Love & Other Thugs: On Sisterhood & Chosen Kinship

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For our monthly collaboration with FLOURISH, an artist-run seasonal gathering that promotes community and collaboration across contemporary creative disciplines, Tiger Maremela chats to Lerato Mbangeni and Liziwe Kwanini.

Writer Lerato Mbangeni and financial consultant Liziwe Kwanini both hail from Soweto, Gauteng. They briefly circulated around similar creative circles in the early 2010s – mentioning designer Rendani Remakhavhani of All Hail The Honey fame as a mutual connection – but it was only after Lerato’s return from Cape Town following a period as print journalist that she slid into Liziwe’s DMs and began a friendship that would both affect the way they each view collaborative effort and kinship. By the time they met in-person following a workplace Halloween party Lerato invited Liziwe to, they had cemented an immediate friendship that would carry them through tough times and joyous celebrations. “I’m usually the one that befriends people, so it was dope for her [Lerato] to seek me out,” Liziwe reflects.

Lerato DJs under the alias Sis’ Madlisa, but before that her writing could be found in newspapers including the The Star and online publications Okay Africa and Book of Swag. “Your job as a writer is about conveying the truth, the emotion and the context.” Lerato notes. This experience, she mentions, is one that helped her learn how to craft purposeful stories. “I felt like I was writing about the part of the art world that isn’t written about. It felt like my writing was doing the good work,”. Reflecting on the differences between writing for hard news beats, versus her digital features, and later copywriting for South Africa’s favourite brands like Standard Bank, Lerato’s journey has been one of constantly finding and refining her voice; “I can write ads about how black people actually are.”.

In 2018, Lerato took part in the annual Book Dash an event that brings together writers, designers and illustrators to produce children’s books within a limited amount of hours. Growing up the eldest sibling and having to invent ways of keeping young children entertained, writing for children has come naturally and is something she is interested in pursuing with three children’s books currently in the works. Her creative writing style casually borrows and appropriates a multilingualism that is common for South Africans who live and come across any of the 11 official languages at any given time. “Being from Soweto, the boundaries of what you can or should do with language are grey. You’re a little bit of every language.” Lerato adds.

 

Liziwe, most commonly known as Mam’ Thug, is at her essence, a tomboy using fashion and visibility to navigate space. “I try have an element of bopantsula whenever I rock my clothes.” She once told 10and5.com. A University of Johannesburg graduate in finance, she has always had a keen interest in being an ally of creative activity. Out of necessity, she’s moved from behind the camera into the frame as a way of effectively capturing the ideas stirring in her head. Her explorations of the role of a muse, narrator and subject through collaborative projects with photographers like Size Mbiza, Anthony Bila and Cole Ndelu delicately traverse through interrogations of black femininity, spirituality and the politics of personhood. Liziwe circles back to care and intention, unpacking how trust and thoughtfulness are necessary for her to produce impactful work.

Liziwe acknowledges how limiting formal workplaces can be, but pushes these limits by making sartorial decisions that are appropriate for the office and the nightclub alike. Her fashion sense and particular opinions on the world have led to features on Superbalist’s The Way of Us, Faculty Press and the Mail & Guardian, introducing readers to the basics of dressing fashionably for otherwise conservative office spaces. She has found a way of using new media to share narratives specifically for black girls, using textiles, text and visual imagery as socio-political tools.

Love & Other Thugs debuted at The Dig, a monthly series in Braamfontein’s Artivist restaurant and gallery. This debut set fused together grime, deep house, R&B and hip hop and ended in a round of applause from the audience – a moment that validated Lerato and Liziwe’s efforts. “My shoe snapped that night, it was very emotional.” Liziwe recalls. DJ duos, or any kind of format that involves several artists interacting behind the DJ booth require a kind of intimacy and intuition to ensure that the artists can deliver a cohesive performance. Liziwe cites Lerato as her DJ tutor, slowly merging their diverse musical interests into a cohesive sonic offering.

Love & Other Thugs are at a full circle moment right now: they’re proud to be getting invites to DJ at events they used to attend or work at. They’ve been included on line-ups for parties like Pantone Saturdays, Pussy Party and have begun programming their own events, including a series of events at Richmond Studio. Self-care and sustainability are something they both think about, calling each other into account and showing up consistently. They each attend events where the other is performing, making sure to celebrate each other for every win. The horizon looks very optimistic.

Catch Love & Other Thugs alongside Thozi The Creator, Neo Baepi, Rosie Parade, A VERY COOL TIME and a video installation by Youlendree Appasamy at FLOURISH on the 20th of November at Kitcheners. Doors open 9pm with a R50 door charge. FLOURISH is a seasonal gathering that celebrates community and collaboration across contemporary creative disciplines. Founded in 2017, FLOURISH is an audio-visual experiment to reflect a diverse appreciation of music across Johannesburg’s creative community. Held in the Spring/ Summer, the clubnight uses music to encourage artists and designers to expand on their practice, and draw on the dance floor as an exploratory space. Each line-up reflects a selection of artists and producers with a range of musical tastes, traversing across genres, generations and technical grasp.