In an exclusive interview with Afika Jadezweni, Pap Culture chats about changing narratives, collaborating with young creatives, milestones, the evolution of content and their biggest inspirations. The vloggers discuss topics that don’t get enough airplay in South Africa, who they would love to feature on the vlog and what’s next for their channel.
What inspired the inception of Pap Culture?
We were all very interested in creating some kind of content individually (as all of us have a background in media in some capacity). When we all started hanging out in 2015, we threw around a few ideas and landed on using YouTube as our medium of choice. After doing a bit of research, we found there weren’t many (if any) South African YouTube channels created by young black women, and so we knew there was an opportunity to do something and establish our voice in that space.
Very much inspired by the real conversations had on Power 105.1 FM’s The Breakfast Club (an American syndicated radio show), we were very intrigued by the hosts’ ability to uncover real-life stories we wouldn’t ordinarily hear. So, we knew we wanted to create something unique too, but finding our voice took time. Regardless, we’ve managed to build a South African entertainment hub with authentic conversations that reflect real-life people and the things we go through every day.
Your bio reads ‘changing the documented narrative of African youth culture’ – how do you ensure that you achieve this with every episode you produce?
We stay true to our lived experiences and know there are many out there who are just like us, and are going through it (navigating adulting in a time of opportunity but uncertainty).
So, our process is about documenting these highs and lows and acknowledging that we need to talk about it among ourselves and with our viewers. If we’re unsure of something, we say so. We bring in someone who knows more than us and we unpack the conversation in a way that’s both enlightening and entertaining.
The narrative about youth culture in Africa has for too long painted us as passive and unmotivated, which isn’t true. We’re curious, motivated and always evolving. So, we strive for our channel to be a reflection of that, while also contributing to a more positive narrative.
A lot of your content is collaborative and features other local creatives – how do you select your features?
It changes based on the topic or theme we want to address every month. Sometimes we go out looking for people (especially if we’re shooting Pap Culture on Location, as that’s very much vox pop style content where we go out into spaces and hear what people have to say about various topics). But for the other* segments, either people come to us or we brainstorm and discuss the individuals we think would be the best to work with for a said topic.
But we’ve been very fortunate, in that, people are often very keen to collaborate with us, which is really awesome.
*Pap Culture Ride Along, Pap Culture Talks, Pap Culture Plays and Pap Culture Presents
Which three people (local or international) would you love to feature on your vlog in the near future?
Bongeka: I swear my answer changes every time someone asks me this. I’m going to shoot for the stars here and say Trevor Noah, Kerry Washington and if she were alive, how awesome would Brenda Fassie be?
Nwabisa: Much like Bongeka, this changes all the time, but right now I’d say:
- I need me a video with Issa Rae.
- A collaboration with George Mnguni aka Okay Wasabi (with mentoring from the legends who created The Pure Monate Show) for a comedy series would be so epic.
- A roundtable conversation with Khanyi Dhlomo, Carol Bouwer, Basetsana Kumalo and Connie Ferguson would be the motivation I need.
- And of course, a Ride Along episode with Mama O (Oprah Winfrey) would be a dream come true.
- Brenda Ngxoli.
- Tyler, the Creator.
- Lena Waithe talks to David Simon.
- And like Nwabisa’s suggestion of a roundtable: Bra Hugh, Anatii, Thandiswa Mazwai.
Pap Culture recently took part in the #YouTubeZA tour along with other major local YouTubers. What was the most important thing you guys took away from that experience?
Bongeka: I could only make it to the CT leg of the tour, but just from that leg I really appreciated the love and support we received. Not only from the viewers who attended but from all the content creators who were there. It was such a great vibe. I love seeing young creatives really be confident in what they do and also support others who are doing the same. There’s space for all of us to succeed and the tour really showcased this.
Nwabisa: For me it reiterated that collaboration is key, and that sharing what we’ve learnt along the way is important to empower others who are potentially looking for that key that could step-change their creative process.
YouTube in South Africa is growing but it’s not easy. So, it was reaffirming to be on a tour with a lot of the YouTubers that inspire me, because we’re all going through different creative journeys. It was amazing to just connect and learn more from each other and the amazing people who watch our content. Also, being on tour with the Microwave Boys and Okay Wasabi did wonders for my abs. I have never laughed as hard as I did over those three days. It was therapeutic, I tell you.
Thembe: Together you go further. This isn’t/wasn’t about numbers, how many people will be there or (insert whatever it is you think/thought this was about). This was a showcase of what working together and collaborating to bring a vision to life can and will be. One of YouTube’s fundamentals is collaboration. And even if it wasn’t, I think we showed that we all believe in ourselves and what YouTubeZA can and will be.
How has your content evolved over the past few years?
We’ve really grown over the last three years and we’ve always tried to push ourselves to go beyond what we know or are comfortable doing. We’ve evolved a lot of the ideation process, the style of content and even how we produce it. In the beginning, the content was a lot more light-hearted and playful and Thembe and Nwabisa were on camera a lot more.
Fast forward to the present and we’ve explored a lot more content in series formats (so having multiple episodes that fall under the same theme) – so you see that in our content series ‘Behind These Walls’ [a women empowerment series], ‘How to Manage Your Finances’ or ‘Sunday Lunch with Pap Culture’ [chatting to some of our favourite creatives over Sunday lunch].
We still keep it fun because we believe that’s a very important component that keeps us going, but we’ve definitely grown with the channel, the people we’ve met along the way and the inspirations we pull from what we see happening in the creative industry (locally and internationally).
Looking at our very first episode and our most recent episode, you can see the growth. It’s very empowering because if this is what we look like now, imagine what’s to come tomorrow, next year and beyond.
What are some of the milestones you’ve enjoyed celebrating the most as Pap Culture?
We don’t really take time to pause and celebrate much of the milestones. It’s a couple of champagne and clapping hand emoji’s in our WhatsApp group chat and then we get back to business. It’s not even because we don’t value all that we’ve been blessed to experience, but when you’re the machine that keeps things going, it’s so easy to get caught in the motions and work work work. So, pausing to take stock almost feels unnatural because we still know how much more we need to learn, do and achieve.
But the one time we’re able to celebrate in some capacity, is when we host our annual Heritage Dinner. It takes place during Heritage Month and is a time where we come together as young people and just celebrate culture and heritage and interrogate what our role is to protect it for our future.
Planning and executing the event is always stressful but the moment our guests arrive, it becomes a reminder that we really have amazing people in our corner who love us all around and are consistently rooting for us. We don’t necessarily get to see people enjoying our content (cause that’s confined to you, your home or office or anywhere really). But during Heritage Dinner, we get to see people in real time, which puts so much into perspective; that the work we do has really made an impact and so we have to keep pushing #CantStopWontStop.
What conversations do you think are still not getting enough airplay in the South African creative space?
Bongeka: I don’t think the conversation around mental health is reaching the correct ears. It’s spoken about here and there, but it really isn’t being heard by the right people. I’m turning this question on its head a little bit, but I really feel there are creatives who are speaking about just about everything, but the big issue we have is that people aren’t always interested in hearing certain things. And if people don’t want to hear it, it won’t get the necessary airplay to make a difference.
Nwabisa: Mental health. I’ve been trying to get into conversations both in terms of how to practise positive reinforcements to help foster a healthy mental space to just navigate life (even when you’re not necessarily suffering from a mental health issue), and also how to support people you know or loved ones who may be suffering from a mental illness.
I’m trying to understand what my role is in helping and protecting those I know and love. Is that even supposed to be something I take on? I don’t know. Nevertheless, I have come to know (through the chats I have had) that equipping myself with as much information as possible is the starting point.
Thembe: In my opinion, there are many. Mental health. Being a woman in South Africa. Rape. Femicide. Office politics. Kuningi.
I think the problem is that the conversations aren’t sustained. They peak and trend for a moment then go back to smaller murmurs. I wish conversations could run concurrently with worldly issues: current affairs, politics, trends, pop culture, all of it. I don’t think only focusing on one topic for one period of time will be the only solution. These conversations need to be interwoven with our everyday conversations and I think we will slowly get there.
What’s next for Pap Culture?
We don’t know, you’ll have to watch and see (lol). But on a serious note, it’s always been important to keep our process fluid and open to change. When what we’ve planned collides with unexpected curve balls and opportunities, the journey makes for an interesting ride. It’s super scary but also really exciting.
There’s a general feeling that the channel will look different (in a good way) in the next few months and so we’re all keen to see what 2019 has in store for us, but most importantly to keep pushing beyond our comfort zone. How else are we going to be the next Issa Rae, Donald Glover, Ava DuVernay, Lena Waithe’s of this world?