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Jocks of the Bushveld

by Dave Durbach / 11.08.2010

For some, a near-religious pilgrimage, planned well in advance. For others, spring break, a chance to cut loose. For the regulars, a chance to relive the old days. For everyone else, three days in the dirt. Minimal solid foods. No parents. Loose chicks. Beers for breakfast. Good times.

Oppikoppi this year offered a wide variety of music for the discerning listener – ranging from rock, all the way to hard rock, and even metal! DJs and electronic acts meanwhile offered something vaguely “alternative” (but hardly live) down by the Red Bull stage. Despite the abundance of youth – pimply, horny, cane-chugging youngsters – this year’s Oppikoppi, for me at least, belonged to the older hands. Of the 60-odd acts on offer, this year’s top 3 for me were, in no particular order:

Albert Frost and Vusi Mahlasela (Friday)
Frost has played hundreds of Oppikoppi gigs over the years with a host of different bands. On Friday he played a few of his old songs (like “Kamekastig Land”) before playing second fiddle to “The Voice”, who quickly had the unsuspecting audience enthralled.

Valiant Swart tribute (Friday)
His name might not mean much to you, but it does to everybody else. Celebrating 20 years in the business, and probably the only guy to have played at every single Oppikoppi over the years, Oppi’s deserved tribute put some of the main bigger names together to rework his most memorable hits, arranged by former Sons of Trout (?) bassist Schalk Joubert. Some surprises were Flash Republic’s Tamara Dey doing “Moeilikheid met die man” and Jack Parow’s version of “Sy dra te veel eyeshadow”. Hot Water did a song about ganja, while the Tidal Waves, former Blues Broer Simon “Agent” Orange, and others also chipped in.

Radio Kalahari Orkes (Saturday)
Max B called them “complete nothingness”, words probably only he understands – if not some Buddhist in-joke then an accurate representation of what was going through his mind at the time. RKO is the missing link between vastrap, goema and mbaqanga, beefed up with a house beat. Frontman actor Ian Robberts (of …boet en swaer fame) has a dependable presence on stage, though most of my attention was on the accordian player. It can’t be too easy making that thing look sexy.

Other bands deserve an honorable mention: the hard rocking, Kravitz-styled Voodoo Child, and the polished (but at times average) afro-pop of Gang of Instrumentals. Tumi was on point as usual, though the squeaky clean backing of Isochronous and Yesterday’s Pupil are never going to be as cool as the Volume. Amongst the indie crowd New Holland and Fire Through the Window put on a good show, while Facing the Gallows almost had me forgetting how much I hate metal, by matching technical skill with style and showmanship.

What this year’s Oppikoppi may have lacked in on-stage variety, it made up for other in other ways. Plenty people I spoke to claimed they hadn’t even come for the music. Others were in no shape to be making any kind of decisions. Whether or not this year’s Oppikoppi – apparently the biggest ever, with 16 000 tickets sold – will go down as the best ever, I’m the wrong one to judge in any case. My only previous experience in 2002 involved driving 15 hours to a campsite in the centre of Pretoria, the sight of old SA flags on tents to welcome newcomers. Eight years later and the crowds at Oppikoppi are happier, cooler and more diverse, even if the music hasn’t quite following suit.

While some may think it encouraging that a few black people showed up and enjoyed themselves, the demographics of any audience obviously comes down to the music on offer. It may be the biggest music festival in SA, but Oppikoppi is still a rock festival. Given that most decent music is being put out by Afrikaans bands, no one expects the audience to be anything other than predominantly white and Afrikaans. Maybe that’s the key to the festival’s continued success – it doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it really is: a great place to get fucked up.

Others may be thinking, hasn’t the time come for a bigger, more inclusive festival? Are we not capable of putting together an annual event that draws 50 000, or 150 000, people of all races, to see all kinds of bands, including established international acts, on 8 or 10 or 15 stages, over the course of a week or more?

All images © Dave Durbach.

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