Some years ago I wrote to you about Andrew, the stray guitarist of Grahamstown, notorious for his way to talk people out of their money. “But also notorious” for his character, his strong musicality and the colour he added to the town. Andrew was my first black friend. And for those of you who may frown on this racial emphasis, frown on. I was raised under apartheid and to have a true black friend (one you call your equal) was a thing with a lot of barriers around it. I had to overcome those. And Andrew helped me.
Andrew died in May. I cried. Hard. Perhaps because he used to make me furious at him. We shouted at each other in public once. I distanced myself from him for a time. Yet, amongst all the debris of misunderstandings, of two people trying to bridge a divide of comfort and poverty, of psychological balance and insanity, of white privilege and a daily struggle just to get food, a little sprout of humanity remained alive. And the music. The music!
I last saw him in March. He was worn and thin of disease. He had no more teeth. His ramshackle shack was broken into and his guitar stolen. His voice was dimmed and his eyes was red and tired. He even lost his drive to give a begging performance. I gave him money. I gave him a hug. That would the last time.
I cried when a family member phoned me in Germany with the news of his death, because of all the emotion, because of a live that to me became a thumbnail of the human mess township life can be. Andrew lost his parents at a very young age, and the child who anxiously searches for a caring hand and heart, never grew up. He developed fantasies to comfort him, that his real father was the boxer Muhammad Ali and that millions await him in inheritance money. I cried for his music, which has shown a true talent and I cried for the bold way he drew me into his community, his language and his heart.
deeply troubled andrew
better days: our second album recording
Andrew is no more. But he has opened doors for me. His death affirms that despite all the struggle one can have, trying to bridge such deep divides, to connect as humans is a life-giving award.