As the brainchild of jazz trumpeter Marcus Wyatt, the unconventional Bombshelter Beast “spectacle” was unleashed on an unsuspecting audience at The Orbit in Johannesburg in 2015 and they have been garnering a following in the eastern parts of the country ever since.
“With six horns and a sousaphone, it is a big band which is not something people see every day. Most people who see us for the first time stare wide-eyed, then the jaw drops as they try to work out what it is.
“Big band in a way some kind of circus, a marching band, a big party and, in my opinion, the world’s best wedding band with very danceable music. That’s a good thing these days. It’s a spectacle with the strange outfits, like a mad Gypsy wedding.”
He said the central Balkan music influence makes Bombshelter Beast what it is. The music is from a film soundtrack he wrote for a 2010 football-inspired comedy called Taka Takata, starring Trevor Noah and Kagiso Lediga. The film has yet to be released.
When The Orbit approached Wyatt for a year-long monthly residency for a big band two years ago, he thought he would take the music “out of the closet” and “bring it to life”.
In the original soundtrack, Pitch Black Afro and Mapaputsi rapped over the Balkan sounds and Wyatt retained this as a vital part of the Bombshelter Beast musical identity.
“I thought I’d book a bunch of crazy musicians and see what happens. I chose them not because they’re crazy, but because they are crazy as a side effect - they are really great musicians, the best at what they do.
“This makes bookings a bit difficult because they’re very popular musicians and have a lot of gigs. Every time we do a gig, it’s quite an epic thing to organise. We’re getting more and more gigs now.
“The Afrikaans music scene seems to like us. Some of them are from the orchestral classical world. We have an opera singer and someone from musical theatre, and Pule the rapper is an actor, comedian and multilinguist who speaks more than 20 languages.
“In Bombshelter, he raps a lot in Zulu, French, Japanese and uses various other languages. Cape Town will love this music, there’s a lot of drama,” said Wyatt.
For the Cape Town performances, the self-styled “Afro-Gypsy players” include Wyatt on trumpet, vuvuzela and direction; opera diva Erica Louw, rapper Pule, vocalist Dionne Song, vocalist Mihi Matshingana, sax-clarinet-flautist Sisonke Xonti, sax-bass clarinetist Janus van der Merwe, piano accordion-vuvuzela-trombonist Speedy Kobak, vuvuzela-trombonist Justin Sasman, art designer-bassist Romy Brauteseth, guitarist Kuba Silkiewicz, drummer Justin Badenhorst and sound designer Gavan Eckhart.
They will also be joined by Cape Town tuba player Craig Nicholas and trombonist Etienne Mecleon.
Mixing it up, in true jazzman tradition, Wyatt has brewed an infectious, original Joburg sound, syncopated out of elements of old school kwaito and house, boeremusiek, drum and bass, dancehall, dub, ska, Balkan, hip hop, ghoema, rock, “badass rapping, live improvisations” and as always “the odd sneaky bit of jazz”.
For two years in a row the band has performed at the Woordfees festival in Stellenbosch and they return there on November 16 and 17.
On November 18, they will be at Mercury in Zonnebloem, where they will also do the Cape Town launch of their debut album, Dance of the Chicken. Cape Town dance band Nomadic Orchestra will share the billing.
Apart from the distinctive sounds, the dress sense of Bombshelter Beast adds entertainment value, as the costuming is “anything goes”, as long as it is over the top.
“Some of the costumes belong to the guys... flamboyant people in the band,” Wyatt quipped. “Some of the costumes we borrowed on a fairly permanent basis, a mismatch, kind of like the Village People gone wrong. Anything goes - at the moment the trombone player is dressing like Fred Flintstone the caveman.
“We make people happy.”