Trans-Kgalagadi Reviewsby Toast Coetzer / 15.02.2012
Toast Coetzer’s day job takes him to some interesting spaces. So we piled him with CDs to listen to while he drives… Here are some reviews from the Trans-Kgalagadi Highway in Botswana.
Halo Storm/ When Bears Fight Back (Independent)
From what I can gather this is a one-man project with David van Rensburg doing pretty much everything. As a debut EP it’s admirable in its scope of styles, but song-wise there’s little to really hold your attention. Most songs are also at least a minute too long. ‘The Dead Wake Up’ is cool in a 90s alternative way, detached and monotone. Disparate influences abound (Nirvana, The Awakening, maybe even Marcy Playground), but the music struggles to really define itself. I liked ‘Complicated Men’ with its ghostly reverbed/ delayed vocals and simpler structure – exploring this gothy terrain might yield good results when When Bears Fight Back sit down to record a full-length album. In the meantime, I’d like to see them/him live as they seem to be the kinda band that is not afraid to fuck around a bit while they’re trying to find their feet: exploration is always a good thing.
Permission To Be Happy/ Malcolm King (Red Ambulance)
Malcolm is a member of ska legends Fuzigish and this is his first solo album. Opener ‘Straitjacket For Two’ is dead lovely – a song for his wife or partner which perfectly captures that most precious moment of the day: when you arrive home from work and give your girlfriend a hug and suddenly realise how much she means to you. Unfortunately the next 11 songs (a 5-song EP would’ve been a more apt release) are all variations on this theme, which really get a bit boring – and to get boring on the 500 km yawn that is the Trans-Kgalagadi Highway, you know you’re boring the stripes off a zebra. The songs are well sung and played, but I struggled to really connect emotionally (despite at times hectic subject matter: ‘It Doesn’t Seem Right’ seems to be about a stillborn child – in which case I do apologise for my callousness).
Greatest Hits/ Dr Victor & The Rasta Rebels (Electromode)
This double CD confirms what you might already know: Dr Victor & The Rasta Rebels must surely be our finest cover band (only four out of 28 songs are penned by Victor). But boy, will your feet itch! Will you want to party! Will you sing along! Eddie Grant’s ‘Gimme Hope Jo’Anna’ is here (Disc 1), followed by the not quite feminist anthem ‘If You Wanna Be Happy’ (try: “If you wanna be happy for the rest of your life/ never make a pretty woman your wife/ so from my personal point of view/ get an ugly girl to marry you”) and then he comes back and kisses ass with ‘Man Smart, Woman Smarter’. Dr Victor though, smartest.
Bekezela/ Skipper Shabalala (African Cream)
Skipper is an old pro, having been part of the late Lucky Dube’s band (as lead guitarist). He has also recorded two albums with his band Khumbula, the members of which back him on this solo debut. ‘Intandane’ sets the tone for an album of easy listening Afro pop (even if it is about an abandoned baby), with Skipper’s reggae licks skimming underneath every now and then. The album unfortunately doesn’t have enough strong songs (loved ‘Infundo (No Education, No Life)’ though, should send an mp3 of that one to the Department of Education…), and the cheesy synths get a bit much after a while. Still, if you walked into the right joint and Skipper and his band was playing, you’d probably end up having the night of your life.
The French Connection/ Dub Vaults presents Sounds Around (Sounds Around Records)
Compiled by Rui Soleiro and Thierry Arnold, this 15 track compilation was a constant in the car while driving around Botswana. Something about the fluid, layered tunes resonated with the strangeness of Gaborone too: all heat and glass, building sites and kids on skateboards. Dead cool almost all the way through, The Opium Eaters track of the same name was a highlight, all echoey drops of something and overt outbreaks of headbopping. You’ll also be the coolest kid on the street if you have Vital Riddim’s ‘Abéné’ pumping while you reverse out the driveway (mind the postbox). By the time I left the city and hit the Trans-Kgalagadi, the dub kept complimenting the landscape, finding ostriches among the heat-waves, zen-rasta donkeys in acacia shade and plenty of black crows giving me askance glances from behind their oily wings. Can we bump and grind in slo-mo now, please? In Kang?