Samthing Soweto: Stretching time

“I’m not ready for this. Yho! I’m not ready for this,” annouced a young woman pacing outside the Alma Cafe in apparent mild distress yesterday.

It later turned out she was quite ready, but she had me wondering exactly what ‘this’ was going to be and whether I shouldn’t be more prepared somehow.

What required this apparent readiness was the second show of the Samthing Soweto Gold Tour on the Cape Town Fringe.

I knew nothing of Samthing Soweto, and only later discovered that singer Samkelo Lelethu Mdolomba was part of the vocal harmony group The Soil. I was to be initiated.

Samkelo came out and began with an acapella number, his voice seeming to emanate from nowhere and everywhere in a refrain both high as the blue of a Joburg winter sky and deep as the gold beneath our earth, his fingers clicking a metronome. To and fro, to and fro. It seemed all 50 or so of us crammed into the folksy venue had our eyes closed, our heads swaying. Instant aural bliss.

In a sort of Ndebele-stroke-universal-ethnic patterned jersey and thick colourful scarf wound around his throat despite the warmth of the day, as if to hide the plenitude of precious notes within his larynx, he floated his voice out, rich as spring, smooth as honey, the notes never seeming to end, just giving way to the next.

Bass, keyboards and guitar pick up on the next few tracks, Mduduzi Mathebula, Bafana Mlangeni and Ntsikelelo Matshatshe restrained, just lifting Sam’s voice, floating it on a pillow of soft notes, single chords.

Sam starts playing with the rhythm. A hold and fall between voice and Mduduzi’s bass, stretching time, expanding space. The whole room is with him on the journey, going along wherever he takes us. Gently, gently.

He invites requests, plays them with his voice. Invites us to sing along. We’re hesitant to sully the sounds he sends washing over us but we’re hypnote-ised and can’t say no. He’s the charmer, we’re the snake swaying in the basket of sound.

A call for ‘Dreaming of you’, an old song he wrote when he was in Grade 11, and he asks us to help him if he forgets the words. It’s soppy and it’s sweet and for a moment he’s a Jack Johnson with black beat.

“Anyone want to sing?” he asks. The woman who swore she wasn’t ready is nominated by her friends.

Oooh, she’s not sure. Really? It’s overwhelming. Sam encourages her, keeps the sound swaying, creates the space. We’re all in this together, adding our notes, a roomful of harmony holding her as she starts, stutters, and then bursts forth. We applaud. For her, for Sam, for the bass, the keyboards the guitar. For this. For us.

Everyone is smiling. We look around. Everyone is beautiful.

We’re readied.

Samthing Soweto Gold Tour is sold out at the Alma Cafe tonight (sorry), and tomorrow night’s show appears to be cancelled (sorry squared). But if you get the chance, don’t miss seeing these guys.

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