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Thandiswa Mazwai

“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 Mazwai

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.

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RESPONSES (12)
  1. Andy says:

    4 kaks? Y’all re still stuck in your seats!

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  2. Karen says:

    I want to make out with the imagery you use in this piece. Bellisimo my little nubian princess!

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  3. Anonymous says:

    You are talking kak – what a pleasure to be in a venue where you can listen to the musicians , sitting or not – go to Mzolis if you want noise!!

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  4. Andy says:

    how old are you anonymous?

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  5. Lindokushle says:

    where did I mention the sound quality? Please direct your racial stereotypes elsewhere; also @ Andy, see what I was saying?

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  6. Steve G says:

    hey, there’ll be seated gigs and wind-up-your-waist gigs.
    To start, this one was a show for the ears. As a venue, City Hall is also *very* challenging as soon as you pump up da bottom end. It’s a big, resonant, cavernous venue designed for symphony, opera and choral performances. The City Hall Sessions team certainly factored that when asking Thandiswa to perform in her *trio* configuration rather than with a full *festival* band lineup.

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  7. Lindokushle says:

    Agreed, it was just a *very* different Thandiswa experience. She’s on stage ululating and dancing, that usually viewed as in invitation to join in, instead we’re seated unsure of how to respond. It was well-organised event, and I’ll be going to more. The “for your ears” structure worked for Ray Lema and Chico Cesar, but Thandiswa Mazwai isn’t strictly “for your ears” music.

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  8. Effuah says:

    You have a way with words. Simply lovely!

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  9. Rhoda says:

    The show never ran an hour late. Barring the opening remarks from the Mayor, everything went according to schedule. FYI, the Mandela balcony is on the other side of the building (Darling St), certainly not where the smoking area was (Corporation St)! As if…

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  10. Lindokushle says:

    @Rhoda Well, that’s strange because on the invite I received( also on the creativeweekct site http://www.creativeweekct.co.za/events/chico-cesar-ray-lema-thandiswa-mazwai-kesivan-and-the-lights-city-hall-sessions/ ), the show was billed to end at 22h30, it ended just before 12.

    And on the balcony thing, you might want to take Thandiswa up on that cause I was referencing her.

    An organiser whose upset I didn’t blow up her PR for her maybe? How dare I write about the music?!

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  11. happy brown says:

    Great piece you need a platform where you are appreciated. One

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  12. Summer says:

    My God Lindokuhle!!! You are a gem!!! . There’s nothing calm about the power that resonates through our souls when laurettes like Ms Mazwai perform. The body NEEDS to get up and respond to it. Thanks Linds. This is an awesome piece.

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