Aweh, he saidby Andy Davis / 23.12.2009
It’s a huge marquee pitched on an open piece of land between the square blocks of council flats that typify most Western Cape coloured townships. An old man with long dreadlocks emerges slowly from the big tent and takes a seat in a camp chair at a fire, where a woman, in a long skirt with wrapped hair, is selling vegetarian food. Strictly. A glue-kop stumbles out from the side of the council flats and weaves his way passed the Rastas at the veg shop, choeffing on a plastic Coke bottle with snot coloured glue coating the bottom, eyes rolled back. Barely conscious.
A group of Rastas all dressed in sack cloth stand in the late afternoon sun, congregated around clumps of plants laid out on a blanket. Smoke from a thousand spliffs filters through the marquee roof and dissipates with the South Easter. This is the Sunny Ocean Reggae Festival. No Facebook, no flyers, no posters and no radio ads… everyone just knows because it’s on the same weekend every year, just before Christmas. A regular feature on the South Peninsula of Cape Town. Usually the marquee is set up on a vacant piece of land overlooking the Atlantic ocean a couple of kilometers away from the township of Ocean View. But this year the City of Cape Town have declared that stretch a wetland and built a low wall securing it. So this year Sunny Ocean was forced onto this vacant plot between the council flats and the high school fields, just 300 meters down the road from the cop shop.
The proximity to the police station raises some interesting questions, because inside the marquee, it’s like a huge flea market of weed. And I’m not talking surreptitiously hidden in someone’s vest or back pocket. The ganja is lying on tables, spread out, made to look attractive. You can buy anything from arms to bankies or dime bags. Tarries, swazi, chronic, skunk, seedless or majat. And then there’s the cheese. Wherever you go people are puffing on reefer. Huge coconut bongs are bubbling. Inside the tent you can’t see the far side for all the smoke. And the cop shop is just 300 meters away. And what can they do. They’d need the majority of their manpower to raid the jol, because they’d have to arrest everyone. So it’s a kind of don’t ask, don’t tell situation. And it’s super kif, because really these Rastas are not breaking any laws. Well certainly not any laws that mean anything.
And you know what, everyone was lank mellow, even if, as the only whitey in the jol, you do pick up a few unwanted stares.
As far as I’m concerned all drugs should be legal. Stop treating people like kids that need to be protected from ourselves, because there’s one thing I can tell The Man about human beings, if we want to do something, we’re going to do it anyway. So by making drugs illegal all the government is doing is creating a black market and hugely profitable revenue stream for every corrupt, underground, criminal motherfucker in the world. And that feeds into systemic police and political corruption and really just makes hypocrites out of all of us. I mean, imagine how much easier the world would be to police if the the government controlled and taxed the drug trade.
They could make sure the gear you’re buying is quality, and you’d get charged tax on it. Then they could put all the money they make into proper rehabilitation and education programs. And at the same time you take away the illicit attraction of drugs and kids aren’t going to want to do them. And if kids do want to try them, then they can do it in appropriate and safe circumstances. Anyway, I digress. The feeling at the Sunny Ocean Reggae Festival was a rare status quo between law enforcement and the Rastafarian “drug users”. A window of tolerance and freedom. And because this was a Rasta ting, the vibes were upright and conscious, unlike many ghetto jols that so often degenerate into alcohol fueled instances of violence and aggression.
Over the weekend, the reggae music flowed non stop, and by the time I got there on Sunday afternoon the bands were playing out deep, lazy basslines and slow groove rasta consciousness lyrics as if emulating the minds of the spliff-burnt crowd; thick and sweet like honey. Amongst a line-up that boasted Cape Town’s reggae stalwarts Sons of Selassie and Rastami and the Warriors, The Dread Kings impressed me the most with their upbeat ragga and dancehall infused style. Then Tidal Waves rocked up to play an impromptu set for the Cape Town Rasta constituency, considering they were already in town to play at our own Mahala Surf & Reggae Festival the night before. They were quickly ushered in and given a slot in the line-up. Although they get a lot of airplay on Umhlobo FM and SAFM’s weekly reggae shows, it would seem that the MC had never heard of Tidal Waves, because even though Zakes told them that they were from North West Province, they were billed over the PA system as those, “West Coast Rastas… Tidal Waves!” Well I guess you can blame that on the ganja. But still the band created enough of a buzz with their spontaneous arrival to cause a bit of a melee around the sound desk, with several be-dreadlocked engineers arriving and offering to mix the band’s set. Alas by the time they took the stage, the sound engineer in charge seemed over-excited and what came out through the PA was possibly the worst sound I’ve heard at a live music festival ever. You could hardly hear any of the instruments distinctly and the vocals were lost in the gemors. It’s a shame really because Tidal Waves are creating some of the most distinctive and original South African reggae music, and crowd would have surely appreciated them.
The festival slowly started to settle down with the prolonged Cape Town sunset. I was talking to some of the sack cloth rastas who were telling me why they chose to wear hessian sacks instead of cotton tee shirts. “No I-ya, it’s like from the time of Moses I-ya! We wear the sack cloth to meditate on good and evil in the universe, I-ya.” Just then I notice a mature looking dude, in dungarees, heavy set and mean, with gang tattoos on his arms and neck walking purposefully towards us with a pair of scissors in his hand. The Nikon D200 around my neck started to feel conspicuous and valuable. Paranoia rising. I’m ready to give it up. No mess no fuss. Take it dude. Don’t stab me. As he gets close he changes his approach slightly and walks passed, lifting his left hand, clenched fist. “Aweh!” He says.
All images © Andy Davis