“Hi guys! I’m doing this project where I’m going around Cape Town and looking for interesting people and finding out what their dreams are. I’m hoping to share them with others to inspire change and hope… to create a better future” the two guys I’m speaking to nod their heads looking at me, the only white person in an informal coloured settlement, up in the mountains of Hout-Bay. I feel a bit embarrassed, like a typical “whitie” – well spoken, doing a project and with my big SLR Nikon camera around my neck. I let out a shy giggle hoping that these guys can see through the outward appearance and into my heart, which is one with theirs. As I return to finish off my sentence, I make eye contact with one of them and realise that he is missing an eye ball! “Hold on… what happened to your eye if you don’t mind me asking?” I find myself blurting out.
He laughs. “Five years ago there was a big riot here in the harbour, the police came and they wanted to kick us out of here. The government wanted to sell the other side of the mountain and were saying that we couldn’t live here anymore. But that is the land where us youngsters were all going to build our own homes you know? And so a riot broke out, because we don’t want to leave. This is our home!” he begins to tell me his story. “The police came at 5am in the morning while we were still asleep. They were ripping down houses and firing shots at people!” he says recalling the incident. “There was a huge riot going on, fire and gunshots, rocks being thrown – they wanted to take away our home!”
“Oh my! And they shot you?” I ask. While I am hearing this story I am standing in the very settlement itself and so it’s easy to imagine the havoc that must have swept over the streets. My heart feels sore for the people of the community. The government doesn’t help them with formal housing and so they have no choice but to ‘illegally’ encroach onto the vacant land in the area. Besides this is where their families and forefathers have lived for many many years – this IS their home.
“They didn’t shoot directly at me, it was a stray bullet that just came flying! The bullet is still lodged inside my head 5 years later” he says.
“Wow! So you are a surviving warrior!” I say, lifting my hand in a fist to pound his in a gesture of respect and appreciation. We both laugh. “So, back to my project… what are your guys’ dreams?”
“We are a band” the rasta says with a huge smile on his face “a coon band, you know?”
“What is a coon band?” I ask.
“Well, its a tradition for the Cape Malay people. Back in the 1800’s when the coloureds were still kept as slaves for the white man, we would get one day off, on the 2nd January each year to celebrate in our own culture and so the people would go into the streets with their instruments, painting their faces and dressing in colours and basically celebrating their day of freedom. This is where the coon bands culture began and now to this day, we still have these bands that take to the streets, it reunites our people” the other says.
“So, is it just you two in the band?” I ask.
“No! There is a whole group of us. We started it and run the band. But we are lacking instruments. You see, we want our band to grow, we want to teach more kids in the community to play music but the only thing stopping us is not having enough instruments. We have entered in competitions around Cape Town where we are up against other coon bands, and we came second!” they both smile in excitement.
“That’s amazing! Congratulations!”
“Thanks. But you know, it’s not easy to get sponsored for this project being a rasta. They think that I will just smoke all of the money away or give it to the children just because marijuana is part of my religion, it’s not like this at all. The kids on the streets are getting mixed up in all the wrong things, in drugs and alcohol. We want to get these kids off the streets and teach them music – it’s a universal language! We might not speak the same language in words, but when we play, we are speaking the same thing! Music sets you free…” he says happily, “you don’t need any of these other bad things if you are making music, you know? It connects you to Jah” he says. “We want to uplift our community and to share the music of our people. We just need more instruments – we don’t want money, we want instruments, more brass instruments and drums. This is our dream”.
“Well you never know what could happen. Maybe Jah will send someone to read my blog and that person might have a spare instrument lying around and they decide to donate it to you guys!” I say excitedly to the rasta, feeling a part of the energy of the band already.
“Thanks so much sister! We don’t have a lot of money, but we have a lot of passion and this our dream. We go with the band onto the streets and busk to try make money too, but we really want to expand and there are so many others in the community that want to learn, we just need the instruments you know?”
The two guys whistle and suddenly a group of people appear from out of the woodworks. All the band members. Within moments they have gone inside and collected trombones and trumpets. “We want to play a song for you” they say happily. Next thing I find myself smack bam in the centre of an ecstatic sound wave celebration! My smile is plastered onto my face and actually begins to ache a bit. For the first time in a very long time I actually feel like I am in South Africa. The music is so beautiful and relates to such an important time in our history, when slaves were given time to play and it warms my heart to be standing in a settlement, welcomed in love and to be given my own private show by one of the best coon bands in our country. Although these two guys do not have a lot of money, they have such soul and such determination to help their community and to share love, to get kids off the streets – and their music sings with such power. Everyone playing is in a state of bliss, it’s obvious, they all feel such joy to have this music that brings them together. Other people walking by in the streets stop and come watch and soon there is an entire audience joining in on the festivities, with children dancing and smiles on everyone’s faces. And it’s true what the rasta says music really is a universal language, and in this moment, it’s clear how much joy it brings to the community.
“What is the name of your band?” I ask once the show is over.
“Vibrant Brass Sounds” they say, showing off smiles.
“And what is the message of your band? If the whole world was watching you play what would you want to leave them with a message of?”
“Do good and good shall follow”, the one-eyed warrior chants.
What an inspirational interaction! I feel blessed that the universe took me to these guys and that I was lucky enough to hear their amazing music and stories. Imagine the police had shot a bullet into your head – would you still be so positive and have a mantra of ‘do good and good shall follow?” There is so much to learn from these guys – they don’t have a lot of money, but they are still following their dreams and passionately spreading their love with others. We should take note and follow suit. If you do perhaps have any brass instruments or drums lying around and would like to donate to their cause, which is helping the kids and spreading joy, then please let me know and I can get it to them. Thank you! What a beautiful world we live in – let’s get inspired!