Kimon de Greef Cue specialist writer took over the Monument on Saturday night and knocked this festival’s lights out. What a show! From before she walked on (fifteen minutes late, but quite honestly who cares) people were on their feet. Many remained that way for the entire performance. Afterwards she emerged from the wings. Fans mobbed her for hugs and photographs. She was weeping; they were weeping. And then, just moments later, she was gone.
Multi-award winning South African musician, Thandiswa Mazwai, performs in a concert in the Guy Butler Theatre in Grahamstown on 11 July 2015, at the 2015 National Arts Festival. (Photo: CuePix/Hlumela Mkabile)
“This is very meaningful for me,” said Mazwai – who was raised by activist parents in Soweto – shortly after kicking her show off. Watching her own the stage in a building with such loaded history – was mesmerising. Whereas I usually navigate the spaces these sorts of mainstream concerts take place in with ease, by virtue of being white, educated, and English-speaking, I felt like a visitor for much of the show, which really ought to happen more often considering that I represent a statistical minority in this country. Mazwai spoke isiXhosa throughout, only occasionally flipping to English. Unlike a few other shows I’ve watched in the last two weeks, this didn’t stump the audience and make things awkward, as perhaps 85% of the people watching understood Xhosa too. Please can this happen more often.
Highlights? Dub interludes played deep in the pocket, a genuine treat in South Africa; Mazwai growling like a volcano into the mic; stage hands rushing on with towels to mop up the sweat. Mazwai is a diva in the most magnificent and hypnotic sense of the word. You simply cannot look away from her. Her power is addictive and terrifying. You want her to rule the world, to tell everybody what needs to happen next, or to save us from ourselves – but she is a musician, not a god, after all, as tempting as it is to believe otherwise.
Her set consisted of tracks from her solo career, which launched with the release of Zabalaza in 2004; foundational kwaito hits from the Bongo Maffin era were left out. Mazwai didn’t need to announce track names. Everybody knew them. Her band was excellent. They switched between mbaqanga and gospel, and funk and reggae with sheer ease.
Why is this outfit not headlining more shows? Mazwai’s has to be one of the most accomplished pop acts in South Africa. Thanks and congratulations to the organisers for booking her. That’s how you end a festival.
Kimon de Greef
Cue specialist writer
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