Don’t Worry about the Hangoverby Ts’eliso Monaheng / 10.06.2013
We drove from Jozi central, me and my cohort. We on-ramped onto the M3 South, then thumb-sucked our way through the fast-enveloping darkness. After a clueless crusade through Eldorado Park, we drove past a monument, took the first exit at the roundabout, and then drove straight ahead past a dilapidated building on our right – its threadbare underbelly exposed. The dark, night-encrusted streets gave way to the rather imposing Walter Sisulu Square in Kliptown, Soweto, where this year’s Red Bull Beat Battle dance competition finals were held. Bright lights, fancy cars, accents imported from the Northern suburbs – it’s all here in its shameless glory. Alongside this splendour are the pantsulas, the vandals, the kasi cats; they either came here for the women, or to show support for their chosen crew. The two will be harder to tell apart as the night progresses.
Inside, Jullian Gomes works the decks, inspiring semi-riotous dance-offs between revellers as more people step inside. Circles get bigger, personalities pose for photo-ops, the thrill of anticipation begrudges my attempt to exist in the moment. “I want Sibot!” the heart seems to suggest. Yet it’s Dirty Paraffin, the duo comprising Okmalumkoolkat and DJ SpiZee, who come on before. Another mini-riot ensues. But it is short-lived; pockets of people ‘get’ it, while others look on as though waiting for something – anything – to happen. Okmalume digs in the primustof crates, then imports some LV grittiness to mix it up; Bra Sol from BFG even makes an appearance. But it’s his homage to gusheshes (with rapper Casper Nyovest) which saves the set. Both rappers parlay across the stage with youthful recklessness, abandoning artistic boundaries and personal inhibitions for the people’s benefit. The audience return the energy twofold.
Clad in his now-signature body-suit with multiple eye-like objects lending their big-brother’s-watching stare to the world, and flanked by a troupe of drummers, Sibot ascends the stage. What ensues is testament to the man’s genius; within five minutes of his routine with the drummers, Sibot transforms the entire hall into a kasi version of the zombie apocalypse, then essentially extends the excitement throughout his set. And finally, exhausted, we break!
I manage to find a solitary moment. It offers respite from the pounding drum of Naija pop and Mzansi house music; the bass, thick and heavy, is inexplicably enchanting in its undulating boom. So irresistible is the urge to groove that I struggle to clinch onto this elusive moment of sober reflection. At a corner amidst the grandeur of music, women, and booze, I jot down notes – a four-hour jet-stream condensed into snippets; bits and pieces of information which would otherwise remain trapped inside this space’s walls and lost in time.
Yet, before these nuggets develop into fully-formed ideas, South African party music don Thebe ascends onto the stage, effectively rendering my moment of reflection null and void. The stage has been transformed from a battlefield into a pulpit whereby the congregation shall witness his sermon. The thoughts dissipate, forming a long-winding blur as Thebe’s “uNgawa kum” receives a 15 minute-long treatment which doubles as a medley for his string of hits. Thebe could come onto the stage and chill, and people would still damage their vocals chords through incessant screaming. His music is a symbol of kwaito’s liberating capabilities; the carefree nature of it; the unfathomable thrill of hearing “sisokola sonke” recited back at you in a hall with good sound.
If Thebe’s the don, then Dr Malinga’s the worthy side-kick (excuse the pun), the student who effortlessly applies himself, a true entertainer. The DJ/percussion duo backing him up join him on cue for a dance routine or two; he uses the tried-and-tested ‘are you there?’ battle cry to which the audience responds with every last scintilla of energy within them ‘yeaaaaah!!!’ And when it comes down to it, the one song everyone knows him for gets an alternative treatment as the percussionist plays the breakbeat to Lauryn and Bob’s “Turn your lights down low“. However, this time Dr Malinga leads the audience through the refrain “ke tshwerwe ke stlama-tlama” (I’m hungover), his dedication to Martel V.O. brandy – the V.O. an acronym for “Via Orlando”. When the actual beat drops, the room contracts from the sheer. And then we leave, me and my cohort.
On our way back, the lazy-eyed half-moon starts rising to the east of us. Ahead is Jozi central; Coca Cola signage screams at us the closer we get. Then there’s Anglo America’s mural of its miners; “we’re building over 23, 000 houses” reads a section of the copy. The lights get brighter, the moon, almost above us, doesn’t look so lazy anymore. We have arrived, and unlike Dr. Malinga, stlama-tlama isn’t something we’re worried about.
* All images © Ts’eliso Manoheng