Kasi life through a new lens

Kombonation disrupts perceptions of the township by exploring its seldom celebrated beauty and rich culture. The founders’ new Kaofela Kaofela residency conjures the spirit of togetherness.

“There are no galleries around or in townships, and that’s why we want to showcase our work and let people see the deeper meanings and growth in their works, too. I made the decision to do what I love and that’s what I want to inspire in the youth of the townships today,” says Kabelo Sello, 29, who is one half of an artistic duo called Kombonation. 

Sello, who is also known as Freshthings, and Kgotso Selomah, the other half of the duo, began their creative partnership through visual storytelling to showcase the beauty of kasi life.

Selomah, who also goes by Slim, describes kasi culture as multifaceted and punctuated by a number of subcultures. It’s rich, diverse and informed by the people who live there.  

This image from Kaofela Kaofela captures the reality that fashion, music and art are popular forms of self-expression in township life. (Photograph supplied)

“Let’s face it guys, the kasi is beautiful. The places, the people and everything about it make impossible untrue. [The saying] nothing good can come out of the hood? That’s old news. Art from ekasi vibrates at a higher frequency,” says the 25-year-old.

With their latest residency programme in collaboration with Night Embassy Johannesburg, they are advocating for change through art and photography. 

Global platform

“Essentially, ekasi was not a place to be prosperous. It was built and we were brought here and we were displaced to be confused and to just forget about ourselves, and so far the plan is kind of working. We do have our own struggles, you know. It’s just not Afrikaans this time,” says Selomah in reference to the 1976 Soweto uprising.

Passionate about visual literacy, Kombonation wants to expand kasi culture by debunking myths about township life and uplifting this vibrant community. “We want minds to be open. And not just in townships but about people who are not from here as well, because there are many stereotypes about one another. So it’s a thing of bringing everyone together so that we can see each other’s similarities within the differences and basically grow from there,” says Sello.

The residency’s title of Kaofela Kaofela loosely translated from Sesotho means “everyone”. It archives their work from oldest to latest. They are also hosting a skating competition, dropping new music and introducing their Say It With Your Chest range of merchandise. According to Selomah, the message behind this is to let people know that the township is beautiful and full of brilliance.

Skateboarding plays a huge role in the lives of many township youths. A skate competition forms part of Kaofela Kaofela to showcase their skills. (Photograph supplied)

They say it was important to include skateboarding. “The residency is bringing all the township elements from everywhere together and skating is one of the biggest. Skating in itself incorporates fashion, music, you know, culture. And in a way, it kind of informs the culture in a very subtle way, because you know, we all wear these baggy clothes and it’s because of the skaters. We’re all stylish in all of this because of the skaters. So yeah, we don’t give them enough credit,” says Selomah.

The duo say that being a part of the Night Embassy residency has given them a global platform. “We live in the very cente of Soweto, Jabavu, you know, where everything happens. Kaofela Kaofela, this is not just for us but for everyone, we don’t get many opportunities. Brands come and they use us and they use our spaces and then they go. But this time it’s different, we are here and we are here to represent everyone. Our line-up and collaborators have everything to do with and are people from different townships,” says Selomah.

Their art, they say, is by the kasi, for the kasi and beyond. The residency has also provided a space to create an alternative kasi nightlife experience. 

Building morale

Seated in the garden at Uncle Tom’s Community Centre in the heart of Soweto, Selomah explains how Kombonation came to be.

“After working for a clothing brand a few years back, we realised that there was a lack of appreciation for our environment in these spaces and our people, and we wanted to bring about a brand and concept that is inspiring to the hood and the youth of the hood.”

Selomah says that growing up, youth centres were her home. It’s where she practised dancing and when the centres started disappearing, she had no safe space to express herself through dance. “I kind of lost myself and then one day, in my last year of high school, I was walking home, I was pretty unapproachable, but when Kabelo approached me to take some photos it was different, there was an instant spark between us.” 

Through working together, they formed both a romantic and working relationship and will celebrate seven years together in September.

Kabelo Sello and Kgotso Selomah in one of the images from Kaofela Kaofela. (Photograph supplied)

“At the core of Kombonation is also our love. We’re literally always together. If you ever see me alone, ask me why,” Selomah exclaims while Sello giggles to himself. “When they see me and Kabelo, they’re hopeful. Even in the hood, the low morale doesn’t come from the youth, it was learnt and we are not seeing Black love any more.”

Selomah wants that to change. 

The idea for the name came from a combination of their passions. “We want to share this Kombo with the nation. Kombo is us and Nation is all the people who have gathered around us, we have a network of creatives who want to put the inspiration back in the hood. It shouldn’t just be used as an aesthetic, we want to build that morale again.

“In the townships, you know, there is such low morale. I think on its own ekasi is just an environment that is going through a lot. Buildings are dilapidated, there’s hardly ever electricity, teenage pregnancy… and you know, when I was growing up, there were a lot of youth centres. We don’t have those any more and we can’t necessarily bring back what used to be, so we need to open up the spaces we’re in now.”

The Night Embassy residency takes place from 24 to 26 June at Uncle Tom’s Community Centre in Orlando West, Soweto.

17 June 2022: The Night Embassy residency has given Kombonation a platform from which to reach a global audience. (Photograph by Aneesa Adams)
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