Hitch to Highveldby T'seliso Monaheng / 21.08.2013
I take it for granted that the dude approaching the passenger seat in a drunken stupor at six o’ clock in the morning, is doing so in response to the re-assuring groove of Burning Spear’s bass as it booms through the speakers, casting searing roots music towards the bitter morning chill. Instead, Rasta tries to hitch a ride to Jozi, and is intent on guilt-tripping us into submission. Rob, half-dead in the back-seat and exhausted from having been here a week prior, is so gatvol of it all that he wants to leave immediately.
“C’mon guys, let’s go!” he mutters. The words come in spurts; Rob hasn’t slept in the past 24hours, and neither has Setumo. More about them later.
For a moment, I ponder exactly how shit it is that my maiden voyage to Oppi shall have to be endured solo. I tried, unsuccessfully, to convince a love interest in Lesotho to come along. Short notice, she said. Prior to that, I’d asked around Jozi’s cold, unwelcoming circles of hipsters, spotlight hoggers, and regional celebrities whether there were any souls in search of some dusty Highveld sophistication. None! A Cape Town band I’ve grown accustomed to offered to split the rental car money, but that too went to shit. It worked out eventually; I sorted out the car, the tent which never got used, the sleeping bag, and an extra t-shirt to disguise my three-day marathon of looking like a dishevelled yuppie.
Setumo was travelling from Cape Town. He’s a writer/photographer based in Obz, a kindred soul in that we were both newbies to Oppi; a keen-eyed visual sniper, as I was to later witness and observe. His bus was operating behind schedule, nothing new there. Yet that, combined with our planned time of departure towards the North, wasn’t an ideal combination. We left a day later.
A member of the audience joins Bongeziwe Mabandla on stage in the midst of his drummer’s head-splitting mbaqanga groove. The crowd’s participation has been phenomenal! Mabandla’s free-flowing intensity lent his performance a stokvel-in-the-veld feel; he gave himself to us, the crowd, and we flung ourselves right back, the back-and-forth interaction gaining momentum at each instance. We clapped, we shouted, we ululated. Everyone did, in unison to the rumbling bassline, the crackling drum, and the rock-solid chord progression of the keyboard.
Oppi does that to people; to paraphrase Andy Davis, the sheer intensity of the festival coupled with its location removes the cloaks of steel we normally adorn ourselves with. If Mabandla set the precedent for the universality of music, then BCUC advanced that idea at a thousand frames per second – live in technicolour! Tucked away at the Skellum stage – Mabandla was at the Ray Ban tent, located at what I later discovered to be the location of the first Oppikoppi – BCUC led a funkadelic kasi-meets-emakhayeni jungle jazz parade where the possession of one’s spirit by music was okay. The six-piece unit had, in its pandora’s box, huge chunks of percussive genius, a page from Dr. Malombo’s guitar wizardry, and just about one of the most terrifying yet endearing frontmen this side of Screaming Jay Hawkins. But that’s far-reaching; I digress. Their sound defies definition; it’s familiar in its unfamiliarity, a toyi-toying brigade at one point, a black power sermon at another; a rap cipher-turned-dancehall during one moment, a revolutionary manifesto in four parts at the other end.
Night time looms and temperatures drop, but not significantly. Christian Tiger School are on concurrently with BCUC; the latter possess me to the point where the plan to catch half a set of each ultimately collapses into itself. I take out the programme to circle more names: Matthew Mole, Zakes Bantwini, Dirty Paraffin, Tumi, Bittereinder, and Mi Casa. Reason is up next at the Redbull stage, so a swift ascend/descend mission to the other side of the koppie is in order. He’d got off the plane from America the previous day, yet not a single ounce of fatigue is evident in his performance. He laces the crowd favourites (“15 grand”, “Do it like I can”), debuts a new song or two, and exhibits the most rhythmic flow cadences this side of Sarkodie. “New money Deinfern/ old money Houghton, / Jozi” he lets it known in his paean to the city of gold “where Lolly got jacked son/ hello, to the city that put Selebi in his own hell-hole.”
We set sail towards Northam on Saturday, leaving behind wet weather for the promise of sunshine and hot women. Several stop-and-starts later, we’re still in the rain and increasingly in doubt of the route we’ve chosen. Surely, my comrade-in-travel Setumo reasons, we should’ve been there by now! The rolling highveld thunder soundtracks our longest pitstop yet, at a Wimpy in Brits. Not hot women in sight, and definitely no sunshine. “You turn right and travel straight, straight for more than one hundred kilometres” says a dude in response to our question about directions to Oppi. We take heed, travelling through lush pastures and eventually reaching our destination.
Accreditation. Set up tents. Explore!
Oppi’s trippy musical styles are bonafide and distributed evenly. It’s easy to get lost in time; that run you’re making to see the blues band playing an interpretation of Miles Davis’ “So what”, often easily gets interrupted by the Baile funk-loving tent filled with dancing geeks, nerds, and musical snobs who’ve seen the light.
“Let me be the first to say that because of that t-shirt, this guy has bigger nuts than I do” says Reason about Tumi during his cameo appearance at the latter’s Skellum stage appearance. Post-The Volume, Tumi Molekane has been undergoing re-constructive surgery. His solo act no longer has a sparring partner; he’s becoming the show. Aided by a three-piece band and Lebo Mochudi on vocal duties, Tumi’s show has expanded to include a visual component. The symbolism of the cross tipped to its side, the deconstructionist agenda echoed in the up-side-down Apartheid-era flag on his t-shirt Reason referred to; “when a flag is up-side-down, it means distress. Fuck these stupid symbols of power, you know?!” says Tumi before reassuring us that where art is concerned, he’d rather be compared to a Charles Dickens than a D’banj.
Overhearing The Narrow while keeping warm by the bonfire brings cassette tape memories where, for a moment in time, I was a keen scholar and collector of South African rock – them, Fuzigish (whom I’d seen at another festival not long ago), Saron Gas (nee Seether), and Marlowe. Deftones was a stark reminder of an angst-ridden childhood; Mango Groove’s cheese inspired my own fifties-era dance interpretation. Bitterinder were a personal highlight, while stumbling into Guanaco was a revelatory experience; watching and actually enjoying Toya Delazy’s set left me mildly shocked at my inability to resist the mainstream. Richard Brokensha’s voice cut through the dust as he told me, from a distance, about oxyen, fire, and destiny. I enjoyed Beatenberg, danced manically to Okzharp, and broke a promise to see Finley Quaye on behalf of a friend.
Setumo, dazed and fragile from an all-nighter, occupies the passenger seat which Rasta had so longed for. We head full-throttle down the N4 towards Pretoria, leaving behind fragments of ideas which we vow to rekindle next year. This conversation, overheard on the second day, sums it all up. In response to her partner’s question of why they keep doing this – spending three-day weekends in dusty terrain far away from civilisation – one lady said “because we’ve already come too far to give up now.”
* Images © Ts’eliso Monaheng