With the club lights and kids vibrating all around me, the smell of smoke staining my new shirt and the stench of old beer soaking through me, I couldn’t  help but feel disdain for the next act about to filter onto stage. Although the setting is undesirable and the kids around me more so, it is not because of this that I loathe the sound about to come from the podium. It is because I have heard it all before.

Every ‘young, hip and happening’ 20-something band in South Africa sounds the same. They are new and fresh youngsters, but all from the same old international cookie cutter. What happened to the geniuses of South African music? Where is the next generation of Miriams, Hughs and Brendas? Why am I listening to American music being played by South Africans?

I know that ‘times move on’ and all that, but all I want is to get up and dance with the band, to feel like a South African, and be proud of our unique sound.

Yes, there are the bands like Freshly Ground and Just Ginger or even The Rudimentals, but they are not cutting it either. I want those 20-somethings to be inspired by the music South Africa came from, and not this bullshit from America that just all sounds the same. We have something truly unique here, something that was once loved and appreciated by precisely the international scene these youngsters are so desperately trying to get into.

“Authentic South African music is like South Africa, diverse and ever-changing, bubbling out of the lived experience of the people.”

This is the answer I got from Doug Reeler, when I asked him what real South African music is. His band, Zvakanaka, a marimba and mbira band, plays for the joy of playing. As a band, they are creating music which resonates with the lost South African part of me that desperately desires to feel South African again.

I went into the interview with Doug and Beulah from Zvakanaka feeling like nothing more than a hipster out of her water. Realising I know nothing about traditional African music, let alone their music, I began sweating. As I sat there rattling off questions of no consequence, my mind couldn’t help but drift back to those nights in the stale beer clubs of Cape Town. All I wanted was to clap my hands, and sway my bum to sounds that this band makes that night and not to stand with my arms folded pretending to be entertained in front of a bunch of American posers.

When I asked Doug and Beulah about the sound from two of their tracks, I got an ironic reply, since their music spoke about the ‘forgotten culture’ that I sat dreaming about in the interview:

  “Chemtengure dates back to the mid-1900s, sung by villagers mocking the wagon drivers employed by the traders for having forgotten their culture and lost their way.  It is infectious music that moves from idyllic melodies to galloping rhythms, a dramatic debate between the old and the new.  Baba Mudiki is contemporary and joyous, good for dancing with beautiful melody lines and a great rhythm.”

Where are these ‘galloping rhythms’ or ‘idyllic memories’ now? I feel it is the effect of the fame monster. All our young South African talents, and they are talented, are desperately wanting to be famous rock stars. They feel that they must abandon the South African sound in order to appeal to the international fan. I, on the other hand, completely disagree. The world is ready for fresh ‘African’ sounds, but more importantly we South Africans are ready too.

I’m not asking for our band-i-scope to suddenly rear its South African head and blow us all to smithereens with penny-whistles and marimbas. I’m instead challenging them to accept where they are from, and create a sound which I can respect and actually dance to. Maybe, just maybe, this is the ticket they can ride to fame. You never know, as the last time I checked Miriam Makebe is actually a big international star.

BY KIM STOKES

Advertisements