Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Art Of Toyitoyi





"Where I come from revolution is the only creation, and the revolutionary the only artist."- Ayi Kwei Armah.

"The goal of the revolutionary artist is to make revolution irresistible."-Toni Cade Bambara.

Re-inventing tactics of resistance has become a central preoccupation for the movement of movements. How do we make rebellion enjoyable, effective and irresistible? Who wants the tedium of traditional demonstrations and protests - the ritual marches from A to B, the permits and police escorts, the staged acts of civil disobedience, the verbose rallies and dull speeches by the leaders? Instead, why not use a form of rebellion that embody the movements' principles of diversity, creativity, decentralisation, horizontality, and direct action? These principles can be found at the heart of an ancient form of cultural expression, the Toyitoyi.

"The revolution, in general, is no longer imagined according to socialist patterns of realism, that is, as men and women marching behind a red, waving flag towards a luminous future. Rather it has become a sort of carnival."-Subcomandante Marcos.

Throughout history Toyitoyi has been about inverting social order, where the village fool dresses as the king waits on the pauper, where men and women wear each others' clothing and perform each others' roles. This inversion exposes the power structures and illuminates the processes of maintaining hierachies - seen from a new angle, the foundations of authority are shaken up and flipped around. The unpredictability of Toyitoyi with its total subservience to spontaneity, where any individual can shape her environment and transform herself into another being for an hour or a day, ruptures what we perceive to be reality. It creates a new world by subverting all stereotypes, daring imaginations to expand their limits, turning the present world upside down, if only for a moment.

"(Toyitoyi) does not know footlights, in the sense that it does not acknowledge any distinction between actors and spectators. Footlights would destroy a (Toyitoyi), as the absence of footlights would destroy a theatrical performance. (Toyitoyi) is not a spectacle seen by the people; they live in it, and everyone participates because its very idea embraces all the people."-Michail Bakhtin, Rabelais and his World, Indiana University Press, 1984.

It is in the capricious moments of history when we can best see that Toyitoyi and revolution have identical goals: to turn the world upside down with joyous abandon and to celebrate our indestructible lust for life, a lust that capitalism tries so hard to destroy with its monotonous merry-go-round of work and consumerism. In its immediacy, Toyitoyi refuses the constant mediation and representations of capitalism. It opens up an alternative social space of freedom where people can begin to really live again.

"Every one of these revolutions has been marked by extraordinary individuation, by joyousness and solidarity that turned everyday life into a festival. This surreal dimension of the revolutionary process, with its explosion of deep seated libidinal forces, grins irascibly through the pages of history like the face of a satyr on shimmering water."-Murray Bookchin, Post-Scarcity Anarchism, Black Rose Books, Montreal, 1986.

Toyitoyi didn't begin with this movement. Many of the great moments of revolutionary history were carnivalesque - revelatory and sensous explosions outside of the accepted pattern of politics. From the clubhouses of the Paris Commune of 1871, to capoeira - martial arts disguised as dancing to keep it secret from Brazilian slave owners, from the seven mile long Suffragette parades that brought early twentieth London to a standstill, to the colourful be-ins of 1960s Berkeley - if you look hard enough you'll Toyitoyi between the cracks of many of history's unbredictable moments of rebellion.

"To work for delight and authentic festivity is barely distinguishable from preparing for a general insurrection".-Raoul Vaneigem, The Revolution of Everyday Life, Rebel Press/Left Bank Books, 1983.

Toyitoyi is the Carnival. Its mockery, chaos and transgression have always threatened the sobriety and seriousness of the state, which is why it is often banned or heavily controlled. What carnivals remain in most parts of the world have themselves become spectacles - specialist performances watched by spectators - with police lines and barriers placed between the parade and audience. Thus the vortexed, whirling, uncontrollable state of creative chaos is shoe-horned into neat straight lines and rectangles. A visit to many contemporary carnivals sanctioned by the state where consumption and corporate sponsorship has taken over from the creativity and spontaneity is enough to illustrate how carnival under capitalism has lost its vitality. But Toyitoyi has been with us since time immemorial and it has always refused to die. Reappearing in different guises across the ages it returns again and again. Freed from the clutches of entertainment, the anticapitalist movements have thrown it back into the streets, where it is liberated from commerce for everyone to enjoy once again.

Appeal to the Young Artist



...you, young artist, sculptor, painter, poet, musician, do you not observe that the sacred fire which inspired your predecessors is wanting in the (people) of today. That art is commonplace and mediocrity reigns supreme?

Could it be otherwise? The delight of having rediscovered the ancient world, of having bathed afresh in the springs of nature which created the masterpieces of the Renaissance no longer exists for the art of our time; the revolutionary ideal has left it cold until now, and , failing an ideal, our art fancies that it has found one in realism when it painfully photographs in colours the dewdrop on the leaf of a plant, imitates the muscles in the leg of a cow, or describes minutely in prose and verse the suffocating filth of a sewer, the boudoir of a whore of high degree.

"But if this is so, what is to be done?" you say. If, I reply, the sacred fire that you possess is nothing better than a smouldering wick, then you will go on doing as you have done, and your art will speedily degenerate into the trade of decorator of trades(people)'s shops, of a purveyor of librettos to third rate operettas,and tales for Christmas Annuals - most of you are already running down that grade with a head of steam on...

But, if your heart really beats in unison with humanity, if like a true poet you have an ear for Life, then gazing out upon this sea of sorrow whose tide sweeps up around you, face to face with these people dying of hunger, in the presence of these corpses piled up in the (mortuaries), and these mutilated bodies lying in heaps on the barricades, looking on these long lines of exiles who are going to bury themselves...; in full view of this desperate battle which is being fought, amid the cries of pain from the conquered and the orgies of the victors, of heroism in conflict with cowardice, of noble determination face to face with contemptible cunning- you cannot remain neutral; you will come and take the side of the oppressed because you know that the beautiful, the sublime, the spirit of life itself are on the side of those who fight for light, for humanity, for justice!

Kwanzaa: The Seven Fundamental Principles of Organisation for the Toyitoyi Artz Kollektive


1. Umoja: Unity


a. Theoretical Unity:


Theory represents the force that directs the activity of persons and organisations along a defined path towards a determined goal. Naturally it should be common to all the persons and organisations adhering to the Network. All activity by the Network, both overall and in its details, should be in perfect concord with the theoretical principles professed by the Network.

We are Toyitoyi.


 We are a revolutionary counter-culture. We are the embryo of the new revolutionary society in the body of the old and the sick, dying one. We are the new lifestyle in microcosm, which contains the new social values and the new collective organisations and institutions, which will become the socio-political infrastructure of the free society.

Our objective is to teach new social values of unity and struggle against the negative effects of capitalist society and culture. To do that we must build a class conscious movement (Uhuru Network) that builds class pride and respect, class and social awareness, and to struggle against the capitalist slave masters. This collectivism would be both a repository of class culture and ideology.

Black Phar I and Synik on the Step Up for TTAK


Isheanesu Stepping Up @ the TTAK Event


Flowchyld Representing...


E.R.S. holding it down!


DJ Afronaughtone @ TTAK's Step Up event


Godobori Biko Mutsaurwa & Mic Crenshaw - Afrikan Hiphop Symposium


The Toyitoyi Artz Kollective has nurtured the House of Hunger Poetry Slam