Decades after Bright Blue released Weeping, the song is still as relevant and emotional as ever. Now Bright Blue (pictured) have been invited to perform that track and many others at an event called Anthems of Democracy.
The gig will be headlined by Joan Armatrading and will include 80s stalwarts Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Jennifer Ferguson, Mzwakhe Mbuli and Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse as well as Victor Masondo. It will be held during Freedom Week at the Joburg Theatre.
Peter Cohen, the drummer for Bright Blue as well as the band Freshlyground, said it would be great for Bright Blue to reunite.
“The last time we played was at the ECC (End Conscription Campaign) 25-year celebration,” he said.
Written during apartheid, Weeping, which was about then- Prime Minister PW Botha, was released in 1987 and cleverly laced with the strains of Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika. Surprisingly, it was played on the National Party-controlled SABC radio stations like Radio 5 (now 5FM) where it reached No 1.
“I remember sitting in our house in Melville and jumping for joy when we heard it on Radio 5. We felt so rebellious. In our own way we’d won. It was in a dangerous way and we felt so proud. In retrospect, we never thought the song would have such an enormous effect on the country. It’s amazing to have written ourselves into the history books.”
The song has been covered by the likes of Vusi Mahlasela, Louise Carver, Coenie de Villiers as well as Josh Groban.
“I remember when Vusi decided to cover it. He couldn’t believe it was written by a white band.”
Of Bright Blue, Cohen comments: “We moved from Cape Town to Jozi in 1986. Bright Blue was a protest band. We were pacifists. Music was the weapon and Weeping was the ultimate weapon. I get a tear when people come and tell me how much it means to them. The song is much bigger than the band ever was which is fine.”
He believes performing the song at the Joburg Theatre will be a moving experience, but he recalls a special time in 1990: “A lot of ANC people had just returned, like Joe Slovo. I remember Trevor Manuel with his woollen beanie, sneakers and jeans. He was a legend even then. It was an incredible time.”
Like many South Africans, however, Cohen is a lot more cynical about a South Africa 20 years into democracy.
“I’m so sat that we’re so political. We should be more normal after 20 years. South Africa has a free media compared to then, but if it gets worse I might be forced to go. It’s a problem I have faced since I was 10. Since the ’70s they have said the writing is on the wall.
“I have a 10-year-old son and I want to be here. I love it here. I wish we didn’t have to think about it. I wish the majority of South Africans were happy, but how can you be happy with nothing?”
Anthems for Democracy will focus on the period 1980 to 1990 when a group of South African musicians protested against the apartheid government.
These troubled times will be narrated by storyteller and author Gcina Mhlope. Other artists performing will include Themba Mkhize, Vicky Sampson and the Soweto Gospel Choir. The event will run from April 24 to 27. The show is put together by Mabuse and Roddy Quinn of Real Concerts.