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Party with a Purpose

2009-10-29 12:41

"I was part of the gang that had our feet in alternative white culture. We were jollers, we followed The Clash and Voelvry and listened to Bright Blue. There was some incredibly creative stuff. We organised artists and musicians. Our posters were offbeat and appealed to a broad constituency," recounted Crispian Olver in a recent Business Day interview.

The erstwhile EEC activist, now environmental consultant was reflecting on the crucial role that music played in spreading the ECC's message. Compilations like Forces Favourites released in 1986 on Lloyd Ross' seminal indendent Shifty Records label provided a potent voice of dissent for those 'alternative' white youths in opposition to apartheid's military service conscription. Ironically named after the SABC radio song request programme for "the boys on the border", it featured a genre-imploding cocktail of rock, punk, ska, folk and African jive courtesy of counter-cultural musical heroes including Roger Lucey, James Phillips, Kalahari Surfers, Nude Red, and Jennifer Ferguson.

But there was one band that became the unofficial musical voice of the ECC: Bright Blue. Formed in mid-1983 by conscriptees Dan Heymann (keys), Tom Fox (guitar), Robin Levetan (vocals), and Ian (bass) and Peter Cohen (drums), Bright Blue played their first ECC concert in 1987. The same year Heymann penned the unofficial anti-conscription anthem, "Weeping", which the band recorded with a brief instrumental echo of then banned ANC anthem, "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika". Bizarrely, the official censors didn't seem to notice, and support from radio DJs catapulted "Weeping" to two weeks on top of the charts on the state owned Radio Five.

"When I first brought this song to the band, it really was about conscription, though not my finest work", said Levetan in an interview with Business Day's Charles Leonard recently. "My band-mates dug the music, but they thought I should improve on the lyrics; so I shifted my focus to the awful system that gave us conscription, and I came back with Weeping." Watch the video.

It is this classic song that Bright Blue's original line-up will be performing at their once off reunion concert at the Spier Wine Estate outside Cape Town on Saturday October 31. Afro-pop favouirtes Freshlyground and Afrikan ska-reggae rockers the Rudimentals get the party started at 8pm. Expect to hear a cocktail of nostalgic protest songs from the ECC era and contemporary dance hits thereafter. Doors open at 7.30pm. Admission is R180. Book at Computicket.

Collectors should make a pit stop at the Shifty Records stall to pick up a CD copy of the recently reissued  Forces Favourites  and Shot Down compilations (featuring Lesego Rampolokeng, Vusi Mahlasela, Corporal Punishment and more), as well as albumm by James Phillips, Jennifer Ferguson, the Voelvry crew, and a very limited number of "A Naartjie in our Sosatie", Shifty's first protest song compilation. The Voelvry Tour and James Phillips "Famous for not being Famous" DVDs will laso be on sale. Bring cash as there will be no credit card facilities.

Sounds cool, eh? But if you're perhaps wondering whether the reunion concert is just an excuse for 40-somethings to forget their mid-life mortgage crises and have a massive jol, you can forget about it. Despite some of the more rhapsodic 'remember whens' posted on social networking sites such as facebook and twitter recently, the ECC 25 Anniversary celebrations this weekend shouldn't be dimisssed as a mere nostalgia fest.

Make no mistake, the ECC 25 organisers are still partying with a purpose. While reflecting on the intentions and celebrating the successes of the ECC through photographic, art, video and poster exhibitions, there are also daily seminar and TV panel style debates that ask what the meaning of the ECC values might be in South Africa and the world today.

Additional ECC anniversary weekend events
A cocktail event in the foyer of the Conference Centre launches the art, poster and photographic exhibitions on October 30. Guest speakers include Western Cape Premier, Helen Zille and Trevor Manuel, Minister in the Presidency. Jennifer Ferguson adds the folk soundtrack.  Starts at 6.30pm.

"Forward>March" fine art exhibition
An impressive roster of fine artists including Jane Alexander, Wayne Barker, Willie Bester, Conrad Botes, Stuart Bird, Andries Botha, Kevin Brand, Kudzanai Chiurai, Dan Halter, Anton Kannemeyer, William Kentridge, Brett Murray and many more exhibit works of resistance to militarisation from the ECC era and works by contemporary artists which amplify and extend the historic focus. 

The "Voices" exhibition featuring works by Jenny Altschuler, David Goldblatt, George Hallett and more aims to re-imagine the struggle years and explore South Africa NOW, drawing attention to our desired future by posing a series of questions. The show also pays homage to the young South Africans who were conscripted, detained, exiled and killed.  High school photographic competition entries, and retrieved and archived photographic material from various sources will be on display. 

"Waar is Die Grens Nou?" showcases the very creative posters and campaign media used by ECC. The South African Historical Archive (SAHA) shares its archive of 200 ECC posters. This will be linked to the commemorative website that SAHA has built as part of the anniversary celebrations.

A programme of historical and contemporary film and video material will be screened throughout Saturday, and will highlight the impact of militarism on South African society at the time. Features include Naashon Zalk's documentary on conscientious objectors, which also features the ECC, "Eat my call up", followed by a Q and A session with the director. A visual archive of militarism and the resistance to it in the 1980s, runs as shorts prior to screenings.  

Mary Burton, Janet Cherry, Cheryl Carolus, Willem Steenkamp and Richard Steele reflect on the intentions and successes of the ECC, examining related issues of individual conscience, social activism, and non-racialism. Laurie Nathan faciliitates this TV-style panel discussion that explores the significance and experience of ECC from liberal, pacifist, left and government perspectives. Starts at 11am.
Vincent McGee (a US objector from the Vietnam War), Howard Clark (the Chairperson of War Resisters International), Yuval Ophir-Auron (an Israeli objector), Lena Ghanayem (a Palestinian activist) and Yoel Alem Tsehaye (an objector from Eritrea) explores conscientious objection in different countries at The Right to Say No panel discussion. Gerald Kraak facilitates. . Starts at 2pm.
"The Border War Then and Now" comprises two pieces of theatre: an extract from Walking Wounded, a play commissoned by ECC in the 1980s, written by Christopher Charles, directed by Bo Petersen and performed by Dorian Burstein and Richard Lothian; and a play about xenophobia called The Crossing, performed by a Zimbabwean living in South Africa, Jonathan Nkala, and directed by Bo Petersen. starts at 5pm.

For detailed information visit: Official ECC25 website

The End Conscription Campaign celebrates its 25th anniversary this weekend with a massive music, art and edutainment bash at Spier in Cape Town. The cultural and musical milieu of the ECC and the 1980s struggles against apartheid is celebrated with performances by legendary 80s folk rock activists Bright Blue, current Afro-pop favourites Freshlground and Afrikan-ska reggae rockers The Rudimentals.
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