Rich in diamond trade. Rough edges. It feels like an artist’s city. And i am
spoilt there, having the stage poet Andy Fierens and his partner An as hosts
and friends. They live in an old apartment, top floor, of an old building –
squeezed uprightly between other old buildings with old apartments. With a
lift with hand-operated slide-doors. Wood inside. you can see the building
passing you by as you are being lifted. Slowly. And this is Antwerp where i
played in the Boekentoilet with other famous Belgian poets (Flemish) as well
as in an artistic venture “New Horizons” (bottom of an old building). Old
buildings. Always somewhat fascinating to an African, like huts are to
Europeans (where i am now, the valley below are dotted with lots of huts –
huts with electrical lights. This is Hogsback, 2003).
I had a lovely moment in Antwerp. I was interviewed on camera. In a park. I
had to cross a bridge over water with swans. I just had to walk so that i
could be filmed. Now that – THAT – made me feel famous. Not outside, not for
real, but inside. People may look down on this notion of “fame.” but to me
that is not altogether unimportant. Fame is like an amplifier. Without an
amp, 500 children in a school hall cannot all share in the energy on stage.
Without fame, one’s talent fades before it reaches the horizon. I live in a
world with lots of people. The horizon is quite far and wide.. At least 500
children can hear me at this stage.
After Antwerp i visited my uncle in Gent, made another contact with people
in a small town and then paid my hefty dues to pass through the ch’U’nnel to
England. I could have done it cheaper by ferry. But the simplicity of never
leaving your car, crossing quickly and the strange confidence that comes
with traveling with the upper class made me pay that lot extra.
I traveled along the south coast of the Island, struck by the similarity
between it and places like Muizenberg, Kalk Bay and Simons Town in the Cape.
The English have copied themselves so neatly and so widely over the surface
of the globe, it is something to wonder at. I tried to figure out what made
them so prolific. In general, humans that branched out from Africa to
colder, softer and super-fertile places like North West Europe and most
parts of England themselves – over the millennia – became colder, softer
(and white) and super fertile. They grew prolifically like the Australian
wattle grows in South Africa: almost like a weed. Ultimately they outgrew
the Island. Imperialism resulted: cold, white and weedy humans from the
north gobbling up other parts of the world to accommodate this Endless
Crescendo. I am “white” myself. I share this disposition (I recall now that
in my army years there was this saying “moenie wit raak nie” (don’t get
white on me) – meaning don’t act above rank. don’t be rank!)
But back to England. I stopped at an old abbey. The hilliness of the island
land surface gives it that coziness that makes for good stories. Northern
France, Belgium, the Netherlands.. too flat for adventure. The abbey
transported me for a stolen hour on my tight-scheduled movements. Buildings
of stone and roofs of clay always root one in the past and in the ground.
I gave five shows in the week i spent in and around London. Hosts of my
countrymen and women to receive me, of course. Where this has been a strange
thing before, i am slowly getting used to it. And what a variety of
attitudes, of histories and prospects they represent! I am actually
beginning to appreciate this diaspora. It does not so much split and weaken
our society as it brings a new dynamism, broadening horizons and a dearth of
opportunities. London! Ugly beauty, congested spaciousness, expensive
accessibility – lovable, greedy animal. It is here that the shutters of my
own career was opened. I can now see some of the path i have previously only
dreamt existed. Nobody likes one big jam of human traffic. But nowhere else
can you get hooked up so fast and so well as in that sticky concentrate.
Details of what happened there will transpire as you follow my future.
Back to France. To Paris. To my mom and to friends in Paris. To the French.
My genetic bias. But not an easy environment. It is easier to perform in the
Benelux, in England, even Germany. But more inspiring to play in France. You
play in style. you are received in style. In stylish buildings (oh how
stuffy London is!). One day, my good friends the Dubourgs, took me to a
famous square in the city to make some street music as part of the “Fete de
le Musique” – a day where musicians can perform all over the place. The
weather was fantastic, the city brimming with festive throngs of people. And
the square resounded with all sorts of known and unknown instruments. And
not so bad musicians. And with all that, i did not feel like playing – me
who have always dreamt of spending time in this grand place just to hang
around and ooze creativity on the pavements. But i know why: this was all
too obvious, too given on a plate. The only challenge is to find a spot
where you’re not drowned by the next opera singer or accordionist. No one
will pity you. No one will take a real interest. They will just smile at
another decent ornament. Moreover, i have outgrown my busking days.
Then came the grandest treat of them all. Three days in the countryside near
Bordeaux, south west France. The treat begins with the humans i’ve been
with. Nelle (ex South African), Bob (Frenched American) and Kate and
Justin – young South Africans seriously bohemian and on the road through
Europe. A castle ruin turned into a summer residence. Hilltop overlooking
vineyards, forests and other castles. Little villages with old churches (i
performed in one of them). Hearty meals (in style, of course) outside on
perfect evenings. Hours of intelligent conversation. And a huge and elevated
The show i gave in the church was quite an affair. Because it was my first
time there, the skies decided to play along with me. en minutes before
starting time the clouds burst (warnings of evening storms kept half the
audience away). But then the music calmed the heavens and the heavens calmed
the earth and the earth calmed all of us, except for some who felt that my
sounds and acts were sacrilegious: The Silent Resistance – at least silent
to my ears. And now i know that there will always be this silent resistance.
Some clouds will always burst on me.
I left Europe feeling enriched to the brim. My inside shivers with the seeds
of significant projects, of global consequence. This is not grandstanding of
any sorts. This is me. My particular life cup that is filling up. A busy
tour waits for 2004. New arenas – larger audiences, the corporate. I can
return to my blood land. Bloody and all.
But not before making a stop in Dubai. Dear Michael and Anahita! Pleasure to
be received by you in this hot and almost exotic place. This was truly new
to me. And strangely enticing. This blend of desert, humidity, money and
keen strategy. How do i make music here? I just play. Here’s no intellectual
prying and confronting artistic traditions. Just another globe-trotter
exchanging his wares. If we like, we buy. I’m going back there.
Home soils. Space. Breath. The dry winter landscapes. The fun to be back in
MY car. The gray areas in behaviour – how LEKKER! I first spent time with
some of my family on the Natal coast, testing out the new video camera,
swimming in the sea, playing with my brother’s beautiful kids. Breathing. Up
to Joburg for a quick wedding (i just provided the music!) and down to
Grahamstown for the National Schools Festival. Workshops. Vibrant South
African kids. (oh, damn all doomsayers!). And up to here, in the mountains:
Hogsback. Snugged into a hole from where i can see the world more properly.
And myself. And the silence. And a little coal stove to warm me up.
This planet is a small place.