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Excerpt: PJ Powers Recalls How She was “Married to Soweto” at a Gig at Jabulani Amphitheatre in 1982

Launch of Here I Am by PJ PowersHere I AmPenguin Random House South Africa has shared an excerpt from PJ Powers’ autobiography, Here I Am, co-written with Marianne Thamm.

In the extract, Powers describes how she and her band Hotline were invited to perform a concert in Soweto in 1982, as their song “You’re So Good to Me” had become a big crossover hit on Radio Zulu.

The gig took place on 31 May, Republic Day, a public holiday taken very seriously by white South Africans, who “celebrated the country’s ‘independence’ from the Commonwealth” – and also a “potentially strategic day for any possible ‘action’ by MK cadres”. Some members of Hotline were reluctant to accept the offer.

After their first song – which was “You’re So Good to Me” – it was clear the crowd did not recognise the band, and some quick thinking was necessary to turn the atmosphere around.

Read the excerpt:
 

* * * * * * *

 
Sometime in early May 1982, Mike Fuller called me. “Listen, we’ve been invited to perform in Soweto at the Jabulani Amphitheatre,” he said.

Taken aback, I asked, “How come?”

“Well, ‘You’re So Good to Me’ is a big hit on the Radio Zulu charts,” he offered.

“Radio Zulu?” I shot back, astonished.

“So, do you want to do it?”

“Ja, cool, I’ll do it,” I agreed.

I grew increasingly excited about the gig and spoke to the guys in the band. We had only been performing in clubs to white audiences and this would offer something different. By then Bones had replaced Geoff Sedgwick on keyboards and he, too, was keen, as was Alistair. George van Dyk, our bass player, was from a working-class Afrikaans background and much more cautious about playing in Soweto.

George, who came from a conservative family, had been subjected to much more pressure about the fact that he played in a rock band and had been viewed as an “outcast” when he first joined Hotline. Rock music was viewed as a potentially “bad influence” by closed-minded white South Africans threatened by anything that filtered into South Africa from abroad.

Also the grand narrative in the media, particularly the state-controlled public broadcaster, the SABC, was that Soweto (or any township for that matter) was a dangerous place, especially for white people. The irony is that the inhabitants of townships were more likely to experience institutionalised violence from the state than anyone else, so the reality was that townships were dangerous places for black people.

On 12 May a second bomb had exploded at the West Rand Administration Board in Meadowlands, Soweto. The first had gone off in the same offices in January that year. There had been other attacks around the country, including Koeberg Power Station and the Langa Commissioner’s Court in Cape Town.

It was forgivable then, perhaps, that George was apprehensive about playing in a township.

“Are you mad? We can’t do that,” was his first response when I told him about the invite.

“Ah, come on, George. It’s in a big stadium. The other guys are going. We’ve been invited, man. Let’s go,” I cajoled.

I had not been programmed to think anything about playing in Soweto. I knew that the government was wrong but at the age of 20 it was on more of a visceral and emotional level than intellectual. I hated injustice, always had, but I had never encountered it face to face. The concert, which had been arranged by Radio Zulu, was due to take place on 31 May, Republic Day. It was a Monday and a public holiday, a day off that would have been taken very seriously by those white South Africans who celebrated the country’s “independence” from the Commonwealth.

It was also a potentially strategic day for any possible “action” by MK cadres as it would send a clear message to government, and so generally police would have been on high alert. I was still living with Paulette in Johannesburg and on the set day Paulette, Alistair, Bones and I piled into our white Ford Escort with the one black door, followed by George and Larry Rose (who was our drummer at the time) in a Grey Datsun and we headed north to Soweto.

We had been given written directions and sort-of vaguely knew where it was. We took the Old Potch Road and turned off near Sun Valley and the famous Vic’s Viking Garage at Devland with the Vickers Viking aircraft on its roof. In 1982 Soweto was nothing like the vibrant, built-up city with malls, shops, cinemas and double-lane highway it is today. Back then the turnoff to Soweto was a dust road and the township seemed to be shrouded in a permanent blanket of fog from coal fires people were forced to use for cooking and heating.

The streets were unpaved and it appeared as if the primary mode of transport was the donkey cart. Mangy, thin dogs roamed the streets and children pushed homemade wire toys through the dust and puddles. The two most permanent-looking buildings were Baragwanath Hospital and Black Chain Supermarket.

Unsurprisingly, we encountered a road block shortly after we had turned off. An armed white policeman swaggered towards our car. There was no way they were going to let two cars transporting six white people into a township without finding out why we were there.

Back then white journalists were prohibited from entering townships without prior permission and a permit issued by the police, which was one method of censoring the media or at least restricting movement. Police often suggested to white people that we were not allowed to enter a “black area” without official permission.

“Lady, do you know where you are?” the cop asked as he leaned in towards the window and scanned the interior of the car.

“Of course I know where I am, there is a huge brown board behind you with the white lettering ‘Soweto’ on it,” I replied facetiously.

“Well, you can’t come in here,” he charged.

“What do you mean ‘can’t come in here’? We are coming in here! We’ve been invited to play at a concert at Jabulani Amphitheatre.”

The cop’s eyes bored into me, as well as the wide-eyed occupants of the car behind us. The cop said something in Afrikaans, which I informed him I didn’t understand. George got out of the Datsun behind us and approached. I wondered if the cop thought that finally a man was coming to talk some sense into this loud-mouthed, bolshie woman who seemed inexplicably, to him, to be in charge.

“Do you think it’s a good idea?” George hesitantly asked.

“Of course it is. We are going to perform today,” I told him before he turned and walked back to their car. He knew better than to argue with me.

The cop shook his head and said, “Well, then be it on your own head, girly. You are on your own,” before waving us through.

We snaked our way through White City, which back then consisted of rows and rows of prefabricated houses with domed roofs that looked like the tops of mushrooms. And then suddenly, Jabulani Amphitheatre loomed like a moving, writhing bulwark up ahead of us. I had never seen anything like it. It was about one o’clock and scorching hot. From the outside approach I could see the back of the stands behind the stage. There appeared to be a wall of people packed tight. A solid mass of humanity. Some people appeared to be hanging off the fencing that had been used to extend the seating capacity.

There was more to come. Security guards carrying long sjamboks pulled open a large, creaking iron gate and let us into the backstage parking area, which was already choc-ablock with cars parked haphazardly. There was a tremendous buzz inside the stadium. We got out of the car and as we walked to the dressing room behind the stage I caught another glimpse of what awaited us. From that angle I could see about half of the inside of the stadium and more people packed tightly together.

We only had a few moments to get ready to go on. In the meantime, Mike met us at the changeroom. Kansas City was up on the small, low concrete platform that served as a stage, talking to and coaxing the roaring crowd. It sounded like he spoke and that they replied en masse. Then he appeared backstage, a slightly built man in a pair of shiny bellbottom trousers. I remember Mike shaking his hand before guiding him towards us. Kansas had this wonderful open face, split by a huge smile. Then someone else bounded over and introduced himself as Collins Mashego, a co-compere of the afternoon’s show.

“Kan, these are the people whose song you have been playing,” said Collins, also a veteran broadcaster. Kansas shot us a broad, welcoming grin. Then things happened fast. There was clapping and cheering and we ran onto the stage, five white people, some in waist-high stonewashed denims and with funny big hair. Inside the stadium I could finally see that about 40 000 people had squashed into a venue built for around 30 000. People were crushed up near the stage and there was not a vacant spot on the field of red earth. The stadium contained a powerful, tangible energy. We had opted to start with what we regarded as one of our sure-fire “crossover” covers, Diana Ross’ disco hit, “I’m Coming Out”.

I looked out across a sea of very perplexed faces as I pushed through the song and could almost hear the audience thinking, “What the hell is this?” but in Zulu, or Xhosa or Tswana or Sesotho of course. Afterwards Collins bounded onto the stage and said something in Zulu that none of us understood (he told me later what he had said). George’s fear behind me was palpable. Collins signalled for us to continue and it was Alistair who had the presence of mind and who leaned over to me and said, “Let’s do ‘You’re So Good to Me’.”

We had planned to do the song in the middle of the set but Alistair was right, no one knew who the hell we were. He had understood the only way the audience was going to “recognise” us was if we sang the song that brought us here in the first place. Bones began to play opening notes on the keyboard and, as I opened my mouth to sing the first line, the crowd erupted. It was as if the penny had dropped; finally the audience could marry the song to the band. I watched with a growing sense of astonishment as almost everyone sang along. They knew every word!

It was an electric and humbling moment, one I have never forgotten. We played a few more songs to rapturous applause and approval. We played “You’re So Good to Me” a second time and received an even bigger round of applause. At the end of it Collins was back on the stage gesticulating at the band. The crowd hushed as he announced, “Today, today, we are going to marry this ntombazana to Soweto” to roars from the crowd. “What should we call her?” he asked.

And then, in what felt like a split second, the crowd responded as if with one voice: “Thandeka”, “Thandeka” – the loved one.

It is impossible to capture accurately the significance or feeling of the moment verbally or in the written word but, put simply, I felt as if I had been reborn. Perhaps this is how people feel when they are baptised in the sea or a river. A sense of positive, surreal displacement, a subtle internal shifting of a worldview, no, a world and my place in it. There was a clarity that arrived with a sudden and blinding realisation that, for the first time in my short life, I felt a true sense of belonging. I was enveloped by an energy and collective love that flowed in waves from the stands around me and onto the stage. It was a profound and sacred moment.

Then, out of nowhere, an old, wizened man appeared from the crowd, carefully balancing a calabash up to the stage. At the same time my eye was snagged by a man right up front near the stage who was being squashed and crushed into the concrete lip of the platform. It appeared as if it was going to end badly but instead some in the crowd surged forward, picked him up and plonked him on the stage. He had only one leg, the other was a stump that he managed to wiggle, and was on crutches, but that didn’t stop him from dancing wildly. There was something dreamlike about the events unfolding around us.

Collins took the calabash from the old man and passed it to me. Foam bubbled out of the cracked mouth. I had no idea what was inside and I honestly don’t remember what it tasted like but I gulped back the liquid to an approving, deafening bellow from the audience. The men in the band were not offered the calabash. It was my wedding after all! Three years later George, who had been so afraid to play in Soweto, was to write the now iconic “Jabulani”, a simple song that is now inexorably woven into the texture of this country’s musical history.

That hot afternoon in May 1982 we all stumbled off stage stunned and somehow altered. Paulette was there to greet me and all she could say was, “Wow”. Dazed we hung around while a few other acts performed, including Sipho Hotstix Mabuse and Harari who performed a distinctive rock/Afro beat, as well as Abakhwenyana and the Soul Brothers, early adopters and perhaps originators of township jive and Mbaqanga, with its driving bass and hypnotic percussive Hammond organ.

I understood much later that, while we were on our own musical journey, local music and each new sound that emerged were deeply influenced by political currents and each generation’s response to these. There was always jazz, the music of choice for the country’s thinkers and intellectuals. Marabi had made way for Mbaqanga just as Mbaqanga would make way for Afrosoul, pop and disco. Then came Kwaito, Hip Hop Pantsula and House. Each sound morphed into another unique, South African frequency. But there were always a few constants in the ever-changing sonic milieu, something instantly recognisable as uniquely South African. This would all form part of my later journey of discovery.

As we prepared to leave Jabulani Amphitheatre, I asked Collins what he had said to the audience in Zulu earlier in the day. I learned that audiences at township music concerts were totally unforgiving and were not averse to lobbing bottles and stones onto the stage if they disapproved of an act. In fact the sound engineers at the back of the stadium had bunkered down under a makeshift roof in order to protect themselves from flying projectiles. Collins had understood that this crowd might have turned nasty if the energies were not directed positively.

He told me then that he had explained to the crowd that it was Republic Day and that we, as white people, had chosen to come to Soweto to celebrate rather than with our “own” people. That, I realised, had set the scene for what happened later. We were all silent as we drove back home to Berea in the dusk on that Republic Day, 1982. Somehow, as the immediacy of what had just happened gave way to a deeper understanding, I knew that my life would never be the same again.

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Read Taiye Selasi’s “Poetic Tribute to Natural Hair”: Love Your Curls

Ghana Must GoTaiye Selasi, best-selling author of Ghana Must Go, has written a short ebook entitled Love Your Curls: A poetic tribute to curly hair inspired by real women, as part of a Dove campaign.

The book, which is aimed at children, is available as a free download, and is intended to instill self-confidence and empowerment in young black girls with curly hair.

Read Selasi’s author’s note:

When my sister and I were younger, we used to play this game. We’d place our towels over our heads and tuck the cloth behind our ears. It was a gesture that we’d seen our straight-haired friends make every day. For us, the gesture embodied ease, beauty, self-assurance. Trouble was, our hair wasn’t “tuckable.” Our short, soft, springy Afros—while lovely to the touch—were too tightly coiled to be tucked behind the ear. No sooner had a chunk of hair been tucked in place than it bounced back. And so we turned to towels.

One night, with my towel-wig on, I went to brush my teeth. I was leaning over the sink when plop! My “hair” fell off. As I straightened up and looked in the mirror, I found myself staring back: me, as I was, no terrycloth-hair hanging down my back but a small buoyant Afro framing my face. Suddenly it dawned on me. I would never have straight hair. The ear-tuck would never be my trademark. But my pillow-soft coils—strong, beautiful, delicate—could be. Looking at myself in the mirror that night, I fell in love with my hair.

This book is dedicated to all the curly-haired girls, big and small, who have fallen in love with theirs. For the little girls whose buoyant, boisterous hair reflects their personalities; for the mothers who see in their daughters’ ringlets free and fearless spirits; for the women who have learned to love—lo, to flaunt!—their natural hair, whose curls tell the world who they are: this is for you. May you find in these painted pages a reflection of your beauty, a celebration of your uniqueness and an expression of your grace. Here’s to you and your gorgeous curls!

Curly and proud,
Taiye Selasi

Selasi chatted to The Cut about why she participated in the project, as well as about her views on about skin lightening, her poetry, and the objectification of natural hair:

Have you always worn your hair naturally?
I had straight hair when I was young and I never want it again. But you know what? It doesn’t suit me. I want to be really clear. I don’t say that as sort of a pat on the back. My sister wears her hair straight. She looks amazing with it. It’s her choice. What I love is that she made that choice being fully empowered. She doesn’t feel like she has to have straight hair, she’s just enjoying this haircut right now. And I don’t look at her and think, You’re self-hating. But me, I just like it better like this. I have a big face. I have a big mouth. I have big cheeks. I have big eyes. I have big shoulders. I should have big hair.

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“Elon Musk Takes on Far More at One Time than Anyone Else” – Biographer Ashlee Vance

Elon MuskAshlee Vance, author of Elon Musk: How the Billionaire CEO of Spacex and Tesla is Shaping Our Future, chatted to The Economic Times about his most recent subject.

Musk, who was born in South Africa and graduated from Pretoria Boys High School before moving to Canada, is the founder of PayPal and current CEO SpaceX and Tesla Motors. In Vance’s biography, Musk reveals that he wishes to establish a Mars colony by 2040.

Vance says Musk is different to other tech visionaries like Larry Page, Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos: “Elon takes on far more at one time than anyone else.”

Read the interview:

You quote Musk as saying Bezos is not much fun. But then Musk is not much fun himself, according to your book. People like Musk, Jobs, Bezos and Uber’s Travis Kalanick have earned a reputation for not being particularly affable. An Uber investor said of Kalanick, “It’s hard to be a disruptor and not be an a**hole.” Do you agree with that?

Elon can, in fact, be a lot of fun. He’s the first Hollywood-style CEO we’ve seen in a long time and tends to like to hang out with movie stars and be where the action is — a big party, the Super Bowl, the Kentucky Derby. In that respect, I do think he’s different to his more sedate peers in Silicon Valley. That said, he obviously pushes himself and his workers very hard and has become a slave to his work in many ways. I don’t think you have to be an a**hole to accomplish great, disruptive things, but it seems to help at times.

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Mathews Phosa on Rediscovering His Exile Poems: “I Thought They Were Lost Forever!” (Podcast)

Chants of FreedomTamara LePine-Williams recently spoke to legendary poet, freedom fighter, lawyer and politician, Mathews Phosa, on Classic FM about his newly published Chants of Freedom: Poems Written in Exile.

LePine-Williams asks Phosa why it is that it took so long for this collection of poetry to be published, as they were written between 1985 and 1990. Phosa says that although he “always believed these poems would see the light of day”, he was in exile when he wrote them and so he could not focus on getting his poetry published.

When he went back home, Phosa did not pack his own luggage, and he lost track of the poems he had written in exile. The poems were uncovered recently when work on his biography began. He says “I thought they were lost forever!”

Listen to the podcast:


 

 
Related links:

 

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In Oscar Pistorius’s Defense: Legal Expert Explains Why the Court’s Ruling to Release Him is Fair and Just

Chase Your ShadowKelly Phelps, a Senior Lecturer in Criminal Justice at the University of Cape Town, recently wrote an article for The Conversation in which she explains why the court’s decision to release Oscar Pistorius on correctional supervision is within the bounds of the rule of law.

The subject of John Carlin’s book, Chase Your Shadow: The Trials of Oscar Pistorius, is set to be released in August this year after having served 10 months of his five-year sentence for culpable homicide in prison. Pistorius was sentenced to five years in prison, and three years suspended, in 2014 after killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day in 2013.

Phelps writes that Pistorius’ early release “was a virtual certainty from the day he was sentenced”, explains the concept of “correctional supervision” and provides a list of similar cases which show that Pistorius actually got a harsher punishment than most.

Read the article:

Viewed alongside these cases, Pistorius has been sentenced on the harsher end of the spectrum. It appears that the public discontent with his sentence is connected to the fact that many people still believe he murdered Steenkamp. However, after engaging with the evidence presented, that was not the finding of the court.

Pistorius was convicted of culpable homicide for what was essentially deemed a tragic accident. In light of that verdict, Pistorius has not been subject to any special treatment in terms of his sentence. He has been treated the same as anyone else sentenced under the same provision.

Related links:

 

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20 Years Since the Boks’ Rugby World Cup Triumph: Take a Trip Down Memory Lane with PJ Powers

Here I AmExactly 20 years ago, on June 24, 1995, the Springboks beat the All Blacks at Ellis Park to win the Rugby World Cup.

For most South Africans, the sound of PJ Powers singing “The World in Union” will be all it takes to be instantly transported back to that day.

Powers’ recording of the Rugby World Cup official song, which also features Ladysmith Black Mambazo, reached no. 47 on the UK Singles Chart. She performed the song live at the opening ceremony in Cape Town for a worldwide television audience.

Have a listen:

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“Thandeka”, as Powers is affectionately known, launched her autobiography late last year, and says performing the song at the opening ceremony was one of the highlights of her life.

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PJ Powers Takes Offense at the Use of Her Name for a Tops at SPAR Advertising Campaign

Here I AmEarlier this week PJ Powers, musician and co-author of the autobiographical Here I Am, announced her displeasure about a series of Tops at SPAR advertisements that have used her name without her permission.

Powers struggled seriously with alcoholism in the past, and so the ads for the liquor store are particularly offensive.

Jean-Marie Korff wrote an article about the advertising campaign for Channel24:

On Monday morning PJ Powers, who has publicly admitted to being sober for the last five-and-a-half years, revealed on her Facebook page that Spar is using her name without her permission in an advertising campaign for their liquor store, TOPS.

View the post on PJ Powers’ Facebook page:

PJ's Manager here writing on behalf of PJ: As many of you know PJ is a recovered alcoholic. She has not drunk for five…

Posted by PJ Powers on Monday, 22 June 2015

 

 
In response, Tops at SPAR apologised for the offense the advert caused, explaining the word play of their Pajama Party theme:

In response to the complaints on My SPAR regarding the phrase PJ Powers being used as part of the TOPS at SPAR…

Posted by TOPS at SPAR on Monday, 22 June 2015

 

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Podcast: Christopher Hope Speaks About the Strange, Odd, Dark and Terrifyingly Funny World of Jimfish

JimfishChristopher Hope, author of Jimfish, was recently interviewed by Nancy Richards for SAfm.

In the interview, Hope tells Richards about where the title character of his latest novel comes from and what he hoped to do with the character. Jimfish, Hope says, emerges out of the sea and is a kind of fairytale Everyman. “I wanted a boy that was human, but at the same time slightly mysterious, and who could set off on this series of travels.”

No-one knows quite what to do with Jimfish in any of the places he visits “up through Africa.” Jimfish is, in turn, astonished “that the world could be so strange, so odd, so dark and in some ways so terrifyingly funny.” Richards says that this is part of what makes the novel feel very close to home.

Listen to the podcast:

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Understanding Mathews Phosa’s Poetry and Essays – Muxe Nkondo at the Launch of Chants of Freedom

 
Chants of FreedomProfessor Muxe Nkondo delivered a moving speech recently at the launch of Mathews Phosa’s first English poetry anthology, Chants of Freedom: Poems Written in Exile.

Nkondo’s speech, entitled “The Self in Political Space and the Future of Fundamental Change: Understanding Mathews Phosa’s Poetry and Essays”, focuses on the poet’s enduring conviction that all human beings are worthy of respect and dignity.

Nkondo provides the reader with a glimpse at the convictions that frame the poet’s political and moral life through a discussion of a selection of Phosa’s poetry, including the stirring Afrikaans poem, “Wie is ek”.

“The preccupation with dignity, work, and public action reveals in Mathews Phosa’s sensibility a double endowment,” Nkondo writes. “There is an urge towards individuality, towards the realisation of the independent self; and there is an impulse to belong, to contribute to the public good.”

Read the speech for brilliant insight into one of the greatest minds of our time:
 

 

 
Also read:

 
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Video: Elon Musk Reveals His Favourite Fictional Spacecraft

Elon Muskio9 recently shared a video in which South African-born entrepreneur Elon Musk revealed his favourite fictional space ship.

The innovator behind PayPal, SpaceX, Tesla and SolarCity has one vision in mind: To save our planet. The entrepreneur’s biography, Elon Musk: How the Billionaire CEO of Spacex and Tesla is Shaping Our Future by Ashlee Vance, will be published by Penguin Random House this month.

In the video Musk talks about a future mission to Mars, what he would do if he was the head of NASA and where his passion for space comes from. “I was always a big fan of science fiction movies and books,” Musk says, adding that his favourite fictional spacecraft is the Heart of Gold from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Watch the video:

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io9’s Charlie Jane Anders shared a passage from a previous interview in which Musk talks about the impact that Douglas Adams’ book had on his life and his career:

I guess when I was around 12 or 15…I had an existential crisis, and I was reading various books on trying to figure out the meaning of life and what does it all mean? It all seemed quite meaningless and then we happened to have some books by Nietzsche and Schopenhauer in the house, which you should not read at age 14

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