Those obsessing about the Super 14, Nedbank Cup and/or Champions League last Saturday missed out on a golden opportunity to catch some of Mzansi’s finest musos live and mahala. The long-awaited and oft-postponed Miriam Makeba tribute concert finally took place at Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown. Many Bulls fans making their historic trek South to Orlando would’ve passed directly overhead on the M1, presumably taking little notice.
Kicking things off around lunchtime was South Africa’s biggest selling group of all time, the Soul Brothers – frontman David Masondo jiving like a man half his age, keyboard wizard Black Moses Ngwenya delivering his trademark mbaqanga-fied Jimmy Smith organ licks. They were followed by two contemporaries of Mama Afrika – Abigail Kubeka and Dorothy Masuka, belting out soul and blues-based numbers for the old at heart. 69 year old Kubeka was as sassy and – dare one say it – sexy as ever, while Masuka (75) is in a class of her own. After their individual sets the pair shared the stage for a rare and unforgettable encore. Lucky Dube’s band, now fronted by ex-keyboard player Thutukani Cele, did their best to get the mense “Feeling Irie”, before SA’s greatest musical export Ladysmith Black Mambazo delivered as polished a performance as one would expect for 13-time Grammy nominees, including favourites like “Homeless” and “Hello My Baby”.
As the sun sank behind the highway and the cold started to set in, younger acts like Malaika, Ntando and the stunning Camagwini took to the stage with their more contemporary afro-pop, all with tight live bands, backing singers and slick dance routines. Acts that I foolishly missed due to Stormers obligations included gospel queen Rebecca Malope, Nhlanhla from Mafikozolo, “the village pope” Tsepo Tshola and SAMA-winning Afro-soul diva Siphokazi. Other big names on the bill – like Hugh Masekela, Busi Mhlongo, Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse and Zimbabwean legend Oliver Mtukudzi sadly didn’t turn up, for whatever reasons, though their absence did little to hinder the good vibes.
Even without them, the line-up was jam-packed for close to 12 hours, with minimal breaks between acts. Everything on, behind and in front of the stage ran like a well-greased machine. Sound and lighting were top notch, while an army of cameramen relayed footage to big screens on either side of the stage, highlights of which were broadcast later that night on SABC. For a free weekend gig in the middle of Jozi on the eve of World Cup mayhem, it was a surprisingly chilled, family-friendly affair. The overall turnout was probably less than expected. The big screens towards the back of the square proved largely superfluous.
Without putting too fine a point on it, out of the few thousand people that showed up to pay respect to probably the greatest South African woman ever and celebrate the biggest acts in our country, one could’ve tallied up the pale-faces on two hands. A double amputee could’ve done the same for the coloureds and Indians in the audience.
Why? I have no idea. Can’t understand the language? Don’t dig the music? Preoccupied with the rugby and soccer? Didn’t know about the gig? Or just couldn’t give a shit? Perhaps the prospect of a free concert puts off Jozi capitalists more comfortable dishing out hundreds of bucks to see the same artists perform on their own in more “sophisticated” settings. Considering that thousands are happy to spend between R450 and R1400 to attend the FIFA gig at Orlando in two weeks’ time, it’s mind-blowing how, when it comes down to it, many self-proclaimed local music fans (of all races) appear so genuinely apathetic. All those who felt the need to complain about the FIFA bash’s cruddy international line-up at the expense of local talent, would’ve done well to hush up and go see the real deal for free, well clear of FIFA bean counters, ‘Waka Waka’ kaka and Colonel Sanders’ chumps.
** This weekend (Saturday 29th) you can catch another free all-day concert. The annual Africa Day concert was held last year at the same spot in Newtown, though this year it’s been shifted to the recently refurbished Dries Niemandt Park in Kempton Park. Continental headliners include Nigeria’s D’Banj, Ivory Coast’s Manou Gallo and Wax from Cameroon. They’ll join local stars like Yvonne Chaka Chaka, HHP, Teargas, Lira, Big Nuz, Ntando, gospel diva Deborah Fraser, poet Mak Manaka and Idols belter Sasha Lee, not to mention uMsholozi himself.