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Of Skabengas, Strugglers and Stragglers

by Samora Chapman / 03.10.2012

I arrive at Live on a quiet Friday night and get a vigorous frisk to get things rolling. “You know the drill fellas,” says the big cat in black. Enter the chamber and tick my digits on the list… plus a comp. Jeepers this Mahala gig is starting to pay off. And then I’m in, striding like Johnnie Walker. Take a quick snap of Kickstand – plucking their geets sensitively to a sparse crowd of night crawlers. Straight to the bar like a vampire… it’s been another long week, at the end of a long month, at the end of a long year. Lets boogie.

So I hustle a beer for my broke ass and go outside where a sea of faces are drinking, smoking and mangling there feelings together. Next thing, I hear my name hollered: Samora!

It’s Luc Spiller, the lead guitarist from the Skabengas. A familiar stranger. We were best friends at four years old, which means I haven’t seen him for 23 years. I wonder what that means? I take a seat and greet the rest of the band and me and Luc lock in and start with the questions and answers. Straight to the jugular.

Luc: What’s it like being a father?

Me: What’s it like being a musician? How’s the love, how’s the stress, how’s the quest?

Luc is an attorney at a mighty law firm in the churning City of Gold. A suit and tie soldier by day. A musician and a traveller by heart.

“Being in a band is no easy journey man,” he tells me. “Just getting along is hard enough for a start. It’s like 90 percent battle 10 percent joy! Our drummer bailed yesterday. We found a new guy and jammed all night. Then came here and rehearsed for a couple hours and that’s it! The plan was actually to continue on to Cape Town for Rocking The Daisies, but we’ve had to pull the plug cos the whole thing was gonna end up costing five grand.”

I hustle a rolley mid-conversation and catch wind of some bone crunching beats being romanced by a melodious electric fiddle. My head starts bopping and I can’t finish my rolley cos I gotta go dance! It’s Veranda Panda and he’s banging Still Dre mixed with violin and live production. I join the posse of hip kids getting loose on the musical juice, as the Panda and his lady compatriot rock steady for half an hour. But Live is a big venue and if you drop a weak track the crowd dwindles and it’s a bit of an empty cavern… which is what eventually happens. So I dip back outside for a breather.

As usual in Poison City, I peep some friends and some enemies… until eventually a bear of a man-child gets up on stage. It’s David Constantaras, the lead Skebenga. He’s about 6’4, sweaty and clothed in a brilliantly colourful Hawaiian surf shirt. He growls like Howling Wolf: “Hello! Hey you people out there! Get in here!”

With that, the fun starts in earnest, and the crowd finally pour in to see the visitors from the City of Gold and Blood. The tipsy gypsy punk sends the Durban kids into a joyful stupour. My sister leans over to me and says: “The pub scraps are in love!” Referring to the ragga-muffin Winston crew. And it’s not only the pub scraps that are enjoying the set. Everybody is jumping around to the delicious jazzy melodies.

Tyler the bassist from Black Math is having some kind of transcendental experience over the electric double bass player Jimi Mngwandi’s killer style. Jimi is going so wild like he’s dancing the samba with his upright bass as his eyes pop out of his head like Miles Davis. And the riffs are fucking ridiculous.

Brother and sister duo, Luc and Twyla Spiller (on lead guitar and trumpet) chase each other down some beautiful musical pathways, as they craft melodies sweet enough to transport you to Cuba or Rio de janeiro. The new cat on drums has got this raw, bloodthirsty sound that’s like bongos echoing out of a dark jungle. And the front man is like Azania’s own Tom Waits – soaked in cheap Mozambican rum, dragged through the oscillating streets of Hillbrow and thrown on stage to try and communicate his blood-shot memories.

There’s this one song that just takes me away. It’s called ‘Daydreamer’. And it makes you want to run away. Grab your lover by the hand and go running naked in the moonlight. Shed life like filthy clothes. Damn I like it.

Fruit and Veggies end the night with a bang, performing their millionth show for the Poison City underground. Fruit and Veg has become something of an institution in the little Durban scene, making it difficult to review the band that epitomizes the current posse of starving artists. Their name is even etched into the wet cement at the bottom of my road.

Four years since the genesis, Fruit and Veg has grown into a full-on rock ‘n roll/punk whirlwind. I know it’s been a while since I’ve seen them, but the addition of Cameron from Black Math on rhythm guitar and Hezron on violin has given them a much fuller sound. And has not dispersed any of the energy. They’re still as tight and wild and hungry as ever.

Purity is a diva and a leader, as she chain smokes on stage and drinks like a sea-pirate. She’s rocking purple hair and leopard print to hide the innocence. Pure has such a powerful voice, infused with enough anger and heartache to drive the sound into the higher echelons. The mere fact that the band has stayed together for four years is a miracle, with characters like Loopy, the androgynous heart and soul of the band – and every party in Poison City. Fruit and Veg just keep coming up with new songs and new energy, despite their reputation of reckless abandonment.

What I really enjoy about Fruit and Veg is that they love it. The whole band looks as relaxed and easy as if they were jamming in their living room over a bottle of wine, or a case of quarts, and the riffs are just being channelled out of the atmosphere and appropriated into bliss and oblivion on the dancefloor. They even stop half way through a track and start bitching at one another about who fucked it up. It’s this ease and absolute free expression that typifies what they do so well.

And, of course, they’re always mashing those lunatic Gogol Bordello covers…

As I wade back out into the inky night, tired and satiated by the evening’s entertainment, I say a little prayer for the wild and passionate people that pour their energy into their music, or their art or whatever their quest may be. I hope one day the art nafs transcend. And when our turn finally comes, we can look back and say: it was one hell of a journey.

*All images © Samora Chapman.

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