On 12 August 2017, South Africa’s most loved musicians dazzled thousands of their fans inside the Vista Arena at the South Campus of the University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, narrates Mpho Matsitle.
WOMEN OF NOTE (WON) once again proved why it enjoys a prominent slot on the events calendar of Mangaung, by not only bringing together the city’s women (and their men) together under one roof, but also to serving great performances from the best of SA’s music scene. Hosted by Metro FM presenter and MC extraordinaire Somizi Mhlongo and TV and 5FM radio personality Thando Thabethe, WON’s line-up boasted the likes of the ever-soulful Zonke, music maestro Robbie Malinga, versatile songbird Kelly Khumalo and Amazulu hitmaker Amanda Black, including local RnB sensation Presss and Botshabelo’s sebabatso Semito, among others.
A pipe-smoking politician-cum-poet of sorts once said that on an occasion such as this, we should perhaps start from the beginning. So, we begin from the only place worth starting anything—the beginning.
The early stages of the Saturday evening are characterised by queues; they are many and they don’t let up. The first is four wheeled: heart-wrenching traffic inches forward slower than a chameleon, keeping the traffic police busier than the most restless bee in the quest to be fair to both motorists and pedestrians walking into the South Campus. Once parked, there’s another one manned by SSS security guards, and it moves swiftly as they only demand to see tickets esandleni.
Just when one thinks the test of patience is passed, up comes more snaking human figures. This is where the masses are parted into classes like the Red Sea. There are people milling about with official tags, yet one still only finds out after a considerable time on the wrong queue that the VIP one is on the other side—and the other one. After playing trial and error with the queues, one finally settles on the right one. Colour-coded wristbands on. All hurdles surmounted. A good time shall be had. Wait, there’s another queue which seems rather permanent, as if the crowd here is cemented. The bar queue.
The tussling for position and shouting here is at least accompanied by music that is never without cochlea crushing screams—the currency the children of Nongoma gathered here brought in bucket loads. Neither the performers nor MCs can get enough of it. It’s given gratuitously at every turn, yet demanded by them at every other one. “Somebody scream!” They beg through the pulsating speakers.
We’re seated now. First on the mic is Semito, who claims a lion’s share of screams with his hit Sebabatso, before tossing it to fellow native Presss of Thojana Ya Thesele fame. Press covers great RnB hits from the tail end of the last century, taking the singing along multitudes with him down memory lane. Some see this as an opportunity to go queue for either drinks or the leaks they induce—it is after all common practice to take care of chores while listening to old school RnB.
Thojana Ya Thesele gives him the pleasure of a standing ovation.
After a brief hiatus that saw Lesedi FM’s DJ Finzo tease the thousands with the Bongo Muffin classic Thath’ Is’gubhu, Mr Tigi Tigi takes to stage—and with him on stage, the hordes swarming the bars rush back to their seats. He starts his set slowly, sensually, giving us more time to survey him: “He has gained quite a bit of weight,” an old woman observes.
Like any recently blown up artist, Sands suffers from the “just get to Tigi Tigi” impatience of the crowd. Only those who’ve flirted with the whole album seemed content as they mimed along. The rest couldn’t wait for the breakout song. When it finally came, it was welcomed with raucous jubilation. For the first time, it became clear why the speakers were so loud; otherwise they would be overpowered by the noise from maleme a sekete in the arena.
Other than free WiFi in public spaces, Amanda Black is the sweetest thing that happened to South Africa. She is a gem. When Somizi Mhlongo comes in to introduce her as the first woman of note for the night, the audience cheers the loudest—and she lives up to it. “We’ll see who bought the album,” she throws down the gauntlet. With that she cuts short her hit number and begins the show. The Mangaung masses show her that they are not allergic to the shelves. There’s not a single song she performs without a majority singing along. In the middle of her set she invokes the spirit of the leading woman of note, the late Brenda Fassie, with a spirited rendition of Weekend Special. Phumelela gets people up on their feet with fists shooting up, chanting, “Sizophumelela!”
With the performance of Lila, the screaming makes a return with reinvigorated vigour.
The spirit of Brenda Fassie is evoked once more as Vusi Nova opens his set with Memeza. He now taps into Lundi Tyamara’s legacy with Nkosi Sihlangene. His saxophonist’s solo suffers a drowning out by the masses who have not stopped, and will not stop, singing the popular incantation. Nova’s reverence with the legends does not end at the grave; he brings out Ntando and gracefully leaves the stage.
The undisputed Afro-pop prince goes through his catalogue with the unbridled energy of a debutant. For many it’s all too much to handle. “Vusi Nova, you better come back on stage before I have a heart attack,” begs Bonolo Mphahlele (@CrayzyBee). He comes back and the legend bows out. By now the Vista Arena has come to a standstill. Indeed, this is one pasella that leaves many a WON attendee with goosebumps weeks later—and will be a legend told around digital fires for generations to come.
Legendary producer Robbie Malinga has the penultimate set, and almost as if to take Vusi Nova on, he also brings along a few friends. Among them South Africa’s favourite maiden Kelly Khumalo, a woman of note in her own right. Powerful and talented. As Theo Martins (@Theo_Main) tweets: “Never ever doubt Kelly Khumalo’s vocal prowess.”
That prowess, together with Malinga’s crooning, jerks more than a few tears.
It’s now left to the ultimate diva Zonke to round up the greatest night out Bloemfontein has seen this year—no better climaxes have been reached. The troubadour gets the crowd swinging to her sweet soulful sounds. Her crisp and determined voice sends the Twittersphere into an overdrive. Most can only find the time to tweet “ZONKE!” as her set proves too captivating for her fans to even type a 140 characters tweet.
Some five hours after the Vista Arena is deserted by the BloemFUNteiners, Sinenhlanhla Luthuli (@Zamazuba) wakes up still strung on the greatness of the songstress. “Zonke,” she says, “I still can’t get over your performance. You are a legend!” Lovebird @Zaido412 agrees: “Zonke you are a legend. My partner and I bow down to you. Three years ago on our first date we attended your show and today, here we are,” posts @Zaido412, clearly lacking space to sign out, “Look at God!”
Only six years old, sold out year after year, churning out memories that strengthen love bonds, one cannot be accused of hastiness for dubbing Dot’s Design brainchild ‘the stuff of legends.’ As we speak, the whole of Mangaung is already gearing up for the next Women of Note celebration concert.
Mpho Matsitle is the Publisher of ART STATE. He tweets as @MphoMatsitle.
Images: Women of Note Facebook page