Charlie and the Yeoville Stingby Andy Davis / 29.09.2011
Before Tidal Waves, Zakes Wulana, Tebogo Shoai and Charlie Mathopa were in a reggae outfit called Da Ghetto, based in Yeoville Johannesburg. That band really laid the foundation for Tidal Waves’ unique hybrid reggae sound, infusing elements of maskandi, kwela and mbaqanga with punk, rock and those thick syrupy lashings of bass and rhythm from the islands. But being a professional musician in a rough neighbourhood like Yeoville, is not always easy.
Charlie Mathopa has always been a natty dresser. The year is 1997 and he is walking the leafy streets of Yeoville on his way to the shop to buy an iron to keep his clothes neatly pressed on Good Friday, just before the Easter weekend.
“Ja, we needed a new iron?” He says. “The one we had was uncontrollable. So on my way to the shops to go buy the iron, I met a small roadblock of police, searching everybody who’s passing and then they pulled me over.”
Just walking on foot?
Yes. They were just searching everybody. So they called me, they searched me. There was one guy behind me who took my money out of my back pocket.
How much money?
Just R70 bucks for the iron. So this guy took it. And after they searched they said I could go. So I told him: “No, man. My money is missing.” And they didn’t say nothing. Then I took the registration of their car and I left to go to the police station to lay a charge against them. And when I left, they stopped searching people and tried to arrest me. But that road from Yeoville, by the four way stop has a big road island. So they couldn’t get to me. I saw that they were coming and I ran and jumped to the other side, so it was difficult for them to take me. Then, on my way to the Yeoville police station, on that one-way, they caught up with me, driving up the wrong way.
I tried to run away and they took out their guns and said: “We’ll shoot you!” And I just stopped. They took me in their car and they hit me. It was three Indian and one white cop. And before they took me to the police station, they stopped somewhere near the Checkers in Hillbrow. One guy got out and he came back with some mandrax. Then they took me to the police station and charged me with the drugs. Even now, I don’t know those drugs. I know the zol but this one, I don’t know this one.
Cause it was Easter, I stayed in the police station the whole weekend. Then the guys from the band came to check me on Saturday, cause they were looking for me in the whole of Johannesburg. And then we went to court. The bail was set at R7000. Then they reduced it to R4000 and the band bailed me out. We got a lawyer and I won the case with the help of that lawyer. And the magistrate told the police that, “hey, you have wasted this man’s time! This man is not a dealer, he’s a musician, this man.” My lawyer, when he saw me for the first time he said, “I knew you were a smoker but you don’t know the drugs, I can see that.” And I told him that yes, I do smoke but I don’t do other illegals.
So how long were you in prison for?
Almost seven weeks?
Yissus. So it took seven weeks just to get a bail hearing?
No, it took seven weeks to get out, because I got the bail on my first appearance but the band didn’t have money so I had to wait there until they went to play some other gigs and then they came with the cash.
So the band took seven weeks to raise the money?
Yeah, they played a big show in Venda. While I was in Sun City. [Laughs]
And how was it there?
It was tough. I remember the first day I was crying, I didn’t even eat. I was crying until somebody saw me and this man asked, “what is your problem? Come tell me.” And I told him my story and he said, “no, don’t cry Rasta.” I was crying and I couldn’t eat.
And the gangsters, they didn’t give you trouble?
They gave me trouble because they took most of my money and the small things, they steal. Even your underpants. Everything gets stolen. So I talked to the chief and then the chief told me that my problem was that I didn’t pay protection and then I gave him protection, R10 bucks. Then I got a good cell where my things were not being stolen.
And you didn’t join these gangsters?
No. Me, they know that this one, if you give him a problem, he’s just going to go to the chief and the chief will sort you out.
The chief gangster or the prison warden?
Yeah, the warden. He said I needed to pay the protection fee. They’re all gangsters in there.