Heads, Livers, Soulsby Samora Chapman / 27.06.2011
“Samora. Samora Chapman. Es, Ay, Em, Oh, Are, Aye. From Mahala… I’m not on the guest list? Oh that doesn’t surprise me.” Luckily the owner’s nearby so I chat him up about being media. Yes he knows Mahala. “They murdered The La Els. Oh well Mahala writers hate everything so what can I say, you guys thrive on sensationalism.” Then he lifts the velvet rope and lets me in all the same. Unit 11s got that delicious, dirty factory feel that’s so hip and unpretentious. Some funky art and a long narrow green alley way decorarted with freaky etchings. Durban kids love the jols that are street as hell. The crowd’s multiracial, beautiful and trendy and the DJ’s spinning a swing set that’s so good for dancing… I just have to get loose. Little did I know then, that this would be the highlight of my night. I see familiar faces and many old friends. It’s good to be amongst my brethren. Six of whom step up on stage and put on their collective pseudonym… The La Els.
Jonas and the boys open up proceedings with their speedy dance-pop-rock thing. Last year they won a national music competition and went from non-entity to pop-sensation overnight. I was personally very stoked for them cos I know they’ve been dedicated to their music for a long time. But all the core Durban music heads are grumbling about their overnight success. Including Roger Young, whose review on Mahala was nothing short of critical ultra-violence.
“They haven’t even played a single gig and their songs on the radio!” A hardened Winston pub local told me a few months back. “Jonas’ voice is flat… No hooks… The La Els are shit.” Roger Young concurred. I took no notice, it sounded like jealousy.
The first track is a party song, Jonas hollering “boogie” and “disco”. It’s upbeat, the music is tight and the riffs are pretty catchy getting the followers to dance dance dance. I’m a sucker for keyboard, and Long John’s got the deadly piano solos! The instrumental track was off the hook. But still, the performance lacked soul. The first time I saw The La Els at the Bat Cave they were on fire, but tonight they seem a bit strained. There’s a look on Jonas’ face – like oh no. “The music builds, and builds and builds, but there’s no hook. Every drum beat sounds the same. And have you actually listened to the lyrics?” says Mick Jagger at the bar.
Anyway The La Els play their rock and roll, glancing down at their neatly scribed track-lists written in block letters: “DISCO. FIRE. LOVE SLAVE. SOULKILLER. ROMANCER”. After the show they pack up in a hurry and disperse into the crowd.
Followed shortly by Tumi, and he brought the much needed volume. A pear-shaped man with small feet and a big heartbeat. To be honest I don’t know his music but I am a hip hop head to the bone and Tumi’s got a nice easy flow and miles of rhymes. He’s a songwriter, not just a stumble-along emcee “rappin’ bullshit” as De La Soul would say. Tumi works the crowd and basks in the stage-light. He’s used to the fame like that shit’s his birthright. And its musically brilliant with the two cats from 340-ml bringing the powerful instrumentals to back up Tumi’s lyrical prowess. At the end of the show, the quietly confident MC tries to hush the crowd for some spoken word poetry: “Can we have a few minutes silence so I can drop this poem” says Tumi. But some louts scattered in amongst the listeners ruin the moment. Tossing bottles and slurred words. The drummer from La Els mumbles an aimless diss. In response to the lack of appreciation, Tumi cuts the set short. The art gets lost as the liquor gets hold of the heads, livers, souls.
*All images © Samora Chapman.