Nothing about the night suggests what one can expect. The bar is dimly lit with a scattering of people huddled in clusters. They sit in the darkest spaces at the back where the couches are against the walls. The DJ is playing groovy jams to get people in the mood, but no one is dancing. Everyone is eagerly awaiting the show to begin. Zweli Mthembu of The Brother Moves on is showcasing solo material.
He is supported by three other acts; Towela, a vocalist from Zambia, The Unusuals, a band from Daveyton along with PG_13, a band from Tembisa featuring his sister Angela. There is confusion over the line up schedule as Zweli elects to play second instead of last as the headlining act. I ask in passing if he will be playing Xenophobia, a song from his 3 track EP Load Shedding which he released earlier in the year and he laughs and says no. This is shortly after a run in with him in the bathroom where he sought to throw up citing nerves. I am hard pressed to understand why that is since he is one of the most experienced musicians I know.
The set opens with Towela who plays a mix of original compositions alongside known songs. She strikes a chord with me when she mentions how Frank Ocean disappointed with his latest offering before playing a rendition of his single, Swim Good. The repertoire is quiet and understated until she is joined on stage by Zweli on accompanying guitar. Her vocal delivery is hauntingly beautiful and she has an ease about her performance style, which is at times reminiscent of Kadja Nin and Lauryn Hill all at once.
The main attraction hits the stage with jut his guitar. Zweli does what Carlo Mombelli has made popular as he composes the music live on stage with the aid of his guitar and recording pedals. The songs are unfamiliar and come off like continuous grooves he improvises on at the dictation of his heart. For the second part of his set he is joined by guitarist Kingridge on acoustic and the two croon over sparsely constructed melodies. He even gives us a taste of the Hip Hop head in him when he raps over one of the songs.
It’s when he stress tests his abilities as a composer on us that things really start to heat up. He calls on stage bass guitarist Wanda and young drummer Thabiso to form a full on band. They play a song he tells us they came up with just earlier in the day. The four have never played together but one would never say seeing how seamless their chemistry is. Zweli chants how he is starting a band over and over and I have to believe him. Stopnoncents, TBMO, Zuko Collective and Alice in Pondoland ate but a few examples of how capable he is of the feat, what with all being examples of successful collectives he’s been an integral part of.
The Unusuals are fronted by a dreadlocked fellow with a nostalgic voice. Their music is typical of live music bands and draws influences from Lucky Dube to Impande Core. They leave me with the sobering thought that the East Rand is teeming with talent just waiting to be explored.
PG_13 closes the show with something of a showcase. They are accompanied again by Zweli on guitar while Angela breezes over spoken word with her bandmate cooing vocally in the background. They are joined by a Tswana traditional dance duo who put up a show of their own in front of the stage, burning impepho while interpreting the music through movement that could easily be spiritually inspired.
I was left greatly comforted knowing that the legacy of our music is in good hands from watching these emerging musicians. The jury is still out regarding when we can expect a full length album from Zweli, who now goes by the moniker Yusuf Makongela, but I will definitely be finding out. Getting to know the other musicians that played on the night and then some is also on the cards, so perhaps look out for that. All in all, a wonderful evening.