24 October 2012
On October 6, Menngos hosted a Jazz concert to celebrate and honour Princess Vlei. This inspired the following article..
Can you play Princess Vlei? Can you bring her to life through the tunes of jazz? The drummer swirls tenderly across the cymbal, chip-chip on the hi-hat, and the gentle thumping on the base drum. Progressive rhythm, missing every
third back-beat and then allowing the trumpet to enter on a high note, which ripples the water of the vlei. The black singer's vocal cord brings in tension, for a moment, the swaying movement of the Erica bush, its whispering
communication with the soil is arrested in listening, together with the gathered crowd, on the jazz group playing. The group is trying out something. Experimenting if it is possible to bring the fynbos, the waters of the vlei, the pelicans searching for fish, the pounding hearts of the humans, and their silent dead ones - to bring them all in communication, in vibration with the mixing of tunes and rhythms. This is a trick, but one that might fail. If it happens, it is felt. If not, anticipation will stay in mid-air until the band stops playing.
This is also what those involved in resisting the shopping centre and mobilizing the vlei are doing. Like a jazz band, they have crafted instruments and play them to touch people's hearts. They too are improvising, feeling their way in how to come together and shift into the next rhythmic section, searching for the way to pass on their message, and address and connect people and plants. Their practice of messaging is an experiment in delivering the complex and shifting rhythms and tunes of the value of the vlei, hoping to create resonance in pounding hearts, to strengthen their music and voices. In playing their jazz, they are trying to bring the dead alive, black, coloured, the Khoi and the San, so they can walk with dignity among us on the shores of the vlei: seeing, hearing, sensing the flowers, bushes, the birds chirping and the sun setting over Elephants Eye Cave.
With their instruments they are playing with the children to join and plant trees and flowers,‹and to weave giant dream catchers to evoke and provoke and make palpable a desire to keep the vlei alive. They are resurrecting it to its proper place among the many everydays that are spun in and through the vlei by those alive, and those dead. Their playing of jazz to resist the mall and bring about an alternative is moving outwards, radiating, jumping fences to enter new locations, from Grassy Park, Elfindale, Lavender Hill, to Simons Town and Johannesburg; and then, from there, their act of messaging is meeting people when they are on their way to work, upon entering a store to buy bread, when opening the newspaper, when listening to the radio, when visiting friends, or when walking at the side of the road.
The value of the vlei comes with jazz in progressive rhythms, missing every third back-beat to allow the trumpet to enter, and then the singer, the strong voice, that breaks through to ripple the surfaces of vleis and minds to bring in a feeling of value. This value resists being coded into simplistic protocols, but insists on your humanity to grasp it; a connection to past histories; to feelings of sorrow and joy, of melancholia, hope and pride.
Henrik Ernstson is a researcher at the African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town. He writes this in his personal capacity.