Rasta Ras: the man SA loves to hate

2009-11-17 00:00

IS reggae singer Alexius “Ras” Dumisani one of the most unpopular people in South Africa? At least 1 200 people think so. At 10.15 yesterday morning, there were roughly 220 fans of the “Ban Ras Dumisani From Ever Singing again” Facebook group. By just after 5 pm, the number had soared to 1 222, prompting one fan to describe it as “surely the fastest-growing group on Facebook today”.

Durban-born Ras Dumisani became instantly notorious after he delivered an innovative but out-of­key rendition of the South African national anthem at the start of the Springboks’ Test against France in Toulouse on Friday. The Springboks went on to lose the match 20–13.

Some fans of the group accused the Paris-based Rastafarian singer of being stoned. Another creatively suggested that Dumisani should become South African president: “I mean, when last was one person able to unite a nation with such passion and rage?”

Passion and rage were in abundance on Facebook. A fan accused him of singing “a third above the melody”. Others angrily accused him of not knowing the words to the anthem. “Rastas should do no harm. Brother, you harmed the entire citizenship of South Africa. You gotta learn de words man,” wrote one.

Political groupings also pulled no punches, with Congress of the People describing his performance in a statement as “a complete vocal misfire” which came “right out of the blooper reel of a reality TV singing show”. According to Sapa, the Young Communist League of South Africa (YCLSA) called Dumisani a “howler of note” who should sing “only in his shower”. It called on the Education Department to ensure children learn the anthem for mandatory singing at assemblies.

Responding to a message sent from The Witness to his Facebook page, Dumisani yesterday reiterated his unhappiness about the equipment given to him and said “they sabotage the anthem from the start [sic]”. Dumisani said he had been told before going on stage that he would have a new microphone and monitor — a device allowing him to hear how he sounds — but he was instead given an old cordless microphone. “[I] did apologise to everyone as a Rastaman is respect …” he told The Witness. “We don’t smoke weed before work,” he added.

Dumisani, who described himself as a self-producer and singer, said he lives in France where he is recording a new album.

A potted biography supplied by Dumisani himself, which appears on the www.music.org.za website, says that Dumisani’s father, from Mtunzini, is of royal descent and was a singer who “used to compete with Ladysmith Black Mambazo who were friends and neighbours of the family”. It goes on to say he started playing with bongo drums during his “wild and unruly youth” and chose to pursue a career in music above football.

Dumisani founded his own band called Afrikhaya when it became “evident that he was a leader rather than a follower” and moved his band to Johannesburg owing to “limited opportunities” in Durban. In Johannesburg, however, he discovered that “local promoters were not ready for the rhythm and the political lyrics of his reggae music. A rather nasty encounter with a producer finally convinced him to spread his wings.”

Dumisani then took his music and his “love for life and people” with him to the United States, Europe, Israel, West Africa and, finally, to France.

A KZN reggae musician, Dan ­Kapueje, confirmed that Dumisani, who left South Africa in the late 1980s, is better known for his music in Europe than in South Africa, although he visits South Africa from time to time.

Two of Dumisani’s albums are Zululand Reggae (1992) and Mister Music (1997). Kapueje said he has produced six.

Kapueje defended Dumisani and blamed his poor performance of the national anthem on his absence from the country. “Yes, I could hear that he was struggling in the Afrikaans part of the anthem. But can’t he be forgiven? He’s not spending too much time with us to learn all these things,” Kapueje said.

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