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.

Prue Leith: A Splash of Vibrant Colour

Pictures: Corne Ann Photography.

Prue Leith school

With her recent visit to the Prue Leith Culinary Institute in Centurion, mainly to celebrate their success as well as her 80th birthday, it’s her youthfulness that bowls you over. DIANE DE BEER finds out more about her unstoppable drive:

It’s Prue Leith’s constant refrain when talking about yet another venture, “I’m a  commercial woman”, and how fast she runs her life, that keeps her young. The energy obviously rubs off, that and her exuberance, her dazzling embrace of bright colours, and partner John Playfair who never stops the banter, but also gives a helping hand when she moves around the room for book signings.

Prue Leith and partner
Partners in cameraderie John Playfair and Prue Leith.

That’s just who she is. Instead of asking everyone to stand in line, she moves around the room to do the necessary with John in tow for selfies and anything else she might need, the perfect team.

In town for amongst other her birthday celebrations (she wanted to do some of that in Cape Town as well), she admits that she isn’t that happy that everyone knows her age. But when she opened her restaurant in London at the age of 29, she was loud and proud about the achievement.

Ever practical, Prue isn’t too fussed and chats happily about her many endeavours, of which her return to the food world precipitated much of what is bubbling in her booming business sphere.

Prue blowing out the candles...finally!
Hurricane Prue blowing out the candles in her exuberant style.

At the time of her first association with the food world, the British food establishment was in the clutches of Escoffier (but not in the right way, according to Prue), it had become stifled, always sticking to the rules and not taking heed of the great French master’s advice that one had to move with the times. “It was all about following the rules and if it wasn’t Escoffier, it wasn’t cuisine,” she says.

“You would find all the same items on the menus across London,” she says. When she left, she started campaigning in the food world for good school lunches, for example, and another successful launch was her fiction writing, which resulted in a clutch of novels and a revealing memoir. And she’s still writing because it is something she loves.

After a break of 25 years, she was lured back into the food world as a judge on The Great British Menu and discovered a brave new world. “It was so different with the chefs all turning to flavours from the  Middle East, for example,” and she found herself stealing their recipes.

Suddenly chefs were regarded as the great artists they had become and were taken more seriously. All of this appealed to Prue as after 11 years she was lured to The Great British Bake-Off, replacing Mary Berry when the show moved to Channel 4 in March 2017

Prue Leith dessert
An extravaganza of honey festivity, Ode to Bees,  at Prue Leith’s Chef’s Academy as they spotlight the role of bees with some food for thought.

Not only is it one of the most watched shows on British TV, it also has a huge younger demographic. “The children are all watching,” she says, which has brought her new-found fame in the food world. “I was absent for so long and suddenly there are new generations discovering me.”

Prue pretty in red
Prue, pretty in red, casts her much prized eye in the kitchen.

She’s excited about this younger generation who probably all start off baking cupcakes but even if baking is what gets them started, they will follow with cooking meals. She recently participated in the first Junior Bake-Off series with the children ranging in age from 9 to 15 years. “I thought it was unfair, that the younger participants would be at a disadvantage, but it wasn’t the case,” she says.

What she discovered during her conversations with the youngsters is that most of them learnt to bake and cook on Youtube. To her it doesn’t matter how it happens. “The more children bake, the more will cook,” she believes.

Prue Leith and another selfie...
Prue Leith and a selfie with 2nd year student, Obakeng Chiloane.

Even a stop at a petrol station means endless selfie moments says John. But what really excited Prue with her re-entry into the food world was the opening up of new vistas. She published a new recipe book after a long absence and was urged by her publishers to start with an introductory book covering all her favourite recipes, rather than launching into a specific genre.

She followed this with The Vegetarian Kitchen together with her niece, pastry chef and vegetarian Peta Leith. “I have wanted to do this for ages but 25 years ago, my publishers advised that a similar title would not sell,” she says. Even though she is not a vegetarian herself, she has always been partial to vegetables and had a full vegetarian menu alongside the main menu in her Michelin-starred restaurant.

These days, she often opts for vegetables but isn’t preachy about it.

A totally new venture and one she’s eager to promote is her collaboration with eye wear specialists Ronit Fürst. She was quick to make a note of the many people that asked her about the brightly coloured specs she was wearing on Bake-Off.

They were hand painted and expensive but her timing was right when she approached the company to come up with a bright yet more affordable series which is now also available in South Africa. She advises that one simply googles Prue Leith glasses. I did and found a few optometrists in Joburg but with the range available locally, you optometrist should be able to get hold of the distributors. When you see the range, you will want them.

Prue’s advice: “Shoes and handbags spend most of their time under the table. Across a table, people are looking at your face – hence the glasses.” Always the sensible woman.

Prue Leith graduate
A graduate that gives them bragging rights.

And then to a matter of the heart. It took Prue a while before she became involved with a cookery school but from the start, she was hands-on with the Prue Leith College of Food (1997) named Prue Leith Chefs Academy (10 years later) and now another decade on, Prue Leith Culinary Institute. She visited sometimes twice a year and was always aware of what was happening and where she could offer advice.

Prue with the Prue Leith staff
Prue with the female-dominated staff at Prue Leith Culinary Institute: From Left to right: Nicola Eksteen, Executive Chef, Prue Leith CBE, Patron, Maria Dixon, Head of Training, Adele Stiehler-van der Westhuizen, Managing Director, Debby Laatz, Head of Academics .

These days with the classy Adele Stiehler-van der Westhuizen as Managing Director and a brilliant female-dominated team of super chefs, Prue hardly has to do more than admire – and she’s smiling.

“I am so proud,” she says and as the trooper she is, she returns enthusiastically to yet another of the many functions hosted on this celebratory visit.

For more info, check http://www.prueleith.co.za

The Klein Karoo Arts Festival Cancelled Because Of the COVID-19 Pandemic

KKNK Dis 8.Waldi en Brendon en kat
Waldimar Schultz and Brendon Daniels and the cat in Dis 20h15.

Unfortunately the KKNK Festival (promoted in story below) has been cancelled because of the COVID-19 Pandemic with all the Festival heads meeting shortly to find innovative ways forward for the arts. Watch this space….

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The Klein Karoo National Arts Festival (March 23 to 29)  has made sure that their entertainment package packs real punch. DIANE DE BEER picks a few favourites:

Nicola Hanekom is back at the festival with one of her fearless yet fantastic site-specific pieces Mirre en Aalwyn. She is well known for her work in this genre with her site-specific trilogy (Babel, Lot and Betésda) as well as the harrowing Land van Skedels, which had great success at the KKNK in the past. Vinette Ebrahim, Amalia Uys, Kenley Swart and Hanekom regular Grethe Brazelle star in this much anticipated production set in a dilapidated house just outside Oudtshoorn. Jessie returns to her parents’ home after an absence of many years with magical ideas and confrontation in her heart. During her visit, the family learns hair-raising things about her. Her way of looking at the world upsets the status quo.

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Tinarie van Wyk Loots and Brendon Daniels in Opdrifsel.

Opdrifsel, a new script, written and directed by Philip Rademeyer, features Tinarie van Wyk Loots and Brendon Daniels as a couple dealing with the death of their teenage son. They grieve in different ways and battle to understand one another. They have many questions but few answers. There are regrets, accusations, anger, heartache and closed doors. Mainly it is about a couple who are overwhelmed by their sorrow and have to find a way out and forward.

It is so worth watching Rehane Abrahams in in Brandbaar, a translation of her previously performed Womb of Fire. Accompanied in song by Lukhanyiso Skosana, it is a complicated but intriguing text that has to be experienced and explored. It’s about roots as told through different women with complicated backgrounds who find themselves in a world where their whole being in all its fullness is ignored. Directed by Sara Matchett, it is an extraordinary performance.

“We’re looking for the perfect coloureds for the future,” reads the headline in Die Son. Everyone is searching for a place where race and identity aren’t a priority and where you are seen as an individual and not the middle child. Starring Stephren Saayman, Jurgen McEwan, René Cloete, Shamim Gallie, Cole Wessels en Eldine Beukes, Dankie, maar nee dankie! has fun with the issues that dominate so many lives.

KKNK Die vermoeienis van vlerke
Die vermoeienis van vlerke with André Roothman, Chris Gxalaba and Henriëtta Gryfenberg.

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, André Roothman and Chris Gxalaba in an exciting re-interpretation of this provocative play.

KKNK Wit Isse Colour 2
Ashwin Arendse in Wit Isse Colour directed by Jason Jacobs.

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.

Following their first successful outing, Brendon Daniels and Waldemar Schultz in their roles as Francois and Pieter, are planning a bank robbery in Dis 20h15. The problem to begin with is that they don’t know where to start! Pieter involves the worst character he knows, Billy from Cash Invaders, to help with their seemingly failed scheme. Will they pull it off? Will they find a bank? Will it be one they can rob? In this their second outing following Road Trip, let’s see if they can again capture the cameraderie.

KKNK Karatara Shaun Oelf (sitting), Grant van Ster (looming) and Dean Balie as narrator
Karatara with Shaun Oelf (sitting), Grant van Ster (looming) and Dean Balie as narrator.

Karatara, a physical theatre piece with Dean Balie, Shaun Oelf and Grant van Ster was one of my favourites at last year’s Teksmark. Based on the Knysna fires of 2018, it tells the story in dance and drama of a community’s loss. It’s a searing production presented in an excitingly novel way, very accessible yet charged with energy and emotion. A true gem which also explores the imprint of social media, interpersonal relationships, politics, history and the consequences of apartheid. The text is by Wilken Calitz and Shaun Oelf with choreography by Figure of 8 Dance Collective. Gideon Lombard is the director.

KKNK Kraai Wian Taljaard, Stian Bam, Wynand Kotze, Karli Heine
Kraai with Wian Taljaard, Stian Bam, Wynand Kotze, and Karli Heine.

Kraai is a Wessel Pretorius translated and adapted text by prolific and exciting playwright Mike Bartlett. Starring Wian Taljaard, Wynand Kotze, Karli Heine and Stian Bam, the story deals with Johan who decides to take a break from his boyfriend and then meets the woman of his dreams. He brings them all together to test his real feelings. It sounds both hysterical and explosive, the right ingredients for a blow-up.

KKNK Anna-Mart van der Merwe in Terminaal 3
Anna-Mart van der Merwe in Terminaal 3.

Terminaal 3 stars Edwin van der Walt, Anna-Mart van der Merwe, André Roothman, Carla Smith and Stian Bam in this Marthinus Basson-directed and -translated text by Lars Norén, who is regarded as the greatest Swedish playwright since Strindberg. The action is set in a hospital’s waiting room where a young couple are expecting their first-born, while a divorced older couple are waiting to identify the body of their 19-year-old child. The spotlight shines on self-interest and the damage that inflicts on children.

KKNK Zolani Mahola in The One Who Sings
Zolani Mahola in The One Who Sings

Following her soulful performance as an encore with Yo-Yo Ma at Kirstenbosch recently, Zolani Mahola directed by Faniswa Yisa performs in the The One Who Sings. She tells her personal story of growing up in the Eastern Cape during the ‘80s, a world of exclusion and moving into a more inclusive world in the ‘90s as she starts her professional career. It combines storytelling and song as just this extraordinary voice can achieve.

KKNK Waterbrief Minke Marais
Waterbrief with Minke Marais

Minke Marais stars in the other-worldly text Waterbrief by Nico Scheepers and tells the story of Nina captured in the montage of her family who will be torn apart without her presence. Enveloped in the blue and white tiles of the swimming pool where she dives, she is drifting – everywhere and nowhere – as she watches her family in distress.

And for those who haven’t seen the much praised Tienduisend Ton, Kamphoer, and Queenie Hulle, they should top the list.

There’s much to recommend in other genres which have to be explored, but something that caught my attention is the David Piedt Conversations. He has a long history with the KKNK and has this year been honoured for his innovative contributions by Kunste Onbeperk, but the more hidden side of this Klein Karoo native is his transformative journey from bitter and challenging political activist to someone who practices forgiveness and reconciliation in his own life as well as on a more public platform. He believes his involvement with the KKNK and as such the arts and Afrikaans, played a huge role.

In conjunction with the Mayo Angelo philosophy: “the greatest tragedy in life is untold stories”, this conversational series aims to create an intimate space where people can listen to one another’s stories and contribute to the cohesion of the democratic South African tapestry.

These conversations start with Piedt and his wife Marjorie who share their emotional history and their personal life’s journey. This is followed with conversations by other Oudtshoorn inhabitants and is set against the backdrop of their experience during apartheid and how that influenced and impacted on their decisions, choices and way of being in the world post 1994.

Ivor Price will lead the discussions.

 There’s also an extremely strong and diverse music programme

And probably the two highlights will be two performances in the Cango Caves, a rare occurrence.

KKNK Karen ZoidFirst will be Karen Zoid Unplugged on March 27, an acoustic performance with guitarist Henry Steel and on March 28 Steinway pianist Charl du Plessis will be playing selections from his first solo album Freehand as well as the music of Rachmaninoff, Chopin, Beethoven and Bach.

This hasn’t happened in 24 years, which won’t happen any time soon – if ever.

KKNK Charl du Plessis

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

Karen Zoid agrees: “I feel very privileged to perform in the exquisite, historical treasure. Not everyone can say they have performed in a cave!”

 

Go to www.kknk.co.za and check the full programme for your own selection.

 

 

 

Visionary Dinners by Consumer and Food Sciences at UP Future Africa Campus

A couple of departments from the University of Pretoria combined forces to focus on foraging, future African foods and a South African menu, which embraces not only the skills but also the cuisine worth celebrating on our continent last year. With food memories still lingering and their latest indigenous dinner on the horison, DIANE DE BEER captures the experience:

Future Africa pictured by Kaylan Reddy
Water feature and indigenous plants at UP Future Africa Campus. Pics by Kaylan Reddy.

 

“Enjoy the fruits of our labour,” invited Sandile Finxa, one of the final year Hospitality Management students from the Department of Consumer and Food Sciences of the University of Pretoria.

They were hosting (and she was responsible for the menu) a special dinner to celebrate our indigenous food of which some of these ingredients were foraged on their Future Africa Campus where the dinner was held.

The Future Africa campus is the new research facility of the university with specially planted gardens purposefully designed and developed to cultivate and produce edible and indigenous plants.

Much of the expertise and help was extended by botanist Jason Sampson from the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, the man responsible among others for the botanical garden on the main campus of the University of Pretoria which holds a collection of living plants that is scientifically managed for the purposes of education, research, conservation as well as community service.

With all the UP gardens, Future Africa included, the aim is to raise awareness of our indigenous plant heritage and if you’re fortunate to be taken around the campus by Sampson, it becomes a living organism with aloe walks on the Hillcrest campus and his magnificent fully fledged plant wall for the masterfully designed Plant Science building which functions as insulation as well as an aesthetically pleasing feature while also mimicking the natural habitat of some very unique plants.

Future Africa by Kaylan Reddy
Scenes from Future Africa

He is a font of knowledge and with his passion for especially indigenous flora and to the benefit of the Consumer and Food Sciences students, a love of food, he walks you through the Future Africa gardens, still in their infancy but constantly evolving, and if you listen to him talk, have dishes rolling off his tongue.

“We developed a menu to celebrate and use some of these ingredients that we were able to harvest and include them in our menu (like water chestnuts and makataan),” explained associate professor Gerrie Du Rand in charge of the Hospitality Management Final year students who prepared the dinner also under the guidance of Dr Hennie Fisher.

Future Africa4
Some of the Future Africa indigenous gardens.

“What is also exciting about this garden is the fact that many of these plants are unusual and not freely available and it provided our students the opportunity to celebrate these ingredients in a challenging manner with an unusual menu.”

In fact, as Finxa explained, in case you’re wondering who did the harvesting of the products that found their way onto the dinner plates, they had to get into bathing costumes to pick the water chestnuts, but the results were well worth the effort. And the learning experience for the students, many of whom had never heard of some of these ingredients, was invaluable.

With a visiting professor from the US raving about the menu and resulting dinner, it was obvious that this kind of meal could have a huge culinary impact on foreign visitors. But also, local diners. How many of us would think of serving ting in risotto style?

UP menu advisor
Menu advisor Sandile Finxa

 

The menu was priceless. According to Finxa, the menu was inspired by the gardens of Future Africa. “Each item was made with the intention of highlighting the very rare, but indigenous plants of Africa found within our gardens,” she noted.

 

Calling our taste buds to attention, the amuse bouche consisted of savoury Msoba panna cotta, a pickled aloe aborescens and spekboom salad with wild African sage croutons. Sounds like a mouthful but the different flavours and textures combined brilliantly.

UP amuse bouche
Amuse bouche: savoury Msoba panna cotta, a pickled aloe aborescens and spekboom salad with wild African sage croutons. Dinner pictures by Marlow du Plessis.

Perusing the menu, she explained the different choices and methods selected. “Umsoba/Msoba, also known as nightshade/nastergal, are traditionally used to make sweet jam. The plant has a savoury flavour and beautiful purple hue and so we adapted it to create a savoury dish instead.”

But it didn’t come easy. After many mishaps to keep the beautiful purple colour, they added some vinegar to the process and voilá. The big-leafed spekboom mixed with the pickled aloe aborescence is a different version of the one that has become so fashionable these past few years and packs an even bigger punch.

UP starter
The starter: a panfried amadumbe gnocchi on African water chestnut mash with roasted balsamic beetroot, guinea-fowl and beetroot extract and biltong dust.

The starter, a panfried amadumbe (root vegetable) gnocchi was served on African water chestnut mash with roasted balsamic beetroot, guinea-fowl and beetroot extract and biltong dust. “Cornstarch was used for the amadumbe instead of flour making it gluten-free and the freshly picked water chestnut (à la swimsuits) with twice the nutritional content, has a sweeter, nuttier taste than the tinned variety and also retains a crunch after being cooked” which adds to the eating pleasure.

UP table deco
Imaginative table setting.

These two introductory dishes telegraphed the splendour of the rest of the dinner. With the mains centred on the seared sous-vide Kudu loin with ting (mabele/sorghum), prepared risotto style most spectacularly, it was embellished with butter-tossed waterblommetjies, rooibos-smoked carrots, creamed morogo and a venison red wine jus.

Showing off the versatility of ting was why it was done risotto-style and it worked magnificently. Could this perhaps be our first African-inspired risotto?

The amaranthus plant (known as Marog) is grown on the university campus and was served in a special Pretoria nostalgia-tinged way – creamed. It was a hearty and inspired presentation.

UP dessert
Dessert: milktart given a playful twist by turning it into a macaron filling with amarula.

Dessert was a traditional milktart given a playful twist by turning it into a macaron filling and with amarula, one of our most loved cream liqueurs paired to create an ice cream. Kiwano (commonly known as African horned cucumber) was turned into a gel, introducing a refreshing flavour and brightness to the dish.

With a sweet packet of glazed makataan as a take-home gift, a Cape-Malay koesister and coffee on the way out, the dinner represented an African taste sensation served in stunning style.
Robertson winery and Fat Bastard sponsored the beverages with grand aplomb.

Future Africa
The spectacular UP Future Africa Campus.

The innovative architecture of the Future Africa room, the flora and fauna from their gardens serving as table decorations, and as close to an early African summer night in Tshwane, mid-winter, all combined magnificently.

If this is where the culinary skills of our future chefs are focussed, bring it on. For too long, we have been serving often exquisite food to our foreign guests but apart from the odd braai or bobotie, not indicative of our very own culinary riches.

What these young students managed to achieve was a dinner flavoured and textured proudly South African.

Combining strengths and forces, Dr Hennie Fisher and Prof Gerrie du Rand and their Consumer and Food Sciences students, director of Future Africa Prof Bernard Slippers and his team as well as inspired botanist and curator Jason Sampson from the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, all from UP, have established a benchmark in South African cooking which should be expanded joyously.

It was one of the most visionary dinners held by The Department of Consumer and Food Sciences, and again, the head of Consumer and Food Sciences of UP, Prof Buys, in partnership with Chilean Gastronomic Engineer, Prof José Miguel Aguilera, is hosting an evening of indigenous African Cuisine prepared by the final year Hospitality Management Students.

The dinner will consist of four courses, each with a specially selected wine and will be held on Friday, 13 March at the Future Africa Hillcrest UP Campus. Dress is semi-formal, the dinner costs R350 per person, and booking will only be confirmed once payment has been received.

For further enquiries and bookings: email Taylen Kench at u17196982@tuks.co.za

 

 

Majak Bredell is an Artist with a Mission

Majak Bredell n1983 study
Majak Bredell – 1983 study

Majak Bredell is one of those artists whose exhibitions feel like an adventure you’re undertaking as she maps out the journey you’re embarking on. DIANE DE BEER tells some of her story:

 

Majak Bredell - Self portrait 1995 (002)
Majak Bredell – Self portrait 1995

Majak Bredell’s upcoming exhibition(s), MAJAK BREDELL: THE NEW YORK YEARS: 1981-2003, is a case in point. Not being someone who believes in keeping it simple, it is a curated collaboration between the Association of Arts Pretoria and the Pretoria Art Museum suggested by the association’s director Pieter van Heerden.

When you can, go big, is what Majak does well and because of the scope, she was thrilled about the collaboration.

The two part retrospective overview in the two galleries is accompanied by a full-colour catalogue that includes an essay by the curator, Prof. Elfriede Dreyer.

Looking back at her life, when Majak emigrated to New York in 1981 with her husband and two young children, she embarked on a journey that would lead her “from the confines of a traditional marriage on to the riches this world-city had to offer a searching artist.”

Majak Bredell Gesture Drawings
Gesture drawings

The works on show at both the venues cover a period of 22 years that follow the trajectory of the artist’s initial confrontations with issues of belonging and dis-belonging as the chasm between her mother country and her adopted home were mediated in both image and poetry. Several artist’s books with images and bilingual poems resulted from this.

majak poetry
A page from Mother Passage which has been framed for the exhibition.

The Association’s showcase is an introduction together with a book titled Mother Passage, which includes 20 etchings and 20 bilingual poems, all of which she had framed so that it can be viewed in a particular way in the gallery.

The Pretoria Art Gallery covers similar themes and it was helpful to have a curator like Prof Dreyer who could pull things together. “There are so many works,” says Majak, “we could only use half of all the actual pieces.”

She also has a slideshow of all her workbooks and sketches and she was still crossing fingers (at the time of our chat) that she could achieve it technically – so that it could run on a loop. “It’s been put together in no particular order, no narrative, so that people can start watching at any point,” she says and it will take 33 minutes. Nothing is left to chance. She also has text cards throughout her exhibition to guide the viewer. “I’m covering a big arc,” she acknowledges.

This is an artist who very early on in her career knew that she didn’t want to use her art to make a living. “My lifeline couldn’t be diluted,” she says earnestly. She wanted no compromises. Instead she made a living as a graphic artist, something which has also stood her in good stead because she can self-publish her amazing catalogue for example.

Majak Bredell - Study for mother passage (002)
Majak Bredell – Study for Mother Passage

Bredell states in that catalogue accompanying the exhibitions:

“Through art-making I quarreled with the legacy and unyielding demands of the patriarchal Calvinism that shaped my childhood in the 1950s South Africa. This journey, accompanied by Jungian therapy and much reading, eventually led me to a gender shift in the image of the sacred, culminating in my resurrection of ancient notions of the great mother, goddess, the sacred female.

“In this process, I imagined an embodied reflection of those parts of being that had been marginalized or rejected by western monotheism’s misogyny and its casting of the sexual female body into the abyss of so-called original sin. During my sojourn in that great city, art-making remained my passion despite limited exhibition opportunities.

“Longing  for my mother country and the loss of a South African identity eventually precipitated my return to South Africa after a hiatus of almost 23 years.  By which time my identity had shifted to include my New York identity that I wore like a second skin — a double identity I wear to this day.”

Majak Bredell 1998 Arc of Life
1998 Arc of Life

Since her return to South Africa, the themes developed in New York were further elaborated and exhibited:  2009: Alter Images: The Black Madonna & Sisters; 2013: Roll Call: a vindication of the lives and bodies that were destroyed during the centuries-long European witch persecutions; 2016: Codex Magdalene+: towards a new iconography and re-imaging the mythology and legends of Mary Magdalene; and her current works in progress, Earth/Body, that explore dialogues between the human body and the body of the earth.

And underlying all of her work is her quest to emphasise why the gender of God has done such damage to women’s bodies and a sense of self. “I was highly influenced by the writing of the spiritual feminists,” and she rattles off a slew of names as well as the website www.feminismandreligion.com for anyone interested.

Do yourself a favour. Set aside a day, or perhaps two mornings or afternoons to break it up. Visit both exhibitions and do them thoroughly. It will be like reading an extraordinary book by a remarkable woman sharing her soulful story.

 

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A favourite dress – layers of being. Graphite and charcoal on Arches cover paper

Details of the Pretoria exhibitions:

1: — an introduction to the work
Opening:  Friday 6 March 2020 at 7pm

THE ASSOCIATION OF ARTS PRETORIA
173 Mackie Street
Nieuw Muckleneuk, Pretoria

Opening speaker: Dr Avitha Sooful

Walkabout by the artist:  Wednesday 11 March 2020 at 12 noon

Closing:  Wednesday 25 March 2020 at 3pm

 

2: — the comprehensive exhibition
Opening:  Saturday 14 March 2020 at 11 am

THE PRETORIA ART MUSEUM
cnr Francis Baard and Wessels Streets
Arcadia Park, Pretoria

Opening speaker: Prof. Elfriede Dreyer

Walkabout by the artist:  Tuesday 24 March 2020 at 11 am.

Closing:  Sunday 14 June 2020

Bredell’s book, SACRED SCARS, will be introduced at the Association of Arts Pretoria at both the opening and at the walkabout.  The artist researched and compiled images that represent humankind’s embodied relationship to the sacred female in art and artefacts dating from pre-history to the early modern period.

#MeToo Movement Marches Forcefully Against Powerful Monsters who For Far Too Long Had Their Way With Women

It’s been a momentous time in the #MeToo sphere with the Harvey Weinstein convictions – finally. And even with two hard hitting books out there detailing all the women and what they have gone through, the jury still found him culpable of only two of the five counts. With many other similar issues swirling about, DIANE DE BEER speaks her mind:

Harvey Weinstein at court
Harvey Weinstein playing the victim at his recent New York trial.

 

There’s hardly a woman who works professionally that won’t have some kind of memory about sexual harassment. I suppose with everything being aired these past few years, those of us who haven’t suffered sexual abuse should count ourselves lucky.

But I was surprised about my emotional response to Bombshell, the film starring Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie about the horrific abuse by Roger Ailes and many more who were part of the Fox empire.

I had seen and was fascinated by The Loudest Voice, the TV series told with the accent on the bullying tactics of Roger Ailes and the culture of sexy women he created in the Fox Newsroom and on screen.

Bombshell poster
The poster says it all! Power in triplicate!

When Bombshell arrived, I felt I had viewed enough of this particular story, until someone whose judgement I trust told me to see it as this was from the women’s point of view. I didn’t realise the impact that would have on a very personal level which says so much about the culture most women find themselves in at work.

We don’t even notice because it is so prevalent and probably to most of us “normal”, so when seeing this particular film, which shows especially the environment created specifically so that this kind of thing can flourish, my flesh crawled – to my surprise.

But it was no surprise that with the final credits a notice announces that the women received 50 million dollars in damages: while Roger Ailes and another Fox News accused, Bill O’Reilly, received 65 million dollars’ worth of parting packages.

Fox News is the extreme so there’s no turning away from that aspect of the film. And with these three powerful actresses in control, it resonates dramatically and memories came flooding back. “How are the dollies doing?” was a particular rankling phrase coming from a boss or the fact that you were told that your salary increase was determined by the fact that your partner worked in IT. “That means he earns big bucks,” was the feeling. And the list of constant humiliations goes on.

 

And then when these men are “caught”, they are so powerful that they manoeuvre everything and everyone around them. Read Ronan Farrow’s book (reviewed in this space earlier) Catch and Kill and She Said and see what happened to these award-winning writers in the process of writing the book. It wasn’t only Weinstein who came out guns blazing, he had many who colluded and further made it tough for anyone who wanted to expose his evil practices.

And perhaps what upset me the most was the humiliation that these women, many of them with powerful careers (and not because of Roger Ailes), had to go through on a daily basis. If this is the man who employs you, how does the rest of the world view you? He in fact lays down the rules of how you appear on camera and what you are allowed to say.

Something that was always an unwritten rule in media was that your newspaper had your back if those on the outside were upset with your reporting of the facts – the newspaper would stand up for you and in that way, bring balance to the power dynamic. But that’s not what happened at Fox. When Fox news correspondent Megyn Kelly was taunted by President Trump, it was another stick in the Ailes arsenal to keep her in line.

These constant games are also part of the ritual to keep everyone functioning in place and not to overstep or rock the boat. You learn very early on when to hold back and when to fight for specific rights. Some you win and others you lose.

Others make you smile – wryly. The first time women were really promoted into certain positions was post ’94 when they were included in the list of appropriate candidates because of the neglect in the past.

Suddenly in newspaper offices around the country, women started appearing in management positions and even the first female editors started to emerge. It wasn’t a sudden belief in the ability of women. White men just thought them the lesser of all the evils!

Bombshell Robbie
Bombshell’s Margot Robbie represents the epitome of what Roger Ailes wanted the Fox women to exude.

And so one could go on and on. And that’s why women around the world were thrilled about the Weinstein conviction but…

And said best by the following tweet:

Shailja Patel: @shailapatel: (Kenyan poet, author, feminist, activist, now self-exiled after she accused a fellow Kenyan writer of sexual assualt and was ordered by the court  to pay damages and apologise to the man who assaulted her, so she left the country.)

No guilty verdict of jail sentence, even for life, can restore what Harvey Weinstein stole from his victims. Or repair the harm he inflicted on his decades-long reign of terror over an entire industry. But this is a tiny crack in the wall of impunity. Let patriarchy tremble.

She nails it!. So while we all watch and wait, the battle goes on but at least because of their shining a light so strongly, the #MeToo movement is starting to show results.

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

IMG-20200219-WA0002
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.

jojoTOP-800x528
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.

CONCERT YO YO
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.

YO YO MA PIC
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.

ZOLANI AND YO YO
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…

 

 

Niq Mhlongo’s Black Tax: Burden …or Ubuntu Reminds us of the Discrepancies Determined by the Colour of your Skin

Black Tax bkLike so many things in South Africa, Black Tax: Burden …or Ubuntu? (Jonathan Ball Publishers) will be read and understood in very different ways depending on the colour of your skin. DIANE DE BEER gives some insight:

 

“Black tax,” writes the author/editor of the book, Niq Mhlongo, in his introduction, “is a highly sensitive and complex topic that is often debated among black South Africans. While these debates are always inconclusive due to the ambiguity, irony and paradoxes that surround it, as black people we all agree that ‘black tax’ is part of our daily lives.”

He notes that the book acknowledges these complexities and tries to represent a vast variety of  voices on the subject. “I tried to get a diversity of viewpoints by incorporating young and old, urban and rural, male and female contributors.”

In an attempt to answer the question represented in the title, the idea of both the black family and the black middle class is interrogated. “As an ideological concept, the black family is constantly changing to accommodate new economic, political and social realities and opportunities.”

That is what makes this such a fascinating read because to some of us, it explains a concept we know about yet doesn’t affect us in exactly the same way (I know some people will argue that white people also pay forward but it is an entirely different concept) and for black people, it captures the differences of opinion. Your financial status because of the endemic poverty in this country will determine whether black tax will be either a burden or a blessing.

As Mhlongo underlines, “a black person may earn the same salary as their white counterparts, but they will have more financial responsibilities to their family, which is often trapped in poverty due to the inequalities that were engineered by the apartheid system.”

That in itself is a response to people who question those who still point a finger at apartheid when regarding daily obstacles in their lives. Yes we’ve been in a democracy now since 1994, but the effects are here to stay for generations to come. That’s why, amongst many other examples, it was and remains such an evil system.

There is one point of agreement, explains Mhlongo. “Black tax is a daily reality for nearly every black South African.” That is also why so few black people get to choose the career they want to pursue. “Black parents expect their children to study something that will allow them to earn a high salary one day.”

In closure he notes that the real significance of this book lies in the fact that it tells us more about the everyday life of black South Africans. “It delves into the essence of black family life and the secret anguish of family members who often battle to cope.”

It is all the above that makes this such an important read because it explains the lives of others – so important in a society so divided and often ignorant about each other.

In a chapter titled Black tax – what you give up and what you gain, Dudu Busani-Dube (fiction writer and journalist) writes “…because we are the children of domestic workers and gardeners, we have no ‘old money’ and nothing to inherit. It comes with some anger, too, and no, it is not directed at the families we have to take care of, but at the system that was created to ensure that no matter how much freedom we think we finally have, it will still take us decades to crawl out of the jungle we were thrown in. Black tax is not our culture, no it isn’t. It has everything to do with the position this country’s history has put us in.”

And the “burden” is difficult for those not participating to understand. Nkateko Massinga explains in Casting a Spell on Poverty (poet and 2019 fellow of Ebedi International Writer’s Residency): “My relationship with my family will continue to be difficult because I am yet to meet their expectations. … The expectations of black parents and their need to live a life that looks good to others creates an emotional tax on black professionals.”

Think of the “burden” when starting your first job and everything that goes with the insecurity and the novelty of being in that position. Now add black tax as yet another obstacle to just finding your feet as gently as possible while trying to cope.

As Sifizo Mzobe (writer, content editor and translator) underlines in The Hopes and Dreams of Black Parents: “When a black graduate gets a job, they have a lot to make up for compared to their colleagues from better economic backgrounds. They have a deep economic hole to fill before they can start with their own lives. And life is tough in today’s economy; sometimes impossibly tough.”

That is above and beyond the ordinary high levels of stress in today’s society!

Most of us can remember our first salaries and everything we needed to do with that money. It’s about living expenses and living a life at your own cost for the first time. Nothing comes easy and I couldn’t even begin to imagine also taking care of people in abject poverty or helping younger siblings with their studies.

Think of the unemployment numbers in our land and the crisis becomes even more dramatic and traumatic. It’s tough enough trying to cope with your immediate family’s survival. And then we’re not even thinking of those families working on coal mines or for Eskom who are scared that their jobs will soon become redundant. In those circumstances can one expect people to think of the greater good?

That is what is really so smart about this book. With many different voices, many different ideas surface, many of them landing hopefully in a receptive or at least educational place.

I remember years back reading Redi Tlhabi’s first book Endings & Beginnings: A Story of Healing. She told a story of how at the age of 10 or 11 she was scared of being raped on her way to school. At the time, thinking about my own youth, I wondered if I had even been aware of rape – all of which reminded me of the discrepancies in the conditions of people living in this country.

Black Tax makes very clear (and we read about it every day) that nothing in that sense has changed. In fact because of the horrific looting of the past decade, for the have nots, it has simply become untenable. And that is exactly what Niq Mhlongo’s exploration in Black Tax highlights.

It is insightful and should be compulsory reading. But apart from that, what a gripping way to get to know one another while adding greater understanding. As South Africans, we owe it to ourselves and one another.

On and Off Stage Charl and Nataniël Sparkle and Shine in Story and Song

NatanielCharlOn February 5, showman Nataniël and his piano man Charl du Plessis celebrate 20 years in performance together. They tell DIANE DE BEER why – in spite of such different personalities – it has worked and turned into the perfect professional partnership:

 

To witness these two talk about their dual career is to understand their partnership. Because they spend so much time traveling and performing, they can complete one another’s sentences – and often do.

Du Plessis is also one of those caring souls who understands the pressures his funny man must endure daily and when he can, he tries to make life simple and at the same time sweet.

When they arrive at an airport with someone waiting to drive them to the next small town and

Nats en Charl
Charl (piano) and Nataniël in concert.

tells him to take the front seat, he understands the artist wants to take a back seat in all the implications of the word.

Theirs is no ordinary life as they arrive at small town halls, discover interior decorations that make them want to burst into tears and have to find a way – diplomatically often – to fix. And diplomatic is hardly in Nataniël’s nature and we love him for that.

Charl is also constantly trying to avoid embarrassing situations because Nataniël on seeing something he abhors might ask if there was a blind mannequin in charge of decorations. It’s Charl’s way to find gentler phrases while Nataniël uses humour to deflect his disdain.

He might be sweeping the foyer while Charl tries to make the dressing rooms habitable – or whatever is needed. “I’m a team player,” says Du Plessis, while Nataniël would rather run a mile.

Nats and Charl laughing

A lamp might need straightening or a straight face needs to save the day when first impressions might include a bed as part of the stage set-up.

But part of that has also impacted Du Plessis’s career in a big way. This is how he learnt the ropes. “He was interested in everything from the beginning,” says Nataniël. He wanted to know it all – from lighting to staging – and today it is part of his own shows.”

Du Plessis has contributed in his own way too. The band,  including Du Plessis, that currently plays for Nataniël is part of the Charl du Plessis Trio that he formed. “It makes it so much easier as we all know one another extremely well.” In fact, I have even heard Nataniël say quite fondly (he will deny this!) that his current company operates like a family

“I have become lazy,” explains Nataniël, because of the energetic Du Plessis who has taken so many of the mundane tasks of performance on his shoulders. For him it is about making Nataniël ‘s life easier. At the beginning, his own career might have been a touch quieter, but these days, he is juggling as many balls as Nataniël and he has to operate on a generous abundance of energy that keeps him running.

Charl and Nataniel at play
Impromptu at the French Embassy in Pretoria at the launch of Nataniël’s book about Nantes.

“I used to do everything myself …” says Nataniël as he reminds himself of the early days. But that diminishes as you start growing your empire.

Du Plessis at some point even started producing most of Nataniël’s shows. “There are a few theatres I am happy dealing with but not too many,” says Nataniël. These have become Du Plessis’s responsibility and Nataniël knows he will organise it all with the precision he needs.

“I speak for a living,” explains Nataniël, when chatting about his reluctance to communicate off stage. “Have you noticed, hairdressers often have the worst hairdo’s themselves. So it follows … ” He has probably said as much as he wants you to know, on stage, and he is adamant that it is there that he likes surprising people.

Charl en Nataniel

I have learnt that through the years of doing interviews about upcoming shows. It’s not that he tells any lies or doesn’t give me information, it’s just that once I’ve written and published and then see the show, I realise he hasn’t given away a damn thing! “What’s the point,” he wants to know?

Even the band doesn’t really know what the show is about before opening night. “We only rehearse the music and the scene changes if we need to carry props or some such, not Nataniël’s stories,” adds Du Plessis. “It’s quite tough keeping a straight face on opening night!”

He also doesn’t like complimenting. “I will say something if it doesn’t work or is wrong,” he says. “I reward with gifts and food!”

That was probably one of the toughest adjustments for Du Plessis. But he acknowledges that there was a neediness to have his talent confirmed by others. It’s been a bonus to bolster his own confidence.

He is constantly writing thankyou notes about something that has happened between them or a particular gratitude he wants to express. And in their own way, they have carved a working relationship that is smooth sailing most of the time.

Right from the start, Du Plessis knew that Nataniël wasn’t interested in technology. He wants everything – like his phone eg – to work, but he doesn’t need to know how. That is just one of the interventions he applies in his boss/friend’s life. And even while chatting, Nataniël has some phone queries that need solving.

CharlNat
charl and Nataniël in tandem.

“I write everything down in a paper diary,” says Nataniël. Du Plessis’s life  is checked into his phone or other electronic devices.

When he has sung the last note at a concert, Nataniël already has his mind on that night’s supper, which he will buy on his way home. Du Plessis on the other hand is happy mingling with friends and fans in the foyer for as long as it takes. “He networks, me not so much,” says Nataniël.

Du Plessis is happy to chat to anyone who corners him,  Nataniël is thinking how he can avoid a handshake, one of his many foibles. Du Plessis, explains Nataniël, is happy to explain something to someone in great detail. He on the other hand is curt and hopes to detour as many people as possible.

At some point, Charl decided Nataniël suffers from night blindness, and he is the one to drive as soon as darkness descends.

One of their most dramatic moments was when Nataniël ‘crashed’ on stage because of low blood sugar. “With a phalanx of medics around him and the band trying to help where they can, the audience were laughing because they thought it was all part of a joke,” notes Charl as he shakes his head at their sometimes bizarre circumstances.

“Now I know I simply have to eat an apple halfway through the show,” says Nataniël. They love and learn.

And as they chatter, while Du Plessis is the busy bee and the organiser of the two, Nataniël is the one who keeps everyone laughing. Not always purposely, but it’s the way he operates, how his mind works and how he communicates.

And thus it has been for these two artists together – and in their own right. More than anything, what they have in common is their love of the stage and their ability to perform. On stage, they sparkle and shine for their adoring audiences.

May it last for the longest time!

*They are going to present only a clutch of concerts: TWINTIG!, the first, on July 19 at Atterbury Theatre. Booking at iTicket.

Twintig!TWENTY! with a Symphony Orchestra in the SAND, Boemfontein on September 2 and 3. Tickets at Computicket. 

Watch out for further notices on their different websites and on social media. This is one fans don’t want to miss.