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Dub in Douglasdale

by Kallak Jonesic, images by Dragan Pesic / 15.11.2010

Tanz Café is located at the end of a road called Douglas Drive, it makes a bend before the police station and across from the robots you see a big glitzy shopping centre. A bunch of pizzerias, a gym, the brand new Hooters packed with collared shirts and short skirts, neon lights that make the moths crash and waste their powder. Like a factory for producing middle-class South African hangovers. You go up the stairs following the sign, they give you a free shooter at the door, some sort of sweet, pink liqueur; grab a warm Amstel for R20 bucks, and you’re finally set to watch New York reggae band Easy Star All Stars. At Tanz Café you don’t smoke, and this means that half the crowd misses half the show, half of the time.

My photographer, The Dragon, and I arrived early, the band was doing its sound check. The small crowd were bent-broken over the many tables on swollen elbows, some of them eating after a long day at the office, analyzing the slow composition of the production. On stage were 8 individuals – two on brass instruments, a drummer, a small Asian-looking girl behind the synths, another lady on a mic, a guitarist, one big Rastafarian bass player, and his skinny, frontman compatriot with an equestrian look. The small crowd was grinning at his Jamaican accent whenever he said something like: “Ya, littul beet mour in da monitor.”

Expectation was tangible, a tingling anticipation for something different. Thank God that this time we’re not here, yet again, for Evolver One, Just Jinjer or Prime Circle. This thing might actually awake us from the bad habits of 5FM and 94.7. Possibly, but probably not.

The room filled, I remember a group of svelte girls walking in like they owned something special followed by some jock boytjies in too tight T-shirts. Soon enough there would be a steady flow of bathroom nose powderers. Fridays in Joburg can be so predictable.

Easy Star All Stars South African Tour

We were outside on a smoke break when we heard the feedback of guitars and some erratic drum rolls then someone shouted over the mic, “original music for original people”. Tidal Waves, based in Yeoville but hailing from the North West, launched into a great set that got the crowd dancing without any reservations. Definitely the best possible opening act for this particular gig. Their inexorable energy and hybridy rock-reggae style, allowed the predominant white, Northern Suburbs crowd to make its associations. They played a long set, and by the time they were half way through, most of us were out smoking again. And there on the terrace I saw the three clear groups of people that made up the show:

– Businessmen taking their clients for a night out. These characters are quite handy if you wish to make a scene, or if you feel comfortable with being – in their eyes – a clown. Tanz Café for them is just a hangout where deals are sealed and beautiful legs compass around.

– Young yuppies, with beautiful girlfriends, FHM greenhorns, all trying to get the attention of a soapie actor with a silky shirt; and the Businessmen whisper to each other as if they have a chance.

– Some real fans and people who had actually heard of the band before. This demographic was closer to ours. Around 25-30 years old and ready to play, with like a 90/10 split between whites and blacks.

And when the All Stars finally took the stage, like many touring bands, I’m sure they wondered why the crowd were almost all white, and the bar staff almost all black, out here in Africa. Within three songs of their easy-loaded set, the mommies began dancing atop the bar like in Coyote Ugly. We too were bopping up and down to the flawless grooves of the bass-drum duo; Jamaican bass player Ras I Ray was swaying and revolution-marching in his Caribbean multi-hued attire and great, white bass guitar. We got sweatier and sweatier. The wonderful thing about a band like Easy Star All Stars is that the force of the performance causes you to forget about all the socio-demographic bullshit that dominates the mind before the show or the next day. Meticulous dub engineering ensured that the sounds echo in your head well after the end of a specific instrumental movement.

Easy Star All Stars South African Tour

Vocalist Kirsty Rock is a great addition to the band, singing like your friend’s hot older sister. After the gig, a few of the alphas tried to hit on her as she walked around the venue, but she stood her ground and smiled at them like they were some sort of interesting African zoo animals.

The band played for about two hours and by the time they were performing their Radiohead covers, the place began to heave Joburg style. Two women burst out of the toilets talking at a hundred miles an hour, followed by two more, and then suddenly there was a gaggle of 20 talking like they had just arrived at the office. I knew that it wasn’t going to get any easier from here on in.

As if on cue, the band hit their more psychedelic covers towards the end, adding some trippy vibes to the increasingly surreal environment. By the time they were done with their encore the place had descended into a bit of a dogshow. But despite the jocks and the nose-baggers, Easy Star All Stars were a pleasure to behold. And before leaving, we gave thanks that finally someone with good taste is willing to bring such bands to this ass-end of the world.

Easy Star All Stars South African Tour

*All images © Dragan Pesic.

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