Various Artists: Next Stop Soweto, Vol. 4: Zulu Rock, Afro-Disco, and Mbaqanga 1975-1985

Then the brass hits, trumpets double saxes in sforzando swells changing chords on the bar line as the singer talks about "our time."
Various Artists
Next Stop Soweto, Vol. 4: Zulu Rock, Afro-Disco, and Mbaqanga 1975-1985

Dave wouldn’t have guessed that he’d end up getting to another continent in his lifetime. But here he lay, in sunny Africa, under a sheet on the floor of a friend of a friend whom he wished has some blinds. As Dave stumbles upon the state of wakefulness, he realizes that it wasn’t the bright, pure sun on his face that woke him but the persistent thud of a bass guitar. Shortly after, it’s the crack of the snare drum, once every second, that tops the ambiance of the busy street below. The engineers continue to punctuate Dave’s morning coffee with the sound check, and the horns and saxes give him a chopped up serenade as he bathes and brushes his teeth. The front door opens.

“What you gon’ do today, Deva?” Adepe asks as he tosses his schoolbag on the kitchen table.

“I hadn’t planned on anything. I thought I’d see what’s happening down the street.”

“You want to see the street fair, yah? We go after lunch.”

Two hours pass the two rather idly, and the escalation of the street noise finds its way through the thin walls of the tenement housing until it sounds like Mardi Gras. Someone at the mic is now disseminating information about food tickets. Dave can’t decipher the heavily­ accented English through the poor PA from this distance. It sounds like the band is about to start. Adepe finally comes out of his room and acknowledges that he is ready to leave. The two make their way down the building’s staircase, dodging wet spots and children’s toys. The clamor of the street fair is suddenly unveiled.

They break into the light and are immediately swept into the wave of South Africans. Adepe lights something and hands it to Dave. He hits it, and it burns. He feels better after he coughs for a bit. Due to the language barrier and the street’s din, conversation is reduced to large gestures and big smiles.

“We gon’ [garbled] real story…” then Dave heard something like “dill beyond loose concrete.”

When they find the stage, there are nine musician’s, all grooving on a rather straightforward beat. The saxes complicate the 1-2-­3-­4 by playing over 8 instead, the singer makes large arm gestures that are a bit like Batman as he sings in Engl-­ish. The drummer is on some complicated sixteenth­ note pattern that Dave is sure cannot be written down. Then the brass hits, trumpets double saxes in sforzando swells changing chords on the bar line as the singer talks about “our time.” Dave realizes that he having a strong emotional reaction to the music. Perhaps it was due to the thing Adepe gave him, but Dave begins to cry. He feels a sympathy for these blighted people in this time. Their music is so right, and it speaks truth. It’s not the fake grandiosity of other ’70s bands (mainly the ones from US or UK). It’s not macho posturing. It’s in a sense pure. And even though Dave is not in any way a part of their struggle to become independent nations with their own language, governed by their own people, he feels this guilty weight. He now sees this as the reason why he’s crying. These people, in their own land, cannot be free except on the stage.

Adepe vanishes for a few minutes, though Dave didn’t entirely notice as he stood agog at the foot of the stage. The band’s natural sense of timing and articulation mesmerized and mesmerized. He was pulled back from the shoulder and Adepe made a signal that they should keep walking. They snaked around a bit as they were making their way through a narrow street occupied with large groups of people talking and waiting at various vendors’ cars and tents fixed evenly into sidewalk and gutter space.

The second stage was larger than the first, which was hard to believe because the first one was not small. Dave was apparently the only one around who thought that it was strange that the “backstage” was just this other section of the same stage the band was playing on. The back­lines of more music gear and sound equipment was mixed with quite a large party of people only a few of whom were dutifully sanctioned with staff or musician badges. Extremely loud and blown­-out music blared from a secondary sound stage to the left of and behind the main stage, which sat idle. It’s central opening held a large array of percussion instruments torqued to the throne, a six­-keyboard station, an empty area with six SM­58s on stands (that could have been for background singers or a horn section and what turned out to be a fair alternating of both), three full stack amps, 7-­stand rack holding as many guitars.

Adepe brought Dave, whom he still called Deva, a delicious stew from a vendor. The paper tray was almost as hot as the music was loud. There was no chance that anyone within a mile could have a conversation even if they spoke the same language, so Dave mostly just enjoyed the rich dish before the band got to start. The precious seconds between DJ songs were a wash of panacea over his eyes and ears and ribcage. The low end was responsible for at least 80% of his most recent heartbeats.

The last band finally took to stage as the distant sun stretched out and away and beyond the farthest reach of this small section of this large town. It began to set over a distance the music lingers, past the distant sapling and even into a future where the sapling’s heavy roots and large trunk cannot remember its own once fragile state. It was like the sun was not simply setting, but like it was running away as the world turned and spun around it. Must be the latitude.

The musicians took their places and somewhat clumsily fell into a massively wide intro of tremelandos and accelerating sixteenths, guitars 5­-tuplets, and atonal runs on fast eighths from the keyboard. As the horn section shuffled into place and hooked their saxes into the shoulder straps, the song faded into a brief silence as a woman with really high shoes sauntered to the mic and began to vocalize. The meaning of her words were lost on Dave. However the tune, the easiness of the percussionists, the groove on the saxes rhythmic lilts, the male background singers, and her, center on the helm of a mighty jam, wildly flipping her voice from high and clear calls of power into sunken pools of alto preponderance, all of this Dave was never to forget. The sun finally set as the first epic tune wound down. After the show, Dave found his way back to Adepe’s alone, and didn’t see him until the following evening.

RATING 7 / 10