Since many of you reading this blog don’t live in South Africa and obviously could not come to watch my first festival show, called Gemengde Oorsprong: Hemel in Aardse Kruike (Mixed Heritage: Heaven in Earthen Vessels) at Woorfees (Word Festival); I decided to put together this post which contains most of the footage from the night. I must just state that none of this would’ve been possible had it not been for my friend Adrian Rogowski, who recorded most of the show on his phone.
I’ve arranged each clip in chronological order and written a brief description of each just to give you some more perspective. Keep in mind that Adrian could not record every item in the show due to technical difficulties. Please enjoy the footage.
Meer as Bruin (More than Brown)
During our early stages of planning, we knew we wanted to have a comedic element in the show. After throwing around some ideas for a long time, we still didn’t have anything concrete. One afternoon during the December holiday, Sam and I were chilling and I picked up my guitar and started playing some basic “plaas” chords (the standard 1-4-5 chord progression). Realising that it sounded a lot like the Vastrap (or “Stomp”) music played in rural areas in the Cape, we decided to run with writing a song that makes fun of “coloured” stereotyping. The piece was never meant to offend, but rather to be used as a form of didactic with race education at its center.
We also found that many of our “white” friends and people from other ethnic backgrounds had these messed up perceptions about coloured people, and that’s what we wanted to outline with this piece. I never thought that people would see parallels between my songs and great songwriter David Kramer. It was never meant to rip him off so to speak, but something about the lyrical content and the performance aesthetic was quite similar.
Die Een Wie Hulle Jazz Noem (The One They Speak of as Jazz)
“Ode to Jazz” or “The One They Speak of as Jazz” was also written in the December holidays and was meant to explicitly state the motive for us using jazz as a musical form so expressly in the show. I specifically wanted to pay homage to great South African and Cape Town jazz musicians like the late Robbie Jansen (who was the featured artist at the very first jazz concert I attended and whose last performance I actually saw at the National Youth Jazz Festival in 2010) and Basil “Mannenberg” Coetzee who made an irreversible impact on the history of jazz in SA.
At the time of writing the piece, I was reading letters that were written by the legendary bassist Johnny Dyani about his experiences as a black South African musician living under Apartheid as well as travelling abroad with bandleader Chris McGregor and the Blue Notes. Having very little reference for what life may have been like for them, the piece took on a new form as I tried draw inspiration from my own experience, from my false perception of what jazz was; to what I now know it is. This poem traverses that journey. The arduous task of translating it from English to Afrikaans was undertaken by Sam, who outsourced the job to one of our friends Nuschka Smit.
As Ek Alleen Is (When I’m Alone)
A very moving and thought provoking poem that Raynie wrote, which I feel outlines the journey of everyman. With this one in particular, we wanted to keep the energy mellow and thoughtful for the first two verses and left the crescendo for the last verse. In between in the chorus sections, was a chorus from another song that Sam and I co-wrote called Man Sonder ‘n Naam (Nameless Man) which we also used to tie the entire theme of the show together. From this point onward, the show started its descent into the depths of the human condition.
Skerp Tonge/Ja, Baas (Sharp Tongues/Yes, Master)
It was coincidental how well these two pieces worked together, in that they both mapped the extreme experiences of the oppressed. The idea for “Ja, Baas” was actually inspired by a friend of mine who made the remark that dangerous coloured people are always hanging around on street corners saying the words “Give it to me…” usually before they mug some passer by. Hence the chorus of Ja, Baas says: “Our people stand on corners saying give it to me…400 years to acquire the truth but we’re still stuck in the slave trade saying Yes, Master.”
Raynie’s piece “Skerp Tonge” explored that aspect in tandem and what’s interesting is that the creative process for both pieces were completely unrelated.
Die Donker Boom (The Dark Tree)
The were two things that we wanted to do with this piece: one, make it sound dark and sinister and secondly, have an extended “free jazz” improvisation. You’ll notice in the video how we trail off and go into this other place – which is exactly the feeling Raynie wanted it to have, to have it mirror this feeling of dealing with your own mortality.
Liefde/Hemelwyn (Love/Heavenly Wine)
This piece was the punchline of the show. Now, even though the whole section was not recorded – this piece really lays down the overarching theme of what we wanted to achieve. After seeing and really listening to the words of the previous item, you get the idea that the proverbial curtain is being lifted in this one, that you’re in the middle of a catharsis and that you are drinking from the well of heavenly wine. Woordfees’ theme this year was Hemels (Heavenly) and Raynie’s pre-written material slotted in perfectly well as a means to round off this very complicated human experience. Also the positive and feel good aspect of Raynie’s songwriting style made this a most memorable moment. You could almost feel the tension lift as people in the audience began to drink their full of this. It was when Raynie was doing the poem before the song kicked in, when I felt that lump in my throat.
An Issue of Blood
This is the piece that started it all! I was sitting in church one day, and this idea of “An Issue of Blood” popped into my head. I wanted to do a poetry project with that phrase at its centre. I then asked Raynie to write a poem that had that theme in it, and he came back with this piece you’re about to hear. Amazing how it came full circle. Enjoy!