Musical 20/20 - Two decades of freedom, Jamaica/South Africa ties celebrated
Marcia Rowe, Gleaner Writer
"What a history. I remember when Bob Marley and all of us chant the Niyabinghi and bring down the apartheid system down to ground. And I feel proud when yesterday I look and see a black judge in South Africa. Now, I am not racist, but back in those days you would not see a black judge," Jamaican percussionist and vocalist Bongo Herman told a gathering at Emancipation Park, New Kingston, on Friday.
Herman was one of three local acts to perform alongside the main act, South Africa based group WHP, at a celebratory concert organised by the Republic of South Africa. The other two Jamaicans were Tony Rebel and Queen Ifrica.
For those in attendance it was a stirring moment. Fittingly, the show, held to mark 20 years since the ending of apartheid, as well the same number of years of diplomatic relationship between the Republic of South Africa and Jamaica, took place at a venue which commemorates freedom.
It should be noted that in South Africa, Freedom Day is celebrated in April. However, Jamaica was chosen as one of the countries to mark this significant milestone, as the island's support for the Rainbow Nation is well known.
On paper the programme should have commenced with a welcome by MC Denise 'Isis' Miller, but instead it could be said the first item was a brief shower of blessings. Friday was also the anniversary of Hurricane Gilbert in 1988; Mother Nature's greetings out of the way, the programme returned to schedule.
South Africa's High Commissioner to Jamaica Her Excellency Mathu Joyini was brief in her remarks. She reminded the audience of the reason for the concert, to celebrate 20 years of diplomatic relationships between Jamaica and South Africa and 20 years of freedom in her country. "It is a freedom that Jamaica played a significant part in," Joyini said, before thanking the audience and musicians for their support.
The celebratory party got off to an electrifying performance from Jabba, lead singer of the WHP Band. Arriving to the stage as a relatively unknown artiste, he left a 'family' member.
In welcoming the group to the stage Miller described Jabba's music as a "meshing of reggae, hip-hop, dancehall and South African music". But she did not mention the various languages that the songs are done in, including Setswana (the tongue of Jabba's mother), Zulu and Sotho.
With this wide repertoire of languages to choose from Jabba greeted the audience with the perfect icebreaker. "Wha gwaan?" he asked. While the audience was still digesting the familiar phrase he followed up by asking them to sing "wha gwaan South African man" in his opening song. It was another delight for the audience members. Jabba also had persons singing to Harambe, despite their not knowing the language the song is in.
Jabba's sense of humour was another endearing character trait, as he told the audience that midnight in Jamaica is as hot as midday in South Africa, before explaining that the South African music is influenced by Western music and has evolved into its own forms, ultimately creating a South African identity. WHP gave a taste of that music, including a song from neighbouring Lesotho.
Also, on the band's musical platter was a selection from the late South African singer, Lucky Dube, the band paid tribute to Nelson Mandela as well with Where Are You? A South African folk song, Futbolo, was dedicated to Ambassador Joyini.
Subsequently, Queen Ifrica and Tony Rebel were called to the stage. Ifrica opened her short set with Lioness on the Rise. Rebel, who is a friend of Jabba, performed for a longer spell as he and the South African shared a song. Rebel's selections included If Jah is Standing By My Side.
Herman was the show's opening act. In addition to sharing some of the chants that brought "down Apartheid", Herman dug into his bag for his customary array of musical instruments, which produced the expected reaction from the audience.
The wonderful evening ended with members of the audience getting the chance to win gifts.