There’s an Urban Zulu On My Runway

Circa 2011 to ’12, I spent most of my days at the then Urban Zulu location (corner Fox and Kruis) and shadowed the head honcho of the joint, Papy Kaluw, with no clear portfolio, but for the sake of this insert, we will say I was his personal assistant.

The interview and hiring process was, “you’re a good dude, you should come here more often”.

In the beginning we would walk the city sourcing for fabrics from different joints on Market street to the Oriental Plaza, then it was the rooftop events and other menial tasks.

I search my memory bank for conversations on fashion but I cannot remember any although I am sure there were plenty as it was the main reason we were there.

What I do remember vividly is the music, Pan-Africanism conversations, more capable black faces everywhere, the people I met and became lifelong friends with.

One particular song that is synonymous to the Urban Zulu journey for me (save the fact that it is named after one of the greatest pieces of music ever released) is Zero 7 – Likufanele.

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The song’s lyrics can be interpreted to mean the name you are called suits you.

Late Professor Mazisi Kunene once wrote: “In the Zulu tradition where the meaning of a name is often an expression of a wish that the individual will meet an ideal, names become more than labels; they are in themselves part of a socialization process. Before the child is named, it is known as a ‘thing’. After the naming ceremony, the child assumes its own social, human personality.”

As we know, in African culture names are very closely related to one’s life path or the desires of those who name us.

This song becomes significant as it speaks to my ‘music and people’ memories.

Papy had been telling me about Msa Xokelelo for most of the day; he pulled up after hours to do some paint work; I wanted to leave but was convinced to stay a short while, which ended up being a very late night.

Xokelelo, a story teller of note, had Likufanele on repeat, a generous serving of anecdotes and copious blunts and Castle Lagers.

I cannot hear or think of this song and not go back to that day; a day when I also concluded that Urban Zulu is as apt a name as apt gets for the brand.

During this period, one conversation that was recurring was producing work that spoke and was accessible to the people, so when I saw one of their recent collections that seemed to pay homage to Keith Haring, I was not surprised at all.

In one of his journal entries, Haring wrote: “Make your work accessible … the public needs art, and it is the responsibility of a ‘self-proclaimed artist’ to realize [what] the public needs are, and not to make bourgeois art for the few and ignore the masses.”

Since my brief cameo at the fashion house to now, their mission has been achieved and they keep going stronger.

From hawking Durban streets to international runways, the business has survived testing times and this is partly, if not mainly, because the journey has been people orientated as opposed to fabric, thread and profit.

Shout out to the Busi Mhlongos, Madala Kunenes, Fela Kutis, Steve Bikos – the predecessors, their footnotes and references have informed the journey.


Keith Haring images: https://www.myartbroker.com/artist/keith-haring/free-south-africa/
Urban Zulu images: https://www.instagram.com/urbanzulusa/?hl=en

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