Johannesburg Duo FAKA Are Fighting Queer Erasure With Visibility

More than musicians or role models, FAKA are a cultural movement subverting South Africa's cis-hetero gaze.

FAKA, made up of best friends Fela Gucci and Desire Marea, have become more than just the performance art duo killing you with their fiery instagrams and catchy dance music. Surpassing any generic definitions, FAKA is best described as a cultural movement centred in South Africa, striving to subvert the cis-hetero gaze of post-colonial Africa. The duo undertake this through a multitude of mediums, spanning music, performance, photography, video, fashion and literature. “FAKA means to occupy and penetrate,” the pair tell Sleek. “That has been our approach — artistically and otherwise — to how we exist in a world designed to exclude us”. Using their shared experience of being queer and black, FAKA seeks to liberate the LGBTQ community in South Africa, creating a safer and more open space for femme/trans and non-binary people.

In light of their latest EP release, “Amaqhawe”, and their performance at this year’s CTM festival, we spoke to the duo about the tricky task of being queer role models, and wanting to drink mimosas with Grace Jones.

Can you tell us a little about how FAKA began and what it involves?

We started making music in 2013 while living in different cities. Then in 2015 we both moved to Johannesburg, and that is where we started making music together and exploring performance in various spaces.

Can you share the stories behind your aliases Fela Gucci and Desire Marea?

Fela: Fela Gucci was inspired by the legendary Fela Kuti. It began as just a play on words, but soon realized that it was actually a way of carving an identity for myself outside of what was my current reality. It became my truth and a way of reclaiming myself, a way of reimagining and recreating myself.

Desire: Desire felt like a wonderful thing to become, and Marea is a star of the sea.

How did you get into making gqom (a genre of African house music coming out of Durban, South Africa)?

We’ve always loved gqom, and we related to the lived experience that shaped it as a genre and culture. In 2016 we experimented with a hybrid sound which we dubbed Ancestral Gqom Gospel, and then in 2017 we partnered with Dj Bigger, Vukane and Mnotho Chamane, as well as DJ Kaybee. That’s when we created Uyang’khumbula.

You have talked a lot about queer erasure in music and art scenes specifically in South Africa. How do you combat this?

We combat erasure by being visible.

Is Johannesburg’s queer scene changing? Are there LGBTQ safe spaces becoming available? How does FAKA play a role in this?

There are currently bars and clubs that cater primarily to cisgender gay men. Many of these spaces aren’t safe for femme, trans, and non binary/non conforming people. We throw a seasonal party called Cunty Power that aims to provide a safer experience of nightlife for queer people.

I am aware that you both have come from quite small communities where queer allies were scarce. What is it like now being role models for other queer POC struggling with exclusion?

It comes with pressure, because there’s a level of humanity and allowance to make mistakes that’s compromised as soon as you are defined as a role model. But having said that, it is the most motivating thing to have young black queer people come up to us and tell us how we’ve empowered them to embrace and live their truth. That’s exactly what we dreamt of, and why we do what we do.

What advice would you give to all the queer people out there trying to do their thing?

Respect your grind. Put in the work and find spaces and people you can share your work with.

What and who inspires you in fashion, art and music?

There’s a lot. Brenda Fassie, Athi Patra Ruga, Telfar, Nakhane, Baddie K, Natali Paneng, Lukhanyo Mdingi, Grace Wales Bonner, Stephen Tayo, Mowalola, Ian Isiah, Daniel Obasi, Shayne Oliver, Thandiswa Mazwai and all the amazing queer/trans kids in Joburg!

Who are the young creative South Africans we should be keeping an eye out for?  

Thabo Hlalele, Nkulsey and Bradley, Elle van der Burg, Glen Guilherme, Lelo Meslani, Tiger Maremela, Linda a.k.a. Lucid Unicorn.

Other than taking over the world, what are your plans for the future?

Meeting Grace Jones for mimosas.

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