Politics, Potholes and Punk

2011-08-12 12:15

‘Julius Malema has become a cult figure. He’s bigger now than the person you guys write about. He represents black success,” my friend tells me while sipping on his first Amstel of the day and rubbing last night’s red dust from his weary eyes.

In the middle of the circle, a little wood fire is catching light. Dance music plays in the background as brave festival-goers return from their cold showers.

Slowly the bushveld sun lifts its head over Limpopo’s magnifi ent thorn trees, exposing the koppie to which 16 000 pilgrims make their yearly trek this time of year.

My nose is filled with the smell of burning wood, Nescafé and cigarette smoke.

“Just a pity about those potholes. Those f**king potholes!” my friend says as he finishes his first Amstel and opens the red cooler bag to take out number two.

***
The road to Oppikoppi from Joburg is a scenic one. The further west you drive, the greener it gets and the temperature rises about 2°C every 100km.

After passing through Broederstroom, Hartbeespoort Dam and Brits, the landscape turns to big, open savannah with beautiful trees and different antelope species.

I can understand why Juju wants a farm in Limpopo. I can also understand why the province is regarded as one of the worst managed in the country.

The region is rich in minerals and hundreds of trucks pass through the small roads day after day (why our freight rail system hasn’t been fixed is beyond me, but that’s a topic for another day).

The road to Northam, the closest town to the Oppikoppi farm, is riddled with potholes.

Trucks have damaged the tar and on at least three spots, there is no road at all.

No wonder I started receiving text messages on the first day of Oppikoppi warning me about the war-zone trip ahead.

As a shareholder of the company responsible for fixing Limpopo’s roads, Mr Malema would learn a lot from taking a trip trough the province with one of his sponsored cars.

If nothing gets done in the next 12 months, the organisers of Oppikoppi may have to consider moving the event or fixing the road themselves.
***
At least 16 000 souls weathered the potholes to gather at South Africa’s biggest music festival. This year’s line-up was nothing to write home about.

The usual suspects were there: Fuzigish, Tidal Waves, Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse, Karen Zoid, Die Antwoord, and Tumi and the Volume.

But it’s always the surprises – the unknown brothers (the theme of Oppikoppi 2011) and sisters – that make it worth going back time and again.

This year, my favourite new acts were Mr Cat & The Jackal and Hot Water, both folk rock bands from Cape Town, and Pretoria rappers Bittereinder.

All three groups were energetic, innovative and experimental with their choice of sounds and lyrics.

But there were three shows that stood out from the rest: Zakes Bantwini, Gazelle and David Kramer.
***
“Zakes Bantwini dances like Ricky Martin,” says my friend during the King of Dance’s first gig at Oppikoppi. I’m not sure if it’s a compliment or not, but Mr Bantwini sets the stage on fire with his moves, snappy outfits and quirky lyrics.

Shake Your Bum Bum has the crowd on their feet. They’ve already forgiven him for starting late. We bum-dance with each other and life is good.

Next up, Clap Your Hands. Then, Stop Wasting My Time. Zakes works a new line into his songs: “I love you, Juju”. The crowd cheers.

Ricky Martin knows how to throw a good party.

I ask the guy dancing next to us why he came this year. “To see what the other side does,” he says, chuckling, and tells me that a white colleague from the mining firm they both work at as engineers told him to come.

White guy is nowhere to be seen.

Should Oppikoppi do more to attract black party-goers? What can they do?

“No,” says a Bantwini fan. “It’s perfect like this.”

***
Xander Ferreira is the front man of Gazelle. He is dressed like an African dictator and has a big band on stage, including two back-up vocalists.

Gazelle has been around for more than three years. Their music cannot easily be boxed, but it is something like Afro-electro fushion dance.

This is probably the most underrated group in South Africa. Looking at their website, it seems that Gazelle performs more abroad than locally. They have a huge followings in Asia and Eastern Europe.

“If I had to pick one band to represent SA overseas, it would be them,” says my friend.

The group mixes traditional African music with disco and electropop like I’ve never heard it before. And it’s not only music: the costumes, theatrics and dances make for a world-class performance.

***
Yes, David Kramer is that guy with the red veldskoene in the legendary Volkswagen advert, but his is much more than that.

With a career spanning 30 years, Kramer is one of the legends of the South African music industry.

His anti-apartheid plays – such as Poison, District Six and Fairyland with Taliep Petersen – earned Kramer international respect (and acclaim). Kat & the Kings had a long life on Broadway.

Fittingly, Oppikoppi decided to celebrate Kramer’s three decades in the music industry by inviting him and his seven-piece band, including guitarist Louis Mhlanga, to perform as the main act of this year’s festival.

On stage, he did collaborations with Flash Republic songstress Tamara Dey, Fokofpolisiekar front man Francois van Coke and rapper Jack Parow.

Kramer’s performance of Skipskop – a song about forced removals from a fishing village – led to some sniffs in the crowd.

And the Van Coke/Kramer rendition of Botteltjie Blou – a song about the abuse of methylated spirits – was incredibly raw and heart-rending.

***
“News just in: Julius Malema is still a p**s,” say Corne and Twakkie from The Most Amazing Show before a performance.

The crowd laughs. It’s a different crowd from the one that chuckled with Zakes Bantwini when he sang “I love you, Juju”.

Maybe they will never be one crowd, but once a year they are united through their mutual love of music, beer
and braai.

Will I be back? As Eric Miyeni would say: probably.

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