Smeared in Loveby Evan Milton / 13.08.2009
Oppikoppi 15 lived up to its moniker of “Smoorverlief” as, possibly, the most perfect Oppikoppi yet. Beyond the fine balance of a superbly wide-ranging line-up of artists and the impressive technical and logistics successes, it seemed that, 15 years into the monster, the audience had finally caught up to the master-plan. Never shy of hedonism here and there – it pretty much encourages a corralled community of tough-love excess – the festival has actually always been about pushing musical boundaries and ushering the festival punters into a wider experience of international music, both South African and otherwise.
Or, as Oppikoppi would say, not bothering – or needing – to explain anymore: it’s about the tunes.
This year’s tune highlights were as varied as they were sublime.
* Jazz vocalist and trombonist Siya Makuzeni (Language12, Carlo Mombelli) with a new project, Ipi Fuze, a mind-meltingly good fusion between free jazz and hardcore backed by half of Plum (or, to give the anoraks a better idea, one eighth of Morph Attack). The band evidenced more talent and genre-busting intelligence in the short debut set than some bands could boast across an entire career. Can’t wait for full sets and (please, please) an album.
* Ninja (the new Waddy “Max Normal” Jones incarnation) could be relaxing after tearing up the new Levi’s Bushveld stage with the mad amalgam of satirical genius and perhaps accidental perfect-timing that is Die Antwoord. Instead, he’s living the zef-rave-rock persona and pumping those techno arms to The Wedding DJs post-ironic ’80s music mix (Bon Jovi, “James Brown Is Dead”, Technotronic and the “Gummy Bears” theme tune nestle comfortably and crazily together). Then he leaps on stage. Maybe it was pre-planned, maybe not, but the next thing it’s Enya’s “Orinoco Flow” (stop. look. look again. yes. “Orinoco Flow”, in a DJ dance set.) Ninja takes the mic as though it’s obvious that the line should always have been there and, just before music’s most famously over-overdubbed chorus, he chants gentle, “Sail away, motherfuckers, sail away.” Somehow, there is something that is brilliantly, perfectly, utterly South African in this DIY mash-up that it is a moment of sheer genius, whether Ninja Jones planned it to be or not.
Other highlights included:
* The Sipho Gumede Stage superb sequences (courtesy ex-206 impresario DJ Bob and Party People mastermind DJ Kenzhero) which included Thandiswa, mixing music, spirituality, tribal roots and the universality of our local Women’s Day celebration; a super-tight and super-funky Kwani Experience (please will someone get them funded to tour the country!); the boundary-pushing Farmer James and Mix ‘n Blend irrevocably proving that there’s no longer a distinction between “bands” and “DJs” when it’s done right; and 340ml playing a brilliant set, despite using (very, very impressive) stand-ins while part of the band tours with Tumi & The Volume.
* Discovering Radio Marrabente – infectiously danceable and octogenarian jive-style from Mozambique. This mainly due to the sheer energy and giving of their show: a humbling experience after the way South African xenophobes massacred some of their country-men and women. The good news is that the band is keeping the style alive, plans are afoot for them to tour their home country – and the tour might see them slip over the border again a few times.
* Hearing aKing frontman Laudo Liebenberg unplugged at the Cuervo Black launch on the new deck overlooking the main stages – better, and with more presence and poise than the full band on one of those stages the very next night.
* Bumping into The Dirty Skirts, and nervously dragging them to see Lucky Fonz III (whose lost-boy stage whimsy is, let’s face it, a bit of an ask after a night of headline rock ‘n roll). Then feeling vindicated when the Belgian got everyone to whistle a chorus – including the aforementioned Skirts who, it must be said, whistle a damned fine whistle.
* Seeing what looked like a self-printed T-shirt proclaiming, “Ek KAN ‘apatie’ spel”. That, and a branded one: “Live and let braai”. And Battery 9 artist and rapper Huyser Burger explaining what a “girl whisperer” is.
* Having the depression of needing to leave on Monday morning somewhat eased by Piet Botha and Tidal Waves’ Jakes singing at the Kreef Hotel. This after Tidal Waves worked their usual magic on the Ramfest Stage and Piet’s Jack Hammer welcomed Vusi “The Voice” Mahlasela to join them following the sadly truncated Acoustic Africa set.
* A conversation with members of Cassette and Buckfever Underground, and friends, where someone could’ve said, “Is the Pope Catholic?” or “Do bears shit in the woods?” but said, instead, “Does Miles Keylock (Channel24, Mail & Guardian, GQ) write good music reviews?”.
* Seeing Balthazar from Belgium meeting the Swartklip township’s primary school kids for an unplugged set where, in the dust under a beating Bushveld sun, they improvised a drum-kit using gaffer tape, ingenuity, and the plastic box from the kick-drum’s pedal. All this just minutes after the school’s children welcomed them with a rehearsed song, and just hours before they gained a host of new fans on the Most Amazing Myn Stage – all of whom now expect a CD. Please.
* Missing Canadian Luke Doucet and Melissa McLelland (refer township visit above); then having Farryl Purkiss and Ross Campbell rub in just how good they are; finding their solo CDs in the merch tent, then allowing them to be misplaced (a wheelbarrow, a toddler and the Albert Frost gig were involved) and then, joy-of-joys, finding Luke on eMusic. Viva the internets. Now Google it and get buying.
Evan Milton is a Music columnist; South Africa Music Awards, MTV Africa Music Awards and Stars of Mzansi judge and Oppikoppi thirteen-timer.
All images courtesy Yusuf Laher ©