”

In the film we join Anfisa and Lelo at Flame Studios, a recording studio located within The Old Fort on Constitution Hill — a former women’s prison that was used to hold those who opposed the Apartheid. As Lelo leads Anfisa through the halls of the prison building toward the studio, he explains how much he appreciates the space being reclaimed as somewhere to ‘make songs for healing’.

“It was important we show a historical place within the film,” Lelo tells Mixmag. “There’s no denying that we come from a painful past, but we should use that as a tool to show how we can achieve greatness even from darkness. We use music as a way of telling stories, portraying feelings, and to move people.”

Anfisa was similarly affected by the experience, sharing that walking around Flame Studios was ‘unforgettable’. “The underground vibe and the historic aspect of the location were mind-blowing. Entering through this tunnel into the rock and discovering it was a music studio was incredible. I have never, and most probably will never again go to such a unique studio. It’s a place with so much history and being there was like stepping into a time capsule.” Anfisa admits that Lelowhatsgood’s track for the Street Covers project ‘hit her’ on first listen. “There was this raw energy and authenticity to it that resonated with me instantly; his artistry and the message in the music were powerful, and I was hooked right from the start.”

As the four meet at a record store, Brian emphasises the importance of the two artists collaborating in order to create complimentary pieces of work, sharing stories of going on lengthy tours with artists in order to pinpoint what would work for their music visually. “To do a truly creative collaboration you’ve really got to feed off each other and hang out,” Brian tells Mixmag. “It’s the only way to do it, because it’s more than just working with someone in a normal 9-5 job, so it was great to see Shaun and Lelo doing that – truly collaborating.”

Check out Vuse on Instagram

Vuse contains nicotine and is addictive. For adult nicotine consumers only.

Watch Johannesburg revives the art of the album cover below.

Written by: Tim Hopkins

Rate it