I was just a face in the crowd. There must have been 500 of us. Swaying to the music. Maybe it was 50. I don’t know. My memory paints a beautiful picture. Filling the crowd. Swelling the numbers. There should have been a big one. Even if there wasn’t. But here I was. A wit oukie. Standing out. But I was here to listen to the master himself. Mr Cape Town. Mr Jazz.
I lived and studied out in Stellenbosch and we didn’t get these opportunities often. We weren’t really the hub of liberation arts down there in the bundus. We were only going to get the Voëlvry Toer a bit later in the year. And then everything will change overnight. Well, it felt like overnight. For now we were still the backward university run by the Broederbond – a secret society of Afrikaner leaders in key positions. With the names of our university buildings celebrating the Apartheid founders and leaders like the Verwoerd Building and the Vorster Building where I studied. Political Science of all things.
But somehow Basil “Mannenberg” Coetzee decided to come and play to us boere. Basil “Mannenberg” Coetzee! Man, I was as exited as hell. He just came back from an overseas tour. And he was coming to Stellenbosch? He was a legend. In my eyes, Mister Cape Town Jazz. Yes, we were blessed with some of the greats down in the Cape. Dollar Brand, sorry – Abdullah Ibrahim. Legend himself. And maybe the popular choice for the best of Cape Town. But he was too fancy for me. Too complex for a guy like me with no musical ear. And Hugh Masekela up north. Great, but not being from Cape Town meant he couldn’t speak to my heart. My head yes, but not my heart. For me it was always Basil “Mannenberg” Coetzee. I liked the simplicity and beauty of Basil. His passion was so raw. On the edge. As if he was going to explode any minute now. And here I was. Listening to “The Man”. Live! As if God came to town to visit the little people for a few minutes.
The stage where he played was small. Not much bigger than a large office. We were so close to him and the band. Sabenza. They were almost on top of us. But we didn’t care. We just wanted to hear Mannenberg. The song Mannenberg. Play it Basil! Play it! That’s all we wanted to hear. It calmed us down. The song of Cape Town. And no one played it better than him. Or with more passion. And he played it. And he played it. Sweat running down his face. His body swaying back and forth as he played it. Sometimes jerking as if he was being beaten by the cops in the streets of Mannenberg. He was loving it. He was living it. He was Basil from Mannenberg. Playing the song of his people. And we just soaked in his music. His passion. His love for our little spot here at the bottom of the continent.
It was unbelievable. Basil played. And every now and then he’ll stop and stare at the crowd. Sometimes it felt as if he was looking straight at me. The boer in the crowd. He wouldn’t know who I was. He just saw the face. I didn’t realize straight away that I was the only guy who looked like a boertjie in the crowd. And it was a marginal call at best. But I still stood out in the crowd. I guess the long hair didn’t help either. And he’ll stare a bit and then give us a political lecture.
But not the type of lecture I had at university. This was full of passion. In my language. The way the people spoke it. Not some academic using words that sounded like Latin plant names. He spoke about people being forceably removed from their homes in District 6. How they struggled on the Cape Flats. Like his family. Like he did. Moved from District 6 to Mannenberg. And he told us how we must be the difference. The difference between yesterday and tomorrow. That we are the tomorrow. We make the future. And then he’ll play a bit more. All of them – Khayalitsha Dance and CT Blues and more. All from Sabenza. I just bought the album a while back – okay, the tape. And he played them all. And he played us all. Working us into a frenzy with his words and music mix.
He’ll play a song and then he’ll stop and shout a slogan or two. And then, right at the end it happened. He stopped and stared at us. And then stared at me. And slowing started playing Song for Winnie. While looking at me. I was sure he was looking at me. I hope he was looking at me. He looked down as the song ended and slowly looked up. Straight at me. I was sure I could see a smile forming slowly while he looked at me. Sweat dripping from his face. And then he jerked his head up and quickly punched his clenched fist into the air – the liberation salute – and shouted, “Amandla!”. Everyone punched the air and shouted back, “Awethu!”.
I did. Followed his lead. Without even thinking. It’s a gut reaction. My fist went up like a flash. And I shouted as loud as I could. Because the man spoke. And when I looked back at the stage where he stood I realized he was looking at me. He saw me. No. He watched me. His smile was much bigger now. He got the boertjie. He got me. And then he winked. He winked at me and shouted, “One settler, one bullet”. And then he laughed. Everyone laughed. Even I laughed. It was for me. But in fun. Yes, he got me. I got me to laugh. And he got me to remember “the people”. Why we do this. Amandla! Awethu! Power! To the People! Basil and Mannenberg got me. And he winked at me. And it was sweet. It was an honor beyond belief. Basil “Mannenberg” Coetzee saw me, watched me and taught me. About Mannenberg. And what I had to do.
May you rest in peace now Basil. Basil “Mannenberg” Coetzee. Thanks for the memories. Thanks for the wink. I still see it. And I still live it. Hope you’re watching from up there. You’re the man. Just keep on playing that Cape Town jazz. That’ll keep them going. It got me going.
If you enjoyed this post, get free updates by RSS