Never where you expect her, Catherine Saint Jude Pretorius, her Christian name, tumbles into her Parisian hotel, her long dread locks rolling down her overalls. Born in Cape Town into a “coloured” community (populations of mixed ethnic groups, neither white nor black), this pastor’s daughter fed up with religious songs soon freed herself from the church to embark on the independent hip-hop scene in pretending to be a man!
Since then, Dope (for “cool”) Saint Jude has continued to borrow from the virilistic imagery of American rappers, taking the break squatting and legs apart, in a military fatigues, big boots on his feet. A claimed queer artist, she draws her references as much from the American punk and feminist movement, and mostly white, Riot grrrl, as from the sound universe of Kanye West and the British singer of Sri Lankan origin MIA.
After Resilient (2018), a DIY EP but acclaimed by specialized critics, the rapper unveils a new six-track project, Higher Self (released April 22 on Yotanka), where she once again plays with labels. On the visual of this small format announcing the publication of an album, she appears enclosed in a metal corset, Jean-Paul Gaultier style. Based in London for two years, the former political science student is well aware of the racial divisions that undermine her country and wishes to reconnect with her African identity. Maintenance.
Jeune Afrique: How do you live your expatriation in London?
Dope Saint Jude: After two years there, I finally got my permanent visa to England. I have just returned from South Africa where I was able to see my father again. I hadn’t been back there since the start of the Covid. Everything seemed new to me. Living far away allows me to have distance for the first time, especially on the economic divisions that plague the country.
Apartheid took me away from my African heritage
I grew up in a very poor environment, in the “coloured” community of the township of Elsie’s River, in the east of Cape Town. The simple fact of having euros and pounds allowed me to find myself in places reserved for the elite, for white people, for the first time. The economic structure is very special in South Africa. I experienced the life of white people in my own country, an African land.
I am thinking of buying a house near the sea, where there are no blacks, to shake up the social and racial dynamics of the country on my scale. I want to be able to feel at home anywhere in South Africa.
You grew up in a colored environment. A term that no longer has any meaning outside the country…
As “coloured”, we really evolve in a culture that has been our own for generations. We have our own food, our expressions, our style and our way of life, even our vacation destinations are different from those of blacks and whites. The South African government has divided us.
We must end this romanticization of the black woman who suffers and who fights
I’ve taken a break from all these racial divides since I’ve been living out of the country. It was while living in England that I realized that I was simply black. My maternal grandmother was black. But my mother preferred to join the mixed populations to be better paid, to experience a small social ascent. I still remember his status printed on his ID card. She had to bypass her black identity to move forward. I don’t blame her, I understand her. But apartheid took me away from my African heritage.
You pay homage to your Africanness in the track “For you”…
It’s a song connected to my grandmother and her heritage. In the clip, I wear a blue Basotho dress, the ethnicity from which she comes. It’s quite superficial to show it like this, but this narration is important. This rather martial piece tells the line of women from which I descend, who fought for me. For them, I have to be happy. It’s like a political anthem that invites us to live a joyful life after so much suffering.
We have to put an end to this romanticization of the black woman who suffers and who fights. Black women can and have the right to be happy. I don’t want to suffer and even less to be associated with this image of the “angry black woman” (the angry black woman), it’s stupidity.
In “Keep your Head Up” you celebrate the black and LGBT community. Do you find yourself in the intersectional feminist movement?
I stand up for all these causes, but it’s not my job to carry all that. This is again linked to this idea of suffering. People only see the value of a black female artist when she’s in pain. I respect, for example, the work of the African-American rapper Cardi B who celebrates the female sex, plays with hypersexualized codes. She also shows that she can have fun.
I stand up for all these causes, but it ain’t my job to carry it all
I recently got married. And I posted pictures of my wife and I on Instagram. To see two black women uniting is quite 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 an audience in South Africa?
I have a fan base in South Africa. But it remains quite confidential. My style of music is not popular there. The country vibrates to the rhythm of amapiano and gqom music [mouvements house et électro nés respectivement dans les townships de Johannesburg et de Durban].
I don’t think I could have a career there. Especially since the music industry there is still embryonic. It would be difficult to get support. In Europe, we have contracts and so many concert venues to perform. My team is in France now, and we are trying to open up to Belgium. I am slowly finding my place.
Dope Saint Jude will perform on June 8 at La Bellevilloise in Paris