Category Archives: The Big Issue

Meet the Garden People

Living in the heart of New York’s Central Park or Paris’ Jardin du Luxembourg seems unimaginable. But there are people who don’t have to pay a single Rand to ‘live’ in the most prestigious park in Cape Town: the Company Gardens next to the Iziko South Africa Museum. But they have to eat, sleep and work on the street. Meet the people of the Company Gardens; the kings and queens of Queen Victoria Street.

With a straight-forward and determined look the 32-year-old Robert Claasen is watching the cars driving through Queen Victoria Street. “I’ve got money is this street”, he tells without hesitation. Every car which parks in his part of the street, parallel to his ‘home’ the Company Gardens, is a potential R5, or even R10. “I’ve got 4 cars parked here right now, I can’t leave, that would mean I lose R20.” Originally from Bonteheuwel, the eldest of 2 brothers and 3 sisters moved to the City Bowl when he was 25 years old. “I needed to stand on my own 2 feet”, the well-thinking Robert says while running between the parked cars, “I needed to show that I can survive without my mother and be an independent man. That’s what I am right now; there is nobody telling me what I can and cannot do or where I can and cannot go!”

Like many other homeless, Robert has been living on the street for over years and actually doesn’t see himself living anywhere else. There wouldn’t be anyone in the townships that can support him anyway. While rubbing his just shaved head he explains: “The Gardens feel like home, it gives me a better feeling to live here than in any township. Here we form a community and take care of each other. It actually doesn’t feel like living on the street.” Together with his ´neighbours´ or ´roommates´ he shares the feeling that the shelters around Cape Town are more like prisons, without any freedom for their inhabitants. “You can only sleep there, have to be in at 4 and out at 10, don’t drink and do what the ‘guards’ say. If I wanted to be treated like a kid, I would have stayed at home”, says Robert slightly irritated.

Next to Robert, who left his parental house 7 years ago and lives and works along Queen Victoria Street permanent for 2,5 years, 41-year-old Jackie Goliath and her 33-year-old boyfriend Jeff Arense have been living in the park for respectively 6 and 3,5 years. “I am the first lady here!” the always smiling Jackie claims. “I am the queen of Queen Victoria Street and the mother of the Gardens.” Meanwhile the modest and observing Jeff tends to hear her, but doesn’t really listen. “We all have our own reasons to be here”, he says calm, “and the only thing we do right now is surviving and hoping that the future while bring us better days.”

Whoever was first, owns the warmest blanket or makes the most money parking cars, isn’t important for the people in the Gardens. Every day brings them a new sunrise and sunset and so each day can bring them either success or misery. But what all the 15 to 20 permanent residents of the Company Gardens have in common is a past which made living on the streets the best option for them. A normal childhood, good education (Robert reaches highest with standard 6) or a positive sight for the future is not something they got at home. “When I dropped out of school and became a bad boy”, Robert admits seriously, “I realized I was making the wrong decisions. Drinking, smoking dagga and stealing controlled my life when I was 16/17 and finally they putted me behind bars. There was no mommie to guide me there…”

Jackie, who was born in Vredenburg near Saldanha Bay, had a hard knock life from the moment she was born. As the eldest of one brother and sister, her mother went looking for work in Cape Town and took her first born with her. But because the family couldn’t cope, Jackie was left with a colored family in District Six when she was just three months old. Her grandmother, who was living in Manenberg in the Cape Flats, got custody over little Jackie when she was 4. “My whole life revolved around Manenberg”, Jackie says while softly telling her life story. “My grandmother tried to give me everything I needed, but when I got pregnant at the age of 14 the situation changed. My grandmother wanted me to get married when I was pregnant for the second time (from another man) when I was 20 and so I did. We lived together in my grandmother’s house, but tensions ran high when I was pregnant for the third time and because my husband was a drug addict. When I was 25 the beating and fighting reached a boiling point and so I moved out. Alone. He took the children.”

After leaving her husband and grandmother behind, Jackie began to live a whole other live. “Sleeping during the day, partying during the night”, she laughs. Until she, at the age of 27, got pregnant for the fourth time. Their relationship ended quickly after the father married Jackie’s best friend. The only man that gave her a child (her fifth) and took care of both of them was Kenneth, who she lived with in Khayelitsha for over 8 years. “Of all my 5 children, I only still see the last one: Lucia. Gerard, Jo-Anne, Anthony and Tracy-Lee (respectively 27 thru 14) live either with their biological dad, grandmother or are in Foster Care. That’s what hurts the most, not being with my children. My biggest wish is to be reunited with my kids; I know where they are, but I don’t think I can stand the rejection. They never visit”, she tells with tears in her eyes. When Kenneth died 6 years ago of TB, there was no life for Jackie in Khayelitsha anymore. Therefore, she crowned herself queen of Queen Victoria Street.

Her king, skinny and small build Jeff, tells a different but nevertheless interesting and heartbreaking story. Born in Knysna, the quiet and humble man had to leave for Worchester with his 29-year-old sister because his mom died. He was only 1 at the time. When at the age of 4 he moved to Villiersdorp to live with his grandma, she wasn’t able to take care of him. He was forced to live in a Home of Safety till the age of 19, when he finally made it to Cape Town. “There I met a pregnant girl named Linda”, Jeff explains while mysteriously smiling. “With her I lived in Uppington, but I left her because she was constantly drunk on ‘pap-sap’ (white wine). After that I’ve lived in Site-B Khayelitsha for a while, but I got tired of it. Everybody over there was begging for cigarettes, alcohol and what not. I’ve only lived there for 6 months, until I moved to the City Bowl to stroll the streets”, he tells while greeting two passerby’s.

Be aware not to compare the homeless in the Company Gardens with the baggers in Long Street: every piece of clothing, food and (cool) drinks is cherished with the most possible gratitude. Robert smiles: “Every time somebody gives me something to wear, I make sure that I wear it immediately or at least the day after. Just to show my gratitude. Therefore I never reject food or drinks; I enjoy everything the people in the street are giving me.” But unfortunately for the Garden people, it is only the people living along the Gardens who support the weakest in this society. From the government, municipality or city these people don’t have to expect anything. “We live from parking cars, collecting scrap and donations”, Jeff reply’s sounds moderate, “actually were the employees of the streets.” With her head down Jackie adds: “I’m tired of it and actually too sick to work. But there is no government to rely on; we are all on our own. They say I’m not sick enough. But I will never steal or skarrel, that’s below my level.”

Luckily there still are places where homeless people can go to when donations run dry: churches. “Every weekday from 9 till 1 the St. George´s Cathedral turns into a community centre where we can get two slices of bread, some rice and a place to sleep”, Jackie sighs. “And on Wednesday night we can collect some carrots at the church in Kloofstreet”, Robert adds. “But it’s a shame they closed so many places where we could get food down. People were rude, started pushing and that leaded to people getting stabbed. Then they decided: once but never again. No more help”, Jackie sighs again. And help is not something they can expect from the South African Police either. They aren’t bothered with the people living in the Company Gardens; they’ve got ‘better things to do’. So the task of assisting the homeless people on the streets is up to the Central City Improvement District (CCID) security personnel patrolling the parks and streets and, according to Robert, Jackie and Jeff, they do a horrible job.

“They’re drunk and on drugs!” Robert shouts. “They chase you away when you are sleeping, telling you to find another spot, or they steal you’re blanket, food or little money you have. The security is just the same or even worse then the skelms (thieves), because you can’t do anything about them.” The punishment for sleeping in the Company Gardens is hard to define. Everything from just one night up to a weekend, a week or even multiple months is possible. “They just lock you up for nothing”, Robert continues his tirade. “And the stuff they steal, they just keep for themselves or give it away to some other people who live on the streets as a bribe. They’re as corrupt as can be, but who are we to complain. We are just homeless people!”

Although they already have their own spot along Queen Victoria Street where the people know, trust and support them, there are still a lot of homeless people out in the streets who don’t have their ‘own’ place to live and work. “During summertime the park is always more packed with people seeking a place to stay then during the cold winter months”, tells Jackie, “sometimes these new people stay, but most of the time they leave to stroll the streets again.” It doesn’t happen often that a ‘new guy’ wants to take over somebody’s spot. “We chase them away”, Jeff says direct, “we form a community, all together. We have to respect each other’s place, just like everybody else. But we also take care of each other: we share our dop (alcohol) to keep us warm, keep each other company and support somebody when he has a hard time.

The people of the Company Gardens might live in one of the most beautiful parks in South Africa, definitely in Cape Town, but that doesn’t make their lives any easier. Living on the streets, wherever, means a hard knock lives with little up’s and a lot of down’s. Every one of the Garden People has hopes of a brighter future, each in its own way. And there are a lot of dreams, but, as Robert painfully pointed out: “When you wake up, nothing’s changed.”

Pictures © Sara Gouveia

Posted in The Big Issue | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Connecting the country with jazz

Kicking their Cape Winelands School Tour off with a photoshoot and a small performance for Premier Lynne Brown – who even tried playing the bass guitar – in front of Parliament, made the members of the Cape Town Jazz Orchestra look like real rockstars. “But”, as 20-year-old saxophone player Sisonke Xonti points out, “we’re not ready to rock & roll, we’re ready to jazz!”

The Capetonian artists, except for someone from the Eastern Cape and a Chinese girl, are not only good musicians performing at varies venues around South Africa, either solo or with other band projects, everyone of them is a jazz fanatic and proud of forming the world’s first official jazz orchestra. The fact that during this School Tour, which consists of 8 performances in secondary -and high schools throughout the Cape Winelands, only DVD’s with jazz music are allowed in the tour bus is just one thing that underlines that. With 10 young, motivated and musically driven artists between the age of 20 and 30 under musical director and jazz educator Alvin Dyers’ wing, it is his task to make sure nobody plays out of key. “We got the right people on the right places”, he assures, “I have full confidence in them.”

Together with Minister of the Department of Arts and Culture Pallo Jordan, jazz maestro Abdullah Ibrahim (not present during this tour) came up with the idea for the CTJO, which is now an NGO not only performing but also organizing workshops to get kids enthusiastic about music and of course jazz in particular. In its 2 year existence, in which they made 1 tour thru SA, the orchestra only lost 1 guitarist. After replacing him and adding 2 new saxophone players the group stayed as is and, according to world travelling producer Jai Reddy, this “will not change any time soon. They form a tight group and never fight or have serious arguments.”

The moment the tour bus drives onto the parking lot at Worcester Secondary everyone, from the core of the orchestra (drums, piano, bass and guitar) to the brass section (flute, trumpet and 4 saxophones), knows this first concert will set the new standard after their first tour, which covered the southern part of the Western Cape. Full confidence, as jazz is part of their lifestyle, and after a last practice in their hotel rooms, they step into the hall which is already prepared by the sound crew which travels along. Next to the 500 seats 20-year-old dreadlocked crewmember Kent Satram unfolds the flags, banners and lights with as result a plain stage metamorphosed into a jazz podium. When, after sound checking, the orchestra, every single one of them dressed in black, enters the stage, the feeling of being in a smoky, dark jazz café can’t be ignored. While the brass section take their places on the right – forming one single line – pianist Nicholas Williams sits on the left side with the middle controlled by the small 24-year-old drummer Clayton September, 27-year-old guitarist John Russel and ‘master of the bass’ 30-year-old Valentino Europa. The students, when asked by master of ceremonies Quinton Raaf, proudly answer that they didn’t skip class to be here and are honestly interested in jazz music and playing an instrument.

“I don’t want to become famous and then start creating my own sound; I want to create my own sound and then become famous”, admits 22-year-old trumpet player Lwanda Gogwana. The group agrees that touring with each other and teaching kids the positive sides music has, is way more important than a career as a professional jazz musician. If it was up to them the tours would last much longer and reach further into the country. The majority of the fashionable and talented bunch used to (and most still do) perform during Cape Town’s one and only jazz night: the Monday night at Swingers on Wetton Road. It is there that Dyers scouted half of the existing Cape Town Jazz Orchestra. “We call it the Jam Session Connection”, laughs 22-year-old UCT student and pianist Nicholas Williams, “most of the members know each other from there.” Next to the connection, also the UCT – where 23-year-old saxophonist Lenrick Boesack studies Jazz Performance and trumpeter Lwanda studies Music Composition – and the 2005 auditions in music centre M7 (next to the Distrix Roadhouse) play an important role in establishing the CTJO.

The students from Worchester Secondary didn’t lie about their interest in jazz, their enthusiasm during the magnificent performance proves. Jazz might be known as music being played by old men, but the opposite is true. Although the orchestra does consists for 90 percent of men (which of course leads to a loud applause by the female students) they are far from old. The loudest applause however, goes to 30-year-old flutists Alice Zhang; not only because of her outstanding play and lovely dress but also because she is of Chinese origin, what makes the encounter for most students a first timer. The rest of the group forms a perfect resemblance of Cape Town with all his colors and cultures and they couldn’t wish for a more expressive audience. All solo’s get rewarded with a loud applause and even before the show started the kids were peeking through the door with great interest and expectations.

After about 40 minutes and 7 of their repertoire of 20 songs, including the slow ballad ‘The Wedding Song’ which is romantically performed solely by pianist Nicholas and flutists Alice, the applause is as ear twitching as the sound 22-year-old Che Guevara look-a-like Clement Carr produces when he hits a low note on his tenor saxophone. The result of MC Quinton’ question who wants to join in a short, half hour, workshop ‘how do you play a jazz instrument’ is therefore overwhelming. Members of the orchestra use their own, mostly pretty wore off, instruments to show their skills and get the kids motivated, but, as Jai Reddy explains “it’s not the instruments that make the music, it’s the musicians”. While Alice gets overwhelmed with requests for autographs, the girls are mostly interested in 21-year-old cutie Kyle’s telephone number. But none of them let the chance to touch and play a saxophone, guitar or drums (the loudest and therefore most popular) for the first time slip of their nose. “Playing for kids is of course different than playing for a paying, jazz loving audience. You can teach these kids something and hopefully they also get touched by the music and receive the positive message”, tells flutist Alice, who since here vacation in 2005 now took permanent residence in South Africa.

So what kind of jazz does it take to gain the attention of schoolchildren and actually make them enjoy it? “We play straight forward jazz”, explains Jai, who also is an inventor, “with some North American and Cuban influences and of course an African background.” It being a very open and vibrant style of jazz, superb performed by the orchestra, makes listening to it a comfortable and refreshing experience. Most of the kids therefore listen intrigued and it seems that even the biggest bully enjoys and listens quietly. “But playing the music is just the first step”, the music producer with over 20 years experience says, “the connection jazz music has with its African heritage, background and culture is noticeable in every note. Not only the audience, but also the artists themselves learn about their history and see the reflection in the music. For example: when someone play’s a solo, that person puts himself completely out in the open, being the only one who is in control, but vulnerable. That person is proud of himself when he succeeds and at the same time the students can see what someone like them, not some old jazz artist, can achieve and get recognition for that. There is a lot of reality in jazz.”

Although the Cape Town Jazz Orchestra brings many advantages – the whole project employs about 20 people – being a jazz musician in South Africa is not easy. Without benefits the artists are still obliged to pay 25% taxes and as an NGO the orchestra doesn’t expect money from the government. But, like said, jazz is a lifestyle for the members of the orchestra and there is nothing they would rather do then play. The perfect example is perhaps bass player Valentino Europa. “I’m married and my wife knows that I’m an artist. She knew that from the beginning. If she puts me for the decision, I will always choose jazz. It’s a part of me.”

Posted in The Big Issue | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

We’re all buddy's

Most tourists visiting the Western Cape would opt for a few days in Cape Town and then set off on a leisurely tour up the Garden Route. A group of socially aware United States’ citizens, however, use their vacations to push the boundaries of contemporary tourism.

Sharmini Kumar, her physician husband and two children live in Santa Clarita, California, and run a successful chain of privately owned medical practices. Her eight-year-old son Dharan attends Mirman, a school for intellectually gifted children in Los Angeles. Santa Clarita was voted bu CNN/Money as “the best place to live in California”. In March this year she brought Dharan to Cape Town to make “buddies” with children in Mfuleni, a new suburb on the edges of Khayelitsha. “Dharan didn’t want to come here, many of the children don’t. He was used to vacation in Jamaica or going to Disney World. This project was something that he couldn’t get a visual on.”

Kumar is a member of Global Buddies, an organisation that brings families from Los Angeles and surrounding areas together with families from the Mfuleni township. She heard about the project from Dianne Flannery, whose son goes to the same school as Dharan. Flannery and South African-born Czerina Patel spent a year fundraising and organising the trip and last month, 11 United States families, mostly consisting of one child and their mother, met with their new South African “buddies” for the first time in Kirstenbosch Gardens.

Kumar recounts, with a certain amount of more-than-motherly pride, that within a few days she saw significant change in her son, in his confidence and in his awareness of how privileged he is. Through the program, she visited a clinic for children with HIV/Aids and spent time with a terminally ill child of four, roughly the same age as her other son back home.  She told Dharan about the child and he immediately made the comparison with his brother, saying he realised how lucky he was to have a healthy family.

Throughout the 10 days that the families spent together, a variety of activities took place; from the visiting children helping the elderly in the townships, to a trip up Table Mountain, From the adults building a playground, to the American families visiting their new buddies township homes. Above all, the project is far more than a normal tourist vacation: it provides endless benefit to both groups of people, from either side of the world.

The Global Buddies program, now in its second year, relies on funding from the USA and a team of dedicated workers in the Women for Peace-community centre in Mfuleni, where the week of activities is based. In the beginning there were obvious bureaucratic obstacles but the partnership between the centre and the US, was relatively seamless. Patel says “the centre and its volunteers were willing to commit to the project and realised how important and successful it would be”. The South African buddies, all of which go to the Women for Peace-centre on a regular basis, fill out questionnaires to see if they fit the criteria for the Global Buddies programme. The children have to have some basic English language skills, be willing to learn more and have the genuine commitment to the cause. From there, a small group is chosen for participation.

Patel points out that every one involved gains from the experience. For the SA participants, improving their English skills is a huge benefit. Along with this, many learn to be more confident with speaking publicly. Quite often they see the young American children’s ambition for education and decide they also want to continue with school. As most of the children want to keep in contact with their new friends, they learn how to write emails and letters to keep up their correspondence. For the visitors, not only are they gaining friends from across they globe, they are also experiencing and learning about cultural diversity.

“First I wanted to be a fireman,” admits visiting eight-year-old Austin Sherrill, “but now I want to be an inventor, so I can help the people here in South Africa with my inventions.” For him and his father Rinaldo it is their second visit to Cape Town, were his mother Cynthia already visited once before them. “I realized that the Unites States is not the best and only country in the world. The people here (in Mfuleni) are more generous, nicer and very friendly”, smiles Austin.

Cynthia Sherrill, a former educational planner from Santa Monica, now works fulltime for the Global Centre for Children and Families, part of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), a sponsors of the Global Buddies program. “In LA our family already participated in certain community projects, like recycling bottles, where the earned money goes to the underprivileged. Because of the idea that ‘everyone can make a difference’ we decided to look further and also look abroad.”

Sherrill rolled into the program the same way Kumar did: her only child also attends the same Mirman school as the children of Flannery. The enthusiastic story of Dianne did the rest, admits Cynthia. “Even though there are many differences between us (the Americans) and the people over here, there are just as many similarities. It’s just impossible to do a project like  this in the States, it wouldn’t work. Because of the many cultural differences there is so much for the kids, as well as for us of course, to learn. The same goes for the people that we meet; together we make a project of experiencing, understanding and learning. The beautiful thing about this project is the fact that you can see the impact – the result – make a lot of new friends and become more and more of a global, openhearted, citizen.”

Her efforts to make her son a global citizen paid off. “It’s about giving our children an international perspective and making them aware of the fact that they can also be happy with what they’ve got, instead of what they want to have.”

Even though a trip to Disneyland is way cheaper and preferred by most children to a trip to South Africa, Sherrill and Kumar brought their children to Mfuleni.This relatively new township, located about fourty kilometers from the City Bowl, started out as a squatter camp in the 90s and now houses around seven thousand people. Although Mfuleni is a predominantly ‘black’ township, the community is mixed up thru the flooding and fires in neighbouring townships as Phillipi, Nyanga and Khayelitsha in the late 90s, which forced many to move. In Novemer 2006, 358 Irish volunteers built seventy houses in one week as part of the Niall Mellon Township Trust. Throughout the year, the local staff of the trust build a further 220 free-standing houses with solar panels to heat the hot water geyser in Mfuleni. Like almost every other township, unemployment, poverty, HIV/AIDS, and a high crime rate are some of the most pressing problems in this poor township.

The price tag that comes along with the complete ten day experience (including flight and accomodation) is estimated between US$4,000–US$6,000 per person, and could of course also be spent in many other fancy locations. “But”, tells Cynthia, “with the money we pay for participating in the program, $ 1500 dollars per adult and $ 1800 dollars per child, we do not only support our own vacation, but also provide the kids from Mfuleni and their parents a day off. This gives them the ability to see sights in Cape Town – like Table Mountain or Robben Island – they have never seen before.” Austin laughs: “And now I rather go to my friends in South Africa then Disneyland.” Next to a ‘global’ buddie he has also became a ‘global’ citizen, the result of ten days of experiencing and learning. Just a small effort for such a big lesson.

Posted in The Big Issue | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Marley revisited in South Africa

Music bridges gaps, enlightens and aspires, especially the music of reggae legend Robert Nesta Marley. To bring his world renewed music to South Africa, RootsRiders (hailing from the Netherlands) came to visit South Africa. Formed in 2006, they developed their now world famous Tribute2BobMarley. This exciting concert and theatre-show honoring the talent of the king of reggae has been performed by the group all over the world, including African countries like South Africa, Swaziland, Zanzibar, Cape Verde and most recently in Tanzania.

RootsRiders is a collective of upcoming urban artists, often collaborating with local artists and recording tracks wherever they can. For their upcoming album – RootsRiders in Africa: Songs of Redemption, Volume 2 -, which will be released in September, the group has even included a gospel track that was recorded last year in Ladysmith and Kwa Mashu. The current line-up of the band includes Giovanca, Shirma Rouse, Tjerk, Junior, Jay Colin and Darin G. The Big Issue spoke with the latter, 26-year-old beatmaker and producer of the workshops Darin G., to find out what connects RootsRiders to South Africa.

What brought RootsRiders to Africa in the first place?

“At first our performances as Tribute2BobMarley, in order to spread the message of love and peace. But our manager arranged some music workshops for about 20 kids in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. We taught them how to play an instrument – our instruments – but figured out they didn’t have any instruments themselves. Therefore we started the project Instruments4Africa, were we encourage people in The Netherlands to bring their old instruments to one of our shows in order for us to bring them to Africa.”

Is that the reason you keep on coming back to Africa?

“Next to the workshops we resemble the spirit of Bob Marley, which is stronger in Africa than in other continent in the world. We, as RootsRiders, got addicted to the African vibe en get a lot of love and hope out of our shows here. We feel that the presence and influence of Bob is way stronger here than in Europe and therefore we keep on coming back here.”

Are there more African countries you still want to visit?

“Of course Ethiopia (the chosen land of the Rastafari) would be the best place to perform and spread the Marley feeling. According to our manager it’s on the agenda. But I would personally really want to perform in Cape Town as well, in a place like Zula’s. Although the city doesn’t give me the real ‘African feeling’, I can sense that the vibe is good. But first we will first visit Tanzania and Zanzibar again.”

What is planned for this visit to South Africa?

“Well, our agenda is completely filled up until the very last minute. First we have to appear on the SABC talkshow ‘Morning Live’ and after that we immediately have to leave for Swaziland to give a workshop in an orphanage. The rest of the time is filled with 8 concerts in 8 days, so there is no space for relaxation.”

A reggae band without relaxation?

“Maybe that’s the big difference between us and a real Jamaican reggae band; we don’t posses that real reggae lifestyle. Every member of RootsRiders originates from a different country: Curacao (myself), Argentina, Colombia, Finland, The Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, Aruba and French Guinea. So we are a very diverse company indeed.”

What’s the reason you record songs with local artists?

“Local artists, especially African artists, give us a different view on African subjects. They show us the positive, optimistic side of Africa, like you can hear in our new song ‘(Africa Is) So Much More’ which we recorded with the local Tanzanian artist P-Funk. After touring in Africa we are not naïve, but remain positive and our music reflects this. We prefer to emphasize the potential we’ve come across rather than to confirm the stereo-types that Africa is known for in the West.”

And how do you do this when visiting rural areas without studios?

“I always carry my mobile studio with me: 2 microphones, an amplifier, laptop, soundcard, my MPC (Music Production Centre) and headphones. With those appliances I can record anything, anywhere, anytime. To be honest, we had to use my mobile set-up in Tanzania because P-Funk’s studio equipment failed all the time.”

What do you hope to get out of the concerts in South Africa and Swaziland?

I hope that, just like last time, we get back the same positive and joyful vibe we give to the people. It’s completely insane when somebody asks you to sign their leather jacket because they love Marley’s music; we’re not him! But we love it in Africa and of course hope that we are invited to come back. Hopefully next time also in Cape Town!

Posted in The Big Issue | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Romani ite domum

“Do you posses the Italian style?” the new Peroni commercial asks their South African viewer. Well, visiting the capital of Italy, the city that once was the capital of the Roman Empire, will do the trick. Rome offers entertainment which exhibits the Ancient World as well as embracing modern technology. The city also houses the smallest nation in the world within its city limits: Vatican City. Discover Rome in just four days, a long weekend or mid-week, and be sure to take the Italian style home with you.

“Prego”, it sounds when the waiter puts your plate of spaghetti on the table. Combined with a real cappuccino, which means the cube of sugar slowly sinks through the milk foam, there is no better way to catch the sense of the city then to sit on a wooden chair on one of Rome’s many squares; all equipped with a fountain. Ordering a mascarpone or tiramisu is on Piazza Navona not a bad idea: the beautiful water splashes of the Fontana del Nettuno can keep you entertained for hours. The fact that the barista of the coffee shop at Campo di Fiori doesn’t speak Italian is because that’s the tourist trap. Very different from the old, grey hunchback who serves you at the Piazza Santa Maria in the old neighborhood Trastevere. The man, with a ‘singing’ voice most Italians posses, is just as authentic as the square itself, opposite one of Rome’s oldest churches.

There is a well-known saying about Rome: ‘When in Rome… do as the Romans do.’ So, if over 2, 7 million residents of Rome still care for their historical heritage (something every tourist should do as well) and cherish their many ancient architectural must-see monuments, why shouldn’t you? To do so, plan you day: if it’s a rainy day, start at the Vatican, if it’s warm, go outside. Gasp at the largest amphitheater ever built in the Roman Empire – the Colosseum – and landmarks like Castel Sant’Angelo, the Spanish Steps, Forum Romanum and the enormous monument of Vittorio Emanuele II, ‘King of Italy’. Using the city´s excellent metro system all of these monuments of time are within fifteen minutes reach of each other.

Vatican City, the location of the Pope’s residence, covers only 44ha and has a population of around 800, which makes it the smallest independent state in the world by both population and area. In summer this is very good noticeable; the queues to enter the three most touristic places to visit, St. Peter’s Square, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican museums, are enormous. Entering the basilica from the square gives you a magnificent sight of the wealth of the Catholic Church; staring at the obelisk from the Circus of Nero you can see the gold platen inside the basilica. Its overwhelming beauty and exaggerated use of gold and marble make it an overdone and almost surreal church, but at the same time every piece of art inside is beautiful and hardly affect by the test of time.

Where the St. Peter’s Basilica is king, the Vatican Museum – which you don’t want to visit on the last Sunday of the month, because then it’s free and overcrowded – is the ace in the pack. You’re neck will start to hurt from watching the overflow of paintings, statues, carpets and ceilings, which also makes it hard to really enjoy them in one visit. Once you finally, after what feels like a kilometers long walk, arrive at the most famous ceiling (silence required) of the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, you won’t even be surprised by its beautiful decoration any more. Even though frescoed by the greatest Renaissance artists such as Michelangelo and Raphael, you’re eyes have seen enough art for one day and only ´God creates Adam´ will make you look. Even though your neck, eyes and feet are most certainly tired after a day in Vatican City, you can’t leave without climbing the 470 stairs (or take the elevator) up the dome of the basilica. Hit the top at a sunny moment and you will get the best view over the city, guaranteed.

When the next day the rain gives Rome his extra romantic flavor, couples walking together under the same umbrella and a grandfather laying his coat over a puddle for his wife, the lights of the main shopping street Via del Corso while lure you. Next to the small boutiques with exclusive one-off’s, you will have the opportunity to shop in one of the big shopping malls and buy Italian designer clothing directly from the factory. A must for anybody wanting to posses the Italian style. Shopping, looking smart and dressing well is part of the Italian way of life and should therefore be experienced that way: ‘piano, piano’ (slowly, slowly) instead of ‘prego, prego’ (hurry up, hurry up). Using the unbeatable metro system, one of Rome’s most famous buildings is reached before lunch: the Colosseum.

Arriving at the Colosseum shall give you a weird feeling; in the centre of a four-lane road and right next to the metro station stands this colossal amphitheater – dating back almost two thousand years  – as a sign of the survival of ancient times. As the sun shines through its façade, you won’t be surprised that most of the tourists take pictures from the outside: it’s more overwhelming and magnificent than the inside, showing you the contrast between the ancient and modern Rome. Unless you take the boring and time-wasting guided tour, this monument of time doesn’t take your whole afternoon to look at and that gives you the chance (with the same entrance ticket) to visit the beautiful garden of the Palantine and the gigantic Forum Romanum. This central area around which ancient Rome developed is supposed to give you an idea of the grandeur this ‘eternal’ city once had. What’s left is an unorganized, unsorted ruin; torn apart buildings together with stones and bricks lying around make this make this monument look more like an ancient battleground.

Once you get out of the Forum Romanum, the monument of Vittorio Emanuele II can’t be missed; often regarded as too large and pompous, the 70m high and 125m wide building is built of pure white marble and has a huge equestrian sculpture of ‘The King’ himself riding on quadrigas. The over-the-top version of over-the-top. You can best enjoy the cup of take-away coffee on the steps of the monument; a seat at the coffee shop would make your cup twice as expensive. From the steps you can behold the maniac scooter ‘pilots’ in traffic. No matter the age or gender, fear is no issue. Opposite to the folly monument, which houses the flame of the unknown soldier, there is also the balcony overlooking the traffic square from where ‘Il Duce’ (former dictator Benito Mussolini) made his famous Fascist speech in which he launched the National Fascist Party. A square with a history, which can be felt by the presence of the real Romans and there cultural heritage.

The attractive aspect of Rome is that, when you’ve seen these landmarks in the first two days, there is a still lot more to see just by walking through the city centre. Don’t forget the Pantheon, the largest dome in Rome where the remains of Raphaël and Vittorio Emanuele II lay and Castel Sant’Angelo, an old mausoleum used as a fortress, which now serves as a museum. Standing on top, the overwhelming view of thousands of passing cars, bikes and people, will amaze you. It also includes the St. Peter Basilica, the Tiber (Rome’s main watercourse) and the big ‘via’ (street) which Mussolini built right through the city so that he could ride to the Pope in style. All is one bird-eye’s view.

Within the same walking distance, the neighborhood Quirinale will surprise you with its many fountains, churches, its rich assortment of flora and fauna and not to forget, the Quirinal Palace: the official residence of the President of the Italian Republic, Giorgio Napolitano. From there on out Villa Borghese, a magnificent park with many Roman statues in the naturalistic English manner, can be used for an afternoon stroll or – for the sporty types among us – to go running, skating or cycling. Coming out of the park, the famous Trevi Fountain, the most ambitious of the Baroque fountains in Rome, can be easily visited while passing by Piazza del Popolo. A traditional legend holds that if visitors throw a coin into the largest – standing 25.9 meters high and 19.8 meters wide – fountain of Rome, they are ensured to return.

What will stay in Rome forever, are the bones of over 4,000 Capuchin monks hanging in the Capuchin Crypt beneath the Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini church, near Piazza Barberini. Not for the fainthearted, this small crypt consists of one narrow walkway past six tiny chapels where the bones of the monks who died between 1528 and 1870 are nailed to the walls in intricate patterns, hang on the ceiling as (working) light fixtures or display an event like Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, framed by various parts of the human skeleton. If you didn’t get noxious already, the last chapel holds a ‘nice’ message: “What you are now we used to be, what we are now you will be.” Fifteen minutes after you entered, you will think completely different about your own body.

Overall Rome is a big and multifunctional city and although the city drowns in its own ‘old Roman refuge’ and squares with fountains, every building or monument has some grandeur hanging over itself. Because Rome is a ‘walking city’, a foreigner fortunately doesn’t have to mingle in the horrible unorganized traffic, but therefore has to deal with the people on the street, who can be harsh and unfriendly sometimes. If you just keep an eye out for the many ‘tourist traps’ near the landmarks and enjoy Rome as the Romans do, the city is a great place to visit for a couple of days. And don’t forget to throw that coin in the fountain, because it’s a city worth visiting twice.

Posted in The Big Issue | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Violence, gore and swearing: it’s an art

With Quentin Tarantino’s latest release Deathproof now in cinema’s, he brought a homage to the old grind house movies of the 1970s. Though it was first released as a double feature with Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror, it again is a real Tarantino movie: violence, gore and strong language are the main ingredients. And of course the filmmaker’s infamous jibber-jabber comes standard.

Most foreigners who know anything about the Dutch marijuana policy, learned that from the following description: “Yeah, it’s legal, but it ain’t a hundred percent legal. I mean, you can’t walk into a restaurant, roll a joint and start puffin’ away. You’re only supposed to smoke in your home or certain designated places. It breaks down like this: it’s legal to buy it, it’s legal to own it, and, if you’re the proprietor of a hash bar, it’s legal to sell it. It’s legal to carry it, but that doesn’t really matter ’cause – get a load of this – if you get stopped by the cops in amsterdam, it’s illegal for them to search you.” It’s a typical Tarantino dialogue which made his movie Pulp Fiction (1994) such a big success. Winning a ‘Palme D’Or’ during the Cannes Film Festival in France for this gangster movie made it his magnum opus, but the Tarantino show already started two years earlier.

In 1992, the Unites States born, 44 year old film director released his debut Resevoir Dogs, which instantly became an independent film classic. The movie about a botched jewel heist contained lots of blood gushing around, even more swearing and cynical dialogues, which soon became the trademark for Tarantino movies. He repeated this gag with Pulp Fiction: killing, drug abuse and even rape, but the audience loved it, making Tarantino into some sort of cult legend. Although his third big success Jackie Brown (1997), in which Pam Grier plays the title role, had much of the violence and profanity happening off screen, the movie was obviously rated R. It was this homage to blaxploitation movies, about an airline flight attendant who gets coerced by the cops to help them bring down an arms smuggler, in which Tarantino really got the jibber-jabber level to a new high.

After a long and for his fans killing silence surrounding their movie making hero, QT announced the coming of an epic-length revenge drama: Kill Bill (2003). It took him six years, but now the old and the new fans had the change to once again watch an over-the-top violent movie which included homage’s to earlier film genres, such as martial arts/samurai movies and spaghetti westerns. And this time in two volumes, with a running time of nearly four hours. Kill Bill Vol. 2 released in the spring of 2004, having let everybody wait for half a year so see how the movie ended. Yet it wouldn’t be the last time Tarantino would build up the tension concerning a double feature.

Together with his friend and fellow director Robert Rodriguez, Tarantino co-written, produced and directed the 2007 anthology film Grindhouse. Originally, like the movie was released in the Unites States, Grindhouse consisted of two feature-length segments: Planet Terror by Rodriguez and Death Proof by Tarantino. Next to the two ninety minute movies, the audience could also enjoy fictional trailers for upcoming attractions, advertisements and in-theater announcements. But everywhere else in the world, as an effect of the poor ticket sales, the movies were released separate in extended version. In reaction, Tarantino denied this reason, by stating: “Especially if they were dealing with non-English language countries, they don’t really have this tradition (…) not only do they not really know what a grind house is, they don’t even have the double feature tradition.”

So now we have Death Proof, released the 22th of Februari, running in cinemas. Telling the story about a psychopathic stuntman (played by Kurt Russel) who targets young woman, murdering them with his ‘death proof’ stunt car, the film is a tribute to the slasher film/serial killer genre. Tarantino, some critics think he has a ‘sick’ mind, came up with the story from his fascination for the way stuntmen would ‘death proof’ their cars. As long as they were driving, stuntmen could slam their cars headfirst into a brick wall at 100 km/h and survive. Stuntman Mike (Russel) proves that his 1970 Chevy Nova really is ‘death proof’ by sadistically killing five innocent women, self only suffering minor injuries. If Stuntman Mike himself is ‘death proof’, you need to find out yourself. But I can tell you that Tarantino isn’t satisfied with only the blood of five people…

If movies about gangsters or stuntman weren’t already bloody and violent enough, QT is now working on a war movie, called Inglorious Bastards, of which he finished the script just last year. Not being a remake, the movie is going to be more of a homage (again) to the Italian 1977 movie Quel maledetto treno blindato, in the United States known as Inglorious Bastards. If the movie will be produced, Michael Madsen (who also starred in Resevoir Dogs and Kill Bill) is expected to play a leading role in this movie about a band of U.S. soldiers facing death by firing squad for their misdeeds and who are given a chance to redeem themselves by heading into the perilous no-man’s lands of Nazi-occupied France on a suicide mission for the Allies.

In order to gap the time before the (expected) release of Inglorious Bastards, you can already enjoy the by 27 minutes extended version of Death Proof now and will only have to wait till the fourth of April for the release of Rodriguez’s Planet Terror. But only if you’re stomach can handle it.

Posted in The Big Issue | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Surf talent in the making

When watching the swell break on Cape Town’s beaches this winter, you will see more surfers waiting for the perfect wave than contestants in Cape Town’s Got Talent. Among them, the De Castro brothers—20-year-old John and 19-year-old Noble—protégé’s of Gary Kleyhans , owner of Gary’s Surfschool in Muizenberg.

The De Castro brothers are not the only ones who grew from underprivileged schoolboys to professional surfers. For the past eight years former South African surfing champion Gary Kleynhans and his team of volunteers have provided kids from the poor townships around Cape Town with a chance to become professional surfers. At the South African Longboard Championships in April, six of Gary’s surfers made it into the competition.

“Everybody should be able to surf,” says Gary when he just comes out of the water, smiling after hitting some waves. “I’m more than willing to help those who can’t afford the board, wetsuit and lessons.” The open minded Gary tells the story behind his charity project, while joking with his staff of mainly foreign volunteers. “Some eight years ago a young black kid came to me in the shop, because he wanted to surf. Without money to buy, or even rent, the equipment, I made him a deal: If you come here every day to surf you can use everything you need from the shop, mahala. And so this 11-year-old kid, Kwezi Qika (19), came every day and look what has become of him: he’s the South African junior champion.” After that Gary, who always prefers the water to his desk, got the feeling he could make this kind of achievements with other kids as well.

“Every year I put an announcement on our website ( about how schools can sign up and then it’s just: first come, first served. This year we’ve got five classes, each with 10 to 15 kids per group, who visit us once a week for one hour of surf lessons. Even though the kids range very much in age – from 10 to 18 – they all enjoy the project very much. Within the past eight years, we only had two quitters”, says Gary proudly while laidback zipping on his cup of tea. “We teach the kids things like life and computer skills, discipline and respect and therefore ask commitment, dedication and motivation.” Although Gary is still passionate about surfing, he is not running a handout project. “Next to the opportunity to grow into surfing, we are also concerned with the many jobs the surfing industry offers. It’s a project with a view on the future. But the kids have to grab onto these chances themselves.”

“I fell in love with the waves”, John De Castro, born in Angola, explains, “that’s what attracted me to surf every day.” The friendly John, with a distinctive gap between his front teeth, began surfing some six years ago as a part of the Extreme Surfschool project. “Although I lived close to the ocean (he moved to Muizenberg in 1996), I never got the chance to get up on a surfboard and learn how to surf. But when I was 14, my school class entered the project Gary started and so I had an opportunity to catch a wave for the first time in my live.” John –tired- just finished a two hour surf session and together with his younger brother, who are both already teaching tourists and new township kids the skills of surfing through Gary’s school, explains what they’ve learned over the past years. “Surfing has kept me out of trouble, it showed me the rest of the world through competitions and I’ve met a whole lot of different people”, John explains. Noble elaborates: “We motivated and supported each other all the way. Everything in my life is connected to surfing and the project taught me how to run a business and how to be a responsible person.”

After six years Gary decided it was time to professionalise the Extreme Surfschool project. “At first we actually just operated under the flag of Gary’s Surfschool, but since two years the Extreme Surfschool is an independent NGO.” Until the Extreme Surfschool starts to make enough money, Gary needs to pay for it out of his own pocket. “If it was up to me I would let as much underprivileged kids surf as possible, but I’ve also got a surf school to run. Going broke doing charity isn’t the right way.” Therefore the cheerful Gary is making plans for the future and wants to sell the concept of the project abroad. “If we want to take the Extreme Surfschool to the next level, we need to have more funding so we can employ the kids who learned their skills here. That way we create job opportunities and make the project self sustainable and self growing. We need to look at the bigger picture of sport; not only as a physical, but also a mental stimulation”, he says while daydreaming away with the thought.

Two boys, 13-year-old Ourwin and the 14-year-old Wayne, both from the Lynedoch Primary School near Stellenbosch, just got their wetsuits on and with a board under their arm run towards the ocean. After an hour during lesson he screams: “The water is cold! But I will keep on training, it’s so much fun.” Ourwin agrees with him; for him all other sports are actually boring. “Surfing is so cool! It’s fun to be on the board in the water, catching a wave. I want to come more often, but it’s a pretty far drive and we can only go once a week”, says Ourwin.

The person who needs to drive them every week is Tracy Brooks, a volunteer from New Zealand who works for the Sustainability Institute Stellenbosch. The institute provides an approach to create a society that lives in a way that sustains the eco-system. Hence the choice to take part in a surf project; there are little sports who let the participants connect to nature like surfing and are still ‘cool’ enough for children.

Tracy saw an amazing growth within the children during the past five lessons. “Some of them couldn’t even swim last year”, she tells surprised, “and now they are really surfing.” She comes to the Extreme Surfschool every Wednesday with about ten kids, grade six to eleven. “When I called Gary in order to enter the project, he told me that we’re welcome on Wednesday’s. I thought he meant the vacation period, but he meant every Wednesday! Now we want to stay in the project for as long as possible.”

In the classroom in Stellenbosch, Tracy made a big board filled with pictures of activities the kids did over the year. Now, pictures of the kids standing on their surfboard for the first time are making it onto the board. Wayne giggles: “All the kids are jealous if they see a picture of somebody else standing on a surfboard.” A positive side-effect of a project which not only keeps these kids off the streets, but also gives them a shared goal for the future: to be a professional surfer. And at Gary and his volunteers of the Extreme Surfschool they are at the right address.

Unfortunately John ‘wiped-out’ during the last Longboard Championships and was therefore knocked out of the competition. His brother made it to the semi-finals for the fourth time in a row. “I’m a surf teacher now, but my dream is to earn my money with professional surfing through a sponsorship”, says John. Next to some ‘lessons in life’, he also tells the kids how to become a professional surfer. “The main thing is to stay focused. Personally, I live for the competitions, so I compete as much as possible. That way you can grow, just like with sitting on the beach watching the experts or watching surf movies.” Noble has a few point he wants to add: “Work hard, don’t play around and go for it!”

Surfing doesn’t have to be as expensive as you might think. The first time you will, of course, rent a wetsuit and a board. They are included in the price if you take an introduction lesson at Gary’s Surfschool, which will cost you R500 (adult) or R400 (child). He therefore gives you the guarantee on his website that ‘class duration is up till 2 hours long or until we get you up and riding’. After that you can either rent you equipment for R100 per day (wetsuit) and another R100 per day for the board. Buying that equipment (second hand) would set you back approximately R1500 to R2000, but of course you can make it as expensive as you want. “If you go surfing every weekend for at least two to three months”, Gary says, “then you will be ready for a follow-up lesson to learn advanced techniques and tricks.”

Posted in The Big Issue | Tagged , , | Leave a comment