I’m broke as hell and the dreams are barely flickering. Maybe it’s time to grow up. Maybe it’s time to get a real job. But I’ll be dammed if I don’t go down guns blazing. One of my favorite rappers is landing in Jozi – the great Qwel of Typical Cats – and I gotta be there. But I’m broke. So, I hook a lift with The Trees for zero money like a free rider, and that’s it. I’m heading for the great big city of gold. I hug my girl and my little man good bye. I love you. Thank you. And I head out with a spring in my step… holding my pen tight with my trigger finger on my 50mm.
Hunting down my heroes, yet again, it’s the same old thing.
I hit the road at the break of Friday and meet up with the groggy Trees at a mansion in Westville, and there’s some dark clouds over the Tall Gangly Hansoms. James the rockstar is nowhere to be found. Justin, the drummer, has dropped out. And Daz wakes up in a stormy mind-frame as Bobby snaps his fingers in his face like, “wake up, wake up!”
Next thing Daz has Bobs by the throat and is trying to end him right there on a purple Persian carpet. Call it an omen. Take it as a sign.
It takes a while to gather the troops and groupies but eventually we’re all piled into a larney taxi and on the long straight road to the capital. The world blurs by and soon we’re crossing the Free State and I can smell the golden grassy planes and the dusty air.
My boom box is packed with Qwel classics. He’s the most prolific and lyrically complex emcee of our time. The Bob Dylan of rap. I’ve chosen The Harvest, Freezerburner, Caffeine Dream, Rubber Ducky Experiment, So Be It and The New Wine to warm up for the show. About 6 hours of windy city poetry should hit the spot.
I plug in The New Wine, recline and disappear in reverie. My phone beeps. It’s my childhood friend Luca, aka emcee Penlight from Percasette, the very man responsible for my Qwel introduction. The text reads: “Are you on your way to Jozi? I hope not, cos Qwel is cancelled.”
Fuck you Qwel. I put everything on the line to get to this gig. See you out in that Lake of Fire. Fate came out guns blazing and left me for dead on the dirty concrete.
Now I’m on the road with a ruckus gypsy band and I’m aimless. No money, no destination and no way home. We arrive in Boksburg (where The Trees are playing their first gig), and navigate the god-forsaken oord till we eventually find the venue, which makes Umbilo’s Winston look like Brixton Academy.
The band hustles a practice room in the back of some cat’s garage as the dusk swallows the sun. The sky turns orange then purple and The Trees sweat and fight and jam until night descends. A swarm of binneland mozzies comes out and feasts on my salty Durban blood as I lie on a stranger’s lawn and wonder what next.
Eventually we head to Sandton where the band’s patron (Mark Ilbury) has hooked them up with luxury rock star accommodation. They check in to get spruced up for the show – 10 tattooed vagabonds swallowed by a grand, sparkling marble lobby. An ironic sight to see.
As for me… I bail into the night, taking deep breaths of the foreign city smells. It’s good to be on the road.
I walk through plastic Sandton, enjoying being completely lost. Not knowing a single road name. In search of a landmark, I call my man Sheldon Wins. He’s got a busted leg and his car got stolen so he can’t pick me up but he phones around and gets hold of a new recruit of our graffiti crew, *Cool Pete, who says he’ll come get me. I find my way to a glittery mall – the temples of Babylon seem to be ubiquitous in the city of gold.
Minutes later I’m scooped from the dark night by a china-eyed cat with an epic crooked tooth grin. We connect like long lost friends. Cool Pete lights up a gigantic spliff without warning and sends it my way. I’m back with my own kin, Jehst is rapping out of the radio, and the city is glistening. I’m blown away by the graf and street art scene: Tapz and Mars, Days, Fiya, Riot and too many others to mention. The city is a metamorphic canvas, alive with layers of tags, throw-ups and burner productions.
Me and Cool Pete descend into a misty conversation as we zing through the dark Jozi labyrinth. Pete delivers some sticky green to indy kids in the upmarket burbs, then we’re heading cross town to Greenside to connect with my crew. And I realize home’s not a place, it’s a never-ending conversation.
The weekend descends into a series of all nighters; journeys to nowhere and other childish things. A wall gets painted with legendary jozi writer Tapz. Greasy fish and chips get devoured. I catch up with The Trees for an epic performance at Cool Runnings in Pretoria. The Trees play like a band liberated from their hometown haunts. They rock the night like hungry vampires.
On Sunday I find my way to Zoo Lake where The Trees are playing, again. A laid back folk set on the edge of a bowling green. Then it’s back on the bus and we head for the highway as big white hail stones tumble out of a purple-yellow sky.
Take me home to my sweet love and let me forget my childish ways. I’m done. I’ll take a real job now thanks God. I got no more fight. As Qwel says: “Rainy rainy day won’t you go away, it’s the shit you don’t get over you get older and say: I guess the thunders are just a part of the summers.”
*All images © Samora Chapman.