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Written byTyla Burnett

With the world as it is the time is ripe for the SA Punk Scene to bear its fruits.

I’ve begun to notice a trend towards a Punk ethos In South Africa, which while not always being Punk in sound is oftentimes a recurring theme in our musical landscape. Punk has proved itself a mainstay in our country since its incendiary inception. You only have to look as far as documentaries such as ‘Punk in Africa’ for evidence, or follow the breadcrumb trail of local releases for the last 40 years to see the pattern emerge for yourself. In my own experience, I’ve witnessed the emergence, decline and re-emergence of Punk happen in a cyclical fashion multiple times.

Whether it be the Hardcore scene from Joburg, the Ska-Punk/Reggae scene in Durban, the Pop-Punk of the late 90s or the Metal scene that still thrives nationwide up to this day. The South African Jazz scene even has its roots steeped in the anti-apartheid movements of the 70s and 80s. Punk has existed in South Africa in one form or another continuously. Follow your ears and see that rebellion and frustration seem synonymous with South African music, why?

“In my own experience, I’ve witnessed the emergence, decline and re-emergence of Punk happen in a cyclical fashion multiple times. Whether it be the Hardcore scene from Joburg, the Ska-Punk/Reggae scene in Durban, the Pop-Punk of the late 90s or the Metal scene that still thrives nationwide up to this day.”

I recall being at a festival around 10 years ago during one of my first BCUC experiences, a friend of mine turned to me and said something to the effect that BCUC is more Punk than most Punk bands. I think what he meant was that Jovi’s impassioned speeches mid-song – which cover a diverse mix of political issues facing South Africa- gives them a poignant and powerful effect. It got the audience thinking as much as it did dancing. Beyond the immense groove and musicianship of the band, it’s arguably what makes them great. This could easily be said of other SA bands not belonging to the Punk genre such as The Brother Moves On, UKhoiKhoi and even the late great Angie Oeh

Punk may at times degenerate into drug hysteria and childish boisterousness, but let’s not forget what its progenitors stood for: freedom, justice, equality and brotherhood. For the most part, I forgot this intriguing thought for a long time but at two consecutive shows I was graced with recently, a Sowetan Punk band named Twenty One Children brought it all back and more. The thought condensed, coagulated and dropped. After Ruminating on this for the past few weeks I decided to drop Abdula -their lead singer- a line to pick his brain on Punk in SA, what it all means and their latest EP Two Kings and a Skink.


Tyla: “Your lyrics are often playful and subversive rather than overtly political like in ‘ice cube’. Does the song satirise getting high/is that what makes a “good day” in the life of a Sowetan, or is it just a bonafide banger?” 

Abdula:Ice Cube is based on that song “It was a good day” by Ice Cube, it’s also about the movie Friday where Smokey Peer pressures Craig into smoking weed for the first time. Something that has happened to us once or twice back in the day”.

T: “Corner knife” insinuates a certain violence and hopelessness. Can you explain the story behind the conception of the lyrics?”

A: “Cnr Knife and Bullet is an intersection popularly talked about at local taverns. It used to exist back in the day when crime was pretty prevalent and thriving in Soweto. It’s a dangerous place where outlaws, criminals and thugs would often gather. Gunshots, booze, spinning cars, money and fast women were the order of the day. Don’t even dream about time travelling to that place if you truly value your life.”

T: ”Warriors” opens with a narrative of your family and life. Could you unpack the titular mantra at the centre of the song.”

A: Warriors are members of the family tree that have now passed on. These entities are our ancestors that now play the role of guardian angels in our lives. They protect and bless us on the daily, fighting spiritual wars on our behalf.


T:  “Is ‘looney bin’ really about someone going insane, or are the medications referenced about the drugs we all use to placate ourselves against the “looney bin” of South African society?”

A: “Looney bin” is one of the places that the warriors will rescue you from when going through the most. Our guitarist had the unfortunate privilege of being admitted there twice in one year and these are the memoirs. In conclusion, Two Kings and a Skink Ep is mostly based on mental health issues in modern day society. Something we all have to deal with. It’s a crazy time to be alive, how does one stay sane?”

I have to admit I’ve found no cheap hacks to keeping sanity in our era of modern slavery, where humans are a commodity and decency seems a rarity. But I do think the boys are onto something with their playful brand of rebellion. Maybe getting high and forgetting where you live does make a good day, I’ve certainly found it to be true in my line of work. And maybe coming up for air by steering clear of an uncaring system, pioneering your own and having a blast doing it really is the epitome of proletariat revolution. 


T: How did you first discover Punk and what about it has kept you engaged? 

A: ”I first discovered Punk as a 17-year-old. I had a childhood friend who was older than me who was in the scene. He always promised me that he would take me to a show but he just never did”  laughs, ” I would only get shown videos of the different scenes around the world and in Johannesburg. For me, it was the rawness of energy that punk brought out in people. Till this day I love watching hardcore punk shows on YouTube with the dudes who Two-Step, stage dive and smack each other. I just love the energy it brings out in people, they look like they have so much fun. I love seeing people have fun.” 

T: Is Punk a genre, a sound, an attitude or all of these and more? 

A: “I think punk is definitely an attitude, as well as a way of life. It faces adversity head-on and comes out on top beating all the odds by any means necessary. I always tell people single moms are the punkest punks because they get shit done, no matter what. It’s about having a Positive Mental Attitude.”

T: What do you listen to that might surprise us? 

A: “I love some good pop music haha. Give me the Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande. I absolutely love Miley Cyrus.” 

T: Is Punk a reaction to societal norms and the shifting paradigms of upper class totalitarianism? 

A: “I would say the big resurgence in punk in South Africa is definitely a reaction to the way South Africans are feeling about their lives at the moment. Especially during and after the pandemic, people realised how lacklustre and mismanaged everything was. People are upset and they need an outlet to the scrutiny they’re experiencing. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s because of upper class totalitarianism, we live in South Africa and there’s always been that divide.” 

T: “Is Punk a political Philosophy and if so in what way?” 

A: “I believe it to be so. Punk is about inclusivity and being accepting of all people. Some political ideologies have the opposite message. There’s no hate in Punk.” 

T:Is Punk necessarily an art form of rebellion and is it inherently Anarchist?” 

A: “I wouldn’t say it’s completely anarchist. There are some systems in place to help people out, you can’t completely say fuck the system. It’s impossible. It can be an art form of rebellion but not in its entirety. It’s an art form of freedom and that can conflict with the system at times.” 

T:Do you believe Punk has actualised meaningful change?” 

A: “Definitely. It’s given people and myself a new meaning in my life and has brought significant change. I feel like I have a purpose and a message bigger than myself. It’s liberating people one song and riff at a time.” 

T:Does the socio-political landscape of Africa/SA/Soweto make it ripe for the global reemergence of punk?”

A: “100% I like to look at the pandemic as a good example of people who were angry at the way things were managed in the respective cities, countries and Africa. It was in shambles. We didn’t know if we were gonna make it, and I think the reemergence of the punk scene is a response to that.” 

T:Do you believe your music has achieved successful rebellion in the sense that you have used it to survive and enjoy life within a system that marginalises, demonises and mostly views your contributions with apathy?” 

A: “Music and punk gives me an opportunity to let loose and become a different version of myself in a world that isn’t accepting of the version that I originally came in. Music helps me not to care as much about what society thinks. I can go to my job. Take orders and then rock a show.” 

T:Is there a last reflection you would like to make regarding Punk, its ethos or your experience of the South African music scene?” 

A: “The South African music scene is great. Lots of great acts. I just feel we don’t have enough funding or opportunities to make it big as others do. If we did, the South African music scene would dominate all aspects of music in the world. So much potential. I suppose it’s also a good thing though, that just means we have to work super hard to get what we want.”

Indeed. I think Abdula said it all, I’ve nothing more to add. I’ll leave you now with two quotes by Joe Strummer, leader of my favourite punk band of all time, THE CLASH. “Strummers Law: No input, no output.”

“People can change anything they want to, and that means everything in the world” Stay punk. Stay informed. Stay strong.

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