Rocking the Ubuntu Kraalby Rob Scher / Images by Neo Beats / 08.04.2013
“Human Rights Day gig – Soweto. Sound good?” I emphatically nod at my pigtail-bunned band companion, envisioning a true roots performance. The ‘hood’, connecting with a representative South African audience and most importantly celebrating the day in the vicinity of the area in which it received it’s significance: Sharpeville. A chance to offload a ton of white guilt in a short space of time, like an enema. I was amped, driving towards Soweto on the morning of March 21st with my brothers, for a truly memorable Human Rights Day. Instead I got the most manicured lawn in Soweto.
The name ‘Ubuntu Kraal’ doesn’t exactly inspire lofty visions of accessible public space. ‘Ubuntu’ – the Zulu word most used by non-Zulu speakers, often steeped in irony – with no exceptions today. If not the thatch huts, then the colourful wall murals depicting ‘traditional scenes’ confirmed our creeping suspicions. We had entered the belly of the beast, the antithesis of my expectations, a veritable large dildo of white guilt – Ubuntu Kraal: African tourist village.
“Oh, how quaint, a 12-foot concrete crucifix,” said no one ever. Entering the conference come wedding facility, Jesus stares down at us with a pained expression, mirroring our faces. Smooth jazz blankets the country club-esque arrangement of shaded tables around which are clustered yuppie couples sipping chardonnay spritzers, feet tapping. We quickly make ourselves at home, taking off our shoes and ordering a round – evidently we’re not here for the jazz.
Donning the usual get up of tights and face paint, we take the stage. The bored looking kids and lush lawn scene offers us a brief glimpse into the anxiety a clown must face performing at a rich kids birthday party. Thankfully we’re able to tap into the public holiday chardonnay buzz the crowd’s got going.
“Happy Human Rights Day. We don’t forget the past. Sharpeville, you are remembered.” Siya calls to the crowd, as we launch into ‘Ya’Khalimbazo’ – a song about the violence that took place between 1992 and 1994 in South Africa. For a brief moment, we’re not in Ubuntu Kraal, transported to the frenzy and unease that marked that period of history in our country. The music builds to a crescendo – ponytail-buns are released, drums reverberate, guitars clash and sax’s screech. It might not have exactly been the Sarafina moment I’d been hoping for, but I’ll take it.
After the gig, I’m bumped back to the grassy kraal on the tide of elevator jazz music that returns almost as soon as we stop playing. I look to guitarist Zwesh – my gig barometer. “Shit, that was tough hey?” I wait for the verdict. “No, but I enjoyed it.” I’m surprised that I find myself in agreement. What at first had all the signs of a bored bourgedom, became quite something else. Despite all the trappings, it remained a gig on human rights day in Soweto. White people and brown people; young people and old people; a bunch of humans enjoying their rights. Walking back to the car even concrete Jeezy seemed to have lightened up a bit.
* All images © Neo Beats / JHB Live