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Madiba Magic: 46664 Joburg Concert

2007-12-07 08:45
In the daylight, a tubby, grey Peter Gabriel looks a little embarrassed by the not-quite-a-crowd that gives him no respect for being one of the most thoughtful interpreters of the African musical language in Western pop. He quickly settles into the music, though, and gives a beautiful performance.

There was lots of good music. Some from places I didn’t expect. I was surprised by Danny K’s lump-in-the-throat "Homeless" with the Soweto Gospel Choir. It’s good to see him getting comfortable playing live while clothed. Corinne Bailey Rae now officially owns my heart. Loyiso is all class. Apart from the intermittent annoyance of an MC so manic and put-on she could only be a radio disc jockey, it’s a good show.

Annie Lennox has become 46664’s official badass. This is the second time I’ve seen her deliver a furious up-yours to our government’s criminal mismanagement of the HIV-AIDS crisis, and for that we should be thankful and embarrassed for not being as angry.

Ultimately, though, it’s this moment we’ve been waiting for: as the day turns to night, Madiba’s smile fills every one of the many giant screens all over Ellis Park. People applaud. People cheer. I look around and every single face is wearing that special smile again.

Let me tell you about that smile.

In the years running up to 1994, there were those who spent most of their free time stocking up on tinned food and reinforcing their burglar bars. Most of us, however, felt the sun on our faces and smiled a very special kind of smile.

It was a feeling beyond hope. It was a sure thing. The world looked on us as heroes and we felt heroic. And, in 1994, even those with a sudden surplus of baked beans peeked over their 12-foot security walls and thought: what if?

Up till then, the idea that we were a noble species had remained largely theoretical. We’d proven ourselves no less voracious nor less mindless than colonies of red ants.
But here was a shot for all humanity.

What if we could be that extraordinary? What if we, the people of the southern tip of the darkest continent, could fulfill all humanity’s prettiest fantasies about itself? Of course, we messed up. Missed the point. 1994 wasn’t the victory. It was a call to battle. But battle’s tough. So we smiled that silly smile as long as our faces could bear it, then got on with our day.

But then, you see that man’s face, you feel that thing in your tummy and you think, maybe we can be better. Madiba is standing with Graca by his side. He cycles through three poses:
The thoughtful tranquil look.
The downward-looking grimace.
Then, suddenly, the wave and smile.

The last pose is the winner. It’s like hitting a pedal. The crowd roars each time. He’s helped by a lighting team which blasts the stadium with white, hot light each time he does it. It’s a properly religious experience.

He goes through his routine again. He can do this for 20 minutes in most parts of the world. Even then, the crowds typically don’t want him to stop. But here, in South Africa, it’s 3 minutes in and the crowd is confused.

“What are we supposed to do?” the thinning applause seems to say. The east wing of the stadium saves the situation by starting a panicked Shosholoza. But it lasts only as long as the mostly white audience knows the lyrics, which isn’t very long at all.

Graca leans in and whispers: "Say something."

He starts speaking, but the sound is way too low and we miss the beginning. When they get the sound right, he’s talking statistics, which are boring, so I won’t recount them here. He asks us to do something, which makes us all go quiet. Anytime he ends a sentence with “46664”, however, the crowd roars.

Graca leans in again and whispers:
“We’re going to go now. This way.”

He nods solemnly and they start walking off. Before the cloud of euphoria lifts off Ellis Park, he turns for one last smile-and-wave. We cheer him off the stage.

I’m reminded of a phone call with my dad a couple of weeks ago. I was out with friends and he asked me to not drink too much. “Of course I won’t,” I said, although I already had. Sweet old men, both of them.

- Lev David

People always come to see Madiba. I’m at the damn big 46664 concert in Jozi. Nobody seems to know if he’ll be showing up. The crowd is sparse. Of course, Ellis Park is a huge stadium, but whatever the actual turn-out, it looks more empty than full. They should’ve had some Springboks run and throw things instead. That always packs them in.

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