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Getting Rootsy in the Rain

2008-03-19 11:00
Last Saturday’s Blues, Jazz and Roots concert, the last of the Old Mutual Encounters events to be held at the closest that central Johannesburg will ever get to a place of natural beauty – the Emmarentia dam - was cursed with depressing grey skies interspersed with some rain, but the crowd stayed put like a bunch of proper Capetonians. Apart from the fact that it should have been billed as the Blues, Folk and Roots concert due to its complete and total lack of jazz, there was a top-class line-up, including Valiant and Ollie, Tidal Waves, Dan Patlansky, Syd Kitchen and Madala Kunene, Robin Auld, Jim Neversink and US folkstress Michelle Shocked.

I got there a little late and unfortunately only caught half a Jim Neversink tune. For those who aren’t familiar with a band that rarely leaves the comfort - for want of a better word - of Joburg for the rest of our beloved country, they are one of only a handful of South African alt-country acts. There’s Lilo in Durban and Three Bored White Guys in Cape Town and, um…help me out here. Jim Neversink’s music is dark and gothic - in the American Gothic sense, not the mascara and Sisters of Mercy sense - and lead singer Mike Whitehead plays a mean lap-steel guitar.

Next up was Valiant Swart and Ollie Viljoen . Valiant is an 'alternatiewe' Afrikaans legend, but these days his music has meandered away from the all-out rock he made a name with and landed up on far more traditional Afrikaans folk ground. Highly musically appropriate for a Blues, Jazz and Roots concert, since Valiant is mining the roots of boermusiek with the help of concertina player Ollie Viljoen, who is apparently a legend of the genre.
Tidal Waves are not your average reggae band. If anything, the music they make these days is equal parts hard rock and reggae. At any rate, as their catchphrase will tell you, the band makes ‘original music for original people’, and their drummer has a distinctive vocal drone which floats on top of their music real nice, as he protests against a range of the evils of Babylon, including the media (I’m sure they don’t mean the fine people of 24.com though), corrupt politicians and money in general. As soon as they played their first note there was instantly a crowd of dreadlocked white hippies dancing in front of the stage, which is strange since I didn’t notice any hippies in the audience beforehand. Such is the power of Tidal Waves’ music.

The rest of the afternoon became a bit of a blur, perhaps due to my policy of one band, one beer. Hey, there were a lot of bands. Robin Auld’s set, while not exactly mindblowing, was hard to disagree with, and Mbaqanga king Madala Kunene and Durban’s hippest hippie, Syd Kitchen, once again proved that acoustic guitars can make some wild noises when in the hands of two seasoned and seemingly stoned toppies.

By the time Michelle Shocked came on the rain was picking up, but she managed to whip the crowd into a frenzy anyways, inviting them to come into the pit in front of the stage where it was a bit drier. The audience did what they were told, crowding around the pit and going off to the music, much to the chagrin of the security guards. Shocked has released about a billion albums and her mix of folk, blues, bluegrass and gospel is about as rootsy as it gets. She is also one of the few musicians out there who sings about God without being preachy (even my favourite gospel-influenced muso Ben Harper gets a bit too righteous at times).

I will end off with a confession. I didn’t catch the whole of Dan Patlansky’s closing set (although apparently it was cut short anyways). The blues guitar wizard always impresses, but I have to admit that I felt a bit soaked and defeated by the elements by this stage. Basically, I wussed out like the Gautenger that I am and went home for a hot bath. Perhaps our music editor was right about us after all.

- Daniel Friedman

When I told our music editor that the Old Mutual Encounters event in Joburg featuring Afro-pop legend Ishmael Lo had been rained out he was incredulous. "When it rains in Cape Town everyone just toughs it out" he said. Yes, yes, and there’s a mountain and sea and plenty of trendy European style bistros and everyone obeys the rules of the road. We’ve heard it all before. But an apology is owed to the people of Johannesburg because, apparently, it was actually the massive, life-threatening hail st

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