Posted by: Steve Coplan | April 16, 2007

Kaizer Chiefs

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Last week I had the good fortune to see Kaiser Chiefs grace the stage at Roseland Ballroom. The bars of Hoboken probably had to endure the loss of a few hundred patrons that night, if my read on the very ‘mainstream’ crowd is accurate. Kaiser Chiefs acquitted themselves well, keeping things tight and the energy high even as the crowd gradually lost interest. Radio play can be a double-edged sword apparently. But evening also held a degree of cognitive dissonance. My mental and emotional associations with Kaiser Chiefs are not with a bunch of pale English blokes. Kaizer Chiefs (and not Kaiser Chiefs) is the biggest football team in my hometown of Johannesburg. Allegiances are largely split between the three biggest clubs in Jo’burg – the Chiefs (aka Amakhosi), the Moroka Swallows (aka The Birds) and the Orlando Pirates (aka The Bucs, as in Buccaneers), with Jomo Cosmos and Wits University accounting for a small and idiosyncratic crowd. The Bucs supporters (as ‘fans’ are known in South Africa) could be likened to ‘The Raider Nation’ in their sometimes macabre inventiveness and undying loyalty to the team, as Pieter Hugo has chronicled here.

The eponymous Kaizer Motaung is along with Jomo Sono (whose team is known as Jomo Cosmos) known for being talented players in their day but were also largely responsible for the creation of a professional soccer league in South Africa. The creation of a professional soccer league by Africans for Africans was both a daring, revolutionary and astoundingly entrepreneurial act in a society where race determined economic opportunity. I can imagine that the name held some amusement for the Leeds fans who comprise the band, encountering the name when the end of apartheid afforded South Africa captain Lucas Radebe the opportunity to close out his career in the north of England. Kaizer, I would venture was the child of parents educated by Lutheran missionaries, but the strange juxtaposition of the team name was never the source of much amusement in South Africa. Support for Kaizer Chiefs was shorthand for refusing to let the past define the future.

Related: Nostaljah 

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