(Photo: Mathilda De Villiers)
THE STORY BEHiND
My vision was to create a show that would celebrate the South African music scene from the 1960’s to the present day. I wanted to tell the stories around those songs, whilst serving some of South Africa’s greatest culinary hits. A rich cultural feast of music, heritage and delectable dishes!
Only R250 for South Africans!
Next Show Dates to be Announced Soon!
The UK Band
The idea originated whilst I was living in England. I managed to put on one show, called Shuffle and Chomp. ‘Shuffle’ for the Madiba shuffle and ‘Chomp’ for the food.
My dreams of taking Europe by storm with this cultural feast were cut short when unforeseen circumstances had me on a flight back to South Africa. I thought that would be the end of that dream, but a friend urged me to produce the show locally for the benefit of both our people and our tourists. Rekindled, my imagination soared.
Top row, from left to right: Keith Pascoe on drums, Clare Krige on Vocals, William Gets on Keyboard and Jo Johnson on lead vocals.
Bottom row: Rachel Hutchinson on saxophone, Thomas Noke on bass guitar, Seph Krige on lead guitar and James Watts on penny whistle and kalimba.
the start up
And he began to play. And boy, did he play well!
Lo and behold, Artee had a whole band! Vukuhambe, which means “wake up and get going” that had been entertaining the local scene (pre-COVID…), so I decided to go check out their next gig. At Mojo Market in Sea Point, Artee (with his dented drum kit), KG (with his keyboard which looked like it had been dragged all the way here from China) and their colourful bass guitarist, sans front teeth and sadly now deceased, got everyone jiving and jovial. Along with Ncera, the trumpeter, Mphumelelu, the saxophonist and Poppie; their very own Mama Africa, they truly rocked that joint! I was thoroughly impressed with this unique Afro Jazz ensemble.
Vukuhambe at Mojo Market Nov 2020
And So It Begins
Windows up. Doors locked.
South African townships are sprawling shanty towns that shot up during the apartheid era, when black people were forcefully removed and dumped “out of town”; out of the way.
Over the decades, these ‘towns’ grew into enormous settlements. Some areas are filled with small, wonky, DIY corrugated iron shacks, blazing hot in the summer, freezing cold in the winter, and a single long-drop loo shared by hundreds. Some areas have rough and tumble houses and then some areas these days have more upmarket housing.
Overall, they are heavily burdened with poverty and rampant crime and almost exclusively populated by black South Africans. Life is hard. So, I found myself, an umlungu (a white man), invited to go and rehearse with them in the township.
Admittedly I felt a little vulnerable, but true passion and surpasses fear, so off I went to Gugulethu. Windows up. Doors locked.
The Famous Vukuhambe Venue
The venue, a house built by Artee’s father, Thamsanqa, comprised of a lounge, kitchen and a bedroom. From the kitchen there was an outside open passage that led to a toilet; an outbuilding with a toilet and basin, and a bath, filled to the roof with old mattresses and linen.
Outside the loo, the passage snaked around the back to the front again, where several other buildings existed, housing various family members.
In the front there was a room, roughly the size of a single garage, with VUKUHAMBE, painted in an arc, on the outside front wall.
A rough, battered wooden door, sporting a “Jazzart” sign lead to the rehearsal room. In one corner was a stage with Artee’s drum kit, the keyboard to the right, the bass guitar to the left and a dusty PA system. The ceiling was in a state of disrepair and in the room were several chairs, a tall steel cabinet, contents of which I still don’t know, lots of carpentry equipment from Ta Tyler’s kitchen fitting business and a large chest deep-freeze.
Within this cramped space, I started setting up my amp and mic, and discussed the music I prepared, just lyrics and chords. We elaborated on the chosen repertoire for the show, at which Poppie exclaimed:
Gulp… No pressure.
Excitement to Reality
Without further ado, we started with The Crossing, a Johnny Clegg song. Again, I was surprised by how good they were. Hardly looking at my music, they had the song down in about an hour, even effortlessly transposing it when the key did not suit my voice.
And so started a lengthy journey of learning the repertoire. Months went by as I drove into Gugulethu township on a weekly basis, with an increasing realisation of the many challenges this project was facing. With hardly any resources – no phones to arrange gigs, no data for those that had phones, no cars to drive to the studio and no money for taxis – their dedication and drive against these obstacles was astonishing.
The South African Taxis
In South Africa, the word ‘taxi’ has a whole different meaning to a taxi in London or New York. In London, for example, only the wealthy took taxis. It’s expensive. Regular folk take the train and the underground. In South Africa, only poor people take taxis. Everyone else drives everywhere. There is practically zero government supplied public transport.
While we do have normal taxis like Ubers and taxi companies, the most common kind of taxi is a Toyota minibus. It (officially) takes 12 people. But in South Africa it takes triple that on a normal day. And while millions of car-less people get from A to B using this service, the taxis are the scourge of the road. They are generally not roadworthy, generally owned by gangsters and always driven by maniacs. Hardly a single law is obeyed, ever.
Many people meet the end of their lives in those taxis; whether it be through reckless driving or because of taxi wars. Yes, gangsters literally shoot rival taxis in route wars. It’s unthinkable, but for many it’s the only option.
As muggings are a regular occurrence in townships, walking is equally dangerous. Having said that, often whole taxis are held up for passenger wallets!
Not for the Feint Hearted
It was a long and arduous journey. Lack of communication and transport slowed our progress down dramatically. Sometimes band members just didn’t pitch at all. Music went missing. Files were lost or damaged. The lack of financial means and aid was highly debilitating and frustrating.
I was forced to collect each member from their various houses before a rehearsal, and drive them home afterwards, surrounded by darkness and kids shouting “umlungu!” as I drove past.
Driving at that time was particularly dangerous. If I had a flat tyre in a township, by myself, no-one would probably see or hear from me again. Not just because of a racial difference, but because of the nature of the situation. As the bass guitarist explained, “they see a white man, they see money!” Assuming an ‘outsider’ would have something valuable to steal.
I had an attempted smash and grab incident – luckily they failed to break the window of my very old and solid 2003 Vauxhall Astra. I had stopped at a red robot (South African for traffic light), which is ill-advised, as I discovered most people don’t stop at red robots in the townships. I was a sitting duck!
Our photographer was held at gun point and had his equipment stolen.
At our bass player’s funeral in Nyanga East township. Marching and singing in front of the hearse. He lost the fight against cancer. Note how I am the only one dressed in black! 🤦🏼♂️
And yet, in time, I became a regular in the township, and was even invited to overnight in a shack. I got to know my way around the wondrous world where the streets are always bustling with people; young and old. The atmosphere is quite something.
I also had the sad privilege to attend our bass guitarist’s funeral, after his passing. It’s hard to express how sorrowful and joyous that experience was. Our culture is simply enveloped by awe and unlike anything you’d find elsewhere in the world.
People fail to understand how these realities are even possible in this day and age. So, a quick recap may be in order: Firstly, we had colonialism, from about 1652. Then apartheid from the 1950’s. Keeping an entire race oppressed for hundreds of years, cannot be reversed quickly – the disadvantaged folk have no money or education to facilitate that recovery.
After apartheid was abolished, the ANC took over. Nelson Mandela’s party. A new hope and expectation arose, as economic growth was promised to all! However, after Mandela’s term ended, everything came tumbling down. A quick search on YouTube, for clips from the Zondo Commission, will leave you reeling in disbelief.
The ANC government trashed South Africa with the most unbelievable corruption, even going as far as facilitating state capture. The people in the townships, who needed economic upliftment the most, through housing, education and jobs, suffered a triple-whammy of colonialism, apartheid and unimaginable corruption. After over a quarter-century under ANC rule, most of the township population are still in the same state as before!
Back to our colourful tale; after 6 months, we had about 6 songs working. I realised the odds were stacked against us. Unable to continue pouring money into a stuttering project, I also had to acknowledge that it was taking its toll on my own business and personal health!
It was time to garner additional sponsorships to acquire phones, data and taxi fare for the band members, and a serious equipment upgrade. Fortunately, a dear friend from the UK, Steffi Cook, came to visit and I took her and her son Barnaby to meet the band. She was thrilled to be able to invest in this wonderful endeavour, and that made all the difference! I could finally pay the musicians for rehearsals, buy a set of mobile phones, pay for the transport costs, studio equipment and more. It was a huge relief, for all of us, and enabled us to level up and fully embrace our dreams. The rest, as they say, is history…
Opening for Nelson Mandela Exhibition
A recent highlight included performing at the launch of the Nelson Mandela Exhibition in the City of Cape Town City Hall. As the band chosen to commemorate this historic event, it was truly a momentous occasion!
By Buying Tickets, You are Becoming Part of the Story.
Against all odds, we are able to present you with the fruits of our labours and take you on an extraordinary journey through the South African musical landscape. We have given our all to make this dream a reality and would love for you to come and enjoy fantastic music and incredible talent in a uniquely South African way. You will be met by huge hearts and even bigger smiles. We can’t wait to share it with you.
Only R250 for South Africans!
Next Show Dates to be Announced Soon!
Do enjoy the show!
Please please please do another one! The world needs to see this show!