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Culture, Music

Jacked by Nostalgia

by Ts’eliso Monaheng / 22.02.2013

I descended on Jozi’s inner-city this past Saturday to experience an experiment in audio textures, a modern-day translation of a conversation the townships have been having since the nineties – kwaito. That’i Cover Orchestra, the brainchild of Keleketla Library’s Malose Malahlela and Rangoato Hlasane, saw yet another incarnation this year with the great bra Louis Mhlanga directing the proceedings, while the likes of Paul Hanmer, Zweli Mthembu, and Siphiwe Tshabalala (the latter two part of The Brother Moves On) added undertones of funk-inflicted grooves and hints of nostalgia to open communication pathways with the originators of a sound known by names as widely-varied as d’gong and sghubu.

The last time I found myself around these parts was two weeks ago. AFCON fever was at its height, and Jozi Maboneng was still struggling with the hangover of Tshabalala’s world cup hat-trick while names like Mputu and Diabaté got thrown about like curse words during a dice game. All seemed well then, as it seems now; well, everything apart from the rays of the sun which are quickly fading, sinking into the distant horizon to make way for the night’s more insalubrious elements to preside over the ‘city of lights’. Rogue elements roam freely at this time; incidences of crime are rampant. Jozi is not your uncle, so when dusk approaches, a ‘voetsek’ mentality encroaches, leaving sticky fingers to pick innocent by-stander’s pockets at will.

I’ve been on the hunt for the Drill Hall – the location for tonight’s gig – for over thirty minutes; “corner Plein and Twist streets” read directions on the Facebook event page. “Doors open at 6pm”, the said directions suggested. But damnit, how does one get to the actual place through all these taxis which form a metal blockade in front of you, with no other intention but to piss off the oncoming traffic?! My patience was running out, while my out-of-towner status peeked out of my nuanced gait to announce to robbers of my impending need to receive the ‘welcome to mjondolo’ treatment. Or not. “Look straight ahead and walk,” is the mantra my mind defaulted to, which explains why the punch-drunk ndakie coming towards me thought he could just run into me and get away with it. But he did, and in the spirit of the “skeem sam foundation” – an alliance of the global black who, through our shared identity and experience, reckon that we can talk each other into and out of anything – I turned around to apologise. The mantra – “Look straight ahead and walk” – got put on hold while survival instincts got turned a notch higher. Something was wrong!

At that very moment, the cat who ran into me approached, intentions of war clear in his stone-cold eyes. I smiled nervously and threw in some tsotsitaal in an attempt to alleviate the situation – “hade bra ya ka!” He wasn’t having any of it, and in one swift motion, he advanced closer to grab me by the belt. Less than two metres away, commotion over a phone brought about a brief respite. However, I automatically sensed that some shit had gone down already. Ok sharp, onto the next one. The fool let me go unharmed at least.

I headed further down Plein Street, saw the Shell garage on my left hand side, and the Drill Hall directly opposite. Cool spot, I thought to myself. Jozi cool kids, skaters mostly, hung outside while Machinedrum’s broken rhythms did a discordant digital battle with DJ Satellite’s kuduro madness. A pop-up shipa and a booze stand elsewhere – a miniature kasi erected smack-dab in the middle of town. I spotted Bra Louis, thought again about what I’d like to ask him after the gig, and then stuck my hand into my right hand pocket to jot some notes down. Eish, nothing! Just an empty pocket. The bastard(s) took my recording device; those filthy, rat-arsed good-for-fuckall manatees robbed me – the second time in less than a week eintlek. Thankfully the music soon took charge, soothing some of that psychic harm, that physical transgression of having your own property secreted, skelm’d from your pocket, and I caved in.

From the first note, the audience – although quite thin on the ground – was treated to traces of TKZee, hints of Busi Mhlongo, and outright verbal pronunciations of M’du Masilela. I’m sure that Jacknife got the live treatment, but cannot really tell since Lebo Mathosa decided to re-incarnate through vocalist Phumla Siyobi’s perfect styles (the other vocalist was Smash Mellow from Impande Core). Kwaito may not have survived in its original format – what with over-arching influences from tribal house, mid-tempo, and other derivatives – but the collective experience, the sheer elation of hearing the songs, enabled all who were ‘aweh’ in its heyday to bond over this inexplicable maze of the random, the unique, and indeed the indefinable. Did kwaito reach the proverbial ‘next step’ already a torn and tattered, half-dead anomaly? Could this translation of its hard-coded kasi lingo be what it needs to be hip again? Is there need for such revivalist approaches?

Sure, I got jacked on my way to the gathering, and sure it left me a bit jaded. But the music, the rhythm and groove of the musicians, the presentation of the songs – all these forces ultimately coalesced to renew faith in not only a genre that I fell in love with years ago, but a belief that inner-city initiatives such as this one need to be hosted more; if anything, as a way to forge a new identity of our collective, nostalgia-happy selves.

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*All images © Ts’eliso Monaheng.

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