The Black Power Station® is a social entrepreneurial space for the expression of art, music and thought, inspired by the black consciousness ideology of Steve Biko. It is a response to a conversation about “business beyond the national art festival” started in 2011 by Xolile Madinda and fellow artists in Fingo village. ZIMKITA LINYANA reports.
Xolile Madinda, a Makhanda native, is the founder and CEO of The Black Power Station®. The venue was birthed inside a literal power station – the old power station – which used to serve only one side of town during the dark days of the apartheid regime.
It is located in what is now known as the industrial area on Rautenbach Road, on the edge of Makhanda. Madinda says that according to stories told by his elders, the site used to be a village where people lived before it became an industrial area.
The Black Power Station® is a spot within the old power station. “It didn’t just become The Black Power Station®; it was a process,” says Madinda.
He stopped by the building while on a night drive in 2014. He loved it so much that he thought it the perfect location for an art studio/venue as he is an artist and social activist who was then seeking a fixed spot to work from.
Securing the lease wasn’t easy until the former National Art Festival CEO Tony Lankester gave him a recommendation letter that supported his case. In 2014, he began renovating – a collective effort between fellow artists, friends, and sponsors, making the space he had secured into the colourful, artsy, and afro-centric hub of creativity and intellectuality it is today.
The Black Power Station® is inviting, comfortable, warm, and a rich cultural space that makes for the perfect hangout.
It is more than just a live music venue. “It is a home for those seeking an alternative away from the city noise that tends to distract the mind,” says Madinda.
“It is a space which seeks to encourage freedom of thought and expression.” Before naming it The Black Power Station®, Madinda called it Aroundhiphop Live Cafe, an existing trade name for his business as a hip-hop artist and an entrepreneurial creative. Since the concept of black power and excellence was always an underlying message from the onset, his peers asked, “Why don’t you just call it the black power station?” and the name was born.
Although Madinda doesn’t actively practice as an artist anymore, he is essentially an advocate for art and uses art as a catalyst to create positive change in society. “It is not just an art space – art is just a way to get people talking. As you can see, there are many books around – books are the highest currency to enter this space,” he says.
He explains that money is not always the only way to earn a spot in an audience to a show and that it is common practice to have a book reading before a performance just to set the tone and bring calm.
Madinda encourages anyone who visits to bring a book donation. “All kinds of books are welcome here. Even if just one line in a book or the author has biased views, it can spark a conversation. So, in a way, The Black Power Station® is an international destination because everybody from anywhere is welcome here; when you come here, you don’t have even to explain who you are. You can just be.”
Madinda is also the founder of the Fingo Festival, a donor-funded art festival that happens in Fingo Village. Like The Black Power Station®, it is a social enterprise that runs solely on fundraising and sponsorships with a vision of continued sustainability as a for-profit business. Madinda also works as a consultant at the University of Virginia in the United States.
Under the spirit of Freedom Month, April, Madinda added that as per the teachings of Biko, true freedom is the ability to self-actualize, self-determine, and partake in building a robust society. He says that Makhanda’s future is in the hands of young people, who are largely unemployed and will need to take charge and exploit the resources around them, such as access to the internet and education, and not wait for the government.
“If we call ourselves Bikoists, we need to be like Biko, who didn’t just wait around but instead built Zanempilo community healthcare centre, famously known as ‘Biko clinic’, for example. That is the heart of The Black Power Station®.”