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Mango Groove: Dance Some More

2010-04-19 11:07
Mango Groove: Dance Some More!

More dust and pebbles. The crowd trickles like ants on their way to the dustbin. They wear Old Khaki and Crocs, camping chairs swung over their shoulders. The ladies and the men, the girls and the boys, carry their picnic baskets and blankets, blinking through their D&G frames on which the blazing sun reflects a few white marquise tents, flapping in the wind.

The monthly gathering of the Cape Family Mountain Biking Club?

Not exactly what you'd expect for (is it even arguable?) South Africa's biggest band's celebration of "20 years of Hits and Memories, 20 years of Magic" playing at a venue called: "Spier Gardens." Besides the obvious difference of the crowd size and demography, the fenced-in milieu chosen to host Mango Groove Big World Party tour, instantly reminds of Cokefest in Alberton. The queues at the bar, the paper cups, the boerewors rolls, the sun, the dry veld, the overcast sky... All faintly tastes of Varsity Cup matches and rural rock shows in the Highveld.

An intellectual-looking young man, thin square-framed reading glasses and cardigan swung neatly around his shoulders, remarks: "Well this is about the whitest crowd I've ever seen."

A few perks of an older, upper-class crowd is that the cheerful banter never exceeds the levels of birdsong. Woolies snacks are laid out neatly on the blankets. Merry little children chase each other and play in the sand pit of dust. A lone blues guitarist twiddles away into the open air.

At 3pm sharp the brightly dressed members of Mango Groove start filing onto the stage. All initial irritations become irrelevant. One maniacal lover bouncing lonely but happily in front of the stage is soon joined by the picnickers racing to lay their eyes on the cultural phenomenon that Mango Groove has become. It is hard to describe the what followed without sounding corny and overtly patriotic.

Kids clamber over the rails only to be gently lifted back by security guards. Dads host their little girls on their shoulders. Boyfriends balance their girlfriends on theirs. Middle-aged women fold their long red nails into peace signs. Young folks with wayfarers shake like they're at a Godlfish gig. Ooms and tannies raise their plastic cups. The crowd is all teeth and bouncing hair and spirit fingers. Every last soul sings along to every last word of the old hits. Claire Johnston engages with the crowd: "We're gonna take you back to '93," she announces, "to remind you of what an amazing country we have." "Another Country" definitely would've had the lighters out had it been dark. "I don't wanna sound like the tourism board now," Johnston laughs. Saying it doesn't mean their music doesn't. "Special Star" is requested through hysterical screams. Hellfire sets the crowd on fire. "You'll always be moments away from these arms!" a youthful couple exuberantly embraces each other while singing these word into one another's ears. The hysteria reaches a climax as Johnston requests the crowd to sing the chorus to "Dance Dance Dance" without her.

New songs are only obviously so because the phrases between refrains aren't too familiar. But the band hasn't lost it's song writing skills and newbies "This is not a Party" and "Clap Your Hands" are already popular hits. "How did you like that?" Johnston asks after performing one of the new numbers. "Awesome!" a fan who can't be more than five years old replies.

Mango Groove really does wonders for a South African's morale. Their music warms the human relations of the crowd and turns them into brothers and sisters like only music can. It leaves you feeling sickeningly patriotic and embarrassingly Ubuntu. They are South Africa's ABBA in terms of musical ingenuity, churning out hit-after-showstopping-hit, the groove is still jiving. It's hard to believe that their new album and reason behind the tour, Bang the Drum! is the first full-length one in fourteen years. It is pure pop yes, but pure South African pop, distinctly native to this country.

By the time the band plays their two encores, it seems like they've only just gotten there while two hours have elapsed since the first song. Johnston introduces the band's members who respond with solos, including her husband, founding member, songwriter and bass player, John Leyden.

The black band members themselves probably outnumbered the amount of non-whites in the crowd yet the key to nation-seems so obvious through the chorus of the album's title track: “Bang the drum! Fly the flag! Fight the fight! Party the party!”

Why oh why did they not write the official 2010 FIFA World Cup Anthem? Freshly Ground are also great Afro-pop. And Shakira is... hot? But a Mango Groove anthem could've finally shaken up some World Cup pride reawakened the '95 spirit and Rainbow Nation nostalgia.

As the happy families leave, reality settles in again. Photographer Janah Hatting's phone was stolen from her camera back-pack. The LSM of the average picknicker no doubt attracted a few phone-nickers and opportunist petty thieves.

It's 2pm on a wintery, windy Saturday afternoon in the Boland. Flashy four-by-fours crawl along a dirt road through a patch of untended land that no-one knew belonged to Spier. Around every bend one expects to see lush green lawns and roses and white old Cape Dutch mansions. Instead, after having parked along a stretch of dust and pebbles, a trek over the remnants of a tennis court and yellowed dry grass awaits.
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