“Have you forgotten whose sons and daughters you are?”by Lindokuhle Nkosi / 13.09.2011
I sort of have a thing against seated venues. I’m not sure of how I’m meant to behave. The forced formality limits the enthusiasm of natural response. It feels a little like being seated on the proverbial high-horse, all kings and queens on our thrones, smiling politely to ourselves as the jesters on stage bend over backwards to entertain us. Then there’s the energy transfer thing. Imagine if you will that we are all perfect conductors of energy. That the strength of the words and the power of the melody, could flow unhampered from the strained vocal chords and the plucked guitar strings, through the space that separates us from the instruments on the raised platform; and within us, be fully transformed and transferred. Nothing lost to friction, every single meaning fully actualised in our ears and brains, only to be transformed and transferred again. Imagine then, that the source of the energy is metres away; with us, the carbon conductors and recipients, crouched and perched below it. Would the energy not crash into itself, off the walls, into the stage; losing everytime, a little more fervour before it reached us? So as grateful as I am to be sitting in the City Hall auditorium, waiting for Thandiswa Mazwai to sing, I’m aware of the physical disconnect that might occur. The possible dance-dance mania hampered by feet courteously crossed at the ankles.
Seated, the music will make you close your eyes. Reflect on the noise bouncing electric in the inside of your eyelids. Standing, your limbs respond to the thrilling, shocking pulse. A cry becomes a mission, a call. Seated, it’s an opportunity to commiserate.
Thandiswa is a percussion light, jazzier version of her live self. Adapted to the seated crowd, she opens with a slower, chant-like rendition of “Thongo lam’”. She’s asking her ancestors for blessings, for a clearer path. The vacillation between her chilling falsetto; and the heavier, raspy tone that seems to be slow-brewing in her gut, is silky. A repetitive granite incantation stabbed with beautiful, violent screams.
She reminisces about Nelson Mandela, standing on the City Hall balcony (tonight’s smoking section), saying the words that would forever be engraved in South Africa’s memory: “Never, and never again”. Then edges into “Nizalwa Ngobani” off her debut solo album Zabalaza, a lament about a forgotten history and displaced pride. “Have you forgotten whose sons and daughters you are?” She pleads, a hymn to the heavens, in a tribute to her fallen mentor, Busi Mhlongo.
Many times, I want to get up and dance. A few people are swaying and dancing in the aisles, and with the show running about an hour late, some people grab the clap gaps in between songs to leave, but most of us are anchored to our seats. A Thandiswa Mazwai performance is a transcendental, albeit weighty experience. There are thumping, pounding attacks of emotion. Nothing is light. In her voice is every moment that has stewed in the pit of your duodenum, that immortalised itself in your marrow and cerebralised its essence in your mind. It’s a lover’s cocky self-assuredness, and a nation’s disappointments and hurt. On her tongue are your naked insecurities. In her voice is the lusty arrogance of grinding of hips. And then the music stops. A tenuous strained ascent to climax that just ends and we’re left hanging. The crowd disperses before my lips can even begin to form the sound. “We want more”.
*All images © Musicpics.