Rock Legends Patti Smith and David Bowie Offer more than the Perfect Escape

Books are a uniquely portable magic.
― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

 

It’s a strange time when being at home alone (with family or perhaps a friend) can become quite demanding, but if you are privileged enough to have the luxury of viewing it as a time to take stock, catch up and get to all those things you love doing but never have time for, this will also be a time to read, read and read as much as you can. It is the perfect escape. This is the start of some suggestions by DIANE DE BEER in random fashion and as eclectic as reading can be for each individual. Hope you find some inspiration:

Book Yr of the Monkey

 

You have to know when tackling a Patti Smith book titled Year of the Monkey (Bloomsbury) to expect the unexpected.

Nothing about her life will be ordinary or familiar and a willingness to follow her on whatever journey she takes is a prerequisite to starting this equally melancholy and madcap journal.

Someone mentions that anything is possible, after all it is the Year of the Monkey, hence the title of the book which should be another loadstar to where these Smith meanderings might lead you.

It’s been a year of coping both with ageing (her 70th birthday looms) and dying, when her friend the producer, rock critic and manager Sandy Pearlman is hospitalised and yet another close friend and former partner, playwright Sam Shepard, is also deadly ill and needs her help to finish what will be his last book. (If you haven’t read her obituary of Shepard, it’s worth finding online.)

But first things first. Apart from these close encounters with friends and her own mortality, it’s also a helter-skelter time politically with elections in the air (and we all know how that ended) as well as Smith’s tendency to intertwine her different realities. You’d better be on your toes to keep track of her eclectic mind. Some might be fatalistic given her circumstances but others are quite fantastical as she starts communicating with an  inviting hotel sign with the name Dream Inn.

She doesn’t have everyday conversations and even loses a ride when she can’t stop talking even when warned she could only tag along if she didn’t say a word.

Whether you know and like her music or not, your enjoyment of the book depends on whether you fall in love with her eclectic lifestyle, her unusual way of making her way through life and perhaps, the age she’s at, which determines this somewhat fatalistic mood.

Along the way, she always has her camera on hand taking artistic shots of seemingly mundane features like an unmade bed in a nondescript hotel room, a writer’s shoes, a café in Lisbon and anything that catches her fancy or captures her mood.

This is not any ordinary diary but someone musing about a time in her life that finds her at particular crossroads because of circumstances beyond her control. We all know that place, but for someone with Smith’s particular capabilities, it takes what might be for many quite strange detours. It’s as if she allows the universe to dictate, as if finding it difficult to determine her own pathway right at this time.

We all know that feeling of drifting but few would actually take on the physical reality as well. Perhaps the end of a run of New Year concerts helped her along. Spent as she must have been, a time to unwind and throwing herself to the wind might make sense of a world that feels as if it is turning on her. The election of Trump also having some impact here. It is Patti Smith after all, how could it not!

If all this sounds dire because of the loneliness and a certain desolation, it is also a novel way of capturing your own feelings – especially in this time, making sense of a world that seems out of control and lending insight to others who might experience similar feelings without knowing how to get a different grip on life.

And in our present circumstances, this might be the escape some of us have been looking for. It is a writer who uses her imagination to inhabit a world she doesn’t understand – or even want to.

Book Bowie's BooksFor Bowie, one suspects, had he still been living, he would have dipped into one of the many books he loved, far beyond the 100 listed in Bowie’s Books: The Hundred Literary Heroes who Changed His Life by John O’Connel (with illustrations by Luis Paadin) published by Bloomsbury.

It’s a fascinating read, which tells you much more about Bowie while explaining the books. In the introduction that explains the writing of the book, O’Connel quotes a Sunday Times location report: “Bowie hates aircraft so he mostly travels across the States by train, carrying his mobile bibliothèque in special trunks which open out with all his books neatly displayed on shelves.”

This portable library sported 1 500 titles, more than enough so that he would never run out.

From March 2013, the Victoria and Albert Museum’s exhibition David Bowie Is travelled the world for the next 5 years. To coincide with the show’s first port of call, Ontario, the V&A issued the list on which this book is based, explains the author. It is the 100 books Bowie considered the most important and influential – not, note, his “Favourite books” as such – out of the 1 000s he had read during his life.

Bowie had through his life advertised his bookishness, according to O’Connel, not through interviews “but more obliquely in his work and in the range of masks he wore when he presented it to the public”.

We  learn, for example, that he didn’t do well at school – not through laziness it is surmised, or an inability to retain information, but rather, speculates the author, an impatience with formal education. He enjoyed teaching himself much rather than being taught by someone else.

He loved passing on the knowledge and passionately argued for a book he enjoyed to the extent that he started reviewing books for Barnes and Noble (book stores in the US).

One could also see the influence of different arts and genres in his work, in his songs, his presentations, even his album covers. That’s what makes this such a fascinating read for those who aren’t that familiar with his work

Bowie also liked playing games, says the author – hence the lists. “The V&A list is but one element of a game he enjoyed more than any other – curating his own mythology”.

One of the most incisive quotes in the introduction is something he said to Michael Parkinson during an interview: “I spent an awful lot of my life …actually looking for myself, understanding what I existed for and what made me happy in life and who exactly I was and what were the parts of myself that I was trying to hide from.”

O’Connel emphasises that the role reading played in  this quest cannot be underestimated.

It’s an extraordinary book and one that constantly surprises. The secret is in the way it has been written. With a 100 books to run through, O’Connel rarely gives more than two pages to a book in which he explains the author, who he is and what the book is about.

There’s also the significance to Bowie, a context in some way as well as insight not only into the book but also into Bowie himself.

It’s not necessarily one of those books about books that send you rushing off to read most of them. More importantly, it is about the man who read them and why he found them so significant.

Bumper Toyota SU Woordfees Goes All Out To Wow Possible Festival Groupies

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All Who Pass

A bumper Toyota SU Woordfees runs from March 6 to 15 in Stellenbosch. DIANE DE BEER picks a smattering of highlights for theatre, music and book chats, but as these are strictly a personal suggestion, there’s so much more to explore:

 

For those interested in theatre, here the accent is on participants for most of these are unseen productions, some in English and some Afrikaans:

All Who Pass: written by last year’s Standard Bank Young Artist Amy Jephta, directed by Quanita Adams, starring Elton Landrew, Iman Isaacs, Carmen Maarman, Roberto Kyle and Jawaahier Petersen; This is such a strong team, they’re hard to resist as they tell the horrific story of District Six with a family spending their last night in their home in 1974; and then restitution in 2019 as a daughter returns to claim her inheritance.

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Cellist with Rabies. Picture Monique Pelser.

Cellist with Rabies: pairs artists extraordinaire Jemma Kahn (writer and performer) and Jaco Bouwer (director and set design with Rocco Pool) also starring David Viviers. The facts are stranger than fiction and as the name implies and the description – a peculiar romantic tragedy loosely based on questionable science – determines, they will be turning your imagination upside down.

Die Vermoeienis van Vlerke: is a translation of Lara Foot’s successful The Inconvenience of Wings which deals with the impact of disabling mood disabilities on friendships and family, directed by the luminous Sylvaine Strike and starring Henriëtta Gryfenberg, Frank Opperman and Chris Gxalaba in an exciting re-interpretation of this provocative play.

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The Market Lab students in action with Hani: The Legacy.

Hani: The Legacy: produced for the Market Lab, it comes with a reputation following its Gaunteng and National Arts Festival runs. It was inspired by the landmark American musical Hamilton and set to contemporary music, including rap, hip hop and ballads, with the approach aimed at inspiring the youth with the legacy of the slain warrior Chris Hani directed by the inspired Leila Henriques.

Hoe Change Hulle: It’s difficult to resist a production called Bossikop Productions and with text and costumes by Veronique Jephtas, direction by Lee-Ann van Rooi and starring Marlo Minnaar, it tells a story of the ghetto and the lives of those many prefer to ignore.

Bobs Live – Off The Record: If you haven’t heard of J. Bobs before, this will all change as his artistry is being recognised with a Young Artist Nomination for Drama at this year’s National Arts Festival. Performing with his Sketch Trio that includes Phillip Dikotla (of the extraordinary Skierlik! fame) and Pule Welch, know that you will be both challenged and charmed as he promises to play games that have to be taken seriously.

Valrsrivier: is the stage adaptation by Saartjie Botha directed by Janice Honeyman of a hugely popular book with, amongst others, Tinarie van Wyk Loots, Anna-Mart van der Merwe and Stian Bam. It’s a no-brainer so run for tickets. It’s the age-old struggle of loyalty, loss and growing up against the backdrop of the old South African landscape.

Wit Isse Colour: with writers Ronelda S Kampher and Nathan Trantraal and Jason Jacobs as director, brace yourself for some edgy brilliance. The script is based on Trantraal’s experiences and daily encounters as well as stories from published work in which everything from toxic masculinity to a re-imagined history of Autshumao and Jan van Riebeeck is explored.

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Geon Nel in Salome

 

Salome: Wilken Calitz (text) and Gideon Lombard (director) have shown their collaborative power with Karatara (which can be seen at KKNK) and here they tackle Etienne le Roux’s Sewe Dae by die Silbersteins with a solo performance (Geon Nel) as Henry van Eeden struggles with some bizarre encounters while trying to find his future wife Salome.

 

 

 

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Rehane Abrahams

There are too many to consider, but check Pieter Dirk Uys’s trio of productions; Sandra Prinsloo’s Kamphoer; Tien Duisend Ton with Cintaine Schutte and Albert Pretorius if you haven’t yet seen it; as well as the Nico Scheeper’s driven Triple Axel and Die Engel by die Dam; the wit of Rafiek Mamon’s Die Garage; Johnny Boskak Voel ‘n Bietjie ... if you haven’t seen this Craig Morris tour de force; Chris Vorster’s Die Hart Verklap; and the extraordinary Brandbaar with Rehane Abrahams and more…

 

 

And now for some other showstoppers:

The wonderful LGT Young Soloists who represent 15 countries across the world is a happening classical experience.

Devonecia+Wilken Albumbekendstelling is a combo that could be fascinating. She is an artist with super-sized talent, supported by the crafty eye of muso Wilken Calitz, sparks could fly – even gently.

Kyle Shepherd Trio @ Standard Bank Jazz in the Quad with Shane Cooper (bass) and Jonno Sweetman (drums) will be a thrill. Anything with Shepherd is worth the time. And similarly any of the concerts in the quad.

Sho Madjozi is a rapper, singer, poet, composer and actress who grabbed the SAMAs for both best newcomer and female singer last year. Check her out.

Gerhard Marx teams with Toast Coetzer, Shane Cooper and Kyle Shepherd for Vehicle: Soundings and Fathoms in an attempt to give a voice to to lifeless objects. All the artists involved point to the kind of experience you would want to see/hear.

Nataniel in song1No longer a regular at festivals Nataniël: Hoekom Hulle Swing will be precious as he swings between thoughtful yet tantalising.

On the bookish side – and this is but a tiny fraction…

Wreed én mooi is die dood with Tobie Wiese, whose collection of stories about the experience of death includes an essay by Karin Brynard, whose husband, Rien, passed away after a period of illness, and more.

Willie Esterhuyse: Oorlog en vrede in conversation with Moeletsi Mbeki: The author contemplates how to turn an enemy into a friend. Is it even possible?

What’s in a name: The New Queer Frontiers: Jaco Barnard-Naudé talks to Mark Gevisser about his book The Pink Line; The World’s Queer Frontiers to be published later in the year, and the authors of They Called Me Queer, Kelly-Ann Koopman and Kim Windvogel, about the taboos and debates surrounding identity politics across the globe.

Giving voice to victims: the Scottish Damian Barr and Fiona Snyckers talk to Francois Smith (Kamphoer). In his novel, You Will Be Safe Here, Barr attempts to give voice to the victims of gender violence. In Lacuna, Snyckers turns JM Coetzee’s dramatic novel Disgrace on its head when Lucy Lurie, the rape victim says: “Enough. I am going to tell my own story as I experienced it.”

Muckrakers or Watchdogs: Jacques Pauw asked three well-known journalists, the award-winning Pieter-Louis Myburgh (Gangster states: Unravelling Ace Magashule’s Web of Capture), amaBhungane’s Pauli van Wyk and Foeta Krige (SABC8) of the essential, but demanding work of investigative journalists in an era of increasing corruption and fake news, wondering how much of a difference a journalist can make.

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Ramaphosa’s Long Game: Cheryl Carolus, Anthony Butler and Ralph Mathekga talk to Adriaan Basson  about the President, who is at a crossroads and whose choices will have far-reaching consequences for our country.

Foeta Krige: Die SAUK-8 with Lukhanyo Calata and Ivor Price: Why is a free press so important in a new democracy? Three members of the SABC8 share the shocking story of becoming the news and how it affected their professional and private lives.

 

 

Jonny Steinberg: One Day In Bethlehem; Non-fiction with Sandra Swart: It was a remark by Fusi Mofokeng, released after 19 years in jail, that led to this book. He said that the biggest surprise of his new life wasn’t smartphones or Google, but “that a white woman actually served him in a restaurant, and she was friendly”.

Breaking Independent News: Paper Tiger: Herman Wasserman talks to Chris Whitfield, Alide Dasnois and Dougie Oakes: When Independent Newspapers was bought by Iqbal Survé’s Sekunjalo Independent Media Consortium, journalists at South Africa’s largest newspaper firm were optimistic. What followed instead was media capture.

Ronelda Kamfer & Nathan Trantraal: twee digters tesame in conversation with Louise Viljoen: Chinatown and Oo’log mark the first time (almost) that the Trantraals, Ronelda Kamfer and Nathan, publish together. How do they manage a marriage, raising a child and being creative?

To Lose Everything: Three International Authors: Azille Coetzee talks to Christy Lefteri, the child of Greek refugees, who spent time in a Syrian refugee camp as research for her book The Beekeeper of Aleppo. Mira Feticu (Al mijn vaders) left her family when she moved from Romania to the Netherlands. Suketu Mehta was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 2015 for Maximum City, Bombay Lost and Found, his account of growing up in Mumbai.

Go to https://woordfees.co.za/en/ for the full programme. The full force of the arts available is astonishing.

 

 

Freehand is the Personal Story of Pianist Charl du Plessis and his Life in Music

Freehand Cover

The whirlwind that is pianist Charl du Plessis’s life has meant that more than 20 years into his performance career, he is finally releasing his first solo album. He reveals the thought processes behind Freehand to DIANE DE BEER:

 

Pianist extraordinaire Charl du Plessis is all about improvisation – not only on the keyboards but also in his life. He has to be. He has that many projects in the air at a given time, and constantly has to juggle.

Stepping off a plane from an international destination, he runs to catch another flight to make a concert as Nataniël’s accompanist the following day and then he rushes from there to catch up with the Charl du Plessis Trio who are also releasing a CD at the Woordfees in March.

But with improv part of his game, he will be performing his latest and first solo album,  Freehand, at the Atterbury Theatre (and in concerts throughout the year across the country) on Sunday at 3pm, followed by a performance in the Cango Caves just outside Oudtshoorn on March 28 at 8pm as part of this year’s Klein Karoo National Arts Festival (KKNK), bookings opening on Saturday (February 21). This hasn’t happened in 24 years and is a rare event, which won’t happen any time soon – if ever.

He will be the first pianist to present a performance in the Caves on International Piano Day. Strict rules will be applied to avoid any damage to this historical site and for Charl, it is a dream come true. “The space, the acoustics, the darkness and the sounds that will embrace everyone!”

The origin of the solo album began with unwinding after concerts and a hectic touring life. Arriving home and wishing to unwind, this Steinway artist would sit and tinkle on one of his two Steinways (one a new acquisition) playing music that’s gentle to his ear. When he felt it was time for a solo album  – finally – it was to these excursions in his mind that he decided to escape to.

He would sit down at the piano, and we all know that end of day feeling, and start playing. This was music that he liked listening to and never to please anyone. It’s mostly gentle and spontaneous, yet once he decided this was the way to go, he would practice improvising according to a specific mood, a moment or an object that would take him to a specific place.

“I didn’t feel I had to prove anything,” he says about this solo attempt – and many of his fans would say about time.

But of his many endeavours, where Charl has also excelled is planning his own career. Any solo career is a challenge as an artist. You only have yourself, your skills and a professionalism which helps you to sell and establish yourself. But mostly you’re always on show.

And one of his attributes is coming up with new ways of making music – classical, jazz and simply a melody that he finds enchanting or a composer he wants to showcase. He would contact a fellow performer or two or three and put together a show.

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What is truly impressive is that these shows always had a specific individuality and originality and never felt forced. This was an unusual yet also deliberate route. And those who know Charl’s work would have expected something as smart as Freehand to go solo with.

He is celebrating two decades as concert pianist in both classical and jazz  spheres. This is not typical but from the start (and I witnessed his first jazz competition in which he competed against some of the top young talent in the country, achieving a brilliant second place), he felt comfortable in both spaces. “I have had true musical satisfaction in combining my passion for various styles in crossover arrangements for multiple projects with my trio, with orchestra or solo,” he writes in his album notes.

This one specifically captures his own voice – an important step for especially solo artists. He describes this way of playing piano almost like an artist doodling or a chef who after a particular stint in the kitchen would crave comfort food not fine dining. And once he knew this was what he was going to do, he turned to fellow musician, the Trio’s drummer, Peter Auret, who is also an award-winning recording engineer, to record this pet project. It took three solid days of spontaneously improvising at the Etienne Rousseau Theatre in Sasolburg  – no rules, no preconceived ideas.

They have worked together before and the reason Charl is comfortable with this particular artist is that he feels no judgement. This was a project that felt very personal, a statement as a first solo album, but Charl also needed it to be far removed from critics, purists and conservatives.

Living and working in this world, especially in South Africa, he knows the pressures. It’s a tiny but hugely critical community and can sometimes inhibit artists to try something new – the essence of being an artist. By chance I heard some critics talk about his first Freehand performances and it was clear that he had found something truly unique to share with an already adoring following. But that’s how you get there.

Once the recordings had been made, the process was still on-going. “I left it before listening for five months because I needed some breathing space and distance,” he explains. Then he was called to choose some tracks because these improvs didn’t yet have titles. Following the completion of the album, which then had to be performed, he had to relearn the pieces that had flowed from his imagination.

“I couldn’t even recognise some of the pieces when I listened to it the first time,” he says. “This is what I love about spontaneous music making: the unpredictable journey, the freshness, the honesty, the energy, the enjoyment,” he concludes in his album notes.

The success has been sweet and he walked off after that Aardklop run with the best musical production award. Something that has been rewarding too which he didn’t take into account was the mobility of the project. “I’m reaching different audiences because I can pack up, travel and play,” he says – from Upington to Vleesbaai and from Shanghai to Switzerland.

Charl knew early on  that he didn’t want to travel the typical classical route. He needed to find a voice that would catch the fancy of audiences – worldwide. He has done exactly that on a stage, probably the most difficult in the world. This is storytelling without words and demands that the audience truly use their imagination.

With all his different projects, Charl has made sure of that – and now for the first time, he hopes to capture them with a very personal story. Listen and make up your mind. I think it is difficult to resist.

For more detail and dates, check https://charlduplessis.com/

The Artistry of the Best on Tennis and Music Stages Makes My People Sing

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In the beginning … as the excitement was building.

Pictures of tennis: Esther du Plessis

Pictures of Kirstenbosch Concert: Debra de Souza

 

When you are gifted the weekend of a lifetime and things work out and then, as a bonus, you are unexpectedly given much more than even you bargained for, all you can do is smile – for the longest time. DIANE DE BEER loses her heart  – again – to her people and continent:

 

Not only would I have the chance to see two of the best tennis players on the planet in action at the Greenpoint Stadium in Cape Town (courtesy of the children of a close friend), but would also see cellist Yo-Yo Ma in action in the spectacular setting of Kirstenbosch as part of his Bach Project.

The gods were smiling and it turned out to be so much more – in unexpected fashion – than I thought it could be.

South Africa is not in a good place and there’s not much hope that the turn-around will be swift. Those working against the citizens have done too much damage and are still sowing havoc. We will make it though as this weekend again promised, but patience is required.

Too often so many dump on what this country and its people are, that those of us who are optimistic by nature have a tough battle on a daily basis. But sometimes the country and its people deliver brilliantly.

With the excitement at an all-time high, seeing these artists of sport and music was all we dreamt it would be.

We planned the logistics of especially the tennis. In fact, we had a full day of entertainment planned so that we would not find ourselves in traffic jams or in a distressing situation where we couldn’t make the game.

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The exuberance and ingenuity of Jojo Rabbit set the mood for the day.

With the stadium in walking distance of the V&A Waterfront, that was an obvious destination. Our movie for the day was picked, Jojo Rabbit, and we would have a late lunch at about 3pm before making our way to the stadium at 5.

Everything played into our hands. We had picked the parking mall closest to the stadium and it was literally a 10 minute walk from both the stadium and the movie mall. The stars had aligned and once we experienced the delight of Jojo Rabbit, the perfect pick for the day, it seemed nothing could go wrong.

Even our late lunch at Tashas, which consisted of a house salad with the freshest finely cut greens and avo mixed with portions of pickled calamari and squid heads with a cool glass of Cape wine, was perfect.

This was followed by a short walk to the stadium, the palpable excitement of the crowds starting to amass and the simplicity of finding the right entrance and our seats. Of course the stands are far from the court and we couldn’t really see their facial expressions, and we were sitting in an area where the sound was distorted (all of which we could later catch up on DStv), but we could certainly experience the play, see the balletic magnificence of Federer and experience Nadal’s joy as he became more and more aware of the importance of this meet for someone who is now his big tennis buddy.

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Nadal and Noah vs Federer and Gates… with everyone in stitches.

I am a Federer fanatic and the pleasure of witnessing the way he plays in real life and real time is something that’s hard to explain and with that, the bonus of the gracious Nadal who could hardly keep the smile off his face the whole game. How blessed tennis fans are to have these two gentle sports giants at the top of their game for much of our lives – and then to catch them in Cape Town nogal!

Who could have thought. And then in typical South African fashion, a young man with an exquisite voice started singing Shosholoza, capturing that awesome home ground spirit that we wallow in and reminds us just who we are.

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Throughout the game, if I had criticism, it was the music which should all have been from here. It’s such a brilliant showcase and we certainly have a choice which would have every spectator’s hair standing on edge as could be witnessed with the spirited Shosholoza. It was a night when the people, the organisation, the tennis and the players and for those of us who have never been, even the stadium with the starry night skies, were doing their best.

The following night was Yo-Yo Ma’s Kirstenbosch concert as part of his 36 Concerts. 6 Continents. 36 Days of Action, exploring how culture connects us.

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The beauty of Kirstenbosch with nature the perfect setting for Yo-Yo Ma.

It all began in August 2018 when he started a two-year journey to perform Johann Sebastian Bach’s six suites for cello in 36 locations around the world. For me this was meant to be. He is probably my favourite classical musician and not only for his playing but also for the way he embraces world music and makes huge statements without saying a word – all in aid of our common humanity. We need these artists, especially when they have his insight and platform.

What were the odds that these two events would come together on one weekend in one city on the Southern-most point on Africa – or almost. And yet another perfect night. It started in Cape Town’s best late-afternoon light (not a sign of the wind of the previous night which had Trevor Noah asking for the aircon to be switched off!) and worked itself into the most precious full moon which shone on Yo-Yo and the crowds like a halo.

Yo Yo Ma, Credit- Austin Mann
Tripping the light fantastic pictured by Austin Mann.

It was sublime – everything. From the musician all by himself making heart-achingly beautiful music, the setting, the lit trees as the darkness descended and even going home, making your way back to the car, not everyone sure which route to take yet being directed out by traffic police who had warned before the time that they would be there.

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A night to remember with all the planets in alignment.

And through this all, it was being South African and participating in when we are at our best that kept me smiling. From the spectators and audience to the organisation at both events, to the settings and more than anything the people and the camaraderie, we couldn’t find that anywhere else.

We have proved that as a nation when we find common ground, we have the same drum beating the African rhythms that keep us fighting for a country where diversity has always been its strength.

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The perfect partnership: Zolani Mahola and Yo-Yo Ma.

The genius Yo-Yo Ma experienced that as he invited Zolani Mahola (formerly Freshly Ground) onto the stage and they performed one of Johnny Clegg’s most haunting anthems Asimbonanga:

Oh the sea is cold and the sky is grey
Look across the Island into the Bay
We are all islands till comes the day
We cross the burning water…

 

 

Nataniël’s Antidote to a World in Pain is to Make Us Scream With Laughter – Please Don’t Refuse to Listen

DIANE DE BEER

Nataniel in red
Nataniël in classic red.

 

Nataniël’s  LILY REFUSES TO LISTEN

With musician Charl du Plessis (piano), Werner Spies (bass) and Peter Auret (drums)

Costumes by Floris Louw

VENUE: Atterbury Theatre, Lynnwood

DATES: January 21 to 25

Book at iTickets

 

Nataniël starts his year exactly as he ended it – on stage with the laughter and merriment of his latest show, Lily Refuses to Listen.

This short run is specially for those who missed it first time round – or those who want to see it again. It is that good – and funny!

As always, he pitches perfectly, not only with the music but also with the mood that he creates in both stories and song.

Whether we are ending or starting a new year, nobody wants to hear any bad news. This is a time of reflection, of course, but rather than focus on all the sadness and misery in our troubled world, he finetunes his music and words sharply with both sweetness and hilarity, something no one does better.

From the moment he starts singing My Sweet Song, the  music sets the tone with a slow swing, but as he slips into his first story, all of that changes dramatically.

The stories, all stand-alone, show Nataniël at his best as he lets rips with language and laughter, the perfect antidote for this time of year as we want to kickstart it, preferably raucously.

He gathers his usual wacky characters, all visualised with detailed descriptions, all determined to take your breath away.

It’s the way he conjures up a world we all recognise but in spectacular colours and with an exaggeration that’s tough to resist.

And with one of the show’s aims (New Year resolution perhaps) to get people to think about their lives and take courage to say no rather than too easily agree to something they really don’t want to do, he’s also quick to jump on anyone playing with cell phones, the bane of performers as the lights are clearly visible and especially distracting for those on stage.

That and people who keep chatting during the performance who are as much a disturbance to the performer as those in proximity of the culprit.

It’s about the performance, staying in the moment and giving a show that embraces everything this showman admires. And for him it is time to call them out. So pay attention, it’s the entertainment you’re there for, you and those around you.

The music is all about nostalgia with classics like Sweet Georgia Brown,  a beautiful  if perhaps not so familiar Beatles song, Golden Slumber, Ain’t no Sunshine, Many Rivers to Cross and more, a few original numbers elaborated with stories about some of the songs and their composers.

One of this singer’s many attributes is his amazing arrangement of classics to suit his voice but also to make it his own. It adds to a familiar tune and sometimes completely changes the meaning of a song because of the way we listen.

And finally, the costumes. It’s where all his shows begin, the design and  creativity of the couture to lead into the stories and songs. Again, it is spectacular in all the colours of the rainbow with shapes that make your head spin and a desire to copy some of his detail.

If you’re not quite in the right place yet to begin the year, this is the perfect place to start. It will put your head in the clouds where it can stay for a while as you get into the rhythm of the new year and all it will hopefully stack up to be.

 

 

Music and Magic at Market@theSheds

DIANE DE BEER

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Pretoria has some of the best markets in the country and one of those, Market@theShedsis probably still one of the best kept secrets in town.

Part of the reason is because it happens in the city at 012central, the trendy arts precinct in Pretoria CBD.

And importantly, first things first, there’s safe parking. Find free parking at 216 Sisulu Street which provides direct access to the market. Overflow parking is available at the State Theatre, 140m away from the main entrance at 381 Helen Joseph street.

Morayks
Morayks in concert

This coming market on Saturday is really one for music lovers. Best of the Sheds Music Festival is the grand finalé for 2019 and the emphasis is on local. Throughout the year, more than 60 talented local bands and musicians perform on stage at the monthly Market@TheSheds.

Once a year, people get the chance to see the year’s favourite bands and musicians with this action-packed Best of the Sheds Music Festival. It truly is Tshwane’s best showcase of the finest local artists and bands.

If music is your thing, this is a fantastic venue to catch the vibe. Join the festivities on Saturday (November 30) and see more than 10 live bands in action. What is described as the ultimate line-up includes The Muffinz, Brian Temba, Morayks, Pedro Barbosa, Gina Mabasa, 1520, The Tshwane School of Music, Lehlohonolo Ntsoko, Chievosky and Zebra.

What makes Best of The Sheds different from their usual market experience? It’s more than just a vibe-driven art, fashion, food and a designer show. Complimenting the music festival, there is a festive market with over 40 designer stalls stocked with colourful, locally produced products. It’s a perfect opportunity to shop the market streets and find quirky gifts while having a great time with family and friends.

Market@theSheds has always meant different things to different people. Personally it’s people watching and fantastic food for me although music is a big part of the market’s success. But if you want less noise and more kuier, it’s best to go earlier in the day rather than later, when the party really gets going.

Kudzaishe Gumbo (5)
Dancing in style at Market@theSheds Picture: Kudzaishe Gumbo

Pretoria’s hip inner-city market is where you will find delicious gourmet street food, craft beer, gin and cocktail stalls and the open-air courtyard with a jumping castle makes it fun for the whole family. But it’s also a place where those with true Tshwane style hang out – both the parents and their kids.

If you’re checking for classy street vibes or high-end individual style that seems ready to vogue, this is where you’ll find it.

Tickets can be bought on-line at Quicket. Online tickets are R120 pp and entrance at the gate will be R 150 pp. Kids under 12 come in free.

Gerrit Wassenaar
Picture: Gerrit Wassenaar

It’s time to shop, play, dance, be merry and have fun with family and friends.

Market@theSheds is the place to start the discovery of a city you think you know. It is a project of the Capital Collective, a non-profit organisation promoting rejuvenation efforts in the inner-city. And it’s working. Don’t miss out being part of this hidden jewel of the inner city. It’s a blast, every last Saturday of the month.

And this one will be happening with a music line-up of note.

 

Nataniël Set to Sparkle in Xmas Show

Nataniel Xmas posterDIANE DE BEER

It’s been a remarkable year for Nataniël with his first memoir published in both Afrikaans and English last month and a return to Emperors for his spectacular annual show. Now the sparkler on the tip of the Christmas tree is his end-of-year concert at the Atterbury Theatre in his hometown.

The title, Lily Refuses to Listen, is already worth the price of admission, but especially for those whose spirits are dampened by the distress of today’s world, this is one to opt for. An escape that will have you thinking while laughing and crying from start to finish!

From Tuesday December 3 tot Sunday December 8, Nataniël presents a brand new show at Atterbury Theatre for a limited season of 6 performances only.

“At the end of another year of being bombarded by bad news,” he writes, “damning prophecies, evil politics, corruption, loud neighbours, endless traffic, horrific music, bad advertising and desperate social media,” this is a time to celebrate personal space, personal choices, selective listening, self-care and resilience.

“Out with the bull, in with the beauty!” is his war cry. “Out with the yes, in with the no! Out with the trends, in with the timeless! Out with parties, in with privacy! Out with the ordinary, in with the exclusive!”

“Everybody was screaming as loudly as they could this year,” explains Nataniël as he speaks about the inspiration for this particular show. “Everyone wanted to make sure they would be heard or become famous.”

He also admonishes those who do selective listening. “You have to listen properly,” he says. “I want to tell people that it’s important to listen, not to be intimidated, but to really listen.”

Choice of music is never a problem. He loves Christmas music and often takes old familiar songs and turns them into something individual yet as sacrosanct as the original. Songs from the treasure trove of timeless blues, jazz, soul and pop, as well as original songs will all feature.

Costumes will be to die for, colourful and festive with a contemporary take on a more glorious time.

Lily Refuses To Listen features fantastical stories in both English and Afrikaans, but don’t expect anything to be ordinary or to unfold without exotic names for strange yet wacky and witty creatures and towns with names that remind you that we live in a weird and wonderful world. With this storyteller’s vivid imagination, it’s easy to follow the yellow brick road wherever it leads. And for 90 minutes, what is round might become square, but you would find it difficult to leave.

Nataniël shares the stage with c (piano), Werner Spies (bass) and Peter Auret (drums). Costumes are by Floris Louw and a Kaalkop Christmas Shop will be available in the foyer.

The show is 90 minutes long, with no interval, no cell phones, no shorts and no children under 15.

LILY REFUSES TO LISTEN: 3 – 8 December 2019; Atterbury Theatre; Book at iTickets

Maqoma’s Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Bolero Mourns Death Magnificently

 

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The memorable Cion conceived and choreographed by Gregory Maqoma

 CION: REQUIEM OF RAVEL’S BOLERO

Conceived and choreographed by: Gregory Maqoma

Creative input and rehearsal director: Gladys Aghulas

Music composed and directed by: Nhlanhla Mahlangu

Dancers: Vuyani Dance Theatre

Singers: Soweto Gospel Choir

Musical assistance: Xolisile Bongwana and Sbusiso Shozi

Costumes: Jacques van der Watt and Black Coffee

Set and technical direction: Oliver Hauser

Lighting: Mannie Manim

Sound: Ntuthuko Mbuyazi

Choir under direction of Bongani Ncube

Venue and Dates: Nelson Mandela Theatre until September 15

 

 

DIANE DE BEER

It is such a strange time in the world, with the arts perilously balanced with all the usual stumbling blocks. Add to that the decimation of arts writing on all the traditional platforms with nothing in its place – or where there is, no way for possible readers to find it.

With the result that everyone is battling to get their stories out there. I was at a National Theatre Live screening of The Lehman Trilogy with Sam Mendes directing Simon Russel Beale, Adam Godley and Ben Miles last week.

There were five people watching this majestic piece. No one I asked knew about the screening and I spoke and wrote about it because I love sharing the arts because of the impact it has on individual lives.

Hopefully similar things will not happen to Gregory Maqoma’s sublime Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Bolero, currently on at the Joburg Theatre until Sunday in celebration of the vibrant Vuyani Dance Theatre’s 20th anniversary.

In an amplified version (“death needs amplifying in the present circumstances,” says the choreographer) which starts with bone-chilling sobs drenched by shafts of sharp light from which the dancers emerge, the tone is set as the heartache of those sounds find solace in the rhythms of Ravel’s Boléro. As the dancers start moving as one, they sweep your emotions along.

CION

It is a mighty piece on multiple levels and even though it is inspired and based on two Zakes Mda books, Ways of Dying and Cion, the strength lies in  the complexity of the whole with the evocative lighting, the heightened sounds of the Soweto Gospel Choir as the dancers bring their own singing to create specific rhythms and textures, all contributing to the enormity of what Maqoma is dealing with.

Enveloped in this grief, the production is mesmerising and astonishing in its excellence. From Black Coffee’s costumes, the diversity of the music and the singing, the Ravel rhythms often suggested by the dancers’ clicking or tapping or a drumbeat, the melancholy and sometimes even merriment of the production are completely overwhelming in its brilliance.

We are living in a world that takes dying lightly. Just the last few days in our country underlines that in different ways. Gender-based abuse has again galvanised women to step out and shout while simultaneously a young man is being sentenced for raping a 7-year old girl in a toilet at a restaurant.

A young mother kills four of her children with rat poison and goes out partying.

Shops in both Joburg and Tshwane are set alight and burnt to the ground while politicians argue whether this is xenophobia or not. People are dying because they are hungry and the root causes are never addressed.

Schoolchildren fear for their safety at schools while others are kidnapped on their way or back home.

In the rest of the world, refugees are growing in numbers as they flee from their countries because of war or dictatorships and some are simply banished because they’re not wanted. “We are forced into mourning,” says Maqoma who tells the story in the way he best knows how.

And yet failed leaders are mourned in their death and feted while their people suffer and eventually flee their land.

CION
Scenery and lighting extraordinaire

It is against this backdrop that Maqoma creates a visual spectacle that grabs you tightly around the throat and never lets go. The dancers move, en masse it feels, yet are given individual moments, from Afro fusion to a nod to the classics but in contemporary and fast- changing style, everyone on stage is celebrated and contributes to hold their audience in complete awe.

The beauty, the execution, the quality and excellence unfolding underline the talent of our artists who are out there fighting and creating on their own. If this is what they achieve while struggling, the heights they could reach are staggering.

But that is the world of the artist. He can’t help himself. As Maqoma suggests, with individuals who are daily running the Vuyani Dance Theatre, he has been encouraged and allowed to dream, which he fortunately does on grand scale. He doesn’t hold back and does it the only way he knows how

There are only five performances left. It’s one of those landmark theatrical experiences which is on its way to London to be staged during the Dance Umbrella festival at the Barbican. Those performances will be packed and so should they be back home.

It’s accessible, the music is mindblowing and Gregory Maqoma’s talent and collaboration genius should be witnessed again and again. His artistry is recognised internationally but he insists on staying and performing at home.

I am eternally grateful. Seeing Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Bolero, not once but twice, has been a theatrical miracle.

 

 

Little Nataniël Waltzes With Giants

If you know Nataniël, you won’t be able to resist his latest season. If you don’t, DIANE DE BEER coaxed him to share the story of his upcoming show:

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The title alone will stop you in your tracks: When Giants Waltz – 12 Monumental Concerts by Little Nataniël.

But that has always been his power – getting you to gasp – at his costumes, his words, his gestures – or simply the spectacular staging of his shows.

Not this time says the performer – but we won’t quite take his word for it.

The title dictates that the costumes will be monumental – and that is where he starts – always with the way he looks when on stage.

 Singer, songwriter and storyteller Nataniël returns to the Theatre of Marcellus for his 17th production at Emperors Palace after a year’s sabbatical. This latest creation will first be staged at Artscape, one of his favourite theatres, from September 10, with a smaller band but the same set, props and costumes as well as script to be presented as 12 concerts from October 4 to 27,  Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm; and Sundays at 3pm.

nataniel poster

A typical Nataniël year consists of three original stage productions, one at Artscape, one at Emperors Palace and one at the Atterbury Theatre. The rest of the year is filled with numerous concert tours.

These concerts (“the friendly shows”) are as structured and detailed as all his work, but allow him more freedom for improvisation and informal banter. For the first time he will present this format at Artscape and Emperors Palace.

And as a bonus, there will be as many costume changes as he can manage! With the show title as an example, he is going grand and gigantic. “Expect them to be epic,” he says. “I can hardly move them. Every time I do, I find myself with a sleeve in my hand.”

Last year’s sabbatical (only from the grandly staged shows) obviously gave him the chance to reassess. He believes audiences prefer his solo stories rather than a single story told from the beginning to end of the show.

This also gives him more time to play around, allows for a mini-sermon slipped in at some stage which also gives you a measure of where his head is at for the moment – always a bonus.

But then the title should do that too, he explains. “When giants waltz, the earth moves. Apparently,” he says, “size does matter!”

“As far back as your childhood, everything is a battle between big and small. This is my chance to lead a well-dressed rebellion against institutions. I despise any structure that involves a boardroom. Some people, however, will be victims of this stupidity.”

NatanielEmperorsPortrait (1)

If all of this simply sounds too serious, don’t fear, the shows are focused on entertainment yet “from a pedestal of profound values and issues,” he says with what may to some sound like a heavy heart.

“It’s fun from beginning to end. If we can’t have fun in this mess …” And if anyone can turn the prediction of the end of the world into something hilarious, Nataniël is your man.

The way he thought about this season was to start with a costume that he imagined as the outfit he would wear at the last ball held on the Titanic!

Staged with his trademark stylish lighting, he has visualised this concert as a series of portraits. It reminds him of those tableaux from a time, long, long ago when photography was in its infancy. “It will hopefully remind people of paging through an album,” he suggests. “When the lights go on, everything stops on stage! In the dark, out of sight, is when everything happens,” he notes. “During the blackouts we move.”

With his stories, he isn’t only comparing big versus small, but also the constant struggle between the indestructible and the threatened, the always present war between the individual and the establishment, and the exhausting debate between the political and the intelligent.

Nataniël performs music from an endless catalogue of blues and jazz evergreens, pop classics and original songs.

This time even the music has been simplified and made as accessible as he knows how.

And no more choreography. While some will miss those quirky hops, skips and jumps so beautifully executed with often military precision, he feels as if someone has handed him his freedom. “I would panic through every show that I would forget my steps,” he explained. “Why did I do that all these years? What was I thinking?”

He shares the stage with his brilliant band led by Charl du Plessis (keyboards), Juan Oosthuizen (guitar), Brendan Ross (keyboards, saxophone and vocals), Werner Spies (bass), Peter Auret (drums), and on vocals, Dihan Slabbert and Nicolaas Swart.

The minimalist set (notwithstanding the multitude of props) will be complemented by another collection of extraordinary costumes created by Floris Louw, Nataniël’s award-winning designer of the past 18 years.

Describing this as a concert for the connoisseur, he never fails to entertain. His stories and songs, the staging and the costumes, when they all come together – that’s showbiz, and perfect for these tough times.

Cds, dvds, books (including his brand new book – a memoir in Afrikaans and English), ceramics and products from Nataniël’s lifestyle range will be available at all performances.

*Artscape, Cape Town; September 10 to 15.

*Theatre of Marcellus, Emperors Palace; October 4 to 27, 2019

Fridays & Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm

12 concerts only; 90 minutes long; no interval; no cellphones, sandals or shorts; no children under 15.

 

Bookings at Computicket.

 

 

Choreographer/Dancer Gregory Maqoma and Vuyani Dance Theatre Celebrate 20 Years, Spotlighting Zakes Mda’s Cion

©Siphosihle-Mkhwanazi_CION-29-1-1024x300
A scene from Cion ©Siphosihle-Mkhwanazi

Choreographer/dancer Gregory Maqoma and the Vuyani Dance Theatre are celebrating 20 years in the contemporary dance sphere in South Africa and abroad. DIANE DE BEER speaks to him about a reworked Cion, the piece he has selected to showcase their accomplishments in the Nelson Mandela Theatre from September 5 to 15:

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Gregory Maqoma in Cion

 

“I’ve just kept working,” says the explosive driving force behind Vuyani Dance Theatre (VDT), founder and creative director Gregory Maqoma, when reminiscing about the achievement of their 20th anniversary celebration with the already celebrated Cion at the Joburg Theatre starting on September 5.

Five years ago, the company celebrated with Full Moon which dance critic Adrienne Sichel lauded as “flights of conceptual fancy, wrapped around a creation myth, tap into South Africa’s diverse dance lineage ranging from classical ballet to contemporary African dance.

“Maqoma’s aesthetic plumage and Afro-classicism don’t ignore the Odette/Odile legacy but neither does he forget Africa’s ornithology.”

At that time, they didn’t have any backing, and not much has changed since. “It hasn’t been easy,” says the softly spoken Maqoma but argues that it speaks to their resilience. Then they were looking at their 15-year achievement, already a major feat for a local contemporary dance company, but this time round it’s #Vuyani20 and for the future, #ShapingTheNext20.

As they have done in the past, when it seems like too much of a struggle, they simply go bigger. And that’s not only into the future but also with what seemed to many the perfect production. For these current festivities, Maqoma has decided to amplify Cion because he believes that in current circumstances, death needs amplifying.

He is doing this by adding dancers as well as voices – and no less than the Soweto Gospel Choir – to this extraordinary performance. “It’s about legacy,” he says proudly.

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He points to their future and a combined invitation from “Sadler Wells, Theatre de la Ville and a Dutch company for performances of four shows two years hence.” That’s the luxury that he knows dancers in South Africa seldom have. “It gives us two years to just think,” he says. It also brings financial muscle and support, something that is sadly missing at home.

“We need acknowledgement of the spaces we find, as well as support and marketing,” he adds almost mournfully.

Everything happens here with little rehearsal time and much ingenuity as audiences can witness in the reworked Cion. That’s the way they roll. It’s not that he doesn’t speak loudly when given the opportunity, but from government they have had few favours.

CION
Cion

Artists/directors like James Ngcobo and Idris Elba (whose currently running production Tree Maqoma has just choreographed) know what the man is capable of and so do international audiences. But fortunately, Maqoma keeps coming home. This is where he dances and teaches with the company whose trainees will also be participating in the pulsating production on the Nelson Mandela stage in September.

His work has always been about challenging a Eurocentric way of structuring and to give it a contemporary African edge – with conviction – while at the same time honouring black artists. “We want to take control of our own craft,” he says. “It’s about validity.” And the fact that he should still be seeking that at this time, says so much about the world we live in.

If anything, Cion is proof of so much more than that.

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Gregory Maqoma (front) in Cion

 

When it was first performed at the Market Theatre in 2017, he explained the creation thus: “I am drawn to Zakes Mda’s character Toloki the professional mourner from his beloved Ways of Dying as he further uncovers in his book Cion the story of the runaway slaves.

“In my interpretation, Toloki rediscovers death in a modern context, inspired by the universal events that lead to death, not as a natural phenomenon but by decisions of others over the other. We mourn death by creating death.

“The universe of greed, power, religion has led us to be professional mourners who transform the horror of death and the pain of mourning into a narrative that questions what seems to be normalised and far more brutal in how we experience death and immigration.

CION_Maqoma

“I am creating this work as a lament, a requiem required to awaken a part of us, the connection to the departed souls.”

And about that first season: nothing prepares you for the performance by Maqoma who has gathered a group of dancers, musicians and singers who mourn death in a way that both embraces and expunges the horrors of this world.

“From the design to the dance to the magnificent music and singing, Maqoma transports you to a place of healing by tearing the horror apart – step by step, note by note.

“If you ever see Cion is being performed anywhere, don’t hesitate, just go. It’s world class and feeds the soul.”

That’s what I wrote two years ago and that’s why it’s thrilling that he has decided to stage this majestic work at this particular time. If you see anything this year, it should be this.

Maqoma’s whole life has been about pushing boundaries and acknowledging himself and the company. “No more gatekeepers,” is his rallying cry.

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In full flow, Gregory Maqoma in Cion with singers in the background

And even though he laments the lack of support in a larger sense, he feels blessed for the support he has in the company. “I’ve been able to step away from the day-to-day running,” he explains. That gives him the luxury of time to sleep, to strategise and to dream. It also means he can make all of those a reality.

Vuyai Dance Theatre has become a machine that can function without his daily attention – and that, more than anything gives him great joy.

When he talks about going bigger, their first step towards #ShapingTheNext20 is to start laying the bricks for their own building. “If we’re able to cross borders, what is stopping us to lay those first bricks in our own country? We are fighting for our own space.”

In conclusion, he declares that he has been pushed post-apartheid to recognise the many atrocities including the senseless killings at Marikana – hence Cion. “It needs a strong push,” he exclaims, “we need to raise questions and we need to be loud.”

Government-funded art centres have not embraced their own he feels, and any plea from artists is landing on deaf ears. In the coming years apart from building VDT and working towards further success, he will also be developing a curriculum as a training institution and documenting the choreographic methodology of his and fellow choreographer Vincent Mantsoe’s work which will establish their own technique internationally.

It’s all about ownership, ownership, ownership.