Kiffness and plays with a few kinks

TEENS and some oldies rocked Saturday night away to the unique crossover electro-jazz sound of The Kiffness at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.

Know for their electronic pop, The Kiffness added brass trumpet and saxophone to the driving, looping electronic base and other bells and whistles to create a sound which united traditional jazz with 1970s Commodores’ groove, Deep Purple keyboard, traces of trance and dollops of futuristic electronic pop.

The sound was universally accessible, and now that the Standard Bank Jazz Festival, under the directorship Alan Webster, has removed a large stripe of chairs from the centre of the DSG hall, the young crowd which packed the venue were able to jive.

Invited vocalist Matthew Gold, provided the hunk factor, but the guts and genius came from The Kiffness duo, DJ David Scott on trumpet, keyboard and computer, and Raiven Hansmann on sax and keyboard. Both occasionally played all their instruments at once!

Paying homage to the new era, Scott urged the crowd to “take out your cell phones” during a slow number and most did, switching on the phones’ torches and waving them from side to side. One guava held up a live flame.

The play Black, featuring Ameera Patel, also pulled a big house at The Hangar, a venue for shows that have shone on the Fringe. It’s piece set in the historical context of the anti-apartheid struggle of the 80s and is based on the hit Modjaji Books-published novel by CA David.  Blacks of Cape Town was adapted for stage by Penny Youngleson.

It traces the life of the Black family, who are actually Coloured, from a dark start during the diamond rush in Kimberly in 1869 when Isaiah Black steals a bunch of diamonds by hiding them in his shoes, and sets up family life in Cape Town.

Zara, brilliantly played by Patel, is the modern-day sophisticate, but still the offspring of her grandfather Isaiah. The real source of intrigue is the role her father, Bart, played in the struggle. It’s a mystery with so many kinship twists and turns that Bowers has resorted to a board much like those used by detectives to solve mysteries.

Daniel Geddes’s musical score played live on electric piano throughout, reminds of going to the movies in the last century when a pianist would accompany the film. It rises and falls creating tempo and aura. At times, however, I hankered for a moment of pure theatrical silence which can be extremely powerful in hammering home a twist.

Black traces a love story gone bad during the struggle days. It’s a gripping tale.  Ameera Patel’s versatile performance is sublime, and Jade Bowers’s set evocative of the times but we got a bit lost, perhaps a reason why it only got a half standing ovation at the end.

It’s a wrenching tale, underscored with many South African conundrums of race, class, politics, and shot through with themes of betrayal, treachery, love and jealousy. Patel switches roles with amazing skill.

Bower’s set is grungy, dented, and deeply scented with the era of Cape Town past. We got a bit lost in the maze but it all comes together in the end with a fierce emotional potency and we learn how personal the political was and remains so.

James Cairns versus Humanity is a hoot. In the early 1990s, the Market Theatre Laboratory held weekly theatre sports evenings where some of the finest actors honed their improvisation skills. Now Cairns, a fringe veteran, has had the cajones to make improv a festival show. The audience had no qualms, laughing with gusto and being amazed at how Cairns makes the story up based on suggestions from the audience.

At sudden points in the piece he would stop, saying “… and …” while reaching out for another slip of paper from the playful crowd, each with random words on it, and then work these into the story.

So there we had a hero high on Mexican black tar heroin charging through Duiwels Kloof on an oxwagen pulled by a beast called Friction on his way to save an Italian beauty from a brigade of women armed with vicious nipple blades which they swung around chopping foe to pieces. Go figure.

When the lights flickered, Cairns would reach for his guitar and have to sing the lines, and the lyrics had to rhyme. No easy feat, and when he brought the story to a climax, ending it with the line written on a board at the start, which were: “I cannot sleep at night. Your inappropriate yodeling keeps me awake”, the audience were titivated. Some might have chuckled at the brazen confidence it takes to bring your improv to festival, get festinos to pay dollar and feel satisfied.

In(s)kin, gutsy, sweat and grunt return to physical theatre from a young committed cast. It looks at writer-director Mboneni Mtshali’s experience of being one of only three black children at a private boys’ boarding school in the 80s. Mtshali has used the full package of dance, video projection, and prose poetry. The core of the work is fascinating mix of traditional physical theatre started at festival in the 90s by Gary Gordan with Juanita Finestone-Praeg and others in First Physical Theatre Company but bringing in the new tech and and issues.

Politically, the exploration of language, gender, cultural incorporation and social exclusivity is new and raw, and the brutal slapping of muscle on muscle, especially lead performer Thembikekile Komane’s final dance scene, where he hurls himself to the floor, is pure retro physical theatre. It is dangerous, painful to perform and watch and it is awesome. There is a problem with the prose with some projection required. The lines seemed to run into one another so quickly that contact with the whole became patchy.

But the philosophical examination of skin-on-skin, race, class, sexuality and soil was was exciting and fresh.

In general, shows have been well attended, the Village Green craft, food and art market was buzzing on Saturday, and at midnight artists were seen quaffing specially brewed National Arts Festival ales, with names like the Bell Ringer, at the Long Table in High Street.

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