Originality is hard, because it comes with the prospect of ridicule. Unconventional sound renditions are often meet with displeasure from an insulated public that is firmly familiar with the meaningless surrounds of pop culture. Punchlines are easy to love and complex ideas are often restricted to exile when it comes to music. Too often I have been subjected to gigs where musicians are disgustingly in search of two conventions of normality. One: they want to sound like they are in the studio. They try too hard to merge the prim and proper sound waves that come from a recording both with a ‘vibey” live performance. Often this categorically fails. Much to the extent that it makes you forget that you are watching a live performance. Eat the free peanuts on offer and have conversations about the depressing rise of popular culture and how society as a whole is on the decline.
The second default normality of which our local performing artist are guilty is the desire to sound like everyone else. Repeatedly we have been subjected to lyrics that sound like they have been lifted directly from the Sophomore album of an American hip-hop undergraduate who is desperately seeking public validation. The beats are chopped and screwed to tick all the right boxes that might lead in varying degrees to public favour. Bass? Check! Sonic rave? Check! Poorly executed autotune? Check! Ladies and gentlemen we have a winner.
The result is a disheartening feeling that leaves critical minds numbed by the womb of unoriginality from which many of young performing artist have come. This was all I could think about this past Saturday when I saw a band called DurbanKnights or was it Durbanites or perhaps maybe its DurbanNights. Whatever their correct name is they seriously need to re-revaluate. Never have I been so publicly embraced by an activity that I have no involvement in.
The outfit is a two man act are an overt and overreaching initiative. A band that lacks any coherent musical uniqueness. From their lyrics about killing people and their so called “haters” these kids are a perfect sample of the high levels of ignorance that tend to result when black middle class kids think that hip-hop+derogatory terms=relevance. Their sound is jaded and the low level of their lyrical delivery is spirit crushing at best.
Its the kind of thing that makes you glad you stuck to singing in the shower and did not do something in the future might embarrass your kids and hip-hop as a musical form in its entirety. On the whole my levels of disgust we at their height when these kids started chanting about “crazy white bitches.” And for some strange reason I did not understand why these young ladies, armed with beers in hand and wearing shirts and panties were attracted by all this. So much so that they got up on stage and began gyrating to the ill fated sound that was bleeding out of the speakers . Maybe I am getting old. Maybe I am too serious. Or maybe these people need to get real. I went out and played foozeball. I had in no way signed up for this. There was melancholia in the room. Everyone was pretending to have fun but the night was utterly depressing. All I could think about was the super live feed that was coming from across town at The Body Rock. I was admittedly beginning to regret paying for this.
Definitely I am just one of those people that are intrinsically dissatisfied. It was with some deprivation that I returned to the inside of the social hall in the moderate optimism that the second opening act would do justice to high levels of awesome that I had been expecting from the evening. Whilst we are on the issue of opening acts, I think this an ample time to point out two things about them.
When selecting an act that will open for a refined musical outfit such as TATV or any other band for that matter there are some factors to consider, namely 1. Do not choose a band that the headliner would not want to be associated with and 2. Do not choose a band that will outperform the main act. On Saturday both these rules broken. In Durbanites/Knights/Nights we found ourselves in dislocation, no way were these cats opening for Tumi. I kept waiting for someone to jump out and scream PSYCHE. That person never came. Later in Luminathi we found a band that actually on the night did something that I thought was not possible. They simply outperformed Tumi and The Volume. Not because Tumi and The Volume we bad but because Luminathi did Luminathi, and did not try and strain themselves. Now and again from the dressing room I could see a curious Paolo look out and see what was happening. He looked impressed, in a totally vacant face kinda way.
As Luminathi were setting up you could see that they are a musical outfit that is steadfastly patient about their art. From the well timed soundcheck to building up towards the set. The band which is fronted by Manelis (one of Durban hip-hop leading lights) is a steady departure from the insular and simplistic approach that has been adopted by groups like Durbanites/Knights/Nighst and their peers. Simply put Luminathi is a creator of vibrant musical environments and not a conformer to the pores of popular culture.
In fact to call them better than their stage predecessors would be a disservice because they are incomparable. Luminathi is a Nguni word and an intrinsic wordplay on illiminati. The latter word often relates to an organization that is anti establishment. And in many ways Luminathi represent just that. They are a group that transitions seemly through genres such as rock, funk, reggae and hip-hop. Theirs is a sound that is a potent blend of the mass reaching hands of easy listening and the binding beauty of message.
They began the set with a song called I and I. A non pretentious funk-reggae groove and set the tone for what was to become a KIF performance. The band quickly did away with the civility of the double bass and the electric guitar was introduced. The result is a presentation that is enriching, cosmic and well nourished by musical mastery. On the second track entitled Sitshengise Luminathi’s powers are in full flight. The depth of the guitar is far reaching, and the drums are never off key. We shake our bodies in unison to a haunting performance. Incidentally the song speaks unswervingly to the depressingly low brow performance to which we had been subjected earlier in the evening.
Manelis as the leading vocalist shows his stamina and lyrical ability. His tight wordplay is keenly aided by a confident yet engaging ownership of the stage. He is an artist with an advanced palette and knack for making transitional performances seem gracious. By the end of the set Luminathi had the whole audience dancing and swerving on the stage. The kids who have sympathy for the rock cause were keenly satisfied by the grunge hard sound of “I want to live forever,” its loud. It’s live. It’s real.
By now the night was becoming a blur, everything had been hectically later than expected and by the Time Bergman and Tiago were doing their sound check it was well past midnight. Luminathi’s brisk performance had commanded the attention of all the drenched livers in the room. There was a pending sense of displacement in the air. Conversations were light. The void between Luminathi and TATV could not be filled. The delay was testing.
Look out for the full review of Tumi and The Volume’s performance in the next issue of MindMap-SA