The inaugural Red Bull Music Festival Johannesburg took place over six days last week. A smorgasbord of genres was on display for most kinds of tastes. The point of the festival was to take a look at our musical heritage, tap into what’s current and bring in an international flavour.
I believe one of the most important elements of the festival was celebrating our own music. I understand that there is this perception that South African audiences are only willing to come out in numbers and pay for a live act if the act is American or European.
And, yes, it was pandemonium when Nigerian-British grime golden boy Skepta performed on Saturday. But that was specifically his tracksuit mafia fans and likers of things. What impressed me was the variety of people who came out to Braamfontein to bask in nostalgia and dance to future sounds.
On Friday, at Republic of 94, kwaito was the order of the night. Trompies performed better than your faves. Oskido played a house set and then incorporated the kwaito call-and-response signature.
While I get that Kid X, with skhanda rap, was supposed to be seen as the heir to the throne, I think it was a mistake to put him on after Trompies, and after midnight. That was not like passing the baton - that was setting him up against over two decades of bona fide hits performed to a crowd that is in euphoria.
Furthermore, down the road, at Great Dane, Moozlie and Rouge - who are both popping in rap right now - were given the same time slot to perform as Kid X.
The lines snaking around the street to get into Kitcheners and Great Dane were so long it would have been futile to leave any club to catch a performance elsewhere and then come back to another club.
Reggae and dancehall were at the Newtown Music Factory on Thursday. But on Tuesday, Langa Mavuso and Zoe Modiga set the tone by putting on a tribute show titled Khumbula. They started with Hugh Masekela and traversed the Mzansi music history by trying on tracks by the likes of Thandiswa Mazwai, Ringo and more.
Both these artists have the pipes to make any plumber jealous. But the only setback, for me anyway, was how slow the set was.
Even the upbeat songs were performed at a slow tempo that sometimes made the songs seem longer than they were.
I missed the jazz night at The Orbit on Wednesday but heard nothing but good things about vocal powerhouse Bonj Mpanza.
Which brings me to this: in this country, we have some of the most diverse but incredibly talented vocalists. Shekhinah and DJ Gina Jeanz from Namibia were without a doubt my highlights for Saturday.
Shekhinah’s distinct voice glided over her hits. Zoe has this growl that intensifies any song. Bonj can be described in one word: powerful.
My hope is that, next year, the festival arranges the times lots in such a way that it’s possible to fully experience most acts, but other than that, Red Bull is on to something special.