I never really knew who Billie Ocean was, but the name has always been familiar because people in taverns, taxis or anywhere else are fans of his music. I got a front seat introduction to the man, his music and his adoring fans.
Billie Le Watle, some would call him here in the township. Gogo Joyce, my late gran from Pretoria took it a tad too far, telling my older siblings when they were young , that Ocean is actually a South African from her beloved Mamelodi, who went abroad to pursuit a career in music and ended up changing his last name.
This and other anecdotes come out, as my family finds out I’ll be working at the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz where Ocean is one of the headline acts. This is 2014.
Like the brisk movement at any taxi rank in the morning, the festival attendees make their way to the Mbira stage where Ocean is to perform. The audience is often a giveaway of the kinda performer that’s to get on stage.
‘It has to be Billie Ocean’ I think to myself, looking at the number of elder people. My suspicions took a chill pill when host, Lupi Ngcayisa said in his introduction, the late Metro FM DJ Eddie Zondi would’ve been here on the night- this somehow eliminated worries that Ocean might perform songs I hadn’t heard before.
I’m sitting at the feet of those with the best seats, my legs crossed like a child at a crèche waiting for his meal. The crowd roared when the 64 year-old Grammy winner got on stage. Stay The Night had a lady on my far right, who must be around the same age as Ocean, beaming like a 16 year-old blonde American girl at a Justin Bieber concert.
I was only three when he was last in South Africa 20 years ago. I’m impressed by how good he sounds, seriously. Some artists get to only sound like him live, when they’re in studio, there are no glitches. Ocean is also a fine performer, he moves more than you’d expect his body would allow.
In his blue suit and striking grey dreads, he is a gentleman who takes his art very serious, hence his longevity. He engages with the audience, who connect with each song in a meaningful way.
One of the ladies dancing adjacent the stage, exclaimed “Yoh, where’s my mother,”when Ocean sang Colour Of Love. Sweat found its way down Ocean’s suit but still, I hadn’t yet heard a familiar song although the crowd was enjoying every minute, singing along to the legend’s tunes. Not to suggest I wasn’t.
But unexpectedly, the 1984 classic Suddenly was being belted out by Ocean. I suspected I must have heard the song on one of Zondi’s compilations and shows over the years.
The other track that wasn’t novel to my ears was Loverboy which brought out the rockers at the Jazz. Even Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor was having fun, a lifetime away from the woman who has to defend the ANC in Parliament.
It felt like gate-crashing a senior citizen’s party, but I enjoyed Ocean’s set. The musicality and his performance level. I was taken by the music and the whole experience of seeing older people, genuinely having a good time.