ITAI Hakim is a folk-soul singer, guitarist and songwriter with a sense of humor and a consciousness that allows for thoughtful conversation and spine-chilling socially aware music.
Born in Diepkloof, Soweto, Hakim says he grew up listening to the likes of West Life, Andrea Bocelli, and only later were his tastes in music challenged. “From the get go I wasn’t listening to anything traditional or deeply black. I think my first interaction with a black musician was Craig David, and you know he is very sanitised,” he says.
He went to a mostly white primary school “in the suburbs and I became culturally assimilated.” His first encounters with “race” as a social qualifier of space and opportunity was in high school, “when your white friend can’t come over and sleep at your house because you live in Soweto, that’s when you realise that something is off,” he says laughing.
By the time Hakim got to Wits University, where he studied Psychology, Sociology, English and Philosophy, his conceptions of the world and music were highly influenced by the “underground” hip hop, slam poetry and live music scene of the late 2000’s.
By the time 2012 came, he had been performing in gigs around Johannesburg in different bands and he would later be signed, as part of the group 8 Bars Short at Motif records (although this didn’t work out as planned). He would also perform his Tsonga and Venda folk vocals in a tour of the United Kingdom with the band, The Brother Moves On.
For him going to the UK was a sobering experience, “it was great in the sense that it felt like it was all me, you know, I couldn’t be like it was because of someone else who made it happen.”
With an upcoming international tour, an EP and an album to be released later this year, the current events that have woken different forms of resistance in universities across the country have pushed Hakim, and many other artists, to interrogate the inextricable connections between art and politics. “Will inequality exist forever? That scares me… I don’t think that, or at least I don’t want that to be the case. So we need to make a plan, so that this is not the case,” he says.
“My question even as an artist is ‘how big is your fight?’” he says. “It’s the same thing as an artist, as a journalist, as a doctor, as a policeman. You always have the issues of justice that you always have to negotiate with internally.”
One of Hakim’s interests are in storytelling, specifically writing books for young black children with black illustrations as a way to counter and speak against a narrative that feeds young black children whiteness and white values from a young age.
Pointing to a book he is currently reading by black feminist scholar and cultural critic, bell hooks, called Black Looks: Race and Representation, he speaks about how the book has helped him contextualize notions of black representation and how certain messages i.e. writing black children’s books, are important, valid and necessary.
Speaking about the student movement and the paintings that were burnt by #RhodesMustFall activists at the University of Cape Town he says: “I just found myself asking the question, ‘kanti how is a revolution supposed to happen?’ We can’t always be in dialogue debating, and in meetings, no. And I feel like South Africa has been here before.”
“What do you expect to happen? You gonna spend R2 million on secret police and tell us there is no money for kids?”
With music projects, theatre collaborations, and writing projects coming up, Hakim believes the question that artists should be asking themselves now is, “as an artist you are never neutral… are you just doing this just to be popular or are you for real for real? I think every artist needs to ask themselves that question at some point.”