Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A new era

I have started writing for a website - for more of my articles on South African music check it out www.undergroundpress.co.za

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Who’s Going to Bang my Drum? The Rolling Stone Monopoly

It is a Tuesday night in The Mother city. The Sedov’s great masts rise up out of the harbour. I am about to board the world’s largest sailing ship still in operation on the sea’s. It was seized when Germany was defeated by Russia, and it is now home to 300 hundred pubescent Russian naval cadets, their commanders and one Russian Rock n Roll band from Vladivostok - Mumiy Troll: “It is like an Egyptian mummy, or your Mummy. The troll comes from Scandinavian Trolls, they’re not all bad – they’re known to do good things” says Ilya Lagutenko – lead singer, guitarist and synth player. Rolling Stone is interviewing Lagutenko. The ship is crowded with Russians – special guests of the embassy, Rolling Stone operatives, press and music industry folk. Musicians and writers.

 Mumiy Troll had a dream to travel the world in a submarine. So they approached the navy, the navy said “No, but you can have a boat.” Now they tour from port to port – recording on the ship as they go along. A cadet shows me a picture of a barracuda one of their superiors had caught. It is massive, head scowling, blood running from its slit throat. Their English is not very good and I can only speak smatterings of polish. The conversation is brief.

The interview is over, Mumiy Troll take to the stage. Lagutenko dons a child-like tiger suit jacket with a hood, it is fetching on him. The drum beat kicks in, at first I cannot believe it is the drummer who is playing it, it is so soft and delicate, the sound levels so crisp, the kick so punchy. It sounded like a recording played through Sennheisers. Ilya Lagutenko’s voice is immediately appealing, he sings in English, changing their sometimes Russian repertoire to connect with the audience. Ilya had described his Russian lyrics to be based in the forms of Russian abstract poetry, where as his English songs have a formula, the rigid a,b structures. I was slightly disappointed to not hear Russian, although their English songs were beautifully poetic and sometimes existential in thought, and held some reminiscence of abstract and adhoc construction in phrasing. His voice and persona strikes me in the same way as Venus in Furs, the Ziggy’s and the Bowies. His body is rarely still, his eyes crossing and darting, hands shaking, trunk weaving into solid poses.

 The set the band produced was of the Britt Pop Indy Rock variety, Killers, Franz Ferdinand – stomping bass a kick lines, electric howling guitars. But there was something else about them that you couldn’t quite pin down in their sound, somewhere in the open atmosphere they produce are feelings of long sea voyages and lands across the ocean, of the Soviet Union and cold, cold Russia. I would have like to see them on a bigger stage, in a venue where people are dancing.

The bar hadn’t opened until the band started playing, so people watched in stone like solidity. Mostly unable to see anything but the persons head in front of them. The canap├ęs are being served the bar is open, people rush towards the free stuff in a frenzy. Others stay to watch the end of the set. Some fancy polish vodka is being mixed at the bar, into icy pine-apple cocktails, by two frantic bar men.

 Long Time Citizen sets up to play. I really like this band, they are fun, you can dance to them, they have a good repertoire of covers - The Clash, The Pogues, and some pretty catchy songs of their own. They’re tighter than they were when I first saw them, and have added a rad guitarist who jumps around a lot. They’re lead singer Greg Donnelly has a fantastic stage presence. They sound a bit like the Violent Femmes gone way down South to Georgia.

 They are booked to play two more shows with Mumiy Troll while they are here. And here is where my dilemma lies. Mumiy Troll have been voted Russia’s “Best Band of the Millennium” by Russian music lovers, they have played shows all over the world. Have accumulated over 17, 000 fans on Facebook, are recording their 11th album, and have had over 10 million downloads. They are in South Africa being welcomed by Rolling Stone – one of the biggest music magazines in the country.

 And yet they are booked for two small shows, one at On a Roll - Thursday, 25th April, the other at Ragazzi – Friday 26th April - with a band that does not represent their audience in the country, or one that would pull an audience to a venue. Long Time Citizen are a great band, but they have not been established long enough to have a following. They only have 192 likes on Facebook. Also they do not represent South African, their songs lack lyrical content “Whose going to bang my drum? Whose going to bang my drum?”

They are sung in an American fashion – which only serves to highlight the monopoly that American music holds on the South Africa industry and its subsequent influence on South African taste. Long Time are definitely a strange choice to couple with Mumiy Troll.

I cannot help but question whether Anton Marshall bassist of Long Time Citizen and event director for Rolling Stone South Africa is using his monopoly to promote his own band, and whether Rolling Stone events should be used as a platform to promote South African music?

Surely an outfit like Rolling Stone would be trying to put on the best shows for a touring band, to promote and expose them to them to the best South African market for their style and create a positive impression of touring South Africa? Playing alongside artists like Desmond and the Tutus, or The Brother Moves On. At larger, more established venues like Mercury and Assembly – or Utopia festival falling on the weekend of their arrival? Or should international touring artists start at the bottom like everybody else in South Africa, in hotdogs joints, and smoky pubs, the credit they have gained overseas meaning nothing on shores abroad?

Monday, April 1, 2013

Finding the Black in the Blackness

This poem is inspired by the lyrics of The Brother Moves On, and a 2007 statistic that read that South Africa only contributes 0.778% to global record sales. Where are our voices? Why do we still listen to kuk international commercial music when South African music, the music which speaks to our country is not heard?

The poem is a question of identity in a country set on the brink of violent revolution and economic collapse. I hope for a brighter alternative.

Finding the black in the blackness
deconstructing what it means to be black
I am African, but I am white but I am black
I live in a multiracial suburb, I am coloured
you are coloured, I am coloured, he is coloured
I am black, you are black, we are black
WE are not white
White means oppressor
I am not white, you are not white
WE are Africa
WE are not white
Our government is white
but the ANC is not our government
but they are white, and corrupt
our government is civilized
our government is our economy
our economy is not African
our state is not African
there is nothing African about a state
WE are not independent
WE are not yet free
free from the white
I am Indian, I am coloured, I am black
I am a coloured
not the absence of it
not white
I am Africa
Africa has a rhythm
I am Africa
Africa has a rhythm
A solid pulsating rhythm
slow and steady
and it builds and it grows
as it becomes educated
the knowledge is leaking
I am leaking it
I am Africa
and Africa has beat
a beat that will be heard
I am Africa
and Africa has a beat
a beat that will be heard
because I am Africa
my voice
Africa's voice
is strong

Sunday, January 13, 2013

International News

Walk In Africa - the National Wake Documentary Mixtape by Punk In Africa

…..post…post...city...late…./Post…post...city late...post

‘put a blanket…over Soweto
they put a blanket…nowhere to go no
they put a blanket…over the news
they put a blanket…nothing to choose

The question that has been plaguing my mind the last couple of months is this: What does music do? In 1981 an album was released in apartheid South Africa. The band who produced it was an anomaly; a multi-racial marabi-punk band known as National Wake, a bands whose roots are planted in reggae, funk 'n punk and inspired by The Clash, Malombo and Philip Tabane. A band that still resonates with South African feel and political potency. 

The band that featured on the recording was comprised of Ivan Kadey (rhythm guitar), Gary and Punka Khosa, brothers in rhythm on bass and drums respectively, Steve Moni  on Lead Guitar, and Kelly Petlange on saxophone.  The band and the scene they created were described by Craig Duncan – Czech State Radio’s alternitave music specialist - as “perhaps the most dissident music scene of the 20th Century: a multi-racial punk-reggae band operating in a fascist state” . The album “National Wake” was banned from the airwaves, “gazetted” after over 700 copies had been sold. The digs which they inhabited became subject to police searches, and under political pressure the band disbanded, and the album lay dormant until 2009 when Keith Jones and Deon Maas set out to make a documentary about punk in Apartheid and the role it played in South Africa’s struggle for equal rights.

I feel the bomb yeh…it grows inside me
I feel the bomb yeh…blows up inside me,
I feel the bomb here
Is something wrong here?”

In the early months of 2012 I started researching the band for my master’s thesis. It led me to Rosebank Mall in Johannesburg to meet Ivan Kadey, rhythm guitarist of National Wake; one of the three remaining members.  My timing was right, Kadey was visiting his home town after relocating to California in the 80’s, and I was able to glean from him some of the magic that made National Wake the musical force that brought a portion of a fractured society together.  For Kadey it was never about being political. Out of the bowels of the commune in Parktown, where the band resided - illegally because of the pass laws at the time - a sound started to emerge.  It was lively, energetic, angsty and it spoke of hope that the nation would wake out of dark times  – “this is the wake of the nation/this is national wake…we’re bubbling up with the new time people”; a musical account of living in Apartheid South Africa under the release of punk, captured in a moment of censorship.

I feel the bomb
there’s nothing wrong!
going to the movies
what do I see?
going to the movies
what are they throwing at…
what are they throwing at me?

Skip forwards a week and a ten minute drive from Rosebank to Yoeville, March 2012, once the hub of musical activity in Johannesburg in the 80’s, the home of the now infamous Rocky Street.  A place which I had been taught to fear, where the stereotypes of Nigerian drug lords run free and the imagined crime rate is so high you can’t even walk through the suburb. I park my car outside a block of flats and Ivan lets me in, we walk up the stairs of the somewhat dilapidated building, along the corridor and into a well-kept and homely flat, owned by Kadey’s sister-in-law. 

 My perception of Yoeville is immediately altered. Growing up in the Northern suburbs the entire stigma that surrounds Yoeville becomes nothing but the thought of those too scared to venture out of their comfort zones. There must be some truth in their fear, but on the streets during the day there is another culture – where people walk the suburbs, and greet each other as they walk by, Bob Marley blares from a car radio – It is only my imagination that is keeping me overly alert. The only thing to be feared is thought, even though it has become a culture in Jozi to watch your back - it isn’t the worst advice.

they sent the troops yeh…into Angola
they sent the choppers…over the border
they put a blanket…over the border
they put a blanket…into Angola

My mission for the visit was to receive a visual document taken of a National Wake gig held in an outdoor square on Rocky Street in Yoeville in 1979. The video is something special. Having been born in 1987, and starting primary school in 1994, the first year where multi-racial classes were taught together – a curriculum for the new South Africa had barely been thought of, apartheid became a list of dates, and a tribute to Mandela – although I do have a picture a drew of Brenda Fassie as a raging cocaine addict in a tribal mask (age 13). I was never confronted with the true and deeper realities of apartheid, we parroted the names of the laws and the years they were implemented but we never really learned what they meant - the theatre, music, and arts of the time left to academics and kids whose parents were inclined to the arts. The history of separatism that occurred during apartheid was never conveyed clearly in my younger years, even though the roots apartheid planted still thrive in a negative light in the news, thoughts and culture of the country today.

“I feel the bomb yeah…
‘put a blanket…over the blanket
and then a blanket…over that blanket
they put a blanket…to suffocate it
put a blanket…suffocate!”

The high walled houses and constant patrolling of private security vans in the suburbs hold testament to “the fear”. The fear that many suburban upper -middle class whites feed off of that keeps them locked behind closed doors and travelling safety in cars, public transport out of the question. They rarely interact with the black domestic workers walking on the streets, or the fruit sales men, or the bead artists – “hawkers” in their eyes. Negative connotations shooting like daggers. The new language in the country is to turn opposing heads in greeting, in shame, or fear of the other, or perhaps just not knowing how to communicate? As if it were a crime to nod and smile, say hello or perhaps, if the mood took you, stop and have a chat. 

But this video footage which I was privy to in a Yoeville flat, on a Sunday afternoon, gave me an insight into apartheid that is rarely seen – and probably as uncommon in real time as it was then – in South Africa. People dancing, not just white, or black, or coloured, but all of them together in a square in Yoeville, smiling, happy, standing watching the music as the camera passes over them – the atmosphere seems light, even a scene where Kadey is dealing with a police officer – the tension is minimal. Well, as minimal as dealings with police go. 

The text book South Africa, the one we learnt about out of the books was transformed, but more so than that the words “oppression” and, “racism” were not present for that moment. National Wake became a door to a new universe of thought. About stigma, about how we treat words with such great power. Trevor Noah –South African comedian - offers a similar sentiment about the nefarious “K” word. No not Kellog’s. Kafir. He then continues his act by desensitizing the word – taking away it’s power. He offers the audience the original Arabic definition of the root being “infidel”. He highlights the different between saying Nigger in Xhosa and Nigger in America, the former meaning “to give” and the latter being a derogatory term. He makes you feel the break down between words and our given meanings for them. National Wake, the music, and the scene they created conveys a feeling, a break down in meaning, that still exists in South Africa today – one of wanting a South Africa united in its diversity.

So what can I say about what music does? For now I will say this:  different styles of music convey different feelings, and people relate to those feelings, those feelings bring different groupings of people together, sometimes in extraordinary circumstances – National Wake was extraordinary, the feeling of their music crossed colour boundaries, and brought people into a new space for thought about a possible future of peaceful co-existence. I can only hope that this story and this feeling is part of the history that is taught to future generations – one that speaks to the new South Africa, not against it.

International news…international views…
International news…insanity!'

Excerpts from ‘International News’ by National Wake

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Bone Collectors - Black Love Album Launch

He was kind of creepy, standing there at the entrance. His face was pale white, ghostly. In his hand he held a noose, which he casually flung over his shoulder as an eager photographer catches his fire lit grin. He turns to me, strikes an overtly sexual pose and in a slow southern drawl says: “You wanna hang out later?” 

Behind him stands a giant of a man; Ken Bull of the Bone Collectors raises a flaming a machete and extinguishes the flame with his mouth.  I have arrived at the cirque macabre. The long awaited launch of Cape Town’s self proclaimed assassins of pop’s album “Black Love”.  

If you are unfamiliar with the unholy groovy voodoo that the Bone Collectors cast I would suggest righting this situation immediately by buying this masterpiece of an album. Recorded in the lair of Mr Cat and The Jackal’s home studio, Fresh Meat, the album delivers a unique blend of bluesy intrigue and outright boogey in such a manner that you have to put it on repeat over and over and over again to fully understand the beauty of the production. From the soulful ballad “No Stranger to the Truth” right through to the title track “Black Love” with its bouncing beat and catchy chorus this album truly delivers a mature listening experience that is set a part from the raw and manic energy of the Bone Collectors live performance. 


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Powerage - Punk and the Global Apartheid

There is something to be said about a South African punk rock EP being published in France in 1985. Most of those things would start with questions. Why could an anti-apartheid album not be published in South Africa? Or was it better off being published in France? What links did the South African punk scene have with the European punk scene during this time? How were these relationships formed? The answers to these questions seem simple, but the more one looks between the lines a strange picture of unity within estrangement emerges. It is this picture that I will focus on, for the former questions cannot be answered accurately without interviews.

It all starts in the context of apartheid, a framework of forced segregation. By 1985 a significant divestment movement throughout the world had begun placing pressure on investors to disinvest from South Africa. The global community was in a strong reactionary phase to the apartheid regime. And in Durban South Africa a small pocket of white resistance was making itself heard within the global community of punk rock.

Positioning themselves as anarchists against the discrimination of fellow men, Powerage sang out against apartheid, but more so than that against discrimination. For it is the plight of the punk rocker to be discriminated unjustly against for their modes of dress, musical taste, and beliefs about “the system”. And it is in this judgement from “civil” society that a connection of unity can be made between an estranged group of white punks in Durban to those suffering from the oppressions of apartheid mandate. In a recent conversation with Ampie Omo trombonist of monkee punk band BOO! A similar notion came up 17 years after the end of Apartheid with small communities fighting for their identities - the right to keep their languages and customs alive. What he said was that (although I do believe he was references an earlier conversation had with Chris Chameleon) all these communities are fighting the same struggle, the struggle for their own identity, and while their identities, languages and customs may be different, they are fighting against the same concept. Afrikaans, Pedi, Tswana. And they must unite in order to conquer.

While the struggle during apartheid was seemingly different, it was a fight for citizenship and recognition, to be part of a larger whole. The irony, it seems, is that now that apartheid has ended small cultural groups are becoming estranged from their cultural heritage’s and are being forced to become part of the global community. To be educated in English, to believe with all their might in consumerism, and the goodness of monetary wealth. They are controlled by large scale border controls. They have passports instead of pass books. We all have passports. We are all stuck in a global apartheid. But the oppressor is faceless, it has become a system of laws and regulations – hedged by corporates with their own wealth in mind and the well-being of those enslaved during colonialism has become a situation of adapt or die. And the punks still sing out. The fools of modern society, except that nobody is listening or laughing. Their ears and eyes blind folded and deafened by media and songs about Jimmy Choos and lady lumps. If only Plato could see his golden lie in action today.

While the hatred bred in apartheid between whites and blacks in South Africa keeps them living in the past, blind to the larger injustices of the world. The new regime of neo-liberalism spreads its blind octopussy tentacles and segregates the world into first and third, richer and poorer. Better off and worse. And the words written in 1985 by a group of anarchist punks still speak true “We as a band stand against any discrimination of fellow man, we believe that everyone should live in a state of equality, no matter of race, religion, wealth, music and way of dress. We therefore stand against any law that denies a person equality, their human rights. We strongly oppose the laws regarding Apartheid in our country.” Except that now it is the global apartheid to which we can refer.  

Friday, March 23, 2012

John Wayne

I have not told you a story in a long while.. But that silence has ended, so you can bask in the glory of The Bone Collectors.

It all starts an a long drive in the early morning out of Cape Town towards an unknown location. We come to a cross roads, Rawsonville to the right, Slanghoek to the left. We go right. I am travelling with Ken Bullen-Smith of The Bone Collectors, he pulls out a cleaver and waves it emphatically as The Clash spew punk out the radio. People are going to be shot. In the nicest possible way. Well that depends on if "the nicest possible way" means standing in the blazing sun for hours, and made to play fascist killing instruments in an imaginary fashion. Anyway ...I present to you some sneak peaks and behind the scene shots of the this epic sax driven gypsy blues conglomerates soon to be released music video for their track John Wayne.