Crazy Baldheadsby Fletcher Beadon / 06.11.2009
The Wittebome Civic Centre in Wynberg is a strange place. Maybe I haven’t spent enough time in apartheid era civic halls, but it felt like some kind of exorcism was going down on Monday night, just like the last time I was there to see LKJ. Chasing out the old ghosts with the raw black power of dub basslines. Seems poetic in a way. Those verkrampt old architects must be rolling in their graves.
I got there late, arriving in style in a beat up Rasta taxi blaring reggae. A cloud of thick smoke escaped as I slid through the door and made my way to the queue. Passive high deluxe. Inside it was packed with an odd assortment of red-eyed kids, bearded dreadlock fellows and a large contingent of Cape Town’s middle class whiteys. Everybody has listened to Bob Marley and the Wailers at some point in their lives. Especially us white folk.
The queues for the bar looked way too long so I decided to plot another course for the evening and roll a hash spliff outside. Seems like a few other people had the same idea. “No bru don’t smoke that Pakistani shit, try this hand made hash from the Garden Route…” Oh all right then.
Seems like I’d missed the first band, Black Market. Never heard of them. That’s a record shop in London mate. Apparently they were a jazz band with Cape Flats MC’s that the promoters heard at Zula Bar one evening. Apparently they were alright.
By the time I hit the floor the Rudimentals were just warming up, some serious fire coming out the speakers from the brass section. It only got better as local heroes Teba, China and Ej Von Lyrik stepped up to join Rude Bobo Boss on the mic. Damn we’ve got local talent, even if they do speak in Jamaican accents. Bam! If you haven’t seen the Rudi’s live, get out of your cave and do yourself a flava. Fuck it. I’m gonna be honest. The Rudi’s and their all star guests were the highlight of the night for me. Cos what came next was all a bit strange.
So now I’m crushed up against the front row waiting for the Wailers. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting… I can see clouds of smoke billowing from backstage so I know they must be out there.
In the background, a rock ballads CD plays loudly over the soundsystem. Nice sound, kak CD. Very post modern that, dropping moany morbid white rock loudly onto a reggae crowd amping to see the Wailers. Somebody must have been laughing quietly to themselves. Fuck you. It totally weirded me out. I had no choice but to surreptitiously consume the little pre-rolled I had in my pocket. The band seems to be taking forever to come out, the music is all wrong and time seems to be limping along backwards… or maybe it was just me.
Fuck at last, signs of life on stage. No that’s just that guy from Hellfire. Nice sound guys. But please take that kak CD out! Could this be it at last!? Fi real that’s Aston “Family Man” Barrett walking onto stage! He looks life an irie guy. He wrote all the best Marley basslines. I like him instinctively. Pity he got screwed on the publishing for all his songs. Guess that’s why the Wailers are still touring and Rita and the rest of the fam live like royalty in Ghana.
Ah finally the band is on stage and whipping thru a medley of reggae classics. My body sinks back into some solid easy skanking one-drop reggae. I’m feeling that bassline. Now I’ve heard a lot about Elan Atias, the lead singer for the Wailers, so I’m eagerly awaiting his arrival on stage. Apparently he channels Bob, even better than the real thing. Pretty fly for a white Jew, but you can’t be too fussy about these things these days. Even the rabbis do reggae.
The medley end, the lights dim, a shadowy figure appears on stage, the crowd goes wild, it’s the lead singer of the Wailers, it’s none other than… local reggae singer Ras Munchie from Sons of Selassie. Huh!?
Ok so here’s the story. The Wailers arrive at passport control at Cape Town International airport. Mr Elan Atias is obviously a busy guy. He doesn’t have a single blank page left in his American or Israeli passport. Time to fire your tour manager buddy. The Immigration Orificer, obviously not a reggae fan, and perhaps suspicious of his Israeli reggae credentials, declines entry and Elan is on the next flight back to Abu Dhabi an hour later. Just like that. Panic ensues. Jump Media (the promoters) and Aston Barrett (the boss) agree the show must go on. Every reggae singer in town gets the call, but only two pitch up for the audition, Ras Munchie from the Sons of Selassie and Richard from the Rivertones. Ras Munchie gets the nod from Family Man and the rest is history.
I’m not gonna lie. He wasn’t Bob. Or Elan. He was a reggae singer who chatted to the crowd in a Cape Flats accent between songs. But he fucking rocked that show! Big up Brother Munchie, you did Cape Town proud, rocking with the best, nobody cyaan test. All I had to do was close my eyes to be transported away on a river of bass and lilting vocal melodies. It’s easy to sing along to Marley tunes. Even if you haven’t consciously listened to a Bob Marley CD in years, you know all the lyrics of by heart. They’re ingrained in the collective stoned subconscious it seems. So apart from backup vocals from the two hot Jamaican babes, Ras Munchie was carried by the crowd on every chorus.
The band storms its way thru hit after hit, and suddenly it’s all over. What the fuck happened? The crowd’s having none of it and cheers solidly until the band re-appears. Ah, its not over just yet, just the band disappearing back-stage for an extended smoke break. I sneak off to the bathroom, and walk smack bang into a wall of policemen at the back of the hall. I touch fists with a big skanking mama in tight fitting blue and smile chinese-eyed at her partners. I ask the bald headed Afrikaans cop if he’s digging the show. He forgets to answer so I know he’s high.
Now the band’s back for the second half, and they really shine. Obviously something to do with the half-time refreshments. Each musician takes his solo, draw-dropping virtuosity from players who’d just been playing their parts until then. The brass section gets busy with some slick jazz licks. The guitarist whips out a Van Halenesque solo. The drummer goes all tribal on our asses. The backing singers do the doo-wop. Family Man’s dub bass devours the entire hall in one gulp. It’s all coming to a climax, the THC in my synapses and the stirring strains of Exodus. Movement of Jah People! I’m floating downstream on the cheers of the crowd for a few minutes before a realise that its all over and they’re turning the lights on. Bliss.
Now that was the best goddamn Bob Marley cover band I’ve ever seen.
P.s. Don’t wanna start any rumours but I have it from the source that the promoters,Jump Media, say they have more in store for us next year in the form of Finlay Quaye, Easy Star All Stars (yes please!) and Junior Gong Julian Marley. Hold tight!
*All images © and courtesy Jean Barker, 24.com check the full gallery here.