WBGO Blog
  • WBGO in South Africa 8: In Cape Town

    April 6, 2015. Posted by Rhonda Hamilton.

    The culmination of our trip was the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, “Africa’s Grandest Gathering."

    As the festival celebrated its 16th year, they chose to honor the 50th anniversary of the legendary South African mbaqanga singing group, the Mahotella Queens.

    Photo credit: Esa Alexander/Sunday Times
    Photo credit: Esa Alexander/Sunday Times

    One of the original members, lead singer Hilda Tloubatla, is still with the group.

    “We’ve got the spirit of the true musicians," she said, when asked what keeps the Mahotella Queens going strong. "We know how to go about a song - how to do a song.”

    Well, you can believe that! From the first note, these ladies energized the crowd, which gave them a rousing reception.

    Rounds of thunderous applause and loving shouts and screeches of approval echoed throughout the huge concert hall.

    Photo credit: Ignatius Mokolone
    Photo credit: Ignatius Mokone

    The concert of South African musical icon Hugh Masekela was the one that moved me most. The trumpeter is internationally revered as one of our master musicians.

    More than any other artist, he has introduced the world to the music and culture of South Africa.

    To be in the midst of an adoring South African audience as Hugh Masekela performed was a thrill I will never forget. You could feel the love they have for him, and he for them, his brothers and sisters.

    My soul stirred as soon as I heard the familiar introduction to “Coal Train” (Stimela), Masekela’s dedication to the men who work in South Africa’s mines.

    I’ve heard this song many times before, but this time, I heard it with new ears and a new understanding.

    There is a train that comes from Namibia and Malawi

    There is a train that comes from Zambia and Zimbabwe,

    There is a train that comes from Angola and Mozambique,

    From Lesotho, from Botswana, from Swaziland,

    From all the hinterland of Southern and Central Africa.

    This train carries young and old, African men

    Who are conscripted to come and work on contract

    In the golden mineral mines of Johannesburg

    And its surrounding metropolis, sixteen hours or more a day

    For almost no pay.

    Deep, deep, deep down in the belly of the earth

    When they are digging and drilling

    For that shiny mighty evasive stone,

    Or when they dish that mish mesh mush food

    into their iron plates with the iron shank.

    Or when they sit in their stinky, funky, filthy,

    Flea-ridden barracks and hostels.

    They think about the loved ones they may never see again

    Because they might have already been forcibly removed

    From where they last left them

    Or wantonly murdered in the dead of night

    By roving and marauding gangs of no particular origin.

    We are told they think about their land and their herds

    That were taken away from them with a gun, and the bomb

    and the teargas and the cannon.

    And when they hear that Choo-Choo train

    They always curse, curse the coal train,

    The coal train that brought them to Johannesburg.

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    Thank you, South Africa. Thanks to our hosts Hema Shah of Immersion Journeys and Judy Pillay of South African Tourism, and their respective staffs.

    In Hema’s words, you are “awesome!”

    Thanks to my colleague Simon Rentner for your hard work and for facilitating this trip, and to the team at WBGO.

    Most of all, thanks to all of the wonderful people who were part of our group, and with whom we shared this amazing journey.

  • WBGO in South Africa 7: Mandela's Garden

    April 3, 2015. Posted by Rhonda Hamilton.

    Cape Town, South Africa’s “Mother City,” is a photographer’s paradise.

    It’s breathtakingly beautiful – from the top of Table Mountain, you can see miles of white sandy beaches that rim the coastline, and crystal clear ocean, in every shade of blue.

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    More spectacular vistas can be seen from the Upper Lighthouse at the Cape Of Good Hope.

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    Looking out from Table Mountain, you see a small land mass in the ocean.

    That’s Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela and hundreds of other political prisoners were incarcerated under Apartheid.

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    I always assumed the island was named after a person, but “Robben” is the Dutch word for seal. Today, it's home to over 20 species of mammals and is a bird sanctuary with a large African penguin population.

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    We were privileged to have a former inmate, Jama Mbatyoti, as one of our guides.

    He was arrested in 1976 for planning a march in his hometown of Port Elizabeth, and was confined for five years.

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    You could hear the pain in his words, and see it permanently etched in his face, as he spoke of the indignities he and his fellow prisoners suffered.

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    Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for twenty-seven years. He spent eighteen on Robben Island.

    Mandela’s cell was in section B, where the leaders of political organizations were held, in isolation from the rest of the prison community.

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    Mr. Mbatyoti told us that Mandela liked to garden, and worked this small patch of land whenever he had the opportunity.

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  • WBGO In South Africa 6: Final Thoughts

    April 2, 2015. Posted by Rhonda Hamilton.

    Add new comment | Filed under: Jazz Alive

    When we first arrived in South Africa, everyone in our WBGO group was excited – but I don’t know if we realized that what awaited us was a profound and potentially life-changing experience.

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    Our visit to the Lesedi Cultural Village was a great introduction -  a lighthearted and entertaining historical perspective on traits and traditions of the region’s tribes or ethnic groups.

    As we took in the sights, sounds and tastes of Soweto, we were able to get some sense of the challenges of everyday life in the present time.

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    The Apartheid Museum took us on an emotional roller coaster - down into the depths of man’s inhumanity to man, and back up again, to see how the spirit of one man – Nelson Mandela – could illuminate that darkness, and bring people into the light of a “Rainbow Nation.”

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    South Africa’s beautiful landscape contains vast mineral resources, which has created enormous wealth for some and unimaginable poverty and misery for others.

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    On the bus ride to the Pilanesburg Game Reserve, we passed near some of the world’s largest platinum mines.

    What astounds me is that miners must travel two hours down into the mines to begin their work. After their long shift, it’s another two hours back up to the surface.

    Photo by Steve Evans
    Photo by Steve Evans

    Getting up close and personal with South Africa’s wildlife was another highlight of our trip. It’s an unforgettable thrill to see these beautiful creatures roaming free, right in front of you.

    In some cases, like this wildebeest, beautiful may not be the most appropriate word.

    Our safari guide told us the story that after God created all the animals, he had some spare parts – so he gave the wildebeest the tail of a horse, the horns of a cow and the beard of a goat!