They may cut in on you or even run off the road but the minibus taxi, the ubiquitous emblem of South African transport, is no less than a profoundly South African icon. In fact, minibus taxis are moving monuments to South Africa’s entrepreneurial spirit. Deregulation wrenched transport from government hands in the late 80s and unleashed a minibus tsunami that surged through the Madiba Years and now sees privateers pocketing the fares of over 60% of South Africa’s commuters. In a country characterised by great diversity, a ride in a minibus taxi may just be the national experience that most of us have in common.
Taxijam is what happens when you mix a minibus commute with music and slap it onto a new media platform. The “smallest gig in town,” it’s a website that features performances by South African artists shot in the back of taxis. If new media is about mobility, Taxijam is creating content that mimics the way we consume it. The site showcases seamless slices of musical art that have shed the shackles of high production and been posited into the realm of the mundane. The effect is strangely paradoxical: a private performance in an intimate location that everybody with an Internet connection is invited to experience.
There’s also something of an unplugged ethic informing Taxijam. The empty minibus is a democratic stage and performers have only their charm and raw talent to draw on. As such, Taxijam provides the opportunity to see different artists in the same naked context. Such is the platform that new dimensions of the musicians are revealed and familiar songs are bathed in compelling unfamiliarity. As the camera pans away from a performance, catching glimpses of motorists and pedestrians through the taxi windows, we’re reminded that that life goes on when music happens. Bands aren’t just totems that live out our fantasies on stage and in music videos but rather a part of everyday life. Taxijam proves that artists inhabit the same stinky spaces that we do.
The best thing about Taxijam is that the project is born out of an uncomplicated interest in music and a desire to provide an alternate platform for recognised as well as fresh talent in all shapes and styles. Taxijam producers, cousins Richard and Simon Wall, describe the project as a labour of love and tip their hats to London’s pioneering Black Cab Sessions. They’ve unpacked the project in Cape Town but are interested in collaborating with production teams as far and wide as Joburg and Dubai. “We’ll shoot artists, musicians, poets, performers and anyone who blows us away,” says Simon, “Anyone can hop on board.”