Today I find myself facing an immensely tall order, a rather comical dilemma if you ask me. So I proposed an amicable split between the writer and the Travellist. However, completing an article on a show one was intimately involved in without any display of predisposed views or prejudice, impossible. It is perhaps the generally accepted norm in such situations for a trained writer to take the back seat, to become a passenger rather then the pilot or delegated driver. To perhaps summon a being wearing more objective sets of lenses. Well, not in this case dear sensitive reader. I am not of the trained type, no beef with those scholastic achievers; however, I am of the Something Abstract generation of writers, those sent to restore the Green Earth, to spit on apocalyptic sylla-buses driven by drunken drivers whose SA roads cannot draw lines from the link (the latter statement climbs close to Everestic heights when SA and road link are found wondering on the same lines.) I am from the Poets of Light lineage of artists who dare to dance on the drenching shadows of night rain without fear of being thoroughly soaked… in the dark.
So what norms? Is it normal that I actually just gave you a brief line up for what was one of the most breathtaking shows of the year? You could argue that the year is only 2 months old, then I’d have to ask you to tell that to the almost 150 packed crowd of people who were jumping, singing, screaming whilst their favorite bands, poets and musicians were rocking the (makeshift) stage.
It is also a norm to read about Tumi/Lira/Abdul/Kwani Experiences shows on the papers, where some journalist will tell you how ‘wack’ the venue was or how under dressed the performers where or some unimportant thing like that and then utterly ‘forget’ to tell you that the performance was one of Grammy Award winning proportions. Well today we journey through the creation of a masterpiece, trust me, I was there when the master pulled out the canvass and called the Travellists to come and “paint my city red.” From the open aired rehearsals of the hosts (Travellin Blak) at the backside of the Union Buildings flowery gardens to the building of a makeshift stage with spidery bricks and worn out boards, I observed eight band members with their (wo)manager pulling out all the stops, breathing life to an otherwise ‘almost dead donkey’ (please tell me you know how stubborn those creatures are or that you’ve heard stories.) The venue, Mashaka Lounge, set to open on Friday the 25th of February to allow the band to showcase their very first independent gig, moved their opening date to the 1st of March.
This brought about its own complications, i.e. No electricity + no business = imminent disaster. Finding this out two days before a highly publicized gig would have brought immediate old age to any manager, but not this one, motto, “the show must go on,” only something the Timekeeper could say. So 08h00 Saturday morning with its 30% chance of thunderstorms (which was enough reason to move the show indoors) saw the Travellists building, decorating, rehearsing and sweating from every nerve and sinew to make things happen and indeed, come 18h00, the guests artists were ready to blow our minds.
The line up comprised the likes of Nombongo, Nomalanga, Green on Earth, Something Abstract, Poets of Light (P.O.L), Beaucy Nkosi, C’zwe and of course, TRAVELLIN BLAK. The open mic saw two members of P.O.L taking to the floor and breaking the back off of the Ice. If Poets of Light supplied light, A Huge Impakt (these guys should just quit following me) brought them down along with the whole house; literally, this is no play on words so there is no need to try figuring my speech. I swear these guys are employed by Eskom, because midway through their performance the lights died on us, but did that stop the duo, heavens no. while we tried fixing the glitch, the drum rolled, Impakt spat fire followed by Huge and indeed, the show went on. The lights caused drama 4/5 more times during the show, but somehow they never managed to derail the fire contained within Mashaka.
I was left astounded by Green on Earth’s flawless musical compositions accompanied by acoustic instrumentals. The band is made up of four members; the lead vocalist is a lady by the name of Saskia Duemmel from Germany who plays the acoustic guitar and is also a volunteer at the Tshwane Leadership Foundations School of Creative Arts, which would make her my colleague both on and off the stage. She was accompanied by Naftali on vocals, Given on percussion and Sivuyile (4 Seasons) on lead guitar. It is true that music has one language, whether Green on Earth’s vocals were provided by a black male face singing in English or a female German voice singing in the same language or whether Nomalanga rendered songs like Makwerhu in Shona; the crowd was kept ululating, dancing, stomping and even singing right along to the latter’s song titled Neria. Nomalanga comprises the multi talented Boipelo Matlari who plays acoustic, sings and recites poetry, with Phenyo (who led the song Makwerhu), Ntando on bass and Sivuyile on lead (both from 4 Seasons.)
Two very different poetry groups from the East Rand came through; Poets of Light from Spruitview and Something Abstract from Wits University. P.O.L came forth with thunderous drumming from Mr. Brown, vocals from Laser Light and the poetry was fired from the belly of Oratile. Something Abstract where just that… and more. Without any mic’s, they captivated the audience with what seemed to be pure wizardry, well I hope it was pure since I myself have never experienced wizardry in any form, shape or size. One character that stood out from the group was a guy by the name of William, not because he was better than his cadre’s, but only because he possessed an animated performance style similar to the likes of Hymphatic Thabs that kept the audience on the edge of their seats.
Something Abstract brought forth Tsherenalo, William and Illkid. Beaucy Nkosi strummed that guitar like her existence depended on it, she had me thinking, “iyabusa Inkosi (zulu for the King rules/God rules depending on the context.) By the time Nombongo stepped on the stage, Travellin Blak was backstage prepping for their set. If indeed angels exist, sing and are African, this queen is holding the torch high up for her heavenly kinsman. C’zwe performed just before Nombongo though, with gentle kicks from the drummer, assisted by bass and lead guitar, he belted Robin Thicke’s “Lost without You” with astute accuracy. This guy had the ladies and gentlemen singing along, but I had to exit the room before I ‘looked wrong.’ He performed a few more songs featuring a very good hip hop cat I’ve never met before; home boy was thoroughly on point.
Being part of a musical group which is made up of drama students, dentists, a graphic designer, a PR dude and a multimedia man makes you feel like you in an artistic madhouse where your accounting skills are bound to fail, but in the event that everything else falls apart at least you’re guarantee to keep your teeth. Nonetheless, nothing was going to fail for these guys, my guys (this is where I pour water over your accepted norms about biasness.) T.I.A, as I had come to learn, was an acronym for This Is Africa. Not in Pretoria it isn’t. Here T.I.A stands for Travellist I Am (created by Matthew Mokoena”,), a phrase which echoed through the hallways of Mashaka, reverberated on the streets and carried on to homes by passing vehicles whose owners, unawares of Mashaka’s happenings, where Travellists fated to be carriers of Travellistic ideals.
By the time TraVellin Blak was called to take the stage, a sense of expectation had long filled the room and the guys could sense it. Bodies moved to fill the frontal open spaces; this was it, the moment of absolute Travellistic truth. The Instrumentalists begin our set with tunes that have the crowd in an uproar, “we are meeting their expectations, flip, no mistakes tonight Matt,” is the final personal thought I have for the duration of the performance, everything else became impersonal, to be shared with the universe when the time arrived. And it did. “A Travellists Tale begins. I kick of the set with my solo, followed by Zimkhita’s, then Charlotte’s and Tuelo’s (Later on, during the dying hours of Sunday, whilst collecting the very first recorded project of TVB from the Rage studio’s and listening to a track featuring Zimkhita and Charlotte, Instro, the producer, comments about how blown away people were by the ladies vocal capabilities and lets us know of the greatness awaiting these ladies AND TVB) Interval? What interval? And so the just over one hour long performance begins. The crowd sings along from track one to eight.
The power cuts somewhere in between the performance, but like the Timekeeper so candidly put it, “the show must go on,” and it does. After the last note and verse of the set are belted from our exhausted bodies, we are greet by that humbling chant I’ve awaited for almost two years since the bands inception. “WE WANT MORE, WE WANT MORE, WE WANT MORE.” You would think after all that waiting I would have a track in mind right? Luckily I didn’t have to answer that, the crowd knew exactly what “MORE” they where referring to, the name of the song that is being shouted is “Congratulations.” We were so in sync with the crowd that the song sounded like it was rendered by a choir, over a hundred voices rising in unison, “YOU GOT WHAT YOU WANTED, YOU GOT WHAT YOU WANTED, YOU GOT WHAT YOU WANTED…” I’m soaked in sweat and I later observe, so is everyone else (crowd included.) These guys where the real performers, besides, Travellin Blak is a movement, and the fact that some of the supporters travelled from outside Gauteng further enforces this, we just happen to be the front men. The stunt guys if you’d like, but whatever you might think, it took a lot of minds, energy and time to make this show come together. So after you’ve attended the next show you go to, just think to yourself, “I wonder what it took to get these lights running.”