Category Archives: Arts, Music & Culture

Woordfees: ‘n Fees van Woorde

Woordfees is a smorgasbord of culture, in the true sense of the word. Heading down to the hub behind the museum, after watching an angst-inducing performance of Wild at Hoerskool Cloetesville, we sat in the dappled shade under the oaks, decompressing with a glass of wine – this is Stellenbosch after all!

It’s one of many such spaces at Woordfees. They’re filled with people discussing the things they’ve seen. While Katinka Heyns chats, live on air, to the RSG crew set up in the corner of the space, people like us meet farmers from Wellington and talk about the wild fires and the stellar performances of Albert Pretorius, Joanie Combrink, and Tinarie van Wyk Loots in Wild.  It’s a play that leaves one emotionally exhausted, and in need of that glass of wine.

An amble through the US Museum is like walking through a treasure chest of art, with exhibitions by various well-known and up-and-coming South African artists. Upstairs, arranged around the gorgeous circular balcony that looks down onto the ground floor, is Deur Die Bome Die Bos Nie Sien Nie, curated by Alex Hamilton. It’s an eclectic collection of a number of artists’ thought-provoking works. Just as art should be.

There’s live music on the breeze, coming from somewhere nearby. People are sitting at tables in another little nook. A food stall is serving up tasty lunch delights and a truck nearby is offering glasses of bubbles. There’s electricity in this air – the buzz of the arts fizzing in peoples’ brains, making them think.

At The Kaya, Bertus Basson guides us through a lamb tasting. Four pieces of perfectly cooked lamb, each one cooked in exactly the same way – on the bone, at 55°C for twelve hours, without any seasoning. Paired with four award-winning red wines, the point of this tasting event is to demonstrate the difference in taste of lamb from four distinct sheep-farming regions of South Africa – Calvinia (Northern Cape), Bredasdorp (Overberg), Riversdal (Hessequa) and Steynsburg (Karoo). The difference in tastes is astounding and, as Basson said: ‘Daar’s ‘n skaap vir elke smaak!’  I’m a Karoo girl, me.

Back through the US Museum, on the ground floor, Athi-Patra Ruga’s A Young Retrospective glitters and shines, with bright bursts of colour in various media. His pieces are mythical and magical, with an underlying sense of urgent examination of all the issues of South Africa – and the world – today.

It’s time for a discussion of what to do next, a perusal of the full-to-overflowing programme. Book discussions, music recitals, dance productions, more drama, or just a little sit, a meeting of new people, a chat with an old man we’d otherwise not have met at the communal tables.

And that’s what Woordfees is all about: it’s about the arts, all of them, and it’s about the coming together of people in the appreciation of them. An appreciation that fills the heart and opens the mind, and gets those conversations that are so important, started.

An edited version of this review appears on What’s on in Cape Town.

In Search of Eddie Vedder

I have loved Eddie Vedder since I was a teenager. And by loved, I am perfectly happy to admit that it’s a love of the complete teen-adoration-for-ridiculously-good-looking-rockstar-who-stage-dives kind. It’s not only that, though, and it’s lasted into my 40’s. I love his voice, his lyrics, his … I’ll stop there. Swoon.

Pearl Jam and, later, Eddie Vedder’s solo songs, have been integral tracks on the Soundtrack of My Life. You know how when big things are happening – you’re falling in love, you’ve had your heart broken, somebody ate the last piece of pizza – every song lyric is written for you? In those moments, those song lyrics for me, very often, were those of Pearl Jam and Eddie Vedder.

For years I’ve been watching them announce concert dates, the world over, and thinking ‘should I’, ‘shouldn’t I?’  Then they announced a Florence Festival date *Quick whirl back in time: I went to Italy in 1990, as a long-limbed 16-year old, and fell in love with it* and I thought, ‘I should.’ A few days later, they announced more European dates, one in Sicily.

And that is why I have spent the last weeks plotting and planning and calling in Italian Knights in Shining Armour (IKiSA) to help me translate booking sites and correspond with organisers, to work out if I could wangle it to see Eddie Vedder play in the most beautiful ancient Greek ruins overlooking Mount Etna in Taormina, Sicily. There have been mails to-ing and fro-ing and nails being bitten and so many lovely, kind people both here and in Italy giving me the low-down on accessibility.

Yesterday, I received the final one, from the organiser of the Taormina concert. Yes, I would be able to access the Teatro antico di Taormina, all I needed to do was get online and book, when bookings opened this morning at 10 AM (CET), all in Italian. My IKiSA gave me careful instructions on what to do. Yesterday, using Google Translate, I registered on the ticket site, practiced buying a ticket for something else, Google Translated every little line.

I checked three different websites to make sure that 10 AM (CET) was the same as 11 AM here.

This morning, with my ADSL behaving like a 2-year old that doesn’t want to go to school, I pretended to do some work while I watched the clock like a civil servant waiting for tea-time. At 10:45 AM I moved myself and my tetchy computer into the kitchen, with its nose against the modem and logged on on my phone too, in case. Google Translate was open. Everything else was closed, so that my computer could concentrate solely on the matter at hand: Getting. Those. Tickets.



11:00! And there they were! A little green button next to ‘Biglietti’! I clicked on it, put in the number of tickets and clicked on ‘Metti nel carrello’. The little Circle Thingy of Hell turned and turned, the page not changing. I started doing the same thing on my phone, a panic rising from the pit of my stomach.

Wait! A Capchta code. Eek. Those things freak me out. Is it a ‘C’ or a ‘c’, a ‘W’ or a ‘w’? I felt like I was doing my final Chemistry prac again.

Success! New screen.

Pick ‘Ritiro sul luogo dell’evento’, as told by IKiSA. Then more Circle Thingy of Hell, as the time-allowed-clock ticked down from 10:00 to 08:40. My shattered nerves. New page loading!

What? Who? You need me to fill in which? Eek. Frantic Google Translating … Enter credit card details.

We’re down to 04:21.  The timer is sticking it’s tongue out at me. 02:34.

Enter SMS’ed code to agree to payment coming off my card: 9939.

Circle Thingy of Hell.
Circle Thingy of Hell .
Circle Thingy of Hell …

VOILA! (I think. Everything’s in Italian, but it looks like tickets to Eddie Vedder, and the money’s gone off my account, and I’ve got the e-mail. I feel like I’ve just received a Golden Ticket to go to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.)

I am going to see Eddie Vedder in Taormina, Sicily on 26 June 2017.  I have that excitement that makes the tummy gurgle and the mouth stretch into a smile and the heart flutter arrythmically. The excitement.

This is where I’ll be seeing him. It’s almost unbelievable. Here. That’s the Mediterranean in the distance. Oh. My. God(father). Sicily. Eddie. Swoon.


Oh, George

Remember just last week, when I was telling 2016, all dressed up in its Grim Reaper suit, to bugger off? No way, it just keeps on going, waving it’s bloodied scythe about.

George Michael was my first crush, ever. The second was Morten Harket. I longed for a t-shirt that said either ‘Choose Life’ (and this was years before Trainspotting) or ‘Go-Go’, to wear with my pink joggers with white piping. I must’ve been about ten. I bought the casette of Make It Big at the Carletonville OK, and flicked through the poster holders each time I went with my mother, hoping they’d have got in a Wham! one. They never did. Sigh.

I knew all the lyrics to Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go (and have just discovered, on listening to it now, that I still do. The brain is a marvelous creature); I longed to go and find the fun and sunshine at Club Tropicana; Christmas songs suddeny got cooler when they brought out Last Christmas; and Careless Whisper was the soundtrack to many beautifully mortifying pre-adolescent slow dances at discos held in various garages in and around Carletonville.

Then we grew up, and so did he, and our joggers and tie-on roller skates were discarded in the corner and my musical tastes wandered off to a slightly darker, dingier club than Club Tropicana. I fear George Michael ambled into a much darker one than mine, but he continued making music, singing, being brilliant.

Fast forward to around the turn of the century (oh, wow, I can write that, and it applies! Good grief). I’m in another dingy bar (I’m a fan), and it’s karaoke night. Nini, one of my favourite people on earth, takes her turn, and belts out Faith, and I am reminded of the man’s talent. And hers, of course. Now that I think carefully, it may not have been her. She always does I Want To Break Free. No matter, the details are secondary. I met George Michael again that night. He was a consummate song writer, and his music weaved in and out of my life’s soundtrack (and millions of others). Our memories melt into ghosts, as time goes on.

By all accounts, he’s had a rough time over the years. I hope that’s just the horrible popular media rumour mill with its hiss and claws, and that his last time on this crazy earth was happy. And although my fandom dwindled as my age increased, he will always be my first crush and there’s nothing quite like a 10-year old’s crush. And now he’s gone.

I hope he’s doing the Jitterbug as we speak.

Now, seriously, 2016, GO(-GO), and don’t bother waking us up before you do.

My Naam is Februarie: Identities Rooted in Slavery


There’s something about being in the presence of greatness, of history. Albie Sachs spoke last night, at the opening of the new exhibition, ‘My Naam is Februarie: Identities Rooted in Slavery’, at the Iziko Slave Lodge Museum. It’s as if not only the people listened, but the ancient stones in the cobbled courtyard, the walls that have watched such atrocities happen, the new spring leaves of the trees peeping over the roof, the very air particles, all turned and listened to a man who can only be described as the epitome of dignity, a man who fought, tooth-and-nail, for this country to be free and fair. His heart must be broken about what’s happening now, on our campuses. Again.

In the background, 5 o’clock Adderley Street traffic created a low murmur, punctuated by the odd siren: modern-day slaves to the consumerism of the 21st century, trudging home.

Between 1653 and 1856, 71 000 slaves were brought to Cape Town, and housed in the Slave Lodge, stripped of everything, including their identities.

‘My DNA was brought here on a ship,’ said the MC. This is the story of South Africa. Well, an early part of it. An ugly, horrifying story of slavery, indentured labour and the complete lack of dignity and respect afforded to thousands of slaves.

This is our history. Without being aware of this, as awful as it is, there is no way we’ll learn about how to never let these things happen again, as they have, over and over, since 1653. And still are, in one form or another. Will we ever learn?

Each month features a person who carries that month’s name. Slaves, brought to South Africa from predominantly Indian Ocean countries, were named according to the month they arrived, their real names carelessly discarded. The photos are gorgeous, the stories, in equal parts heart-breaking and beautiful but, mostly, important. These are the stories of us, South Africans. This is a part of our history, our legacy, and this is a part that has been sorely neglected. As Albie Sachs put it: ‘This is not just a legacy of injustice, but the legacy of racism.’

Dr Bongani Ndlovu reminded us of the presence of the past. I like that. The presence of the past. The Slave Lodge Museum, with both its permanent exhibition, and this new one does just that: it reminds us of where we came from, which is vital to help us get to where we want this country to go.

An edied version of this blog appears on the What’s On in Cape Town site.

Magical Music In A Church


The Central Methodist Mission Church has watched over Greenmarket Square since 1878. It’s seen much and housed many, many congregations as well as a good few political meetings and social gatherings in its time. On Tuesday night it was filled with a different congregation, mainly consisting of hipsters, for Best of the Buskers, a performance by three singer-songwriters.

Fresh from Rocking The Daisies, three enchanting singers and various surprise collaborators filled the beautiful church with even more beautiful music. There’s something magical about the stillness of the air in a church. The acoustics are breathtaking, the pews worn, and the setting gorgeous, made even more so by Studio 7’s arrangement of standing lamps amidst the band set-up, dwarfed by the vast organ pipes above the altar.

Dressed in white, Paige Mac opens her mouth and makes it easy to believe in angels. She sings a song that “reminds you to believe in yourself”, filling the church with a sound that really does inspire you.

Majozi joins her and the air again changes shape as they strum their guitars. The ghosts in the eaves shuffle and then fall silent, transfixed, as he sings. When she joins him, even the gargoyles decorating the walls of the church draw in their breath.

Peter Bibby and his guitar are up next. He’s an ambler, a rambler, and an Australian, Dylan-esque storyteller. Announcing that he wanted to tell a crass story but won’t because it’s a church, he launches into his repertoire of straightforward, funny, lyrical, naughty, booze-lovin’, medication-gnawin’ ditties. He oozes honesty and realism and, in his orange socks, he wraps the audience around his grubby fingers. His voice is mesmerising.

After a short break, Alice Phoebe Lou comes on: she’s just as petite and ethereal as expected, and her feet are grey-stockinged and shoe-less. She looks like a tiny 17-year-old (she’s not), but her voice sounds like it’s lived a thousand years, and tells the tales of an old soul. At times, she reminds me of Feist.

She brings friends on stage to sing, dance and mix music, while she tells the stories behind her songs – her father selling their childhood home and the impending feeling of loss; that she “never writes love songs, but sometimes you run out of subject matter, and you have to”. It’d break your heart, that love song. Her songs are raw and real.

And that’s where this concert brought down the house – three incredibly real, raw, honest and achingly beautiful acts in a venue filled with the secrets and whispers of the thousands of people who have crossed its threshold over the past hundred years. Pure magic.

This review was done for What’s On In Cape Town 

That Song

There’s that song. Everyone has one. When you’re forty, there are those songs, no longer just that song. The ones that, when you hear them, they throw you back to a single moment in time. To that place, the smell of the freshly-mown lawn scratching your bare back, the gentle kiss, the hug that squeezes the air out of you, the old friends, the chlorine in your eyes as you skinny-dipped in that pool, the orange glow of the flames on the old wooden beams of that house, the stranger who was in your life for ten minutes but changed it with his tender words, salt drying on your skin, sandy feet.

Those songs. It’s hard to pick just a few, but I’m going to try.

Blister In The Sun. Violent Femmes, as my sister and I whirled and twirled, sun-kissed and carefree, the Kowie River flowing toward the sea outside the open doors, the air salty and moist.

R.E.M. Nightswimming, as I walked from the library in the moonlight, heartbroken for the first time. Days later, I’d be buoyed by a poem on the poetry wall. Months later, skinny-dipping in that pool, illicitly, no longer heartbroken, with the boy who would turn to the gods.

Simon & Garfunkel’s Concert in Central Park – the whole album, on vinyl – with Small University Town’s lights spread out below us. Followed by R.E.M. What’s The Frequency Kenneth, as first love coursed through us, a delicious new delight. The beautifully broken innocence. I wouldn’t change that for the world.

Cowboy Junkies’ Sweet Jane in a house across the road from a graveyard. More love. Years later, even more, a beautiful lesson, in a different house lit with stars and crawling with ghosts, echoing with that same song.

They Might Be Giants. Birdhouse In My Soul. Because he was. And later he helped me pull through.

Pearl Jam. There He Goes. My tears wetting that rough, brown carpet beneath my cheek, the smell of damp as the trees outside my second-story window whispered to each other: ‘If only she knew what’s coming.’

Underworld’s Born Slippy. Under a hot, blue Karoo sky as I broke. It was the perfect soundtrack. Just then, just there. That single second moment.

We lay in my bed, the sheet crumpled, too hot to move. Him who has known me for forever, the others’ voices carrying in through the wide open windows on the hot night air. Massive Attack’s Teardrop. The joy of family that don’t share blood. Him, me, always.

Tori Amos’ 1000 Oceans, at the ocean, waves crashing and wind whipping. Salt air in our hair.

New Slang, The Shins. Just you and me driving too fast on a quiet highway in the early hours of the morning, windows open to the hot summer night, our hair whipping about our faces. We were momentarily invincible.

Hero, Family of the Year. Home, entwined, silvery strands of the moon shining on our skin. It was perfect, then. And then Miley Cyrus’s Wrecking Ball. Hard to admit, but it fit.

AKing, Safe As Houses, the mountains turning pink at dawn. The realisation that everything was going to be okay.

Racing Like A Pro, The National, up on the hill, looking across the world toward the mountains, wind howling, rain beating, heart squelching, my whole being smiles.

Sia’s Titanium in my garage, all hung with sparkly lights, the silhouettes of the star-filled trees inky blank against the warm summer night sky. The comfort of friends from forever ago and friends from just now. The warm embrace of being loved and loving, of growing older, and all the loveliness that comes with that.

Cheerleader. OMI’s catchy little tune. Delicious Nephews and I singing along in the car. Pure joy. Discussions of Tooth Fairies, dreams and silliness. The eternal continuum. My reflection.

The realisation that this soundtrack still has many tracks that’ll be added. I’m far from done.

Sizwe Banzi Is Dead


I went to watch an Athol Fugard play last week – Sizwe Banzi is Dead, at The Baxter. Written by Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona forty years’ ago, it is still completely relevant. I am embarrassed to admit that, at the ripe old age of forty, it was my first Fugard on stage. Especially embarrassing due to the fact that he lives in the place that holds my heart and where I plan, at some stage, to spend more of my time than not.

I love The Baxter, with its porno-70’s-alien-spaceship lights and vast foyer that whispers with the dramatic voices of the thousands of drama students, theatre aficionados and master actors that have passed through it. Even more, I love The Flipside. There’s something magical about watching a play from backstage, knowing that behind the curtain there is a vast auditorium. I always imagine that it’s filled with the ghosts of patrons past, whispering to each other, clapping silently, rustling ghostly sweet papers.

Back to the play. The reason I’ve been lax about seeing a Fugard is that I was worried they’d be too serious (I’m a bit of a philistine theatre-goer, or possibly more aptly described as a bimbo thaetre-goer, if you will). I was mistaken, I’ve been a fool, I am now converted. The script and the story left me breathless with wonder and with heartbreak. I’m not being overly-dramatic (although I know I am, often), when I say breathless. I really was, literally, breathless, three times during the 80-minute two-hander.

I can’t remember that happening before – feeling my chest tighten with sadness as tears poured down my face. The kind of tears that are heavy and big and wet your face, dripping down into your shirt. The kind of tears that flow at the thought of what people had to go through during those horrific days of Apartheid, what people are still going through, albeit in a different political climate – migrant workers, the refugees. There’s a long list of people forced to leave their families and put their lives at risk, to lose their identity, right now in the world. We, as humanity (and I use the term loosely), should be ashamed.

Between the tears, though, as Atandwa Kani and Mncendisi Shabangu wove their magic, I laughed. Loud, joyous laughter. That’s the beauty of this richly-woven story. It’s human nature at its finest – gritty, funny, heart-wrenching. Sitting watching these men, I realised what critics mean when they say “powerful performances”. These were them. I was entranced.

If you’re in Cape Town and you only go to one show this year, make it this one.