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Drum Beat Soweto

The Indestructible Beat of Soweto

by Chad Liam Polley / Images by Xander vd Merwe / 12.05.2011

So McGee and me are driving along Nasrec road, on our way to Soweto. I’ve only been to Soweto on the odd occasion – a coupla times when I was working as a Project Manager for a property development company and the other time for a wedding of sorts. Oh, I’ve also been to Maponya mall, of course, they have nice sneaks there. This occasion is this DRUM Beat Soweto thingy. I am amused, if not excited. I think the whole reason I got picked for this was because I’m pretty bloody white. I listen to Belle and Sebastien, I cry in a good advert and, gee, well, I put shitloads of mayonnaise on everything.

One of the exciting possibilities of going to this little shindig is, while it’s populated by various acts I have never heard an inkling of, Bra mafucken Hugh Masekela will be there. When his name is mentioned around a number of jazzheads I know, their eyes go slightly misty. He is revered by certain groups of South Africans everywhere (you know, ‘those’ ones) and I know bloody nothing about him or his music. So there.

We arrive, quicksmart somewhere in Orlando, get our little Mahala passes, get inside, find a beer and look at the stage. Mofolo Park is pretty nice. There are some reeds, some wetlands on the right, some grass in the middle and on the left is a road. On the stage however are, surprisingly, some white kids grooving along. I exclaim; we move forward, watch a bit. Not much there, really. A slight proggy-ness, some jazzy vibes. A lame smooth, M.O.R version of Mars Volta, or something. Boring. They launch into a solo, reminding me of something as whitely-entrenched as “Hotel California”. Maybe I’m biased. Maybe it’s because they’re white. They are Gordon’s Suitcase.

Drum Beat Soweto

Let me start off by saying right now, I know almost bloody nothing about ‘black’ music. That is some culture I’ve just missed out on. I mean, I know all about bubblegum, township jive and Paul Simon’s Graceland – the latter the most, of course. I think BLK JKS are a bloody great band, but I just don’t get them sometimes. I don’t even Like TV on The Radio and they’re a bunch of black kids playing white music. Sounds terrible, right? People have made jokes about it. I know a little bit about West African guitar music. I’ve heard the terms high life and can imagine what it sounds like. I even know what mbaqanga means and is. But, still, it sometimes escapes me. I don’t like jazz. I really just don’t. It reminds me of bloody hair metal half the time. I mean, I just don’t like seeing people wank, live. It irritates. Someone will be playing a lovely, tight, gorgeously melodic jazz standard and the trumpeter will go: “It’s my turn”, come to the front and spout gobbledegook for about a minute then, perhaps, it’s the next guy’s turn. Bleep boopbeleepedorippydowahwahwahwahwahwah. I mean, I get it. You play the trumpet bloody well. Awesome, now just play a nice melody, please. It’s highly exclusionary. If you’re not a jazzhead, it’s hard to get it. Anyhoo, how this relates, most of the black-vibes I know are combinations of traditional, jazz, gospel and a dash of western influence, so I’ve never been inclined to explore too hard.

Max Hoba arrives on stage next and he plays forgettable, functional black-vibes. Besides the ladies bum-rushing the front of the stage to love on him, he plays a Marley medley, cautioning the crowd to “feel alright”. Ok, good. Me and McGee discover, at this point, to our consternation, that we shouldn’t’ve been paying for beers. There is a tent. There are tokens. The skies darken, pregnant with rain. My day looks up. I am very excited to see if these peeps stick through the rain.

The Indestructible Beat of Soweto

Asanda Bam arrives on stage looking glorious in a green velvet dress, draped with pearls. I have no idea who she is. She takes the stage very well, though, keeping it soulful, with dashes of jazz here and there. They have a white guitarist. He looks like he’s got the groove. I smile, watch her strut about for awhile. She is beautiful. She is having the most fun on stage. I watch the crowd grooving along. They’re dancing pretty hard, smiling widely despite the prospect of rain. I go take a piss. McGee follows. While peeing, we discuss the next act. Hotstix Mabuse. We’re not even sure we know what he plays.
“Is he a drummer?” McGee asks.
“No, no, I don’t think so, man, I think he plays brass or something.”
Besides, I only really know that one ‘white’ song. I’m excited to see it. It always makes me laugh. DJs play it frequently and the white kids… well… they dance hard. McGee gets some pap, sheba and a chicken drumstick. We laugh about chicken for a while.

We head frontstage. Hotstix gets on, taking over the central area after his musicians dabble with some gospel for a minute or two. People cheer hard. They love him. I do too. His smile is infectious and he looks pumped. He kind of has a commanding presence. I have no idea if this has something to do with history or not, The Past or something. I really do have the potential to be slaughtered for not knowing anything. But, I hardly care. If I like something I do, If I don’t, I don’t. It all comes down to the music, doesn’t it? Well, they rock some praisey sounding vibes for a brief while, whilst The Lord starts pissing down, drenching us in wetness, but people are sticking around. They still smile. Mr Hotstix rocks his sax, being all soulful, and it bores me. Another song starts up. I assume it’s called “Stomp Your Feet”. People do. It’s more upbeat, more groovy, elements of funk and jazz and township vibes collide around a nice big massive drum beat. The sax seems well used, now. Bursts of it spout from Hotstix. Good little bursts. No smooth crap. Maybe it’s because I grew up on ska but smooth sax perturbs me. It sounds porno, like serenation. It has a strong potential to sound like Gorgonzola.

Drum Beat Soweto

Sipho whips out a cowbell, some sticks and an odd rocket-shaped percussive instrument. McGee and me nod at at each other. So that’s why he’s called Hotstix.
McGee grabs my shoulder. “Dude, have you noticed… he looks kinda like Spoek… like an older Spoek Mathambo…”
I laugh wildly, slightly drunk. “Yeah, yeah, he actually does. Fuck man.”

We run in the rain to use our plastic tokens. As we head back to the stage I hear the ‘White Song’. Fuck, I have to see this. “Burn Out” is halfway through when we head backstage, to watch, and so McGee can do some onstage shots. The rain is really pissing down now. The people are still, miraculously, dancing out front. “The Indestructible Beat of Soweto,” I mouth. The drums thump away, the melodies swirl around, excitedly, I smile, grin, whatever. McGee gets mad because his flash doesn’t work; the piano melody sounds glorious. It’s a really good song, it makes me smile. And, though, most of the peeps here, who are playing music, who are dancing have been through a little bit of hell, or their parents have, they still retain this sense of joy. This intractable desire to overcome. Perhaps that’s what I’ve been missing in it. This jive, this funk, this groove. Perhaps I just don’t have a soul.

We chase ourselves back to the token-tent.
We take photos of Bra Hugh backstage.
We watch for a brief while.
I’m bored, so is McGee.
We don’t like Jazz.
We leave.

The Indestructible Beat of Soweto

The Indestructible Beat of Soweto

The Indestructible Beat of Soweto

The Indestructible Beat of Soweto

The Indestructible Beat of Soweto


*All images © Xander vd Merwe.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Why bother sending this person, they are not interested and seriously crappy review

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  2. Chad says:

    I agree.

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  3. Anonymous says:

    This is a terrible review.

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  4. xx says:


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  5. what kind says:

    “Most of the black-vibes I know are combinations of traditional, jazz, gospel and a dash of western influence, so I’ve never been inclined to explore too hard…”
    Being white isn’t an excuse to be ignorant, although at least you’re honest about it.

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  6. vuyo seripe says:

    the comment about TV on the Radio is super mean. 🙁

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  7. dudie says:

    yeah – a monster pile of terrible ignorance.

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  8. fobias tunke says:

    I stopped on the fourth paragraph when I read: “I don’t even Like TV on The Radio and they’re a bunch of black kids playing white music.”

    Jesus Christ! what kind of backwards, pre-categorised, unconscious-to-globalisation-and-hybrid culture opinion is that, man? so they’re condemned because they play “white music”? I’m sorry, but that is such a cloistered thing to say. It’s so not aware of class-changes and flow of culture in this country. I’m not going to read anymore, you need to get real.

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  9. Thishiwe says:

    Is Chad a student of The Dada School of Cultural Criticism? Because either he’s an idiot or this is next level satire. And seeing as it’s Mahala, I’m guessing he’s not an idiot.

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  10. geronimo says:

    If this was better written it would be offensive. Right now it’s just mildly offputting like a lady bug squashed on a tampon. TV on the Radio are grown men you gormless fucking asshat.

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  11. mega-douche says:

    belle and sebastian, while being guilty as fuck of mind-numbing tweeness, deserve a proper spelling if you’re claiming to listen to them.

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  12. Chad says:

    Whoops. I guess I took the french spelling, from the Children’s book. Soz. I’ve always spelt it like that. Whoopteedoo.

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  13. Ash says:

    This guy is a fucking condescending scumbag – and what scares me more is the potential that a good part of white south africa feels this way about black culture.

    It’s this “if-i-dont-understand-it-then-it-must-be-shit” mentality that fuels white – hallucinatory – fears about black people.

    In a situation like that then there’ll always be conflict, because black people will turn around and say “Voetsek then !”

    And the douche needs to learn some grama too because he keeps writing kak like “Magee an me”.

    Fucking disappointing but definately not a day-spoiler simply because i’m really not suprised.

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  14. Prof. Marx says:

    “a couple of times” not “a coupla times” you pasty troglodyte

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  15. Chad says:

    And, while I agree that B&S can be a bit gormless, and can get a bit much very easily, I totes love If You’re Feeling Sinister. That album is such a winner. Tigermilk is not bad either.

    If you really want to hear what terrifyingly twee as fuckness sounds like you should checkout The Boy Least Likely To. Holy christ.

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  16. Carol Reed says:

    When did all these News24 readers start reading Mahala?

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  17. Mick says:

    Jirre. What a kak piece of kak. Contrived, very obviously, to ‘ironically’ stir shit. Succeeding – glaringly – in being plain kak.

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  18. Anonymous says:


    noun /fən/ 

    Enjoyment, amusement, or lighthearted pleasure
    – the children were having fun in the play area
    – anyone who turns up can join in the fun

    A source of this
    – people-watching is great fun

    Playful behavior or good humor
    – she’s full of fun

    Behavior or an activity that is intended purely for amusement and should not be interpreted as having serious or malicious purposes
    – it was nothing serious; they just enjoyed having some harmless fun

    (of a place or event) Providing entertainment or leisure activities for children
    – a 33-acre movie-themed fun park

    adjective /fən/ 

    Amusing, entertaining, or enjoyable
    – it was a fun evening
    – what’s the funnest part of wakeboarding for you?

    verb /fən/ 
    funned, past participle; funned, past tense; funning, present participle; funs, 3rd person singular present

    Joke or tease
    – no need to get sore—I was only funning
    – they are just funning you

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  19. Flossie with arthritis says:

    Jesus… this is brilliant. I laughed my ass off at:
    ” It’s a really good song, it makes me smile. And, though, most of the peeps here, who are playing music, who are dancing have been through a little bit of hell, or their parents have, they still retain this sense of joy. This intractable desire to overcome. Perhaps that’s what I’ve been missing in it. This jive, this funk, this groove. Perhaps I just don’t have a soul.”

    What everyone seems to be reacting to is their own white guilt. This Chad guy is just as unhinged and uncensored as Montle Moorosi. But this audience doesn’t get all self-righteous with Montle’s writing when he hates on blacks, jews, hippies or whites – and confronts the racial stereotypes. It’s just that Chad’s white. So he falls on the wrong side of history, and there’s no tolerance for that.

    But really, it’s good, visceral, amusing, entertaining writing. It’s brutally honest too. More please Chad, fuck these stuck-in-the-mud backwards prudes. Onwards!

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  20. J Z says:

    Im white, dont like jazz, and not easily offended, but this article really offends me. What gives?

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  21. Zak! says:

    Chad, you are trying too hard to become something that clearly you’ll never be-COOL!

    Embrace your whiteness and Chill!

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  22. lindokushle says:

    Its like Kuli Roberts and Steve Hofmeyer had a baby

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  23. lindokushle says:

    Its like Kuli Roberts and Steve Hofmeyer had a baby.

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  24. Anonymous says:

    I think what you all expect of Chad would have been too easy for him to do. The safe road. Obviously he had the option to go in there and try sell some barefoot dirt road street cred by googling the bands and artists at the event, describing how they partied through the rain and how he glowed with a sense of community and felt truly a part of south africa for a short moment under the rain….
    but you know, that would have been too easy.

    I liked the way the edginess snuck up on me. I liked the cheeky brat undertones of it as well, Chad being aware that he was being sent as a too-white-kid to a ‘black’ party, and so he played his role to the hilt. I like to think he fully pictured Andy expecting him to connect and get sentimental on us, and there were elements of defiance. It made a bigger commentary by NOT getting it, and Chad was humble and willing enough to write himself into that catalyst for that message, our own suburban white matyr. Lets face it, his refreshingly honest confession on his local music content reflects a big chunk of white SA as well. It felt like it was rushed a little more than the last one, so elements could have been refined, but you did a good thing.
    It was real without the preconceived romance of a typical mahala writer (or any young edgy ‘journo’ in these music setups), who you can almost picture trying to define themselves as seperate and critical of everything around, carrying their invisible little mahala badge of hate and hoping that it shines.

    There seem to be two polar opposites in the review game: Flirty social butterflies sucking hard band cock / Hating with a detached sense of arrogance. This was an interesting approach that i felt i could probably relate to as a reader.

    Maybe I had to be a white suburban reader to appreciate its angle, I dont know.
    I dont feel like I came away from it with formed opinions on the bands or performers being reviewed, if that is peoples concern…? I dont think any of that was forced on to us. I do feel like I could a very good indication of how i would probably felt had i attended the event, and it doesn’t make me feel guilty.

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  25. Melanie says:

    Don’t write about it if you know nothing about – do some research llike any journo worth their mettle would

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  26. Syd willow says:

    Silly little ignorant man. Black vibes this and black vibes that. Learn a little about the plethora of music out there before you go make an ass of your self in public. So there.

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  27. Anonymous says:

    @ Anon, actually, this was the easy thing to do. Riding on the back of being unapologetically edgy by being admittedly ignorant, but still feeling as if your opinion is of merit. Play up the usual stereotypes, draw the us and them boundaries. Insinuate that you buy sneakers from Maponya Mall( Hey, I’m too stylish to be racist)

    Its easy, being white, to not know anything about black culture; but being black in SA, you still have to qualify you’re that you’re not that kind of black. You’re the okay kind of black, with the easily pronounced name, white boyfriend, and rock music collection. The kind of black that’s almost white.

    If this was well-written, or funny, it might’ even been satire; but it just feels like Chad took a shit on Matisse, and hoped it would make him Banksy.

    And Mofolo Park is in Mofolo, but you’re white right? So, you don’t have to know anything.

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  28. Anonymous says:

    Art is subjective. Music is art.
    He was more honest and sincere then any one of you telling him to educate himself or whatever.
    I found it to be refreshing. If he had gone there and pulled a Flash in the Pan Patriot, gotten all rainbow nation with us, I would have glazed over and not bothered reading. The fact that people have to tip toe on racial corpses just to express their opinion on something as somejective as art, or face being called things like ignorant by mindless sheep (even though, you know, he constantly claimed to be ignorant during the whole article) is worrysome to me.
    What was the alternative?

    Chad, if anything, being trully a child of the rainbow nation, was so refreshingly unphased by the black / white dynamic that he was able to be critical within context without being offensive or criticising any of the bands or musicians for their talents, only explaining his cultural distance and apathy. It makes him smarter then the idiots calling him stupid or ignorant. Thats a plank to the face that (unfortunately) went right over your heads.

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  29. Anonymous says:

    @ (other) Anon – No, yo’re wrong. The think Chad handled his ignorance from a documentary point of view, not from a soap box position. He wasn’t preachy about it, he was confessional. His comments about his taste in music and his experiences with Soweto served to set the context and scene. He invited us to join him on his HONEST reflection of the proceedings. He didnt censor or glitter up his thoughts and opinions.

    I think your mind set is based in 15 years ago. You say it’s easy to be an ignorant whitey? Is it really? I’m not talking about your imagined boer khaki and velskoen pups context, i’m talking about the fresh relevant vibrant south africa, in too easy to get barefoot and hand clappy in this freshlyground commercialised rainbow nation era. For someone to stand up and say, ‘Hey… actually, I dont know shit!’ is much more refreshing then all these typical white journos who try express some extra cred for being down with the town(ship).

    Your argument that it’s easy to be ignorant and white, but black people are required to be something more fitting for a white mans world is ancient and flawed. Easy to pronounce names? White girlfriend? Where the fuck did that come from.
    It’s easy for you people to assume it’s been a one-step-two-step-home scenario, that chad went ‘Oh, screw it, I’m going to play dumb cause i’m white and FUCK IT!’
    He took it a few steps beyond that, I promise.

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  30. mega-douche says:

    Wow, everyone is punishing the fella! I kinda appreciated his honest, no-pretend approach to the event and the music. It’s also safe to say that his willful ignorance is also a generation thing. There is (probably already) going to be a time when white, angryish, punkish-hipsterish kids are gonna utter the words “I don’t know, or care about the Springbok Nude Girls. I think it’s that shit that 90’s losers were into?” And so it goes that just because something or someone was revered by a generation, it’s not to say that the following generation will give a fuck. So Chad knows that this legends of Jazz were important, it’s just not that they’re important to him and his friends.

    So going to an event for the oldies, carrying your ignorance, is, i guess, honest…and potentially offensive. I doubt it’s a race thing, really, it just adds to the chasm.

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  31. Moose says:

    this is kak. jesus.

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  32. Chinless Fake Titted Ho says:

    Haha god the people who read mahala are cunts… Me included … I’m stopping from now on …

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  33. Anonymous says:

    I was offended by this. If it was satire, the piece lacks direction and was too poorly executed to be funny. Was the comparison of South African jazz and West African guitar for real?

    Everyone can relate to being stuck at a party that’s not their scene. The alternative wasn’t a patronising happy-clappy-Rainbow-Nation review. It just didn’t have to be faux-edgy, it didn’t have to make as if ignorance is a characteristic of white suburban people, or like it’s excusable if you’re proud of it. It didn’t have to be a race thing at all.

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  34. Anonymous says:

    So THAT’S why hipsters always say they wish they lived in the ’60s…

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  35. jeremy says:

    this is such shit!!!

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  36. trompie says:

    More cheap shots – or should I say “hits” – for Mahala

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  37. P says:

    This was an opportunity for Chad to learn if he was interested, but I think he wasnt and used this opportunity to give the middle finger to his bosses for trying 2 educate him about something he doesnt give a shit about. I think he should have grown balls and refused to go. Now I’ll always c the asshole first in everything he writes. To me, a bunch of black boys trying to make white music is like that bloody refreshing proudly south african feeling I get each time I hear a white guy speaking an African taal. Being an asshole is easy Chad, try be a man for a minute.

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  38. Very informative article. Cool.

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  39. soweto says:

    Bad Bad Review and condescending at its best. Stay off our culture!

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