By the time Rushay Booysen came of age in his hometown of Port Elizabeth, South Africa, apartheid was beginning its long overdue slide into the shadows of history. But the 30-year-old activist and hip-hop promoter can still remember feeling its effects, something which, as a middle-class person of mixed racial heritage, he experienced in a unique way..
"Growing up as a colored kid, I always had a sense of confusion, as I was not classified black nor was I classified white, yet I have both of them in me," Booysen says. "I grew up in a neighborhood where there were other colored people, and that was my reality at that stage. I didn’t know of anything else. I started growing up, and my dad was in the building industry, so he would work in different neighborhoods. Once, I can recall I was a kid and I played with white kids. I don’t know, for some reason, it just felt different, and I wanted to be white. I think it was because they had a lot more than what we had, so that experience made me also want to be like them.
"In the same sense, when you’d go to a black neighborhood, I’d also be treated differently because I might not look like them. I would, in a sense, be outcasted, because that’s how racism divided people in South Africa."
Apartheid, as a formal practice, ended in 1994, but its impact still lingers in South African society. Fortunately, progressively-minded individuals like Booysen are attempting to heal the decades of damage. Masizakhe: Let Us Build Together, a film by University of Washington professor Scott Macklin and his wife, Angelica – which screens at California Lutheran University on Jan. 30 – documents the efforts of young people such as Booysen – who also serves as the movie’s music producer and will speak after the screening – to help move the country forward using music and the uniting power of the Internet.
"I have a huge interest in the whole digital age, because what’s kept the Third World countries behind is a lack of information or us always being at the tail end of receiving valuable information that can be used," Booysen says. "Now we have this medium, and you find more artists from Africa coming out and putting their music up. You have these voices pushing to be heard, and you can’t keep avoiding them."
VCR: When did you first become aware of hip-hop?</b>
Rushay Booysen: My first actual contact was with some b-boys. I saw some guys dancing, and I was stunned by the moves. Two years after that is when I made my first contact with the MC aspect. People were passing around tapes in class of Public Enemy. Everyone would be sharing, passing around the tape. It was so bad at the end of all the recording it sounded like [it was recorded] next to Victoria Falls.
What was the effect of hearing Public Enemy?
It created a sense of self-righteousness, in understanding black history to a sense. It was also a very rebellious group. That shape-shifted my mind. I had to realize what was going on around me, and I had to become part of this rebellion in terms of making change.
How have you been promoting local hip-hop artists?
I just started working with local guys in my region, trying to push them. I’ve networked so much by the Internet and built up such a big database, and there’s a huge interest coming from elsewhere in the world about what’s happening with hip-hop in Africa. I’m trying to give them a voice to be heard. They might not be making money off the CD they’ve made, but just the enjoyment of knowing people are respecting your work, that’s what I’d like to help artists from my region reach.
Tell me about Masizakhe.
It basically focuses on artists in Port Elizabeth and how they are using the music of not just hip-hop, but poetry [and] Afro-pop, to educate their communities and speak about issues that are relevant in that society. He takes you through the history of Port Elizabeth, the different racial groups, and it’s basically about music and education, and how music as an educational means can be so powerful.
That is my mission in coming to the states. It is an exchange. I feel people out there can learn from these artists in this documentary, but we can also learn from individuals out there, too.