The African Hair Salon - Part 1

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Image by Okhai Ojeikere

Still on the subject of neighbourhood discovery, last Friday I ventured out to Raleigh Street, which becomes Rockey Street in the heart of Yeoville looking for a hair salon.  My old hairdresser used to be in Yeoville but she would usually do my hair after hours at my place in Illovo.  While this decision was logistically driven, the truth is that I didn’t want to spend 7 or 8 hours in some hair salon in Yeoville because African hair salons generally lack certain comforts that I like.  They can be trying spaces to be in. 

When I used to shave my hair clean, I would go to the Ghanain Hair Salon on the corner of Corlett Drive and Athol Oaklands, the one with the paintings of Oprah, Alicia Keys, Chris Rock and other African American celebrities on it.  The last time I went there was to undo my braids this time last year.  The salon was not fancy, in fact it had a lot of ghetto vibes but it is owned by old God-fearing people and a nice woman who never spoke but smiles and always handed out ice-cold mini bottles of water as you sat down to read the oil-stained magazines. I liked the woman because she wasn’t intrusive.  The man of the establishment ruled it with an unbecoming zeal for the Holy Spirit.  There would always be extremely loud church sermon DVD’s in which the out of breath Nigerian or Ghanaiain ‘’prophet preacher’’ was always going on about the wishes of the Devil or the covenant of His Holiness. 

The salon wasn’t great, like most African salons these days, the qualities that used to determine the art of hair styling – skill and creativity – have been replaced by nail painting, simple braiding, relaxing and putting in weaves.  The ladies can plait or do intricate styles but you always have either bring them a reference or direct their each and every movement if you want to be happy.  I grew up in Butterworth where my mom would take my two sisters and I to a Ghanaian house salon (somebody’s house) down the road. Going to the salon was an adventure.  It would start out in tears that streamed down our little faces, faces that were buried in between the knees of Aunty so-and-so who always wore Ghanaian print kaftans as she pulled and tightened our hair with thick black thread.  Once she was done, we would look like mini aliens with our heads covered in coils that went in every direction.  ‘’Kodwa mama sizolala njani?’’ (But mama, how are we going to sleep?)  we would ask as we left the house salon, faces stretched to perfection.  And she would say ‘’Sakhula kusithwa suffer for beauty thina’’ (We grew up hearing you suffer for beauty).  The idea that at the end of the pain we would look ‘’beautiful’’ consoled us enough to get used to it  In all honesty, we did feel beautiful as we walked home.  The hair style would be incredibly uncomfortable to sleep with for the first few days but the memory of the pain was drowned out by the compliments we would get from our dad and other grown ups.  The point is there was panache in hair styling.

African (South African ones included obviously) salons these days are very different.  I’m not talking about Le Looks or Sandton Hair, the fancy overpriced ones (Two months ago, I paid R700 in a Parkhurst salon to trim my already short hair and colour it) in malls who have nice amenities but a lot of them also lack in the creativity and skills department.  I haven’t enough experience in those ones.  I’m talking about everywoman’s salon.  I have obviously not been to all of them and I stand corrected on my view of them. But I write what I see.  I was going to retell some salon tales but it would make this article too long and negative.  So I’ve summed it up into:

My Top 5 Peeves about African Salons in Joburg:

1.   The hairdressers are never skilled enough. You always have to explain to them and then show them what you want. 
2.   A lot of the times the hairdressers have way too much attitude
3.   The salon itself is usually dirty and full of hair everywhere
4.   They NEVER have the right hair products, always washing natural hair with Wella or Soft ‘n Free shampoo.  These products are not designed for kinky African hair and it doesn’t seem to bother a lot of people that there are no really great products for natural hair that are easily available.  Don’t tell me about Mizani, which I believed for a while until I realized that it’s L’Oreal’s ‘’African expedition’’ experimental product that is also not that amazing despite the great marketing.  The only thing that works for our natural hair is coconut oil, cocoa butter and some other home made concoctions that are not readily available. This is a missed opportunity.  African Americans have products like Carol’s Daughter and we Africans with our relentless curls have not created a product that is designed for our particular kink. I have recently started using Moroccan Oil products and while I really do want to use this product for life, it still has made no visible difference to the texture and strength of my hair.  Any tips?
5.   The gay stylists at the fancy salons are always too familiar. 

I feel like this story has taken on its own course and is not in fact going in the way that I had planned.  But it still needs to be told.  I’m going to end it here and tomorrow, continue with the details of what happened at the hair salon in Yeoville where I did this hair style last Friday.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on African hair salons, your experience of them and whether you can relate to what I’m saying or whether you think I’m talking out of my bum. 


hoboken said...

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Mametsing said...

I agree with you on many things.. however re natural hair I have to say that jamaican mango and lime is awesome. More and more of their products are making their way onto Clicks shelves (obviously the larger and 'black' stores).

The only way I was able to start and maintain the natural hair was by using home made concoctions and taking my own shampoo and conditioner to salons until I found a salon that uses natural prods.. but then again they too need guidance.


Preggies 'n Single said...

My two issues with salons, especially in Yeoville, and the one is kind of gross actually, is that they use the same towel on about 50 customers to dry your hair after washing it; the second is that when ever i do my hair i always feel like they are pulling the hair out of my scalp.

I can't say i think or care much about the products they use to wash or condition my hair, but maybe i should take note of this because my hair and scalp have some serious itching issues.

Maybe someone can post some home made recipes for shampoo and conditioner.

Nomali Cele said...

1. I love your move! These exploring your new hood posts are the bomb diggity. 2. African American celebs sell EVERYTHING in this city - it's hilar sometimes. 3. Your pet peevs! I struggled with 2 & 3 a lot [I've only done braids twice this year - just letting my hair sit on my head and do its thang is my current wave]. I'm an extremely fair person who will pay hair "stylists" what the charge for the service [within reason] but I'm consistently met with thee most atrocious attitude and service. The downside of being young and too nice.

Loved this post

x Nomali

Nomali Cele said...

Euw!!! The towels. When I used to wash my hair at "salons" in DK this was the moist wicked pet peeve of mine. Euw!

Ellomennopee said...

Just wanted to say that reading this from London, my heart fluttered when I remembered that salon on Corlett, I've long admired that Oprah painting!

Kgomotso said...

The lack of professionalism irks me. Making appointments means nothing in our salons. The other day I waited 30min (even though I had made an appointment) for my stylist to finish having her own hair done :-(

Chisanga said...

I have dreadlocks. Plenty of dreadlock stylists in town, but the wet DIRTY towels and hair on the floors make my skin crawl. A salon called Modjo on Biccard, Braamfontein, is decent though. For a natural fro hair treatment, try Urembo in Rosebank. But gawd, your fro will be breezy and loose, best I've EVER had. Pricey, but so nice.
I also find that the relax and weave salons abandon dread lock hairstyles.
To keep your hair correct, try coconut oil. I use those Olive Oil Shampoos and they are awesome for me. Precondition for some extra goodness. Also follow @GoodHairDiaries on twitter for natural hair care tips. Her advice is dope.

Chisanga said...

Oh, and I agree with previous comment, loving these know-your-hood posts you have going on. You have an amazing eye for detail and a vivid way of capturing in words the things you see.

Unknown said...
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Milisuthando Bongela said...
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Milisuthando Bongela said...

Thanks you guys, a change in environment always means some part of your life is upgraded and for me, I'm really enjoying writing again. I'm going to try Urembo, thanks Chisanga. Ellomenopee, that salon :-) Mets, what was in your mixtures?

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Nomfundo said...

I find the non professionalism frustrating and sad. The one salon closest to me in Woodstock CPT is more about being a hang out place for the owner and his friends rather than it being a place of business. The customer is made to feel as though they are being done a favour by being let in and having their hair done. The Tv and DVD is soley for African movies played on full blast, that I would like to unwind in a peaceful space while doing my hair is a foreign concept.

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Nice one! I like the outfit of the characters. Wish i could do the same thing too but im not that techie.i like the outfit of “from farmer to warden”.. really interesting. hoboken hair salons

Unknown said...

A lot of very beautiful women can be a pain because all they're thinking about is how they look.
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