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The Brother Moves On

Mr Jones and Me

by Sipho Hlongwane / Images by Dorothy Mhone / 14.09.2011

Something is happening here. But I don’t know what it is. They’re laughing. What at, I can’t tell. They’re here in packs of two and three, evidently willing to have a good time. I haven’t been in the room for two seconds and I can already tell that I don’t belong. Or I’m not supposed to belong. I’m definitely not in on the joke. I feel like Mr Jones in Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man”

“Oh my God / Am I here all alone?
Something is happening, but you don’t know what it is. Do you, Mr Jones?”

Almost everyone is wearing gold Phantom of the Opera masks. I gather that those came late didn’t get masks. Or perhaps you were supposed to bring your own one. I don’t know. Nobody is going to tell me either. I came alone.

The Brother Moves On

The band hasn’t started yet. We’re watching a shaky film on a makeshift screen set at the back of the stage. “I started The Brother Moves On when I was masturbating in the toilet,” a small man in the film says. Cackles explode sporadically from the audience. What’s so funny? There’s a chap with a ridiculously hollow back standing shirtless at one corner. He’s covered in gold. There’s another one in a suit in the other corner. He’s covered in silver. Is the audience laughing at them? What could possibly be so funny?

Is this entire thing an elaborate joke? Am I it? My good shoes don’t fit with this Braamfontein crowd. There’s nary a weave or a franchise store shirt to be seen anywhere. White dreadlocks? Yeah.

I don’t give a shit, though. I’m here for The Brother Moves On. The band appears from behind the cramped audience space, singing in unison. Much like you do at black funerals.

The Brother Moves On

And that’s what this is, Siya Mthembu tells us. This is the funeral of Mr. Gold waseGoli. He tells the tale of a man from far, far away, who was ordered to eGoli by the portent of an old man. His story takes on a rural pace. I immediately struggle to get with it. The quick snap of the snare drum and the earnest throb of the bass guitar suggest to me that we’re not sitting under a tree somewhere, eulogising Mr Gold waseGoli with his amusing history. We should be on our feet, dancing. Is that dissonance purposeful, a way of keeping us all unsettled? We’re unsettled alright, but I’m also struggling to get with the story. I will the band to show that I’m wrong, that this is all part of the joke, instead of being the unsteady production of a band just starting out. They never do.

I wasn’t the only one struggling to move apace with the band. They weave their story in waves – the guitars chase Siya’s swelling voice to a crescendo, where the natural thing to do is dance, before we’re dropped back down to a slower pace. The people want to dance. The Brother Moves On wants to tell a story. We can’t really have the same response to the “Wenu Wetla” (which has undertones of “Standby” by the BLK JKS) and the burlesque “Dagiwe”, even if the band demands it of us.

The Brother Moves On

We eventually give up on the jol and sit back to listen.

Siya’s voice has an unpolished quality to it that is reminiscent of a young Tom Waits. Listening to Siya sing is like watching an amateur high jump athlete attempt to leap over the 2 metre mark. You want him to succeed, yet at the same time failure will be spectacular. Siya’s voice doesn’t allow you the confidence to sit back and let it take you wherever it wants. You think it is always on the verge of breaking, but it never does. It’s a potent gift.

Someone once described the BLK JKS as being ungenerous in their music. They were trying to say that they were too complex and inaccessible to succeed. Self-indulgent. The Brother Moves On, successors to the BLK JKS, perhaps, will be even more inaccessible to the disciples of 5FM. They sing in isiXhosa. They tell izinganekwano in their songs. They speak to the other half of Johannesburg. They may need a competent production manager to better marry their stage craft to the music, but nothing stands in the way of their musical accomplishment.

Which isn’t to say that commercial success lies at their doorstep. What The Brother Moves On does will never catch on. It’s for the in-crowd. It’s for those who know the punch line of the joke to enjoy. Those of us who are on the outside, looking in, will always find the band mystifying and its disciples annoyingly obtuse. I’m not sure whether to mourn or celebrate that.

The Brother Moves On

The Brother Moves On

The Brother Moves On

The Brother Moves On

*All images © Dorothy Mhone.

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  1. layla says:

    each to their own, but this is such a skeptical review of a band which, in my experience, overflows the barrier of the stage through holistic performance to encompass the audience and carry them away on Mr Gold’s journey, which is an everyman’s journey.

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  2. Anonymous says:

    I agree with layla and actually with you too, you didn get it 🙂 The Brother was great

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  3. Andy says:

    Are you kidding. He totally “got it”. Being on the outside looking in was just his experience….

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  4. happy brown says:

    Third write up on this band, you are getting warmer but not quite there. Maybe a sit down with this band will assist because you seem to have no clue on them. Likening the Brother to the Blk Jks is a bit blindsided, except for the fact that most of the personnel on both bands is black their approaches are rather different. The 5FM crowd have failed to even deal with the Blk Jks, warming up to them simply because the world made them famous in their own country and never giving them the love they really deserve. Its great to realise where your standpoint is but you speak of a “we” quite alot in this article as if you being late and feeling outside of a gig was universal. “What the Brother Moves On does will never catch on” is a bold statement, catching on meaning what really in a country whose music industry rarely awards praise to its innovators. Maybe you should stop viewing this from a media industry background and should have rather engaged with it on a human level. The alienated brown coco child having to deal with other aspects of their personality in relation to a shared historical context of the loss our ancient stories. The Brother rarely play sit down spaces and the majority of the audience drawn for this gig were themselves first timers, alot took it upon themselves to get up and start dancing maybe you should take control too. Funerals are unsettling in themselves and you were sent to one with no prior knowledge, don’t worry you can have my mask I came on time. PEACE

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  5. Anonymous says:

    my ‘Kak’ was for the band

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  6. anonymous says:

    Third review but nothing new. I suppose everyone is too focussed on setting the scene and describibg their outfits. You need to look past that and dig deeper. The Times newspaper did a far better job, they ignored the fluff and gave the facts. Siya was qouted in the article “We’re not an African funk, tribal rock or Afrospiritual band. We’re not a band at all. We’re an art collective” . That’s where you should start when you write your next review!

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  7. Previous Ex-Girlfriend says:

    kuyaphanjwana kule Magazine. Who are these whining bitches that write these reviews??? Where do you find them??? Arts on Main???

    Loved the show 🙂 it rocked, this guy doesn’t know what he’s on about. He missed the point, askies yezwa? Next time…

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  8. The Fi says:

    Err, this review is kinda like the movie Hotel Rwanda, an African story produced by Americans, told by an Irish man, for the French market. In all of his surrender and conviction, Mr. Hlongwane missed the mark on this one; using the 5fm audience for alternative acts in SA is defeatist and lazy (I was reading Epic Magazine swinging a dual gsm Nokia 6110 the last time anyone credible did that). The guys ON STAGE are wearing tights, face paint and All-Stars for god’s sakes!. The Brother is an explosive act of self-exorcism on stage, a reluctant response to a calling, we should all take off our (good) shoes when we enter their space.

    Recommended listens for Sipho: Harari (first 2 albums), Ndikho Xaba (and the the natives), Batsumi, Assagai, The Brother Moves on EP, you can find this one at Love and Revolution on 7th street Melville.

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  9. wh1sPAk1dd says:

    they made us wait an hour
    to see them.
    they were running
    a 90percent game
    this night
    – these kidds channel ancestors
    but this night
    they were off their peak
    they didnt find their rhythm
    – the theatrics and the story
    were critical + fluid + sharp

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  10. kuntha says:

    copy “The FI”.

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  11. ffKoffOutMyKitchn says:

    Congrats to the author! You have been chosen for this months “sh!t for brains award” WINNER! Yay!

    Reporting personal narrative is fun but selfish, subject to the potential inaccuracy of your senses. How are your readers expected to perceive this as accurate reportage?

    Shem, you felt left out, sob sob. I suspect this is because the article is really poorly researched. Take your eyes out your pockets LOL

    *sigh* the comments:

    @ layla: Reckon you found the common point of entry, thumbs up.
    @ anonymous: agreed
    @ Andy: I don’t think he knows that he got it, and that’s important.
    @ happy brown: I suspect we wear masks always, the world is a stage etc. The Brother reignites that ancient narrative & are sensitive to its contemporary application…it’s a world of strangers, can we be confident in saying that alienation is shared?
    @Dulce: Written in a more conventional voice but meticulously researched, thumbs up!
    @anonymous 2: truth, its going to be difficult though for the author to go back in time and see the show again…sad too, Mr. Gold is dead…thinking a Weekend at Bernie’s hahahaha…random 😉
    @Previous Ex GF: Ya neh, find ’em and take ’em to the gallows
    @The Fi: Potential slogan: Primitivism: Something for Mahala! Love the recommended playlist. Hi-jack this guys job.
    @WTFpakwhatever: Ancestors tend to speak at their own leisure.
    @Kuntha: Siyavuma,

    All Love: Please collect your award at: http://ffkoffoutmykitchn.tumblr.com/

    fanx 😉

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  12. So-called Spy says:

    This article is very much like a rough draft that one types out while half-asleep after a night of drunk partying. . . Also on the verge of a BLK JK wet dream,too much comparison to them,get over your crush on that old spotlight band. You best be speaking of this band,using your words like you use your dick during sex with a hot girl. Get with it.

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  13. raytheon says:

    what ever happened to love?

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  14. cathy says:

    @ raytheon –

    Shut up hippy

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  15. raytheon says:

    subcultures are sooooooo last year.

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