Dope Saint Jude: ‘I am not coloured, I am Black’

By Eva Sauphie
Posted on Friday, 6 May 2022 10:27

Dope St Jude
Dope Saint-Jude ©Lou Rolley

With the release of the EP Higher Self, the South African rapper continues to play with labels. Her self-imposed exile in London has allowed her to take a step back from the racial divisions that still mark her country.

Never where you’d expect her to be, Catherine Saint Jude Pretorius, as she was christened, strolls into her Parisian hotel, her long dreadlocks running down her overalls. Born in Cape Town in a “coloured” community (mixed-race populations, neither white nor Black), this pastor’s daughter, bottle-fed on religious songs, soon freed herself from the church, starting her career as a drag king before she burst onto the independent hip-hop scene.

Since then, Dope (for “cool”) Saint Jude has never stopped borrowing from the virile imagery of American rappers, posing in a rap squat and military fatigues, with big shoes on her feet. A self-proclaimed queer artist, she draws as many references from the American – and mostly white – punk and feminist movement Riot Grrrl as she does from the sonic universe of Kanye West and the British singer of Sri Lankan origin M.I.A.

After Resilient (2018), an EP cobbled together at home but acclaimed by music critics, the rapper has just unveiled a new six-track project, Higher Self (released 22 April on Yotanka), where she once again plays with labels. On the flyer announcing the EP’s release, she appears bound in a metallic corset, Jean-Paul Gaultier style. The former political science student, who has been living in London for two years, is well aware of the racial divisions that plague her country and wants to reconnect with her African identity. Interview.

Jeune Afrique: What is your life as an expatriate in London like?

Dope Saint Jude: After two years there, I finally got my permanent visa in England. I’ve just returned from South Africa, where I was able to see my father again. I hadn’t been back since the beginning of Covid. Everything felt new to me. Living far away gave me some distance for the first time, especially from the economic divisions that plague my country.

Apartheid took me away from my African heritage

I grew up in a very poor environment, in the coloured community of Elsie’s River township, east of Cape Town. The simple fact of having euros and pounds to spend [now] has granted me access to elite, white places for the first time. The economic structure is very particular in South Africa. I have experienced white life in my own country, a land that is nevertheless African.

I’m thinking of buying a house by the sea, where there are no Black people, to shake up the social and racial dynamics of the country on my own scale. I want to be able to feel at home anywhere in South Africa.

You grew up in a ‘coloured’ environment. A term that no longer has any meaning outside the country…

As a coloured person, we are really living in a culture that has been our own for generations. We have our own food, our own expressions, our own style and way of life. Even our holiday destinations are different from those of Black and white people. The South African government divided us.

The romanticisation of the suffering, struggling Black woman must end. Black women can and should be happy.

I’ve taken a break from all this racial division since I’ve been living outside the country. It was only while living in England that I realised I was Black, plain and simple. My maternal grandmother was Black. But my mother chose to join the mixed-race population so she could get a better salary, and a little upward mobility. I still remember her status printed on her identity card. She had to pass up her Black identity to get ahead. I don’t blame her, I understand her. But apartheid took me away from my African heritage.

You pay tribute to your Africanness in the song For You…

It’s a song connected to my grandmother and her heritage. In the video, I’m wearing a blue Basotho dress, the ethnic group she came from. It’s quite superficial to show it like that, but the narrative is important. This rather warlike song tells the story of the lineage of women from whom I am descended, who fought for me. For them, I owe it to myself to be happy. It’s like a political anthem that invites us to live a joyful life, after so much suffering.

The romanticisation of the suffering and struggling Black woman must end. Black women can and should be happy. I don’t want to suffer and I certainly don’t want to be associated with the image of the ‘angry black woman’: that’s nonsense.

In Keep Your Head Up you celebrate the Black and LGBT community. Are you part of the intersectional feminist movement?

I stand for all these causes, but it’s not my job to carry it all. Again, it goes back to this idea of suffering. People only see the value of a Black female artist when she is suffering. I respect, for example, the work of the African-American rapper Cardi B, who celebrates the female sex, and makes fun of hypersexualised codes. She also shows that she can have fun.

I recently got married. And I posted pictures of my wife and me on Instagram. Seeing two Black women getting together is pretty rare. But I didn’t do it as a political act. I just wanted to celebrate this love.

You are mainly known in France and Europe: Do you have a South African audience?

I have a fan base in South Africa. But it is still quite small. My style of music is not popular there. The country vibrates to the rhythm of amapiano and gqom music [house and electro movements born respectively in the townships of Johannesburg and Durban].

I don’t think I could have a career in South Africa. Especially as the music industry, there is still in its infancy. It would be difficult to get support. In Europe, we have contracts and so many venues in which to perform. My team is in France now, and we’re trying to open things up in Belgium. I’m finding my place little by little.

Dope Saint Jude will perform on 8 June at La Bellevilloise in Paris


Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options