Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness
BCUC’s front man, Jovi Nkosi, walks across the front of the stage inspecting fans bobbing up and down with a pulsating eagerness. There’s a hard, almost threatening expression on his face. He looks an unsuspecting show-goer, pushed up against the barrier, straight in the eyes and holds his gaze.
STORY: RUAN SCOTT
PHOTOGRAPHY: JACQUI VAN STADEN
At the back of this dimly lit stage, a four-piece percussion section pound out a slow and thundery rhythm. Smoke machines cloud the scene as multi-coloured light beams flit through the plumes like supernatural lightning. A moody bass line twangs along in the background. The hollow click of cowbell alongside the unwavering shake of a tambourine adds a tribal element to the sound. Through this mystical and distinctly African rhythm conjuring on stage like a shamanistic spell, the soothing female voice of backing vocalist Kgomotso Mokone emerges.
Nkosi takes centre stage and talks into the microphone for the first time. “We don’t smile a lot,” he announces. “It’s not because we are unhappy, it is because we are serious.” The drums and bass guitar intensify. Mokone reaches a high notes but maintains her angelic tone. Nkosi raises his arms and blows a whistle dangling around his neck. The piercing sound kills the magical romance of the band momentarily.
“This is not a joke. Tonight is not a joke,” Nkosi tells the crowd. He grabs the mic stand and closes his eyes. The band has slowly and softly started playing again. Beat after beat, they build up a barricade of sound. “We are modern freedom fighters!” Nkosi says over the microphone. “We tell the story of our ancestors through our contemporary eyes. They are our ancestors, they are your ancestors.” The atmosphere has undeniably turned political and cult-like. This is, however, exactly what BCUC want to evoke: an unsettling and responsive politically charged consciousness.
The wall of sound thickens as the bass guitar becomes audible again, grooving out a funky rhythm. The drums take cue and pick up the pace strike after strike. They are readying the crowd for the sheer force of sound which BCUC is about to unleash. Nkosi’s unashamed vocal style joins in on the march. After a few minutes the combinations of sounds amalgamate into a frenzy of rhythm and rhyme pushing the energy of the crowd to frantic levels. Fans are jumping around and dancing in an ecstatic trance. Eyes closed and heads shaking. This is afro-psychedelic as performed by Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness and they are blowing the crowd in Cape Town away with their message and performance.
BCUC’s sound is a symphonic agreement between traditional African chant like praising and the feverish energy and rhythms of psychedelic rock. Infused with discordant multi-lingual lyrics, BCUC could easily be the soundtrack to any protest. Tonight, they are performing in Cape Town at one of the popular Vans/Psych Night events which are known for hosting local and international psychedelic rock bands to the largely white and politically passive crowd at the Assembly.
The music simmers down once more. Nkosi talks among the malaise of sounds on stage. “I’m going to translate the song for you now so everyone can understand. The song says: ‘The people are coming tomorrow. They come for the music, because music can heal all wounds. Not wounds inflicted by danger but emotional wounds. There is healing power in music.’”
For BCUC, the performance is part of their music. Interaction with the crowd is a precedent set and perfected over the past 12 of performing. Nkosi feels out the crowd, he feeds off their energy and acts accordingly.
The music quickly gathers momentum again and the crowd follows the band into another round of possessed dancing. This style of simmering down and boiling over carries on throughout their set. It’s hard to distinguish between songs as every track seamlessly flows into the next. Their set is presented as a narrative in which BCUC communicate their view of modern Africa to the world through their unique experiences as young Africans.
BCUC don’t idolise current political leaders. They don’t agree with the government in power. Their punk rock attitude and opposing messages voices the plight of the layman. Nkosi’s talk about racial issues and apartheid is a refreshing recognition of the respective black and white communities in South Africa and their concurrent struggle against politcal apathy and governement oprresion in South Africa.
As the music simmers down, Nkosi instructs the crowd: “Don’t anticipate. Participate. Don’t anticipate. Participate,” he repeats. “We are going to pick it up again and I want you to move with us. Just go on this ride with us.” As the music builds it quickly reaches a feverish and contagious tempo infecting the crowd with energy. Nkosi screams, Mokone sings, the percussion section drums along with the fast-paced bass line. Pure political ecstasy enthrals the dance floor.
Nkosi’s showmanship and oratory skills resemble that of a political leader, and BCUC is his political party. Their message: a cry for the people to become politically aware and socially active. As the music gears down for the last time, Nksoi continues to talk: “We are willing to bleed for this country, we share this country, it is our country.” Accompanied by Mokone’s angelic voice Nkosi repeats himself over the microphone. “It’s music for the people, by the people, with the people,” as a final salute to his supporters.
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