SA Artists in London
THE GATHERING OF THE SCATTERLINGS
Johnny Clegg @ The Hammersmith Carling Apollo, London, 7 June 2004
'Johnny! Johnny! Johnny!'. It's hot. Savuka - Sweat. 'Johnny! Johnny! Johnny!'. Asimbonanga, we have not seen him. 'Johnny! Johnny! Johnny!'. Don't touch the atmosphere - Danger! Gevaar! Ingozi! 'Johnny! Johnny! Johnny!' It's louder, it's growing till the light momentarily fades and a deafening wave engulfs the faithful. 'JOHNNY! JOHNNY! JOHNNY!'. Bodies press close in the heat, necks crane for glimpses. 'Hello? I'm at a Johnny Clegg Concert. I SAID I'M AT A JOHNNY CLEGG CONCERT!!!'. Hold the phone for all to hear, can't hear me, only 'Johnny! Johnny! Johnny!'.
I'm no longer searching for the spirit of the Great Heart, it's here (and hear) in the heat in the heart of London. A pulsating throng cajoling 'Asimbonanga', pleading 'Scatterlings'!!! DEMANDING 'IMPI'!!!. I think I know why the dog howls at the moon. Do I? Do I care? I know why we howl at the man, howl with the man. Karaoke never felt so good. 'Dela'. We wave in time, mass aerobics. Words, rhythms, sounds cascade over us. We hear Africa, we see brightness, we breathe sunshine. We are sitting on the top of Kilimanjaro (but don't hear it).
'Steven Biko' - a roar, at last a hero to the pale. The white black's back and white backs black. 'All Along the River' - a flood of emotion and voices. We are Impi, we are warriors of the beat. We are dance warriors as we jostle with each other for our allotted space.
'Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday dear Johnny! Johnny! Johnny!' Two score years and ten (plus one for the road, on the road) today. White Zulu 51 years young. He's moved, we're moved, we move. Hambile - The Dance, you know...THE dance. A frenzy as the drum speaks and the dancers move menacingly.
Well did you evah? No, not like this, not quite so intense, so together, the crowd, the band the music, the rhythms as one. One heaving, dancing, singing, shouting peaceful militants mass. The rainbow man reigns supreme.
TROUBADOUR'S AT THE TROUBADOUR
Erik Windrich @ The Troubadour, Earls Court, 9 June 2004
Last time I saw Erik at the Troubadour, he had a full band with him. Tonight, due to illness of the bass player, it was just him and Mosi, his Kora-playing partner. This meant that we were treated to a sort of unplugged gig. The kora is a beautiful sounding instrument, and Mosi was able to extract sounds out of his, that I've not heard any other kora player make. Now I’m no expert on the kora, but I got the impression that he is prepared to be more experimental than most.
That of course fits in with Erik as he is also one prepared to explore new sounds and mixes of instruments. As he showed with éVoid, he is still capable of writing catchy tunes, and none more so than their opener, 'Weeping', with its cascading kora sound mingling with Erik's guitar. He accompanied this with shakers of a sort that were attached to his ankles to add a small rhythm section.
Both are highly skilled musicians and it's interesting to watch as they seem to immerse themselves in their music. Most of the songs came from 'Backyard Discovery', but in their second set, they did a piece which was a Mosi number and more in the West African style.
I do think that they suffered a bit in the second set due to the lack of a full rhythm section as the crowd had got a few drinks in and become quite loud, so it was a bit of an uphill struggle for the duo, but they battled on manfully, and those of us who were there to see them were still able to enjoy it.
Erik is just starting out on a second career in the music biz. We South Africans know what he is capable of and are able to recognise and appreciate what he is doing now, hopefully the rest of the world will soon come to know and love this talented guy.
Syd Kitchen @ The Royal Exchange, Camden, 8 June 2004
Nestled under an arch of a bridge over which a railway runs, in a side street off the main, bustling drag of Camden Town is a little pub called The Royal Exchange. It's a musos’ hangout and has an open mike night tonight. While various unknown but talented musicians ply their trade in the dimly lit back room of the bar, we share a drink with Syd in the beer garden out back. It's a balmy London evening, but in these relaxed surrounds one is oblivious to the fact that you're in the middle of the bustling metropolis.
Syd's on late, so as the last glimmer of the sun disappears and a chill hits the air, we head indoors to watch him play. He is at home here, and it shows in the relaxed manner he approaches his songs and the small crowd that is quickly impressed, clapping along and even adding spontaneous tambourine and bongo's to some of the songs.
The half hour set seems to fly by as we are treated to songs like 'Muse', an 8-minute version of 'Amakoologik', and a bastardised version of 'Sarie Marais' that's had the words changed to be an anti-war, anti-Bush song. His bright, alert eyes peer out from behind his long locks every now and then, taking in the scene with a quiet smile. He's enjoying himself, and so is the audience.
HEADING TO HEADINGTON
Syd Kitchen At the Headington Festival Of Music And Dance, Headington 5 June 2004
Headington is a small town just outside of that well-known university town of Oxford. It is also home to an annual festival of music and dance and this year we ex-pats were fortunate enough to have one of SA's top talents on show in the form of our hippiest hippy, one Syd Kitchen.
Syd's slot was in one of the local pubs called The Royal Standard, which is a typical English pub and which had a fair sprinkling of locals who were there for the drinking rather than the music. However as our man kicked off there was generally speaking a good reception of his music with several nods of approval, especially when he went into the more complex guitar playing of 'When The Boogie Dies' and 'Amakoologik'.
His half an hour slot drew from all areas of his career, including material from all his previous releases as well as, I believe, a track from his upcoming Bafa Bafo album. With his long locks flying, eyes closed and his colourfully-sandaled feet fairly pounding out the rhythm, it was good to finally see the man in the flesh after having thus far been confined to enjoying his music in the comfort of my own living room.
Admittedly it was probably not the greatest venue for the gig and the sound quality wasn't the best, but The Ama-hippy was ama-kool and all I can say is Ama-fan.
THE SUN AND THE MOON
Sunways @ The Half Moon, 30 April 2004
There's an old joke about van der Merwe wanting to build a rocket to travel to the sun. 'Won't you get burnt?' his mate asks. 'No' is the reply, 'I'll go at night'. So I figure of it's good enough for Van it's good enough for me so I headed out to see the sun at the moon at night. Although I didn't get burnt it still got hot.
It was rather like a summer's day as it started off quite mellow with Robbie Boake seemingly forgetting where the mike was as he sang to the crowd from the middle of the stage when his mike was on one side. The interesting thing about this was that it did seem to catch the audience's attention.
Once he had found the mike, Robbie settled into a great set and we were soon enjoying the midday heat. Sunways seem to occupy sparsely inhabited area of rock between full on heavy grunge and arty atmospheric rock as they were certainly capable of rocking with aplomb, but there was something more to it as they managed to conjure up emotions other than anger in one. There was a good mixture of serious and fun as they worked their way through their 45 min set. One could sense that the band were enjoying themselves and at times Robbie seemed to resemble Jack White from the White Stripes.
As the gig drew to a close, the band built to a crescendo and then slowed to a dusk-like quiet finish. It was a really impressive gig that was never completely mad, but never quite sedate, thus keeping the interest level high. One might say that a gig by Sunways at the Halfmoon would be difficult to eclipse.
LOST AND FOUNDRY Dorp @ The Foundry, 28 April 2004
Although they have been active I haven't made it to a Dorp gig in recent times. However, when I received an email that talked about an "unplugged" Dorp gig I had to see this as I was intrigued to see how DJ Fred would fit into this unplugged scenario. I was disappointed to see that he was on the usual decks and not an old wind up gramophone. Also Kevin was on electric guitar, so it was not entirely an unplugged gig, and to be fair to Dorp they did actually say it was an unplugged/electronica gig thus essentially saying that they would be mixing the medium of acoustic guitar with their usual electronic sounds.
The Foundry is an unusual venue for live music as there is not really a stage, so the band were somewhat hidden in an unlit enclave, but this seemed to fit in well the low key music that they were making. The mix of acoustic and electronic meant a chilled dub-like sound, and with Pieter Bezuidenhout actually seated and playing guitar (as opposed to his normal manic dancing) this was not a hectic gig, but did introduce us to an interesting side of Dorp. Pieter told me that this method of playing was pretty much how Dorp songs were born.
The band are planning to do more gigs of this relaxed type, and these are highly recommended to those who enjoy a night out chilling to great music. Dorp are soon to head into the studio to record the follow-up to 'Tap Into The System' and are hoping to work with Cragie Dodds who was behind Egyptian Nursery and Jenny Delenta's solo album and has more recently been working with the Sugarbabes. Hopefully they see fit to get some of tonight's sound onto the album.
THE WINDRICH OF CHANGE
Erik Windrich at the Troubadour in Earls Court, 24 March 2004
A South African ex-Pat, an Englishman, a Spaniard and a Griot from Guinea walk into a bar. Sounds like the start of a bad joke, however I can assure you that if the bar is the Troubadour and the night is last Wednesday it is rather the start of a great night out.
The Troubadour is a great intimate venue and on the night in question featured 4 acts each playing 3 songs then doing another 3 song set in reverse order, so the evening started and ended with Erik Windrich and his band which as already mentioned contained an Englishman (bass), a Spaniard (drums) and a Guinean Griot (on kora and electric guitar).
With this mix of nationalities, it is hardly surprising that the band had a world music feel and sound. Erik seems to have taken the South African afro pop of éVoid and expanded it to become a broad all encompassing sound. This is then coupled with his highly insightful and at times deeply introspective lyrics to beautiful effect.
Their first set opened with 'Weeping' (no not that 'Weeping'), a touching song that seemed to speak of Erik's search for a place to call home. Given that he was born in Holland, moved to South Africa and then moved (as) to England in what could quite easily be regarded as living in exile, it would take a pretty tough soul not to be moved by it.
The kora is a fascinating instrument. Known as the African harp it looks rather weird (indeed quite phallic as the evening's compere needlessly pointed out) but in Mosi Conde's hands it produced a sweet sound that gave the music an injection of African Angelicism set against a western rock backdrop. And Erik still knows how to rock. The up tempo 'Wild And Wonderful Summer' with its opening line of 'Rainbow People On Green Market Square' reminds us that Erik still has a strong connection to SA, while 'Drift Away' has a strong refrain. However, the highlight for me was when Erik and Mosi bashed out a rhythmic tune on their balafons (Xylophones in case you didn't know). This had my foot doing triple time in the tapping department.
Despite his lyrics seeming to indicate an unsettled soul still searching, Erik comes across as a man very much at peace with life and getting huge amounts of pleasure from performing the music which he quite clearly loves deeply. This feeling is transmitted in the music and makes for an exceptional night out.
And the barman says 'Why the long face'….no, no hang on that's the wrong punch line, he says 'at these prices I'm not surprised'…oh no damn!! I can never tell these things properly.
SWEET LIKE TANDY
Sharon Tandy Live at the 100 Club 19 February 2004
The 100 Club is one of London's leading clubs and has played host to such luminaries as The White Stripes, Sinead O Connor, The Rolling Stones and SA's very own Hugh Masekela. To this list we can now add someone who has not appeared on stage for a few decades and yet still managed to draw a large crowd that was alive with excitement and drenched in expectation.
It was about 9:30 that the band struck up with a couple of driving soul numbers and were then joined by the diminutive Tandy to a rapturous reception. The smile on Sharon's face could have lit up a small town and did not once dim throughout the show. It was obvious to see that she was a ball of nervous excitement to such an extent that I was worried that she may be too hyped up to sing. However, my doubts were very quickly flattened as the big clear voice burst forth in an avalanche of gusto and unabashed joy at being set free.
In the 50-odd minutes that the show lasted, Sharon simply radiated enjoyment, absolutely loving the opportunity to be singing again. Her voice perhaps richer and fuller despite the years, she looked quite stunning in a fitting black number. The band were tight and played as much a part in the night's entertainment as the main attraction as they drove a path through the material on the recently-released 'You've Gotta Believe it's... Sharon Tandy'.
This was a quite special night, not just for the historic significance of the event but also for the sheer quality of the performance. For someone who hasn't performed live for possibly more years than I've been alive this gig just highlighted what a natural Sharon is and although the world has lost out on 40-odd years of this brilliant performer, those of us who were privileged enough to be there on Thursday night have a memory that will last us for another 40 years, but hopefully we don't have to wait that long for the next one.
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