#MyJoburg with DJ and journalist Charles Leonard on his podcast 'This is Joburg'

more than a year ago
In our #MyJoburg series, we speak to people that add something unique to Joburg's creative mix, and get the lowdown on what enthrals them about this city. 
DJ, podcaster and journalist Charles Leonard. Photo: Charles Leonard. 

Charles Leonard is an award-winning podcaster, journalist, editor and DJ. He has been a journalist for over 35 years, having worked across media in podcasting, radio, TV, online and print. Leonard is currently a freelance, self-employed podcaster, trainer, writer and journalist, doing podcast projects for the Mail & Guardian and Jacana Books.

Leonard hosts a weekly 12-part podcast series for the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study (JIAS) at the University of Johannesburg, called This is Jo’burg. We're in love with this series, where he tells the stories of the city, its people, its history, challenges and future. We caught up with him to find out more about the podcast, and of course, talk all things Joburg. 

Your This is Joburg podcast – what did you set out to find?
I set out to tell some of the stories of my fascinating city and its people.

What has surprised you most along the way?
That despite the mess Joburg is in, I learnt to love it even more along the way.

"Life's too short to do boring journalism."

One of Leonard's discoveries during the making of his This is Joburg podcast: Rootsman Runnings in Brixton. Photo: Charles Leonard. 

Which interview stands out so far and why?
I'm not sure any one stands out as such – the 20 of them so far [a number of people are interviewed for each episode] have been insightful and entertaining, and have given me new perspectives on Joburg.

What themes have you been most excited to tackle?
The themes I have tackled so far have been Joburg's history, its politics, crime in the city, inequality, culture, religion and why I think hadedas should be the city's official bird. All of the themes have been exciting – otherwise I wouldn't have tackled them. Life's too short to do boring journalism.

You have travelled the city in search of the stories. What new places did you discover?
New to me? Parts of Alexandra, August House in Doornfontein, Kwa Mai Mai and a Rasta shop in Brixton called Rootsman Runnings...
Another of Charles Leonard's Joburg favourites  –  August House artist studios. Photo: Johannesburg In Your Pocket. 

How have your views on Joburg changed since you started recording the podcast?
My views haven't really changed. I have just learnt more about my city because I have read up, listened up and watched obsessively since starting this project earlier this year.

What is Joburg?
As New York Times correspondent, Lynsey Chutel, said in an interview I did with her: "Shame Joburg, she's not pretty... but she's a beauty."

We refer to this Johannesburg In Your Pocket feature as being views from an insider, knowing full well that Joburg is a city of migrants and that the most interesting perspectives often come from insiders who are outsiders. What is your view on this? 
I fully agree! In fact, one episode of This is Jo'burg is called 'Outsiders'. I interviewed three women from different backgrounds about the idea of being outsiders, about being Joburgers and what this city means to them.

Journalist, DJ, podcaster – how do you describe yourself? 
All of the above.

Your podcasts include a superbly curated playlist. What inspires the choice of music? 
A few things: I need to love the tracks. They must have a certain tone and timbre. The songs need to somehow relate to the episode even in a lateral way. Also, it does help if the songs have some kind of Joburg link, such as title, artist's background and a sound that's "Joburgish".
Records from Leonard's impressive vinyl collection. Photo: Charles Leonard. 

What it is about music that stirs you more than the written word?
For me it is not either-or; both stir me. Music perhaps more emotionally, though.

Three songs that make you think of this city and why? 
1. Grazin' in the Grass by Hugh Masekela. 
2. Bump Jive by The Movers. 
3. Hillbrow by Johannes Kerkorrel & Die Gereformeerde Blues Band

I just need to hear them and I'm immediately transported to a "Joburg State of Mind".

If you were mayor for one day (like most of our mayors) what would you seek to change about Joburg? 
Tough one, but I would institute measures (see those words – I sound like a technocrat already) that would get rid of the thugs, wipe out inequality by using the massive budgets properly and clean up the whole city. In short, turn it into a city that cares about everyone so that all Joburgers have homes, food, jobs and dignity. That should be easy...

One person to watch in this city, who is destined for great things? 
Not one, but the ordinary people who care about other ordinary Joburgers. Ones who look out for one another.
DJ Charles Leonard at The Commune in Braamfontein. Photo: Charles Leonard via Instagram. 

Home is...
The whole of the city in all its facets and with all its people, except that person in an SUV who drives on my arse when I stick to the speed limit on the highway.

Your favourite Joburg suburb, and why you choose it?
There are several, but one that I find compelling is Brixton – I'm doing an episode on it for later in the series.

What three things should a visitor not leave Joburg without seeing or experiencing?
The Wilds in Houghton, [food, wine and cigar bar] Just Badela in Soweto, and Breezeblock in Brixton. 

The most underrated Joburg sight or experience?
View from Munro Drive in Houghton.
An underrated Joburg site – Munro Drive viewpoint. Photo: Johannesburg In Your Pocket. 

The most memorable meal you have eaten in Joburg?
A meal with the family at Abyssinia Restaurant in Kensington.

If you could buy one Joburg building which would it be?
The Guptas' 'Saxonwold Shebeen'.

Favourite Joburg brand, and why?
Impala Fruit & Veg – consistency, friendliness and welcoming to all Jo'burgers.
A delicious plate of Ethiopian food at Abyssinia Restaurant. Photo: Charles Leonard. 

On a weekend in Joburg you’ll find me...
DJ-ing, walking my Bouvier named Bowie, making meals for the family, playing vinyl records in my garden or working.

What makes someone a Joburger?
Someone who feels this city is home.

What do you love most about Joburg?
Most certainly its people. Also, the fact that I have been living here all my adult life and I know my way around – familiarity with your surroundings and the people here is certainly underrated.

What do you least like about Joburg?
The lack of safety, especially for women. And the populist politicians who are pissing on the legacy of the Joburgers who fought against the injustices of apartheid.

Your number-one tip for a first-time visitor to Joburg?
Be clever!

What's happening in Joburg right now that you think everyone should know about?
This mess too shall pass (says he, with his fingers crossed).

Three words that describe this city.
Bigger than us.

Check out our previous #MyJoburg interview with the founder of OpenStudios.Joburg, Sara Hallatt for more insights into the city. 

Subscribe to our free weekly Johannesburg In Your Pocket newsletter for all the latest news and reviews about what's new in Joburg!


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