“No, they invited us to come play. They said we don’t have to bring instruments, we can just borrow another band’s.”
I know, right? Sounds a bit dodge. But Black South Easter are in Joburg on a national tour and they are an optimistic band. So they’re confident they’ll get their chance to play at this open-mic night. God knows, there’s enough bands here to borrow instruments from.
At last count there are eight reggae bands in the house. And we don’t want to generalise, but reggae bands play long-ass sets.
Cue the longest wait to play in history. Open-mics have a fluid running order, so there’s a lot of, “Are we after this band? Yes? No? Okay, the one after!”
Four hours later, we’re still at the bar, the smell of smoked marijuana is omnipresent like hipster irony and, guess what, a reggae band is about to play their last song.
It’s open-mic. In my mind that means you play three songs, maybe a fourth if they like you, and get the hell off stage. But without fail, these bands are playing seven, eight, ten-song sets. Some of the bands are brilliant, some suck balls.
And it doesn’t help the cause of yours truly, who’s really just come to see his old homies from the Eastern Cape play their brand of funky afro-pop.
It’s pushing two in the morning, my eyes are dry as a whore’s eyes, I’ve nursed my way through just about every drink on offer at the bar, through cappuccinos, Coke Lights, Windhoeks, sparkling waters, tap waters, a sneaky whisky… maybe a walk out onto the balcony to check what’s going down. Anything to kill time till Black South Easter get to play!
At 1.45am, after their seventh tune, the umpteenth reggae band announce that… wait for it… they’re going to play their last song. They then launch into a monolithic 40-minute magnum opus of a tune, complete with introductions of every band member (“all the way from Yeoville…”) and of course a dedicated solo for every one of them.
Somewhere around 2.10am I start getting cross-eyed and having vision-blur. This particular reggae band has been playing for more an hour and a half and they’re working it like they’re headlining Reggae Sunsplash in Jamaica. “I once played with Lucky Dube! Don’t I deserve a round of applause for that? I think I do!”
A war of attrition develops between the band and the audience, who are all defiantly confronting the stage, arms folded, their every phrase of body language telling the band, stop, stop, stop! Stop now! Stop playing. Make this your last song.
Defiant, the keyboard player segues into a repetitive, circular riff using that same weeoow-woooow setting that Lucky Dube used to use. I can still hear it in my mind as I type this. Weeeoow-woooow-woooow-wooow-weeee-weeee-woooo-wooo!
Christ on a frickin’ biscuit! Have these people no social intelligence? There’s still about another four bands waiting to play. Obviously, they constitute the entire audience. Me and most of Black South Easter are getting to that hysterical phase where it’s so ridiculous you actually hope the band will play even longer. Do you think they can make this song last an hour?
Sadly, no. They economically wrap things up at the 48-minute mark, dancing off stage in a choreographed routine that would look great on the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury. But since we’re at a small bar in Newtown, the four vocalists are forced to slowly dance off in formation into the ladies’ bogs.
Them off, Daniel the Black South Easter guitarist charges onstage and starts hitting up the drummer about using their instruments for the BSE set. By this stage, the Blacks have decided on a concise three-song set with a contingency encore “if they dig us”. Let’s call it four songs.
But it’s not to be. The drummer blocks Daniel with the timeless, “No, you can’t use my kit. It’s late. I need to get home.” The other band members start avoiding eye contact, packing away instruments like they’ve got a 3am train to catch.
Black South Easter aren’t the only disappointed band, having come to Jozi on tour to showcase their traditional funk. Hell, no. As it turns out, the headline band, the main act, didn’t even get to play. The support acts just got a little carried away. You know that one where the band mistakes, “polite applause for what’s surely your last song”, for “Christ, we love you! Play another four long tunes”? Well, that happened with every band, all night.
In the end I give my mates a sleepy low-five and wobble out the door, probably okay to drive. “No, it’s okay. I’ll check you ous another night.”
And so it turns out. But that night I got to hang with my mates from the band. We hung out and chatted like never before. Usually when you go watch your mates play it’s all embarrassing. You standing around like a third wheel, while they discuss setlists and riders and backline issues and shit. Not a hint of that this time.
That night, I was with the band. Me and Black South Easter, that was us, chilling there, laughing our heads off, talking about old PE days. With them describing their music to me, seeing as they were not a fuck going to get to play it. I tuned them the best idea for a merchandising vibe would be for them to put out a line of Black South Easter Eggs.
They said they’d consider it.
On those occasions when Black South Easter DO get to play it, it’s frickin’ awesome. It’s like this…