My wife and I usually make our Bermuda Festival selections early and book online. This year we did so. However, by the time that we booked, all the seats for all the Soweto Gospel Choir performances were gone. Fortunately, we were able to get tickets for the special performance put on for Sunday afternoon. So we did get to see and hear that superb choir.
I would have been unhappy if I’d missed them completely. However, I have been listening to their music for some time, having discovered them about two years ago. Over the past five years, I’ve been awakening, generally, to the music of South Africa. Hugh Masekela, West Nkosi, South African gospel choirs generally, and of course Ladysmith Black Mmbazo.
In 2002, I saw and thoroughly enjoyed the South African musical ‘Umoja’ during its London run. Before that, and long before Nelson Mandela’s release, at the Edinburgh 1986, I saw the South African play ‘District Six’.
There is a special vibrancy in the music coming out of South Africa. As the country metamorphosed from apartheid into the ‘Rainbow Nation’, South African music also underwent a change. The rough ‘penny whistle’ street music grew into bands and groups that stayed together and got better. Bob Marley’s reggae found its way back to Africa and was then bounced back to us in the West in the beautiful smooth sounds and powerful lyrics of Lucky Dube. Johnny Clegg burst the old banning barriers and sang songs praising Nelson Mandela. European compositions created by long dead white men, blended into ancient African styles that had been created by long dead black men and women. In their beautiful sounds, the Soweto String Quartet brought those two deep classical streams together.
I enjoyed the Soweto Gospel Choir. For me, the most intense moment in their program was when they asked the audience to stand while they sang ‘Nkosi Sikele’ – The Rainbow Nation’s National Anthem.
For me, the intensity was deepened by several previous references to the tenth anniversary of the ‘Rainbow Nation’. I recalled that ‘Nkosi Sikele’, originally the ANC’s theme song or anthem, was once a ‘banned song’ and that there was a time when the mere singing of that song would be cause for punishment. At that performance, that Sunday afternoon, those voices singing that song showed just how freedom and change do come and do flow together until they provide a beautiful new mixture.
I’d already heard that beautiful new mixture. On Sunday I saw that beautiful new mixture. I’m glad that I did.
Wayne Furbert’s shuffle of his Shadow Cabinet has removed a Gibbons from Bermuda’s political power centre. Now, in all of the whole mechanism of Bermuda’s elected politicians, there is only one old money, old family name left on stage centre. All the other prominent UBP players are new money or new people or black.
My cousins, the Talbot Brothers, used to sing a calypso about “Mr Trimingham and Mr Trott”. Bermudians used to talk about the ‘Forty Thieves’ and ‘Front Street’. Families like the Cox’s and Spurling’s and Tucker’s and Astwood’s used to loom large on Bermuda’s political landscape. I think they’ve gone. Gone the way that Trimingham’s has already gone.
South Africa has actually changed since 1994. All South Africans, black and white, acknowledge that change. Here in Bermuda with all the change that has happened, I still hear many voices shouting and several pens scratching that things haven’t changed. Yet when I look and listen around me, all I see and hear is change.
In fact, while waiting in the queue to pick up my tickets for the Sunday performance of the Soweto Gospel Choir, I looked east and saw two signs. One said ‘Gosling Brothers’, the other, much higher up and farther back, said ‘Trimingham’s’. This time next year that high up Trimingham’s sign will have gone. Only the Gosling’s sign will remain.
Still there are those amongst us who seem determined to refuse to acknowledge any change whatsoever. I reckon that these unchangers are people who have their heads stuck so far into the sands of ignorance or obstinacy that their normally lowest orifice has become their highest.
If, in ten years South Africa can undergo radical change and then acknowledge that change, why can’t we in Bermuda?