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Culture, Music

Kids, You Are Doomed

by Katie de Klee / Images by Pierre Rommelaere / 08.07.2013

The temperature in the Assembly is enough to make you feverish, even if you don’t care who’s on stage. The crowd in the smoky annex bar are too hot, skin shining, air thick with nicotine that makes your eyes as red as your cheeks and wraps its knuckles round your throat. Next door the air conditioning pumps into the performance hall and my skin puckers with goose bumps.

Mixed crowd tonight for these three acts, the future the present and the past. The John Wizards, post their 15 seconds on Pitchfork, are pretty fresh right now. Holiday Murray are the present day folk rockers, established, Reliable Performance Certified. And then there’s the pinnacle of tonight’s entertainment, the KIDOFDOOM reunion performance (the first of a national tour).

John Wizards are on first, while many of the KIDOFDOOM fans are still somewhere else getting drunk enough to bang their heads psychedelically later. I really like the sound of the Wizards’ music, it has a kind of calypso-rock-pop-rumba-beat that’s hard to describe. It’s a fresh slice of the new, hipster music, and I’m sure these guys are going to do well. Pitchfork agrees.

But sometimes their songs end quite abruptly, like they got bored and couldn’t figure out how to end it. Or maybe it’s just a preview. If you want the full version buy the album? Either way it leaves you kind of hanging, half-sated.

Undoubtedly, the best songs are the ones in which Emmanuel Nzaramba is on the mic. Emmanuel, as you may have read, is a Rwandan ex-car guard who John Withers discovered on a pavement in Cape Town somewhere. And here he is, singing to a crowd in the Cape Town fringe. To quote Mahala’s Daniel Sher says ‘from poverty to minimum wage’. The African dream narrative. And while the others are in t-shirts and jeans, Emmanuel rocks a shiny rust coloured shirt, looking dapper.

The thing is, according to Pitchfork this musical emsemble ‘symbolises a racial progressiveness for South Africa’. But I didn’t really get that feeling. Emmanuel just wasn’t that well intergrated into the performance. It’s like he was brought forward to sing, then tucked back behind a keyboard for the songs where Withers replaces him front and centre, head glowing like a tungsten street light. It seems like there might be some conflict about who the frontman of the John Wizards really is. Emmanuel seems the most natural, but John Withers (the original Wizard) seems reluctant to relinquish the limelight. And so a bizarre tension ensues.

John Withers

We tried to get a comment from the John Wizards, but post-Pitchfork, their PR guy has them on lock down. And so invariably, in the vacuum, we’re left with our own untested opinions. Here goes. The relationship between John Withers and Emmanuel Nzaramba seems to be a little paternalistic; only in so much as here the white man has uplifted and exposed this young black talent, literally from the streets, but only to the point where he hasn’t taken over the show.

Somewhere in the middle of the performance my mind wandered. Emmanuel reminded me of a young man named Patrick Jarkaway…

Early last year an Englishman who had recently come into a large amount of money, was staying for a while in Cape Town. Trouble is, he didn’t really know what to do with all this loot. First he thought about buying a ticket with Virgin Galactic into space, blowing the money all at once. But then he decided to rather gift the money, in £1000 tranches, to random strangers that he deemed worthy. The lucky ones; the ones who caught his attention.

While he was sipping coffee somewhere in Cape Town looking out for special strangers, a guy called Chris Auret was helping a Congolese musician, moonlighting as a car guard, Patrick Jarkaway, to make a music video. And lucky for Patrick, the Englishman was watching. Jarkaway was given R13 000.

Now, over a year has passed and Patrick Jarkaway isn’t selling records. He recently lost his job at a timber yard and is unemployed. Giving away the money may have helped Mr Lucky to assuage his guilt, but as for “something to really make a difference… a way that I could be involved and feel good about it.” Well, I don’t know if he achieved that. As advertised on the We Are Lucky site, there is no catch or obligation – and therefore no follow through. Like the old proverb give a man a fish… and he’ll blow it all on clothes. Maybe Mr Lucky should have just gone to space, to get an elevated perspective.

Now John Wizards aren’t quite being Mr Lucky, where he just gave his money and moved on. The Wizards are certainly including Emmanuel in their rising fame, he’s literally the star of the show. But race relationships are complicated in Mzansi and while Pitchfork might think it’s a commendable example of integration, it seems like they still need to do some work to figure out what the John Wizards are all about and who, exactly, the frontman is.


Back in the Assembly KIDOFDOOM are walking on stage for their Lazarus set: music raised from the dead. I don’t have the vocabulary for describing music, if some one talks to me about ‘riffs’ they could as easily be talking about mountain formations or sewing machines. I noticed that one of the band has hair to his elbows that hangs over his face as he flung his head back and forth. But I forgot to look if his was a guitar or a bass.

Where the John Wizards sound like potential, KIDOFDOOM sound like nostalgia. They end with a ghostbuster cover, which I gather is usual and just kind of asserts the nostalgia quotient.

Mahala’s been around for a while now, back when it started KIDOFDOOM were the flavour of the month, and Holiday Murray were the upcoming youngsters. The tears that were wept in the Mahala office when KIDOFDOOM split have long since dried. John Wizards have already caught the eye of international media, and if they sort out their internal dynamics then it’s quite possible, they can break through the glass ceiling of the South African music scene and become what so many local bands aspire to be… global.

Holiday Murray

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* All images © Pierre Rommelaere

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