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Heavyweight Sounds

by Andy Davis / 06.04.2010

There’s something weird about the stage at Kirstenbosch, built as it is on an incline with that weird trench in front. It’s not really conducive for a good ol’ skop in front of the speakers. You either stand in the trench at an angle, diagonally, or on the lawn looking straight onto the stage but sloping down and leaning back.

Then the gigs have to finish by seven thirty so as not to upset Kirstenbosch’s uppity, well-heeled neighbours, but they only begin at 17h30, which gives the crowd precious little time to get into the swing of things, especially on a night like Sunday when there was so much talent condensed into just a 2 hour set. Gang of Instrumentals hardly ever gig down in Cape Town and the same can be said of Tumi Molekane, then you add the vocal talents of Zaki Ibrahim and the journeyman Mzanzi reggae of Tidal Waves and you’ll soon realise that a mere 2 hour gig was always going to set the crowd up for disappointment.

Tumi Molekane walks the stage

Then add some seriously mediocre to downright shoddy sound management. It’s not like the equipment was substandard. Everyone knows that the sound rig for the Kirstenbosch concert series is top notch, considering it’s bankrolled by one of the largest financial institutions in South Africa – but the sound was really below average… I mean how can the two principal vocalists in Tidal Waves, the core around which this particular show was constructed, not be properly heard while all the MCs had their mics turned up too loud? That’s just plain amateurism right there. But these guys are not amateurs. So what’s the real reason. Disinterest? Arrogance? A lack of understanding of the band’s dynamics? As a punter, who cares. The end result is the same. It brings the whole vibe of the concert crashing down. Especially when what we’re seeing is a unique, once off collaboration between four of South Africa’s most exciting and interesting musical acts. Frankly, it’s a bloody disgrace!

Trench Town Rocks

But despite the weird angle of the stage, the sub-par sound engineering and the time constraints, the sheer energy of what was happening on stage propelled this gig forward. In fact it’s a testament to how good these bands are that they were able to overcome these obstacles. There was so much momentum created with all these guys co-operating on each other’s joints, it was infectious, and what started off slowly with The Gang of Instrumentals and Tumi belting out a few of their hits to a digital backing track, soon ramped up when Tidal Waves took the stage and the collaborations began. The crowd was treated to a dub version of TGI’s big hit “My Number One” that got the crowd skanking on their picnic blankets and roll-bouncing down the hilll.

The Gang of Instrumentals

Tumi then took to the stage and mashed up a version of “Villages and Malls” with Tidal Waves and Zaki Ibrahim singing the hook. That’s a heavyweight sound right there, especially with the Tidals on rhythm and Zaki singing the french chorus.

What's an African to do now?

Try this lyric check:
“So what’s an African to do now? / Get up out the zoo but still living with a tumour / Out the ghetto for a few months / New style, new car, GEAR shift into neutral / Ian’t no purpose in this hoo-ha / But when his talk need a walk, you the shoe size / The puma fat cat is on whose side? / Not sure so we settle for the Zuma.”

Tumi is right on point at the moment, his latest solo album Whole Worlds is full of deep, personal and political rhymes that position him at the forefront of what you could call, “conscious South African hip hop”. Pity then, that he spends most of his time entertaining the French. If you don’t know already, Tumi is a much bigger star in France than back home in Africa. And with a family to feed, that’s the market he rocks most regularly. In fact, with his band the Volume, he’s on his way tonight, to play some gigs and shoot a cover for MondoMix, a French music magazine, in Dakar, Senegal.

Jaco and Zakes mashing

Next up Tidal Waves belted out a version of “Rapolotiki” a song about the endemic corruption we face everyday in South Africa, a translation of the chorus: “Rapolotiki o jele tiki” (a politician ate all the money). In between each verse Tumi delivered a lyrical tirade on the current spate of feeding trough politics, BEE capitalism and tendepreneurship that so beset our politics right now. And I’m not just talking about one series of repeated rhyming couplets here. He wrote and delivered 4 separate verses in between and mashed up in and alongside Tidal Waves’ anti-corruption hit.

Finally The Gang Bounced back on stage with Tumi and Zaki to a total reworking of the Tidal Waves anti-consumerist anthem, “Money” with all the different players dropping rhymes and pushing the sound bigger and wider. It was a unique moment… A united front of South Africa’s finest original reggae, hip hop and pop acts all joining forces on a song about the evils of rampant capitalism, to people and the planet. It was obviously a theme that cut close to the bone for all of them, struggling as they are to tread water in the financial drain of the South African music industry. And the gig echoed that. The irony was not lost that, perhaps one of Cape Town’s most representative crowds, a truly diverse selection of all hues of the rainbow nation, living it up on borrowed time, in a botanical garden surrounded by plush suburbs occupied by the usual suspects; privileged, conservative and largely white. By 19h30 the hammer came down. “Thanks for playing. Now fokof huis toe! The residents can’t hear Carte Blanche over all that bass.”

Tumi basks in the fan-love

In the parking lot, as The Gang, Tumi and Tidal Waves pack their hire cars and prepare to race back to the airport for their 9 o clock flight back to Jozi, and people trickle like water down the hill and back into their lives, Jess asks a poignant question. “What are you guys going to do when you’re rich and famous?” Sam from Tidal Waves laughs. “You’re going to see a very different Sam!” He smiles. “I won’t even talk to you guys.” And everyone laughs.

Charlie shoots his bass into space

Chilling in the garden

Crowds lean into the gig

Sharing da love

All images © Andy Davis

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