31 May 2013

19 May 2013

Songs of Migration

A trip to the to the theatre. In Jozi it's my first time. While I visit the theatre in the UK frequently, I am not in step with the venues and schedules of shows here. My impression so far has been that there is the famous Market Theatre, fabled point of resistance against apartheid (but I have no idea what quality of shows they put on now) and a load of touring shows from Europe and the US, interspersed with Afrikaans comedies and bland Whitney Houston impersonators. It turns out I couldn't have been more wrong.

The Joburg Theatre is a big 70s building at the top of Braamfontein. I don't know what I had been expecting, but the space is massive, more South Bank than regional playhouse. A grand entrance hall with escalators, high ceilings, a cafe and lots of room for mingling outside the vast auditorium.
130228 Hugh Masekela 69
We had come to see Hugh Masekela's production of Songs of Migration, a story of the African experience, where men and women frequently travel long distances to find work, away from home for months and years.
The audience was overwhelmingly black, and raucous. Whether that's because there were local drama students in the cast, and the whole balcony seemed to be filled with friends and family, cheering every nifty turn and perfectly pitched note, or that the material generally invited calls and participation, I am not sure. It made for a lively atmosphere.
130228 Hugh Masekela 63
As soon as the performance started I realised that it would be even better than I expected. The cast of 20-odd was impressive, all singing with individual voices, dancing superbly, and performing without the over-acting that often happens with performers primarily trained as singers. The whole show was narrated by the indefatigable Hugh Masekela, dressed in a snazzy black and purple suit and a loud tie. He threw in amazing trumpet solos, all improvised. The guy is 74, but he performs and dances like a much younger guy. It was a joy to see him sing at the top of his voice, to boogie with the much younger women, to dance his peculiar style: he bends his knees low, almost kneeling, and walks with a groovy shuffle that Michael Jackson could have learned from.
130228 Hugh Masekela 70
The locally famous Gloria Bosman, a soul/opera diva with an interesting choice of boldly patterned dresses, is his partner on stage. They take turns narrating the lives of poor workers flocking from the country to the city in search of work in the mines (for men) and as housekeepers (for women), of the people left behind, and of the people travelling from faraway places to South Africa to improve their lot, to flee persecution and war.
130228 Hugh Masekela 73
For most of the first half I was quite lost, as most of the songs were in either Khosa, Zulu or Sesotho, so I was guessing the meaning of the story from the acting, and the occasional narration in English.Even the old Apartheid SA flag hoisted as a backdrop wasn't familiar to me. I just let the songs flood over me, enjoying the moment and slight dizziness of confusion. In the interval Moeketse and Corlette, my South African friends, explained the jokes that everyone laughed at, like the young man courting a girl while wiggling suggestively and it seemed involuntarily. Apparently there is a kind of herbal Viagra, which is popular and much joked about. 

15 May 2013

12 May 2013

Jozi walking part 5 - Worldwide Instawalk

This is part 5 in a series on walking tours of Johannesburg. While other cities also offer guided tours, Jozi is unique in my mind as a place where people will group together, with or without a guide, to visit places that they normally wouldn't. Whether for safety in numbers, unfamiliarity or companionship, it's a thing here.

130407 Instawalk 1717
Instawalkers on the move
Today's worldwide Instawalk meets in Braamfontein. Its a special walk. Only my second, after the Fordsburg amble a few weeks ago, this one is very different. Part of the Worldwide Instawalk instigated by Instagram, it has  attracted photographers all the way from Pretoria. We even have a film crew to shoot a short film of the walk. I am happy to tag along, as I have wanted to shoot Nelson Mandela bridge at night, as well as the harder to reach parts of Newtown.
130407 Instawalk 1698
Nelson Mandela bridge
Last time it was only the four of us: me, Heather, Roy and Allessio from Pretoria. Today there are twenty people. I am finally meeting Uncle Scrooch and Gareth Pon, two of the movers and shakers of the Jozi Instagram scene. This is the first time my digital life spills into real life. I have never met most of these people, but because I follow their photo stream I know quite a bit about their lives.
130407 Instawalk 681
Almost gone
The crowd is homogenous: kids, hipsters, young couples. Mostly boys. I am the oldest person there by far. There is some delay as we wait for everyone to show up, and for the crew to set up their cameras.
130407 Instawalk 659
When everyone is finally assembled, we walk across Nelson Mandela bridge in the late afternoon light. It's slow going, what with shooting the railway lines below us and the skyline on the opposite side. There is an element of wanting to get the best angle, the most interesting variation on a view, to 'see' a shot that no-one else has noticed. It's a competition of sorts. After a while everyone spreads out, looking for their own points of interest. When there is a good and easy shot, people cluster, but it's easy to get away. It's fun to look for the undiscovered scene.
130407 Instawalk 1733
Getting water from the street mains
We walk down the ramp  into Newtown, past a building site with a lost house, an old villa teetering on the edge of the abyss that will one day be a mall. Cranes loom overhead. The motorway overpass edges the site, cars racing invisibly past. A little further a row of half-demolishd houses, a group of young men siphoning water off a broken mains, then we are in the warehouses of Newtown. A regeneration project of old factories, the area is now home to clubs and graffiti. In honour of the occasion we take a few group shots. Everyone is equipped with holi powder, and, positioned in front of a painted wall, we all jump. In between takes we all go back to shooting the small and the big, the unusual angle, the detail of the place. 
130407 Instawalk 705
getting ready for the jump
We return to Braamfontein via the bridge, catching the last of the great sunset light. Another photographer has the same idea, a fashion shoot is taking place across from us. A gaggle of girls and guys in skimpy outfits line up on the footpath, touching up make up and waiting their turn. It's a cheap and effective venue, with the colourful uplighters standing in for studio lighting and an unbeatable backdrop of the Jozi CBD. 
130407 Instawalk 1782
Night time
There is a video made by Gareth and Micklas on Vimeo:

More photos can be found in my Flickrstream:
You can find an overview of Jozi walks here, my account of a guided walk in Melville here, a Yeoville walk here, another account of instawalking here and my story of photowalking here.

05 May 2013

Hanging out with the elite of Kramerville

If you live in Joburg, you know of Sandton, the financial and shopping centre in the northern suburbs. It's very shiny, very white and very far away from the rest of the city. It's where all the banks and big business fled during the bad 80s and the mad 90s when the city centre turned in to a riot - literally - of protest, squatting and chaos. Sandton it's all shiny high rises and expensive bank lobbies congealing around the gleaming mall of Sandton City with its incongruous statue of Nelson Mandela wearing a Hawaiian shirt in the central square.

130407 Kramerville 1616
Trying on cool glasses
More on the weirdness of Sandton another time. Today the subject is Kramerville, a mini-destination just north of Sandton amongst the uber-leafy villas and secured compounds of the elite. My friend Heather is researching a book about Sandton, and after her initial trip dragged us out there to see how the other half lives. As most places in Jozi, it is a well-kept secret, a small proscribed area beyond which lie quiet streets of villas and other boring bits. Kramerville is actually a CID, a so-called 'city improvement district', which means that private money is brought in to carry out maintenance, security and communal improvements where the local council fails to do so. It means fences, rubbish-free streets and newly planted trees, but also fosters a closed-in exclusivity. A double-edged sword.

130407 Kramerville 1612

Our aim was to visit two locations in Kramerville, Three Desmond, an interior mall with a Sunday market, and Katy's, a newly-opened bar/cafe nearby. Three Desmond is a blob of furniture, interior design and ethnic shops. It is really a retail park, with warehouse-sized buildings, parking out front, security guards in uniform and high fences around each parcel of land. The clientele is super-posh, rich, expensive. Once a month there is a market at the main block, a vast terrace filled with traders selling everything from laser-cut earrings to hand-made leather bags, from trendy t-shirts to pottery knick-knacks. There is a bar for the grown-ups and a pottery wheel for kids. The shops in the main building exhibit cool and very expensive furniture, carpets and flooring.

130407 Kramerville 1619
Shop till you drop
The famous Mud studio has a big shop, selling its classic chandeliers made from recycled clay beads strung onto a wire framework. We saw them in London last year as part of the South Africa Olympics pavilion on the South Bank. Unlike most country pavilions for the Olympics the South Africans concentrated on community projects, development businesses, including Mud, which strives to empower its workers to become independent traders and set up in business rather than just working for them. The items on the shop here are quite cool: roughly handmade plates and bowls, mugs and pots, cast onto moulds and stamped in the back with the studio label and the individual maker: Daniel, Mketa, Doreen. I like the idea, but the items are crazy expensive. €18 for a dinner plate, €35 for a platter!

130407 Kramerville 633
A classic Mud chandelier
As we look around this trendy shopping orgy the place fills up with yummy mummies - and daddies, hipsters (there is a young guy flashing his analog Leica), stilletto-heeled Sandton babes, and wannabe outdoorsy guys. A neat-freak kid has been plonked by its mother on to the pottery wheel seat. The potter is showing her how to throw a bowl, but she is pulling faces, afraid to get red clay on her pink outfit. She can't be more than three. By the bannister, overlooking the valley of Sandton, two young black women sit on the deck, nibbling snacks and drinking champagne. Their legs delicately folded under them, they are trendy, skinny, at one with the crowd.

130407 Kramerville 1652

We visit the other place on Heather's list for lunch and drinks. Amatuli is a vast warehouse that has been turned into an ethnic furniture and deco shop. On two floors objects, photos and furniture from all corners of the undeveloped world are for sale. There are huge beaded arm chairs decorated with lions; silver Ethiopian coptic crosses mounted on wood blocks; black and white landscape photos framed in remnants of pressed steel ceilings; wooden Buddha heads, blown glass lampshades, stone carvings of fern leaves, bamboo bowls, filigree tin-cut head dresses… It's like the Pitt Rivers museum if everything there was for sale.

130407 Kramerville 1662

Upstairs reveals Katy's, a large open room filled with the good and beautiful of Sandton at lunch and Saturday drinks. Open to the skyline on one side and bordered by an upper level balcony on the other, wooden tables and elegant plastic chairs are spread round the large floor area. In one corner a two piece band noodles out average cover songs of REM and Coldplay, interspersed with original pieces of inspired fiddling and flute - until they are reduced to “It's a Beautiful World” and a terrible rendition of George Michael's “Faith” makes it time to leave.

130407 Kramerville 1680
The waiters are black - except for the white manager - but so is some of the very chic clientele, which makes me wonder if South Africa it isn't at that stage where it's down to economic status pure and simple, and talking about colour is really becoming a confusion, at least where places like the posh suburbs are concerned.

More photos from Kramerville at Flickr.