The other night I went to a concert in some basement in Berlin, filled with bizarre art installations, a bar, a stage and the appropriate crowd. There was a man sitting in a tattered armchair to the side of the room, sunken cheeks and haunted expression, and I found him extraordinarily aesthetic as he sat there. Melancholy, careless, dark hair slicked back, infinitely fragile wrists. He seemed to command the entire dancing crowd yet never moved a muscle. This image left a lasting impression and inspired the sketch above.
The music was a mixture of Balkan beat and something Siberian, possibly, performed by four long-haired incredibly blond northern European white guys, who stampeded to the music and sang in guttural tones. How odd, I thought, something doesn’t feel “authentic” about this performance, possibly because you would expect the “owners” of this type music to be dark-skinned and black-haired. And I caught my thoughts in time to question these strange expectations many people seem to have of cultures, identities and the luggage that comes with a certain heritage. How do I know that these boys were not actually from Serbia? How can I question their right to make rhythms theirs that might not suit them geographically in the first place?
I’m having a lot of arguments with people about my own heritage lately. Specifically Germans telling me that I can’t be African too, that I’m definitely 100% European, I can’t be (South-)African if I’m white and if my ancestors are from Europe, nope, impossible, the fact that I was born there and grew up there and learned life in a South-African way is irrelevant. I try to explain that I’m a European in disguise, that I’m pretending to be more German than I often feel just to blend in. People assimilate automatically, it must be some ancient instinct. I try to describe the minute and subtle cultural differences that shape how people think.
Anyway, next time I’ll just sit in an old, tattered armchair with a slightly forlorn, beautifully sad expression, and not say a thing at all.