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Umbilo Resurrection

by Samora Chapman / Images by Luca Barousse / 11.09.2012

The Durban scene is in the throes of a major transition. The Winston Pub has changed hands. And if you knew what the pub meant to the outlandish and delirious posse that call this place home… you might understand the significance. Suffice to say, the transition is fraught with fear and anxiety, mainly from the old guard, but also from the new owners.

In a way The Winston is the birthplace of the scene as I know it. About a week ago I found myself at the ‘closing down’ gig, and something came over me. It could almost be called nostalgia. I looked around at the dark, sordid dungeon that gave birth to the likes of Fruits ‘n Veggies, Sibling Rivalry and Illuminating Shadows and I almost felt sad that it would never be the same.

Not only has the Winston been a cornerstone of the music scene, but it’s also been a home base for all the alternative kids; the misfits, the punks, the graf writers, normal writers, artists and photographers. It was the ‘studio’ where Kevin Goss-Ross plied his trade, somehow transforming the chaos into something beautiful and reverent. An open stage where just about anybody with a guitar and a brave voice could be heard. A haven for the lost souls.

The Winston was also something of a haven for the hip hop heads who had no other place to go. It was a ‘writer’s bench’ for the graffiti kids, especially in the days when 2Kil and Plastic ruled with iron fists. It was a place to meet and conspire; then take a stroll into the alleys to peep the latest styles from One Two Crew or the elegant Quest Boys. The Winston Sidewalk hosted many a heartfelt cypher… where heads could be caught freestyling the night away like alley cats.

On that final night the, the mood was nothing short of sombre. A lot of the old school locals were nowhere to be seen. Moved on, or maybe busy chasing new dreams. The music opened with some hardened old seadog… I missed his name and denomination, and the sparsely populated pub barely looked up from their liquor.

Old Seadog was followed by Emileen, the mysterious lone girl. Her voice is so eerie yet so beautiful I swear it could knock birds right out of the cold blue sky. Something between Portishead and Bjork. She sang to God with her eyes shut tight. It was bluesy as hell and so emotive it could bring a non-believer to his knees. No one really took notice.

Next up was Francis (my sister) and Ross, jamming a rocking folksy set like Bob Dylan on crack, with a pennywhistle. My sister is the next big thing on the scene in terms of song writing. Of course I’m biased, and fuck you if you don’t like it! Get to their next gig and see for yourself. Her voice is pure and honest and still slightly self-aware. Ross’s a great guitarist and his raspy voice gives lovely depth to the duets. Their cover of ‘Old Number Seven’ by The Devil Makes Three drove the small crowd wild, as did a couple of their original tracks.

Black Math rocked the final set, as usual. Although I feel Cameron’s vocals and song-writing is gonna have to shine a little harder if the band are going to make the leap to a bigger platform. But the violent energy of Black Math takes your body and flings it around like a possession. It pumps joy into your heart, and casts away sadness. I danced in reverence of the new school. And I danced in remembrance of the old.

– Part Two –

Friday night was the big night – the widely publicised ‘re-opening’ of The Winston featuring Durban Knights, City Bowl Mizers, Strage and Fuego Heat. I was in a bad headspace but I dragged my reluctant self to the jol in the name of legitimate journalism. I had attended The Death. I had written my obituary. How could I miss The Resurrection?

On my way to the pub I drifted down the leafy street in reverie… and came across a head from my old borough up the hill. “Wanna smoke?” He chooned with a crazed twitch. I wasn’t that keen but decided it might ease my tired psyche. After touching base with Jah I headed to the new and improved Winston Pub, which was packed to the rafters. There wasn’t enough oxygen to go round. I turned into a fish in a jailhouse… an aquatic creature tossed onto scorching desert sand. Let me out!

After sucking a gallon of H2O out of the bathroom tap I was ready to put on my voyeur goggles. And to be honest, nothing much had changed. Yes, The Winston has been reborn. There’s a new ‘logo’. Neatly fashioned to the calling of hip now shit. A fresh lick of paint now hides the freaky devil graf, dirty tags and gruesome wheat pastes. Some snazzy astroturf now graces the courtyard to complete the gentrification. But, the most important change must be the revamped sound rig. The crackly radio speakers have been replaced by the almighty clarity and thundering bass of angel song.

“I’ll give fifty bucks to the first person to puke on the Astroturf!” Bellowed Sweet Lou, an old Winston wizard. I smiled to myself, as this most amiable challenge rang out amidst the clatter. The ‘new’ Winston was being embraced by all. Young and old. Virgins and vets. It was good to see.

The evenings’ performances kicked off with Durban Knights, whom I’ve only really seen once. The production was tight as life. Kurt’s beats coming as hard as the Bombsquad, with some sexy live keyboard to add sweetness. This was mingle mangled with some rudimentary cutting and sampling by Roco. And then Steve (from City Bowl/Sibling) hopped on stage and started banging the tightest live drum loops I ever heard since Funky Drummer.

Viv the emcee did his best… apparently missing his partner in crime who never rocked up to his own gig. Viv has got a solid flow and a delicious voice – raspy like Meth and bellowing like 2Pac. He’s got great stage presence and energy. But the content? The song writing? The heartfelt rhymes?

People have this misconception that if you’re a rapper you don’t need to be a songwriter. You can just rap at people and they gotta listen. Go and study Bob Dylan. Then Nas. Sage Francis. Aesop Rock. KRS One. Communication is the essence. Over pretty beats. But let my leave that self-righteous jabber for another time. Who am I to speak? I haven’t even had the guts to grab the mic yet… Mr Nobody.

And after a good hit of hip hop I escaped into the night. I apologise to the other bands for missing their shows. But I have no doubt it was banging. The Winston resurrected like Jesus or maybe Lazarus. And maybe the new heart of the scene. Welcome back Pub. Don’t fuck up.

And with that I leave you with some kak pics of the old Winston by yours truly and some kiff ones of the new Winston by my man Luca Barousse. One love.

Old Winston images © Samora Chapman
New Winston images © Luca Barousse.

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