Monday, April 27, 2009

Saved by reggae. Damned by corruption

I’m bad. I’m evil, touched by the twisted left hand of Satan. I am no doubt cursed to wonder the desert of hopelessness and damnation for eternity.
            I snuck into an LKJ concert.
            And LKJ is my god! He’s my legend, since I first heard my sister’s Bass Culture LP. The man is the voice of black pride, respect and self-defence in the face of oppression. He is also the king of Afro-Caribbean dub poetry, pre-figuring hip-hop, dancehall and still the inspiration behind the modern spoken-word revival.
            I’m at Newton early. I want to see every support band, the entire line-up, encores included. It’s the day before payday, but I’ve made a plan and I’ve got my R205 admission to begin my tutelage at the feet of the dub master.
            But I battle to find the entrance. I go in the wrong way, and end up behind the stage.
            “Is this the way in?” I ask a security guard.
            “No, you’re far from the entrance,” he tells me. “But I can help you out. This is the artist’s entrance. We can make a plan. Just go through.”
            I look around. We’re completely alone in the back section of Newtown Park on the way to the Bassline parking lot. Next thing I know, I’ve slipped the guard R100 and filtered through the artists’s backstage area into the audience. Someone called Niza is playing.
            My mate Shoul is here, with his babe. Nadine from the castings… A solid delegation of rastas. A lot of us old whities from the Eighties.
            Spoken-word poet Kgafela delivers a series of passionate raps in deep, vernac. They seem pretty awesome, but with no Tswana, we’ve only got the staccato consonants of his verbal attack to go on. His backing singers have this bewitching Sixties jazz harmony going on.
            I meet Tim Parr during the Tidal Waves set. They gonna put a new album out.
The smell of smoked marijuana attends everyone like a manservant. You can identify about five various strains of herb. By the time LKJ illuminates the stage and blesses us with his gifts along with the Dennis Bovell band, I am ripe for enlightenment.
And enlightenment he delivers, prefacing every militant musical poem of rhythmic defiance with an eloquent contextualization. “I wrote this number following the death of Blair Peach, who was killed by racist police officers at an anti-Nazi protest in 1979. This is Reggae Fi Peach.”
I start feeling so guilty for bribing my way into the concert, that I consider sneaking up to the entrance and sneaking two hundred bucks into the cash box.
Karmically, perhaps I won’t go to hell for so long, because I doubled the earnings of a poor Newtown security guard?
Still, it’s LKJ for god’s sake! An international icon of the struggle against oppression. He’s like the musical Desmond Tutu! And I ripped him off! I’ve loved every minute of my evening, I’ve been skanking for four hours, but I deserve none of it! I want to rip the entire experience from my soul, then go backstage and hand it back to him.
After playing for a full hour, he encores with More Time and takes his leave. “We want more!” bays a small element of the crowd, then, then! Like a redeeming angel, a rasta with a foot-high load of dreads appears, brandishing LKJ CDs for sale. I set upon him like a mugger, forcing R150 on him, grabbing the disc and lurching off into the night like a ghoul.
I’m still going to hell. Just probably not for so long now. I looked at the CD. It’s LKJ Live in Paris. Haven’t listened to it yet. But that’s not what I bought it for anyway.

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