[Re-cap] SXSW 2012: A first time for everything

The most ironic thing about this post is the fact that for about a month I was trying to sell my ticket. I’d convinced myself that I had more important things to do, money to save, plans to go somewhere else, money to save…basically crazy talk. I’d originally been asked to take part in a panel surrounding the growth of various multicultural communities and their use of social media – the panel didn’t get selected but I’d purchased a badge already.

During the countdown to SXSW Thenublack was selected as one of the 30 companies to be represented by The Platinum Connection (part of the UK Trade & Investment Programme). This entailed a series of phone conversations with the SXSW UK reps what the company was about and connect me with brands/companies in the US that had similar interests. All of the meetings were a great opportunity to share what Thenublack was about as well as finding common ground with the respective companies some of whom had talks at the festival.

The phrase ‘Keep Austin Weird’ never really made much sense to me until about a week into the conference. Austin has this unique creative arts vibe that is actually pretty cool. I don’t think I’ve seen as many murals/street vendors as I did in Austin.

After waiting in line for over 2 hours to get my credentials (if you’re not a fan of wearing lanyards round your neck all day or queues, SXSW is not for you my friend) I went to my first panel. CNN’s Black in America/Silicon Valley: Aftermath a recap of the experiences shared by a few of the participants who had the opportunity to take their tech ideas to Silicon Valley.


Also on the same day was The Bombastic Brilliance of Black Twitter which took a look into how various outlets try to read how Black people use social networks such as Twitter. In particular the Brown Twitter Bird and also a really interesting visual representation of how the hilarious ‘Jaheim’s Suit’ tweets spread on the Twittersphere. The discussion was lead by Dr. Goddess who had done extensive research into the relationships Black people form on social networks via fictive kinships and how that related to slavery.

Having read his hilarious book ‘How to be Black’, I was one of the hundreds of people lining up for the first SXSW interactive talk by comedian Baratunde Thurston, who’s talk How to Rule The World looked at how the world is being transformed by the use of technology and satire. A few of the keynotes were interpreted visually by Ogilvy Note artists which was pretty cool. These were available as mini posters the following day

Another highlight was the discussion featuring Glenette Clark and Shireen Mitchell about black women in technology – their panel entitled ‘The Most Wanted Unusual Suspect: Markia Zuckerberg’ took a look at the solutions to the challenges that face girls and women of colour in the world of tech.

In the wake of the KONY2012 which seems to have taken an interesting turn, both ‘Celebs & Causes: A Thin Line between #winning & #fail’ and a last minute panel that was organised called Kony2012 discussed the effectiveness of the campaign and thew up many questions with varying points of view. I tweeted quite a bit through the festival but didn’t catch everything that was said so was grateful for the Google Document that was set up for the panel. The panel featured TMS Ruge of Project Diaspora who was one of the people I had a meeting with.

Throughout the whole festival SXSW Film took place. There were so many films to pick from I played it safe and saw four including Gimme The Loot, Marley, The Last Fall and also Decoding Deepak. I wasn’t a huge fan of the storyline from Gimme The Loot but thought the young actors Tashi Washington and Ty Hickson had a lot of potential. Marley was a film I’d been highly anticipating and loved every minute of it as was The Last Fall directed by Matthew A Cherry and starring the gorgeous Lance Gross as a young professional athlete facing what could be a quick end to a life on the NFL field. Decoding Deepak was an insight into the life of world famous guru Deepak Chopra through the eyes of his son Gotham.


After a week of panels and meetups came the music portion. The tech talk resumed and the iPads were replaced by groups of street teams with matching T-Shirts and special musical guests flying in to perform at last minute shows. Jay-Z, Kanye, The Dream and Rick Ross were some of the bigger hip hop names as well as a first time SXSW performance for soul singer Michael Kiwanuka. Most of the concert locations were in close walking distance so I tried to catch snippets of a few performances, in particular the African Music showcase put on by Society HAE which featured the likes of Bez, Just A Band, Blitz the Ambassador, 2Face and Seun Kuti. Ngozi Odita and also Jepchumba Thomas also put on a panel discussion about digital media in Africa which was really informative.

My musical highlights were seeing the legendary Jimmy Cliff, female duo THEEsatisfaction (both who performed at The Hype Hotel) female emcee Rapsody who’s part of 9th Wonder’s crew. Sir Michael Rocks of The Cool Kids and also Kenyan band Sauti Sol who opened up the African Music Showcase. Spotting Solange and Theophilus London at the FADER fort was pretty cool too!


Having watched the ‘Tanning of America’ series by Steve Stoute online I was more than excited to be a member of the audience at his interview with Nas. They spoke about Illmatic, Nas’s work with Damian Marley and their working relationship. Nas even took on the role as interviewer asking Stoute about his time in the music business. He also performed later that night but I didn’t go (as a matter of fact there were quite a few events that I just lived through via tweets and Youtube, lol). There was also a tribute to Don Cornelius and Soul Train featuring clips from the show which showed the impact show not only had on dances today but also on the world of black music.

The whole experience was overwhelming yet exciting, I had plently of gasps from SXSW veterans when telling them I was staying for the whole festival. After the first week I had to let go of the urge to be at absolutely everything and just attend what  I could. I had the opportunity to meet people who I’d only spoken to online or via e-mail who champion the site so it was great meeting those people. Being able to make connections with like minded individuals who were all under the same roof was a real blessing as were the meetings that I had scheduled.

I went from not wanting to attend the festival to not wanting to return home (Austin, your weirdness has a star shaped place in my heart). I’m back inspired more than ever to keep doing this and looking forward to building on the relationships with people I met out there. I’m definitely planning next year’s trip :). A huge congrats goes to Team SHAE for bringing Africa to SXSW, I know it was appreciated! To those I met whilst out in Austin (new and familiar faces): Jepchumba from African Digitial Art, Pauli PSM, Kiratiana Freelon, Shannon from Parlour Magazine, Mary Pryor, The Couch Sessions, Dr Goddess, TMS Ruge, Franchesca Ramsey and a whole host of other names that are skipping my brain – it was a real pleasure connecting with you all.


Here are the rest of the photos from the trip. If you were at SXSW and have any links to the panels or tweets from them please get in touch, I’d love to share those links!