Between Marikana and Macarenaby Ts’eliso Monaheng / 23.10.2012
Papa Ramps speaks in trailing sentences, interjecting himself as though his other self were in a parallel universe, feeding him endless stream-of-consciousness ideas. He says ‘whatever’ a couple of times, oftentimes neglecting to pass the fully-formed meaning of his words to the listener, opting rather to let that listener make up their own mind. He is the hip king whom Abdullah Ibrahim wrote about; the orator in a diviner’s ceremony orchestrated by Zim Ngqawana; the vibration oozing out of Johnny Dyani’s rapturous bass. He was in town to partake in a part-sermon, part-toyi toyi, part-national intervention organised by the good folk at Chimurenga. His sharp tongue, coupled with an uneasiness on-stage (perhaps a meditation on this country’s state of uncertainty) surpassed only by his rancid critique of the shitstem, made for a great night of listening.
“Later… After my performance.” He had said when I asked to have a chat.
I divulge to him how little I know of his work, how my first contact was through a Hymphatic Thabs album, and how I later discovered his work with the Kalahari Surfers on one of my CD-hunting voyages around Cape Town. He tells me about Zim, and about the scroll given to him by Lefifi Tladi. I listen intently, making mental notes of the bits which might get sunk out by the surrounding noise. Alas, some bits are still inaudible. This is an excerpt of what transpired.
Mahala: How did you feel about that performance?
Lesego Rampolokeng: I just think the sole purpose of what I do springs from a need to share; to send vibes out, thoughts out, ideas out, hoping that that’ll spring back to leverage intellectually, spiritually, psychologically, and otherwise. It’s got nothing to do with material gain. I want to grow as a human being, to be able to come to life. So the question would be ‘do I feel like a better person now than I did before?’ And that, I believe, is a question for another day.
I heard you first on the Hymphatic Thabs album Perfect Times. How did that link come about?
Ask Thabs who in the world inspired him. I wouldn’t say ‘influenced’; people who get influenced are, for me, people who end up aping and mimicking others. [I am referring to those] for whom engagement with this or that creature actually sets them off on their own path – that’s what I mean. I love the guy. It’s not about even saying people are talented, everyone’s talented in their own way. The concept of talent is so perverted, just like the concept of ‘genius’. For instance, every single woman who sings now is referred to as a diva.
So how did the Warrick Sony link come about?
Damn, I was a baby then. I stayed in Johannes Kerkorrel’s house. I believe that if James Phillips lived anywhere else on earth but South Africa, he would’ve been as big a star as Eric Clapton, honestly. Beyond being classically trained, [it was] the gift, and how he put his words together. But South Africa being what it is, he was only half Afrikaner. At gigs, the audience would howl at him, ‘kom af, jou Engelsman!’ These features, har’a rona batho, they go deeper than we realise. We were living in a situation where the descendants of those people, and the people who died because of this beast that we’ve been engaging, this monstrosity that no amount of plastic surgery can fix… because of that, who are our activists? It’s those people who can’t actually make out the difference between Marikana and Macarena – the same death-dance madness! Ralph Rabie’s father was chief justice Rabie. So when we went to gigs, you could be assured that all the police would do when they broke up the gig would be to slash their car tyres. If I were found there, just imagine what would happen to me, my father is no chief justice. But still, I respected the work they were trying to do. Now, Kalahari Surfers were truly experimental. They were not even accepted within that movement, because they were not seen as proper musicians. People I love and respect always felt that Warrick didn’t belong there; he’s this guy who cuts up tapes and splices things together. All they wanted was to get the groove going, the melodies… but here’s this guy, you get what I’m saying? That’s what appealed to me, just like in literature. It’s not linearity; it’s not somebody who can tell a story. It’s somebody who drops their literary bomb, and I get magic out of the silence that remains after the detonation. But the link was established via Matthew Krouse, who’s now arts editor at the Mail and Guardian. I felt that the direction that Warrick was taking, and the direction that I’d been taking since I was a kid… I do believe that we could’ve done much greater work together, it’s a pity. This CD you’re talking about came out on tape in ’89/’90, I’m not sure. I was in Germany and this woman told me that she picked it up at a black market in Bosnia!
You make an appearance in Aryan Kaganof’s Giant Steps, which also features the likes of Bra Geoff Mpakathi and bra Zim Ngqawana, both of whom have since departed. How deep is your connection to jazz?
Let’s look at it this way. In the time of Charlie Parker, when bebop broke out, to the likes of Pharoah Sanders and Dizzy Gillespie… take the entire music spectrum of the US and trace it right back to the plantations. It’s a cry from the depths, from the very depths, to shutter the universe in order to find its way home; that’s my engagement with it. That’s what saddens me the most about Zim’s passing because one of the last performances – I don’t know if he did another after that – I had to go open an exhibition in Constitution Hill. [My speech was] in response to xenophobic attacks, and how this world was created out of human flux; out of human traffic, movement; the movement of human beings, one person gravitating towards another, and then forming a community. For people to claim any spot of earth and attempt to keep the rest of humanity out is silly, sick! Especially when you realise that in this country, the people who get referred to as foreigners are the ones with x-amount of melanin in them; no Chinese or white person was killed in those attacks. It’s only African negroes who become… Myself and Zim were there to play, so when we got there we said ‘let’s just jam’. And what he played, I’d never heard him play like that before! It was like the last gasp, like he was taking his last breath. People who were there will tell you just how much it sent shivers… it was incredibly painful and deep. Even before I headed back to the Free State, I was told he was dead, you understand?! That’s how deep the connection goes for me. He was gasping man, taking last breaths, pulling through the saxophone, that’s what happened.
Were you ever part of the Dashiki Poets?
Well, first of all, before bra Geoff died, he published my one novel. Nobody else wanted to publish it because they felt that it was too experimental, too inward-turning. What bra Geoff said to me was, again to hark back to jazz, he quoted a legendary jazz musician as having said that: ‘If you feel that I’m going over your head, jump! Don’t expect me to squat.’ Now, towards the late ’80s early ’90s, Lefifi Tladi sent me this scroll, this lengthy twisting and turning thing which was a letter he’d written to me, and he’d drawn all over it. Honestly, I don’t think there’s anything as precious as that on this planet, but I got my place mugged and I lost it.