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There is no master in the writing of a profile

By unknown | Jul 08, 2008 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

The art of biographical journalism, we are told, is to be able to see the world through the eyes of the subject.

Tim Cohen, who edited the interviews for The Weekender, puts it another way: "You have to walk in their shoes."

Say you were not interested in auctions. But once a biographer picks up his pen to write about the life of an auctioneer, he'd not have succeeded if, on the other side of the last word, the sound of the gavel does not ring in your head. The writer would have failed if the piece did not set you off on imitation mode, rolling your tongue around the fast-paced language of "sold to the guy at the back".

Back to the purpose of this article.

Neither the music nor the vocation of an unkempt soul called DJ Kenzhero excite me.

I was drawn to a write-up on him in our sister newspaper Sunday World, on June 15, by the hip, vibey pace of the writing.

To follow the auction analogy, I could hear him spinning the vinyls.

It won't save the world, yes, but it is a beautiful piece of nice-to-know journalism.

Then I take delivery of a copy of From Abdullah to Zille. I thumb through, get excited and then rock up at the launch. What do I hear? A club of contortionists patting themselves on the back and declaring, on the rooftop of the Afronova Gallery in Newtown, that this was such a good book it needed to be prescribed reading for journalism students.

Fred de Vries, says the praise singers, has compiled a bible of how the personality profile has to be done!

I went home and read, no, studied, his take on DJ Kenzhero. It is, honestly, just an effort, not definitive journalism.

Both De Vries and Quincy-Jones Tsatsi, who penned the Sunday World version, meet with DJ Kenzhero in his haunt, Rosebank, and he virtually tells them the same thing, for, I guess, he has had only one life.

Both give the profile their own individual touches.

How then does De Vries' decipherment become "the way" it's supposed to be done? Is it because it's inside a book or that the likes of Anton Harber, head of journalism at Wits, move in De Vries' circles?

His first interview is with jazz legend Abdullah Ibrahim' which lasted 11 minutes and 49 seconds. This is the signature interview, so important to the book and the author that it had to be carried in De Vries' speech at the launch.

If you were expecting to read about the madness of a genius, forget it - you won't find it in this book.


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