Ilham Rawoot
Ilham Rawoot

Jazz, tramezzinis and swine flu for capitalist pigs

If you’ve been following my recent moans on the lack of party! party! in Grahamstown, you will be happy to know that I am far more satiated today than I was a few days ago. Maybe my friends have gotten cooler, maybe I’ve become a bit less demanding, maybe I’m just desperate to be able to say the eleven-hour drive each way and sleeping on a mattress in a matchbox room with two other people, both untidy as hell, was worth it. But seriously, I’ve started having fun. Better late than never.

Saturday morning, the James Ngcobo rendition of Fred Khumalo’s novel Touch my Blood left me impressed; the story was well told and acting soulful. A makeshift night sky, which revolved around the stage with the flickering lights of a makeshift airplane in front of it, was symbolic of the make do with what we have lifestyles lived by the characters. I don’t think I drifted off more than once, which is a major feat for me.

The young night left me in my novice jazz element. Babu, the Cape Town-based quartet of fiercely talented musicians had the crowd eating right out of their tablas. And Kesivan Naidoo continued with his messages of world peace etcetera, although not as rough as his comments at his previous performance, which included things like “I hope these capitalist pigs get swine flu”. Right on. After this performance the Restless Natives, a collection of half of Babu, plus two others, who are pretty well known on the Cape Town mid-week jazz scene, played their last gig, for a while, to an audience of fans and admirers who stood outside the door and peeked through the windows. Great, awesome, but I think I’m a bit jazzed out.

Sunday was the day of food and beverage. I started off with lunch at (obviously) the Juice Bar for my mince roti, and followed that up with tea at the Madhatters, the people watching spot, it seems. I’m not going to lie, Grahamstown is lacking just a bit in unfluctuating decent food. So far, barring a few places, it’s either cheap and nasty or very expensive and barely filling. The Red Café, which came up next, was — though a quaint and localesque joint, with an excellent balcony — a bit of a culinary let down too. My friends’ tramezzinis came half an hour too late and when they did, they complained of monotony, dryness, and spent ten minutes discussing which ingredients should have been added to make it a worthwhile meal.

This was followed by a drink at the Old Gaol. I imagine during term time the place is pumping but on Sunday afternoon it was like any other view-less bar on a Sunday afternoon. Not so happening. The drinks are cheap and there is a fireplace, the bar’s point of attraction in this unnecessarily cold valley. Unless I have naïve views on where poets hang out, the interior looks like the kind of place they would. I think if I was studying at Rhodes, this is where I’d go out.

The evening brought a new surprise, which is apparently not a surprise to anyone else — Church Square. Here I found Cairo Shwarma where the man in the stall wears a turban and does a disturbing belly dance to Egyptian pop while making the meal. I couldn’t really afford his shwarma, it was a bit pricy at R40 I thought, what with being in a stall in a small town in the Eastern Cape where I have to walk in the dark and sit on a plastic chair with the wind assaulting my ears. But my friend was less of a skimp and I tasted his, it was good. I opted for a bunny chow from next door at half the price. I got through about a quarter of it, seeing as their generosity on the meat was a bit too much for even my carnivorous tastebuds.

Then we had a proper Grahamstown night on the town. Kind of, we tried driving around looking for places but only found two, both of which were a hoot, so we stayed. But we did cover most of town en route so it sort of counts. The first place we spent some time was Slipstream. Now this could be very misleading. I want to make it very clear that Slipstream Bar is not the kind of place you usually recommend to tourists in this town. A friend of mine who came from Cape Town to DJ at the bar got out of his van, hugged me and said “shit, this place looks sketchy”. But once again, the drinks are ridiculously cheap, the locals dig it and there are pool tables on a massive covered balcony. But the point of my story is that on this particular night African Dope DJs Hyphen and SFR were playing dubstep, drum ‘n’ bass and leaving me in a spot of ecstasy.

Radness. So much radness. While my friends and I often make fun of people trying to dance to dubstep when hearing it for the first time we were rather impressed that this crowd knew what they were doing. Afterwards, as the clock struck 3ish, we moved to the Long Table, that candlelit place with the overpriced food. We walked in with the entire place, all 200 or so people, singing happy birthday to someone. I wanted to say it was my birthday, just because. But I didn’t. I think the birthday boy was famous. Well famous in Grahamstown, at least.

Here we remained, forming a little makeshift dancefloor and squeezing between the badly designed table setup to get around. Here I met musicians to whom I said stupid things and actors whose names I didn’t know, and playwrights who seemed at first to want to talk to me because I looked pretty good but really just wanted to hustle me into their show. I felt used, but I’m learning to not take things so personally. At 5am I retired to my couch with a cold Milo and rotisserie chicken from the BP. Nothing like it in the world. I was content.

It’s almost over, I’m almost going back to the clear starry skies and noisier street kids of Joburg, but for now, I’m digging it.