Mujahid Safodien / AFP/Getty Images

Thokozani Mhlambi

Drawing from the history of protest movements in South Africa, this performance explores the relationship between the sound of defiance and the desire to build community from a foundation of radical love.

Mujahid Safodien / AFP / Getty Images



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Defiant Desires: A Constellation of Love and Resistance

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In South Africa, the practice of communal gathering for protest demonstration is commonly known as itoyi toyi, a cultural form of political expression which incorporates the rhythmic stomping of feet and chanting in unison. Using a call and response style of singing between leaders and supporters –– a practice which is deeply embedded in the tradition of a war cry called igwijo –– the songs are often spontaneously created as a rallying call to express grief, anger and frustration to draw attention to a community’s grievances. It can also be an expression of joy and freedom.

There cannot be love without justice. By showing the coming together of people to open dialogue and listen to each other for the purpose of healing the wounds of the past to addressing present day socio-political issues. The performance illustrates the principles of compassion, resistance, and solidarity while questioning the archetypical figuring of heroism and martyrdom. Tensions between the self and others through conflict and liberation highlights the transformative power of love based on the ethics of care to find mutual connection through life-affirming individual and collective action.

Protest is staged as an abolitionist romance: a life force to engage in communion with the rest of the world – a manifestation of interdependence and vulnerability, self-love and vitality. From ordinary street demonstrations and everyday occurrences, itoyi toyi presents an extraordinary vision of uprisings and emancipation comprised of iigwijo in a series of intimate sonic, visual and movement gestures of ritual, protest song and folk music. How can we consider protest as a revolutionary act of love?

About Thokozani Mhlambi

Dr Thokozani Mhlambi is a creative musician, who uses his art and exhibitions in order to convey African stories/philosophies. He plays the baroque cello, sings and composes his own music.

Born in Madadeni, KwaZulu-Natal, after fulfilling music studies in South Africa & Sweden, Mhlambi received his PhD in Music at the University of Cape Town. In South Africa, he has showcased work at leading platforms such as the Linder Auditorium, National Arts Festival and Soweto Theatre. He has also been a visiting lecturer at universities in Finland (Jyvaskyla), and Brazil, to mention a few. And has had opportunities to perform and speak in places such as Chicago, Minneapolis, New Orleans (Tulane), São Paulo, Maputo (Mozambique), Tunisia and New York. Recently, Mhlambi’s rendition of Lizalise Idinga Lakho by Tiyo Soga (from his debut album Zulu Song Cycle), was featured in an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Mhlambi was an invited contributor to the roaming academy of the Dutch Art Institute, an itinerant program fostering various creative practices at the intersection of art & theory. In 2019, he collaborated with revered Chinese visual artist Dachan, in a live performance/installation at the Zeitz MOCAA in Cape Town. In 2020, Mhlambi was selected as an Artist-in-Residence at Cite International Des Arts in Paris, supported by the Institut Français. In 2021, Mhlambi contributed a sound piece called “Playing with Tape” as part of a group exhibition “Here History Began. Tracing the Reverberations of Halim El-dabh,” – this took place at the Savvy Contemporary in Berlin. The piece was composed from a soundscape of the Durban beachfront.

In 2022, Mhlambi had a chance to participate in a series of improvisational experiments with USA-based musicians, including Angel Bat Dawid, Mankwe Ndosi and Douglas R Ewart—a long time member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, a Chicago music movement founded in the 1960s, whose members combine avant-garde jazz, folk music, classical music to create unique sounds.


Hashir I. Whitaker


Sound and Video editing: Nia Nottage

Performa Team

Hartwig Art Foundation Curatorial Fellow: Sakhi Gcina