Vusi Mahlasela

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LAST YEAR’S OPPIKOPPI was a crime scene. And like any other misconduct, the black man is the suspect, but this time it’s him and his music that are to blame for ruining the vibes at long-running festival OppiKoppi. Or at least indirectly.

“Stop trying to cater for everyone. Keep [it] at a targeted audience. Don’t fix what isn’t broken…Oppi was and should stay a Rock festival,” said Marina van der Walt on Facebook.

Despondency came over hippies across South Africa last week when it was announced that this year’s installment of the OppiKoppi music festival has been postponed due to the ridiculous high rate of crime in 2018. The festival has fallen victim to a syndicate of pickpockets that have rampaged South African music events over the last two to three years. From Hip Hop festival Back To The City to the annual youth month celebrations at Basha Uhuru where I was personally a victim of pickpocketing- it’s become a headache for most South African event organisers.

Founded in 1994, OppiKoppi started out as an Afrikaans indie/folk Rock festival attended by a few hundreds of Caucasians from different parts of the country, in a small bar. The line-up would be dominated by alternative Afrikaans Rock artists who were in line with the Voëlvry Movement, which was an Afrikaans movement that sang anti-apartheid songs in that language in the late 80s and early 90s. The kinda boere that would chuck away Die Beeld for Vrye Weekblad.

OppiKoppi has substantially grown over the years attracting alternative African artists, who together came with a bigger and a more diverse audience. The site of Lucky Dube, Vusi Mahlasela and Zim Ngqawana sharing the stage with the likes of Karen Zoid and David Kramer did not make long-standing patrons uncomfortable. It’s the introduction of mainstream African acts such as Afro-Pop trio Malaika, HHP and AKA that left a bitter taste on most people.

“Somehow the Voëlvry Movement that started all of this has been forgotten in the static. OppiKoppi is a living creature born through the wail of the electric guitar man. You can’t change the nature of the beast. You want AKA? You want Cassper? You want all that Hip Hop?  Then a new festival must be born that shakes to that rhythm. Why do you want to force the spirit of Rock ‘n Roll to be untrue to itself?” asked Ni-Lou Breytenbach on Facebook, responding to Oppi’s statement of postponement.

Speaking to Tha Bravado, Theresho Selesho who is the CEO of Matchbox Live which organises OppiKoppi, doesn’t think the festival’s growth has also been its Achilles heel. “The Festival has always been about freedom and fostered a safe environment where people can be free to connect, discover new acts, genres and have a great time out in the bushveld, which is a precious experience. We strongly condemn racism, sexism or any other form of discrimination at OppiKoppi. We are very happy with the strides that the festival has made over the years where a diverse audience can all enjoy OppiKoppi.”

But this amalgamation of cultures hasn’t been enjoyed by everyone though. “OppiKoppi has sold out for 20 years running before they took over. Still, the response is ‘genre diversity is something we have always welcomed’ their historical cult-like following is based on a Rock festival, not genre diversity,” said Peet van Wyk.

Over 80 cell phones were reported stolen last year, with items in people’s tents and cars taken, it’s by grace that no sexual assault was reported at the festival. “The crime incidences and stats nearly doubled in the previous year,” Selesho says. “This has in turn taken a lot of freedoms away from our fans and the safety of our audience and their belongings is our main priority.”

Selesho and his team have promised a return of Oppi next year, giving them sufficient time to find ways of guaranteeing people’s safety at the festival. Whether that’ll mean no Hip Hop or even House act, it shall be seen on the 25th chapter of OppiKoppi next year.

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What was a simple interview at a local radio station for Robert Glasper, has made headlines on publications all over the world because of Lauryn Hill’s response. But rightfully so, these are two black giants of modern music.

But Hill’s response to Glasper does little to address longstanding perceptions about her.

Ever since 1998 when New Ark, the group of musicians who helped Lauryn Hill put together Miseducation, sued her for not properly crediting them for the work they did on the classic album, there’s been a cloud of suspicion hanging over Hill and that album.

“The Miseducation was the first time I worked with musicians outside of the Fugees who’s report and working relationship was clear. In an effort to create the same level of comfort, I may not have established the necessary boundaries and may have been more inviting than I should have been. In hindsight, I would have handled it differently for the removal of any confusion. And I have handled it differently since, I’m clear and I make clear before someone walks in the door what I am and am not looking for. I may have been inclusive, but these are my songs,” Hill writes in her letter.

The lawsuit was settled out of court in February 2001, for a reported $5 million

Hill’s weakness in punctuality and prima donna antics are well reported. In 2012, when she was in the country for the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, she disappointed with her performance, not because she’s wack a performer but it was down to her insistence on wanting to change how the sound was set-up by the organisers who know the venue very well and are experienced at catering for each artist on the line-up. Before her performance on the Kippies stage, Hugh Masekela had killed it in his tribute to Miriam Makeba which featured Thandiswa Mazwai, Vusi Mahlasela and Freshly Ground frontwoman Zolani Mahola. Hill was not audible enough and resigned to walking off stage. While just last month in Toronto, while in Canada for the 20 year anniversary of Miseducation tour, she arrived an hour late for her performance.

Hence I was baffled when she made an excuse for her late coming in the letter. “Me being late to shows isn’t because I don’t respect my fans or their time, but the contrary, It can be argued that I care too much, and insist on things being right. I like to switch my show up regularly, change arrangements, add new songs, etc. This often leads to long sound checks, which leads to doors opening late, which leads to the show getting a late start. This element of perfectionism is about wanting the audience to experience the very best and most authentic musical experience they can from what I do.”

It’s one thing to be a perfectionist and it’s just plain ill-mannered not to honour ardent fans and disrespect qualified sound technicians.

If anything, this comes-off as being unprepared. I mean people buy tickets, using their hard-earned cash to see you at a specific time-by virtue of being on the line-up for that particular performance, means an artist agrees with all the prerequisites.

I don’t remember anyone questioning her undeniable talent and palpable influence she’s had in the industry. Ever. So she’s very much correct to say “I was also a member of the Fugees, another ground-breaking, multi-platinum selling group, who bridged social and cultural gaps, and were ambassadors of hip-hop all around this planet. We laid important groundwork upon which an entire generation of artists and musicians still stand. We broke through conventions and challenged limited world views every time we played.”

To add to that, she was an integral part of the Fugees, I personally think the fellas would’ve been another bar-spitting average clique, had she not been part of the group. She’s an impeccable emcee with beautiful vocals. The original rap singer.  But it’s her attitude that’s always been questioned- even by former group members, Pras and Wyclef Jean.

What I found particularly interesting in the letter, was not really her responding to Glasper’s statement, but addressing a bigger issue: misogyny and patriarchy in the industry when she said “And yes, Ms. Hill was absolutely a requirement. I was young, Black and female. Not everyone can work for and give the appropriate respect to a person in that package and in charge. It was important, especially then, for that to be revealed early. I adore Stevie, and honor [sic] Herbie and Quincy, who are our forebears, but they’re not women. Men often can say ‘I want it done like this’ and not be challenged. The same rules don’t always apply for women who may be met with resistance. When this happens you replace that player with someone who respects you and the office you hold.”

If we wake up tomorrow and someone like Priddy Ugly says, he wants be called King Priddy from now on, reluctant as society might be at first, they’ll eventually heed that call. And it would totally be a different story if a Gigi Lamayne, associated herself with royalty. Her artistry would be questioned.

It was like reading useless Facebook posts about people who brag about being older, to those born in the new millennium, when Hill wrote “Most people are probably just hearing your name for the first time because you dropped MINE in an interview, controversially. Taking nothing away from your talent, but this is a fact.”

A cheap shot, really. Glasper is a multi-award winning genius artist that has paid his dues, she knows very well that he’s a pianist that only came to the fore in the popular music scene just over a decade ago.

But fortunately there was no malicious speech between the two artists, it was honest criticism and a simple difference in opinion, which both creatives respected.Or so it seems.


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