The barbershop, a place of worship for men – so sacred and central to the black male existence that Ice Cube agreed to star in the third edition of The Barbershop enterprise – can offer insight into our relationship with hair.
The rapper Common references the barbershop in Payback is a Grandmother, a song which details how his grandmother called him at 4am to tell him she’d been robbed. Common then recounts the payback mission, which invariably ends at the barbershop where, as he’s getting his hair cut, he overhears a conversation about the robbery. ‘My barber cut me with the quickness/ asked him where he got the new bracelet, he said it was his sisters’.’
My own childhood is filled with memories of being taken, by my mother, to ntate Kabelo’s mkhukhu located in a near-squalid part of town. She’d leave me there and go about her chores while I waited in line as conversation flowed between men from different sectors of society in his dimly-lit enclave. When my turn came, the old man’s manual clipper would work its way around my skull, engaging its contours in the quest to come up with the perfect ‘brush’ haircut.
There’s little online about natural haircare when it comes to men.
A Mike Tyson-style ‘direction’ would complete our session. When videos of Malcom X the movie started leaking in the hood, my friends resorted to rocking his incision, located slightly off-centre on their heads, similar to Patrice Lumumba’s as opposed to Mike’s meandering line which tended to one side, usually the left.
There were no prescribed haircare routines, save the methylated spirits ntate Kabelo would generously apply to my scalp post-haircut. Now, and especially since the metrosexual craze of the early 2000s, it’s not unusual to hear of men doing more than just placing a manual hair clipper on their head. But there’s little online about how to care for women’s natural hair and even less when it comes to men.
Christine Rupiah (or Kiri) blogs regularly about natural hair and skincare remedies. She says there isn’t really a difference when it comes to haircare regiments, except price and availability. ‘Men can and should use women’s haircare products. The chemical compositions are the same; the packaging is different; but they all serve the same purpose,’ she adds.
Kiri recommends using natural and certified organic products extensively. ‘Natural oils and waxes like jojoba, Amla and argan can penetrate the hair shaft making hair supple but strong. If you can’t pronounce the ingredient, it most likely won’t be good for your hair. Always read the label.’
Additional hair care tips offered include good nutrition and staying hydrated. She also recommends not washing hair daily, but rather ‘spritzing it with water.’
‘Stay away from trends. If you colour it often, go two shades up or down your colour spectrum. If you must bleach it, please get treatments or you’re in for dry straw-like hair and stunted growth. Dyeing your hair makes the strands weaker, it will break if it is not properly moisturised,’ she says.
When pictures of Drake’s beard broke social media and had the rapper trending for an entire week! The streets caught onto it.
Pop culture has that uncanny ability to make any and everything, well, ‘pop’ at you during the weirdest times.
Every first Thursday of the month, from early evening into the night, Braamfontein comes alive with suits, artists, students and couples walking its near-hawkerless pavements, peeking into gallery spaces, boutique stores and exclusive sneaker shops or walking in-between the narrow alleyways at Neighbourgoods Market while sipping a mixture of something sweet, tangy, and preferably packing a stiff punch. And judging by the swarm of team #BeardGang affiliates rocking fully-grown beards and stroking their chins, all man’d up and ready to reconnect with their more primal selves, the streets looked at Drake and took notes.
What does it all mean, this beard renaissance? Men have been growing and trimming their beards since growing and trimming hair became a thing, sure, but pop culture has that uncanny ability to make any and everything, well, ‘pop’ at you during the weirdest times.
Roughly a week following the Braam joyride, over a Skype chat with musician Motheo Moleko (known, following their performance at the SAMA Awards this year, as ‘the other black guy in Jeremy Loops’ – and this despite him having co-founded the group with Jeremy Hewitt some five years ago) a series of stream-of-consciousness nuggets pepper the conversation.
He’s always had a beard. ‘I clean it up; I don’t always look like I’m about to start a revolution,’ he says.
He speaks on the American tour they’ve recently returned from and drops knowledge darts on what he calls ‘the struggle beard’. (Followers of rap culture as served by America will know its variants in the form of the ‘when Kendrick and J. Cole start lookin’ homeless, you know a fire album is on the way *flame emoji*’ meme which captions side-by-side images of the two rappers looking, well, bearded up.)
‘The Biko Beard only comes in when I’m stressed out in my life. It’s like a response to life. When things are crazy, there’s just no time to shave,’ he says. He’s in a good space currently, despite his rap project MOMENTSS having to split because of clashing visions of individual members.
Motheo’s always had a beard. ‘I clean it up; I don’t always look like I’m about to start a revolution,’ he says.
There’s a correlation between first Thursdays’ beard craze and Drake’s pictures being ‘leaked’ onto the Internet. Braam’s tech-savvy trend-hoppers jumped onto it and those who were already there — the early investors, so to say — only benefitted from the boom. That’s why #BeardGang was ubiquitous. And it’s Twitter, where Drake trended, which holds the answers to not only the beard’s allure but to how and why men choose to present and stylise themselves through various hairstyles.
After absent-mindedly clicking on a recommended user, a sighting of their profile summarised the meaning of life in its entirety. Judging from the avatar, it’s a female. ‘Drake’s beard is my couch,’ the bio reads.