Songs of the Sistersby Tsepang Molefe / 06.11.2013
It’s a cool Saturday night in Cape Town, a place called Kirstenbosch. I walk past groups of hippies, some deeply engaged in conversations, some killing time by killing themselves with nicotine, some just loitering about. Inside the Kisrtenbosch indoor venue a bristling army has already gathered. There are rows of chairs set up in the front half of the gallery, which gives it a rather boring and formal appearance. It looks more like the double-headed number one is about to make one of his blunder speeches. On the stage there is a whole family of musical instruments, looking beautiful and sad.
The gallery vibrates now and then from the stagnant beat of house music being dished out from the decks. A young black man gets on his feet and starts twisting his waist, to loud cheers. The white man next to him grabs a lady seated behind him and they hit the dance floor swinging. Another lady and two sisters join in, as the clock ticks more people boogie to the loud music being handed down by the spinners.
I befriend two gentlemen, who introduced themselves as Thando and Siyavuya. Thando expresses his doubt about the two sisters honoring us with their presence, but I quickly instill some faith in him, as we engage in conversation about the financial viability of the show. Given that Thandiswa is not only a top South African artist, but an international artist too, the capacity of the place and the number of people in attendance don’t seem to balance. A lady friend of theirs joins us, and she also is a doubting Thomas. She goes on and on about how she has been a victim of event promoters. Again, I find myself having to preach the word of faith in the face of skepticism. She’s incredulous.
On my way to the bar for my fix of water, burly, and malt, a group of ladies employ me as their makeshift camera man a la smartphones. The same beer that I had purchased half an hour ago has felt the aftershock of inflation and gone up by 25%. I alert the barman that I think someone is manipulating the forces of economics; he gives me his humblest apology. Two local bands warm up the stage with a bit of foreplay, but soon their night’s work is done. The stage is vacant again. I can tell the musical apparatus is now so horny it’s close to exploding. Nomsa takes to the stage, with her all female band. The band plays a Caribbean sounding number; Nomi accompanies it with a vocal but the notes die somewhere on the space between her lips and the mic. Some audience members start signaling to her about the problem. All focus shifts to the soundman, who has now become the main act. The clanger is overcome, and Nomsa calls a directors ‘cut’ and a retake. The track warms up the gallery, some in the audience start singing along. There is something unique and raw about her voice, something that lives deep within her artistic flare, not in an extreme Macy Gray way. She rocks her popular hit ‘You’ and closes her set with her ubiquitous hit ‘Supasta’.
I wrestle my way to the front; a security guard stops me as I enter what is supposedly a VIP section. But I grew up in a township where I learnt the valuable skills of how to ruse the law enforcers. I go beyond him, and pass the trust fund baby section, right to the fore, in time to see KingTha take the stage.
I find myself standing between two ladies; they are both armed with long eye lens cameras. I assume they are professional photographers. Led by Thandiswa the whole gallery breaks into what feels like traditional Xhosa chants. Before doing her interpretation of Bob Marley’s classic ‘Is this love’.
Throughout the night as she goes through her repertoire, there are moments of intense emotions, humour, and excitement. Like when she unexpectedly jumps off the stage into the crowd. Doing her number one hit ‘Ingoma’ from her album titled Ibhokwe. She starts singing to a guy in a blue shirt, who is seated in one of the front rows, but the guy just sits there star struck. She then moves on through the crowd and finds a lady in a long black dress. She holds her hand and sings to her, the woman is so overcome with emotion she splashes her whole body against Thandiswa’s giving her a full blown hug. Thandiswa continues wowing the crowd while they are both on each other’s arms. She shares these moments with a couple more of her fans before going back on stage again.
Half way through one of her hit songs she grabs a phone from a fan in front of her, signals to the band to cut the music, and she starts speaking to the person on the other end of the line ‘hello, Nosipho? Nosipho ubambe i-show sisi’ (you are holding up the show) much to the crowd’s amusement. Nomsa joins her on stage for her debut album hit ‘Lahl’umlenze’ and she is soon swallowed out of site, behind the stage walls.
Throughout her performance I felt a sense of connection between her and the audience that is pinned on Xhosa tradition and heritage. A strengthen communion between the artist and her fans. Listening to her music, thought and memory evoke images of the shanty semi urban towns in the former Transkei homeland. Where old women puff smoke through long thin pipes, and young men fresh from initiation school walk tall and speak with newly found aplomb.
While it wasn’t my first time seeing her on stage, it felt like it was. This was completely different from the Sunday by the lake jazz-festivals turned braai-picnic.
* Images © Tsepang Molefe