A Certain Kind of Magicby Matt Vend / 04.02.2013
The Rainbow was more packed then I’ve ever seen it, burrowed in the heart of the Pinetown taxi rank, it’s a living entity of its own and the day Vieux Farka Touré rolled into town, it started to breathe. Religious fundamentalism and political violence are strong talking point in Mali at the moment, but these guys managed to stay positive and deliver a set from another realm; seasoned musicians having more fun on stage then a bunch of kids in the band room for the first time. Their music is so distinctly African, but so rock ‘n roll, so closely linked to blues that it leaves no doubt the genre was born in Africa only to be honed on the banks of the Mississippi. And on this particular day I saw it being played in a more convincing way than I could ever have imagined. Simple, yet so intricate as Vieux turned his guitar into a science experiment just before throwing down flair that could only come from some deeply creative almost spiritual place. After the groove grounds the musicians, reckless soloing arrives accompanied by some solid backing from his band, loads of percussion, and more than enough speed to get the crowd on their feet, causing the venue to explode with life that is rarely seen at any concert these days.
I had naturally heard of the father of this great musician (Ali Farka Touré) yet was only recently introduced to his music, which, for the record, is equally as awe-inspiring. The hype was out that his son was in town and tickets sold out way before the time. Neil Comfort of The Rainbow, let as many people as he could cram into the medium-sized venue. Roughly an hour and a half later the show was done, people spilled out the venue for some air and it felt like a time capsule. We could have been there for 20 seconds or 20 hours. Music sometimes does this to me when I’m performing but to get that feeling from just being in the crowd is something rare. The humility and presence of the musicians shone through. They made eye contact with the audience, smiled at every clap and cheer and in doing so the stage disappeared, there were no more boundaries or divisions. To these musicians this is more than just performing, this is life. My mind was blown!
The following day, Vieux Farka Touré was putting on a workshop and small performance at K-Cap, Ekyaya Multi Arts Centre in KwaMashu. A motley crew we must have looked rocking up to the workshop roughly an hour late after getting lost in the big township just outside of Durban. Several times we asked for directions yet to no avail. “Uxolo sissie, Ndicela ukubuza uba siya eK Cap, singaya ngaphi?” Uttered one bewildered looking pedestrians, as Loopy my navigator asked for directions as we weaved through a tiny suburban area near KwaMashu. We scurried into the huge theatre whilst Vieux, was just finishing up his Q&A session, usually we would have been given death stares for interrupting a gathering of this nature, yet the kind eyes of one of the percussion players guided us to our seats.
Ten minutes later Touré and his band were on stage this time the show was more reserved, more intimate as Touré invited some random musicians to get up on stage. ‘I want to play with some younger guitarists or musicians,’ he said. So Hezron Chetty (The Trees, The Pie Keys, Fruits and Veggies) got up, he’s one of the best musicians to come out of the Durban punk scene since probably ever. He plays the violin which is an instrument that is rarely associated with punk unless it’s Irish folk punk. Hezron springs to his feet and says, ‘please I’d love to jam with you!’ Then Madala Kunene one of Durban’s pioneers of the maskandi guitar style gets up and walks to the stage and I do believe everyone in that venue nearly fell of their seats, as we were treated to something, we possibly won’t ever see again.
A trained violinist who plays punk rock, the king of Zulu guitar and a Malian legend with hands made from gold is quite a treat; it’s like getting birthday cake when it isn’t even your birthday, Christmas in January. Rain poured down during the set and this added to the experience as it slowly stopped just minutes after the musicians. They brought the thunder, they brought the rain, and they wore their hearts on their sleeves once again.
After the jam was over, everyone was left with a weird feeling, no one really knew what to do or say. I think everyone in that room knew that this was a once in a lifetime kind of thing. The musicians afterwards took the time to talk to everyone who was interested in talking. Hezron Vieux got to exchange some ideas and spoke of life on the road. Touré was travelling from South Africa to Rwanda next and eventually on to Los Angeles before returning home, for a few days, and then onto the next trip. This is the life of a musician, constantly touring, constantly away from family and friends, often getting very little reward for the effort. And I’m sure Mali’s current conflict and political situation only makes it harder. However when you get the honour of seeing something like this you understand, you truly understand the need for music, of any nature, art of any nature, to simply carry on existing. Because it brings mysticism to the mundane, a certain kind of magic, almost alchemy that is lost to our every day existences. We need to hold onto to this mysticism and keep magic alive, otherwise we also face a danger, a danger of becoming lost ourselves, and being lost in your heart is far worse than getting lost in KwaMashu.