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Thandiswa Mazwai

Space 2: Re-Entry

by Roger Young, images by Niklas Zimmer and Yasser Booley / 14.10.2010

The Slave Church in Long Street is filled with an open heartedness that seems to warm and radiate off the walls; from the people filled wooden pews and the old altar with its two rickety wooden flights of steps and velvet banner proclaiming “So Se Die Here” to the thin wooden balconies above that are packed with people leaning forward. The MC announcing Thandiswa Mazwai peppers her dryly factual slam poetry cadenced introduction with many “perhapses” in order to temper her praise. She needn’t have bothered; from the moment Thandiswa steps out onto the floor below the altar, less than a meter away from her audience in the front pew, wearing a blue winged almost matric dance-esque dress and a beaded crowned mohawk, it is obvious that there is nothing “perhaps” about her.

The band starts slow and gentle on a nu-soul tip, a gentle swirl of brush drumming, muted keys and lazy double bass. Thandiswa borrows a lighter from a photographer down front and lights the imphepho to a smattering of applause. She closes her eyes and drifts into the flow of the music, away from the mic, her voice distant and strong, slowly building into a gentle gruff wail, like dipping your hand in a river and scraping your knuckles on stones. Throughout the next hour and twenty minutes, her band builds jazz riffs up to her high soul towering out of body experience, she evokes Busi, channels spirits and breath rituals, heartbreak and love songs. She stops between songs to pull the audience into traditional Xhosa call and response sing-alongs and gets rid of her stuff in front of us in a way that, by the time she is pulled back on for a lengthy encore, has the whole church pressing forward and singing along in some kind of high unleashing religious joy, the balconies leaning toward her, overflowing with love and reverence.

Thandiswa Mazwai

It’s taken me over two weeks to finally admit to myself that I will never be able to adequately put down in words anything that remotely describes that evening. It was the perfect combination of artist, venue and audience. This is the genius of the Pan African Space Station. With a confluence of minimal marketing and total respect for the musicians they manage to create a space whereby not only were exceptional artists performing in beautiful venues with incredibly intuitive sound engineers, but they were performing to audiences that were there for the music and not the social event or hipness quotient.

Not every show was perfect however; the sound tunnel at Albert Hall made it hard for anyone but those in front to enjoy the Imperial Tiger Orchestra’s Swiss interpretations of Ethiopian Jazz and at the sold out show in Langa at Gugu S’Thebe, on the last Saturday of the live performances, Georgia Anne Muldrow and Declaime, the LA bass heavy and very basic Black Conciousness spouting duo kinda got away from the spirit of the moment in their enthusiasm for playing: “In the location, In Africa, In the hood”. With Muldrow’s angry eyebrows and belief in the children and Declaime’s certainty that everyone was there just to see them “back in the motherland”. They overplayed their hand and forced Dr Philip Tabane and Malombo to have to end the day with a very short set. That’s just disrespectful. Noted also was the fact that G&D did not stay to watch Tabane nor were they seen at very many of the other PASS live shows. Their ideology may be Black Consciousness but their actions were American Imperialism. In the spirit of PASS the sour note did not linger and when Malombo got on stage for their short set the rapidly fading light enhanced the spookiness of Tabane and somehow bought the energy back into the space Thandiswa Mazwai and Johnny Cradle had left it in earlier.

Georgia Anne Muldrow and Declaime

Later that night at the PASS SPACE 2 after party, audience and musicians bargained the barman down, danced like deranged leopards and radio station director Ntone Edjabe said, before sinking into a couchy thing, “the live music may be over but I still have a radio station to run for another ten days” and then later busted out a set ranging from Leela James to Peta Teanet.

It was a month long music festival that encompassed venues such as the arts center in Langa, the Slave Church, St Georges Cathedral and The Albert Hall and musicians ranging from Studio Kabako, to Brice Wassy’s rhythmic in your faceness and Theo Parrish’s turntablilism. Then there was the drop in anytime and dance HQ with it’s online radio station featuring a perpetual party of scathamiya, hip hop, jazz, Shangaan electro and mbaqanga and live performances like Righard Kapp’s post rock guitar sounds, the Brendan Bussy Trio and a tribute to Busi Mhlongo by Ological Studies. But it was the principle of respect for the artists and the music above from the audience and the organisers, that ultimately elevated the whole endevour above any other music showcase or festival I have ever witnessed.

PASS 2011 cannot come soon enough. Until then, there are archives of the last three years of music at The Pan African Space Station.

Listen to Thandiswa’s set here.

Imperial Tiger Orchestra

Pan African Space Station

Thadiswa Mazwai

Pan African Space Station

Pan African Space Station

Pan African Space Station

Georgia Anne Muldrow and Declaime

All images © Niklas Zimmer and Yasser Booley.

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  1. dan says:


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  2. the present says:

    great photos

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  3. brendon says:

    Nice piece and thanks for the mention, but….. the Brendon Bussy Trio = the As Is Quartet

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  4. Margaret Logan says:

    Great to live this vicariously!

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  5. Roger Young says:

    Trio’s, Quartet’s, Duo’s, Mob’s it was hard to keep up. Sorry.

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  6. mick says:

    Damn how hip be those kids! PASS is a spiritual brotherhood – aaahhhghh the potent nostalgia for nexx year!!

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  7. graeme feltham says:

    If you can’t embody this, if you think you can fault it, you are an oxygen thief and really what the fuck do you think you are up to. Great people here, also those in the quagmire of postmodern trivia. Herbert Marcuse’s writings are for as long as global capitalism , so to all intents, extents and purposes absolute truth that will pertain long after you reading this are dead.

    “Self-determination, the autonomy of the individual, asserts itself in the right to race his automobile, to handle his power tools, to buy a gun, to communicate to mass audiences his opinion, no matter how ignorant, how aggressive, it may be.”

    “The web of domination has become the web of Reason itself, and this society is fatally entangled in it.”

    “Obscenity is a moral concept in the verbal arsenal of the establishment, which abuses the term by applying it, not to expressions of its own morality but to those of another.”
    Herbert Marcuse quote

    “Freedom of enterprise was from the beginning not altogether a blessing. As the liberty to work or to starve, it spelled toil, insecurity, and fear for the vast majority of the population. If the individual were no longer compelled to prove himself on the market, as a free economic subject, the disappearance of this freedom would be one of the greatest achievements of civilization.”

    This results in a “one-dimensional” universe of thought and behaviour in which aptitude and ability for critical thought and oppositional behaviour wither away. Against this prevailing climate, Marcuse promotes the “great refusal” (described at length in the book) as the only adequate opposition to all-encompassing methods of control. Much of the book is a defense of “negative thinking” as a disrupting force against the prevailing positivism.[2]
    Marcuse also analyzed the integration of the industrial working class into capitalist society and new forms of capitalist stabilization, thus questioning the Marxian postulates of the revolutionary proletariat and inevitability of capitalist crisis. In contrast to orthodox Marxism, Marcuse championed non-integrated forces of minorities, outsiders, and radical intelligentsia, attempting to nourish oppositional thought and behavior through promoting radical thinking and opposition. He considered the trends towards bureaucracy in supposedly-Marxist countries to be as oppositional to freedom as those in the Capitalist west.[3]

    In it, Marcuse criticizes both communist and capitalist countries for their lack of true democratic processes. Neither type of society creates equal circumstances for its citizens. Marcuse discusses the factors which inhibit criticism and analysis of society. He draws on Marx primarily because his analysis focuses on how the economy limits potential of people.
    Marcuse believes that people are not free because they function within systems such as the economy. If people were really free, they would be free from these systems. For example, people would only have to work as little as possible to provide for their needs, not an established amount of time. He states that only when people are free from these systems can they determine what they really need or want. Because we are not yet free, we have “false needs”. These needs are exemplified by the range of choices which we are offered in our economy. However, each of these choices reinforces the social norms that now exists. Because each choice has the same result (reinforcement of social norms), there is no real choice. Marcuse says highly advanced societies are welfare/warfare states. Welfare states restrict freedom because they limit free time, access to necessary goods and services, and citizen’s ability to realize true self-determination. The warfare state hinders a true analysis of society because it keeps people focused on fighting the “enemy” instead of focused on internal social problems.

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