We had just finished a home-cooked meal — lamb stew, pap, spicy chakalaka, steak, and vegetarian curry — at the legendary Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers, followed by live music and poetry around the fire. Our group was preparing to leave. I shivered, thinking about burrowing under the covers back in my room at the Soweto Hotel.
“We’re going somewhere else now,” one of the other bloggers told me. I sighed. Maybe I’m too old for this campaign, I thought. It was already past my bedtime. But I dutifully climbed into the van with the rest of the group.
A few minutes later, the van stopped. We piled out into the drizzle and I followed the feet of the person in front of me, picking my way around mud puddles in the darkness. We walked inside a gate, into a haze of herby smoke, and through a doorway into a bright yellow room. The room was warm and filled with music.
The emcee and the DJ, Kuttin’ Keith (otherwise known as the healer).
It was hard to take it all in at first. The room was small and the walls were lined with people and bookshelves. There was a DJ in the corner and an amplifier in the middle of the floor. A guy held a wireless microphone and rapped. It was the prettiest rap music I’d ever heard.
A woman dangled her baby to the beat. Others held up cell phones to record the music. No one blinked an eye at the arrival of a large (mostly white) group of bloggers and photographers. A lot of people smiled at us.
“It just got a whole lot brighter in here,” said the emcee into the microphone. We laughed.
We were mesmerized from the moment we arrived.
A metal tray appeared, stacked with tin cups. Natalie, one of our campaign’s organizers, poured wine into the cups and distributed them. (We were here to promote a wine festival, after all.) I took a couple of sips and abandoned my cup behind a loudspeaker. I was too excited to drink and needed both hands to take photos.
I didn’t get the names of all the performers. But this guy was one of my favorites.
The sound system was perfect, just loud enough to reverberate through my bones but not loud enough to make me feel like I needed earplugs. One guy rapped for a while, then another guy sidled up and took the mic. The DJ held it all together.
The music was perfect. The atmosphere was perfect. I forgot about being tired and cold. I stood on a crate for a while, trying to get a good shot of the whole room by holding my camera above my head. I gave up and plunged into the crowd.
It was all perfect. All of it.
“Where ARE we?” I yelled into the ear of someone next to me.
“In DU-bay!” he yelled back. (Dube is a township in Soweto. Although I actually think we were in Orlando West.)
“Ok, but what’s the name of this PLACE?”
The venue is called Trackside. (Here’s the Trackside website, although there’s not much on it. I think the best way to follow Trackside is on Twitter and Instagram.) I believe there are railroad tracks outside the venue but I never saw them. Anyway, I love Trackside. I love it so much.
The rappers finished up and made way for the headline band, Radio 123. I’m no music critic so I won’t try to describe Radio 123’s sound, other than to say it was rock, funk, jazz, and hiphop all mixed together. They had great vocals and bass and a guy who played trumpet.
I squatted in the middle of the floor to take photos. A guy tapped me on the shoulder. I thought he was going to ask me to get out of his way, but instead he pointed to the ceiling. The roof was leaking and he didn’t want my camera to get wet.
I risked the leaky roof to shoot this.
I was sad when Radio 123 finished their set, and I was sad to learn that the evening was coming to an end. It was only midnight! I could do this for at least a few more hours.
Then Andy Carrie took the stage.
Andy Carrie (right) and a guy whose name I never got.
Up until now I had known Andy Carrie only as an Instagrammer, @andycarrie_on. Andy was part of our group, not a booked musician at Trackside.
It turns out that Andy Carrie is an incredibly badass drummer.
As soon as Andy started, the rappers flocked to jam with him. They all improvised together, syncing perfectly with the DJ, for about 30 minutes. It was magical.
Magical, I tell you. Pure magic.
Eventually we left, drove back to the hotel, and I really did burrow under the covers in my room. Thus ended the best night that I’ve ever had or ever will have in Soweto.
I’ll have a lot more to say about the Soweto Wine Festival and the #72hrsSoweto campaign in a future post. For now, that is all.