Joe Kitchen
Joe Kitchen

Oppikoppi: A field of stars

This is how I used to feel:

Whenever someone told me that he or she wanted to become a musician, or a singer, or a new Afrikaans songwriter, something inside of me died.

This is what I wanted to say to people who told me this:

“I know you think that you are unique, and that you have the talent, the vision, and the dedication to single-handedly turn the entire music industry upside down. I know you imagine that you will soon have millions of adoring fans, and I know you’re saying in your heart, ‘if Jack Parow could do it, so can I’. I believe you are blissfully unaware of the fact that, even if you do achieve some degree of success — or especially if you do — you will be probably be ripped off by your own record company, abandoned by your true friends, and, by the age of thirty, have a serious substance abuse problem, a Kombi with a broken clutch, and a futile existence travelling aimlessly from one noisy stage to another, carrying heavy equipment, not getting enough sleep, and neglecting your pets at home.”

After almost 30 years on the road as a travelling musician, I had come to realise that being a musician (or a singer, or an Afrikaans song-writer) is not a job I’d wish on my worst enemy.

It is impossible to describe the envy I felt towards people who did real work. Dentists. Accountants. People who fixed computers. Shop assistants. Insurance salesmen. Gynaecologists. Especially gynaecologists.

I was well aware of the fact that those guys, the people with the regular hours, the dependable salaries, the daily stint in rush hour traffic and the golf addiction, often looked at guys like me, and imagined themselves in my shoes. Rock ‘n roll, they sighed. What a glamorous life he must have, they thought.

This was the way I felt, in spite of the fact that I’d been obscenely lucky in my career as a singer. In spite of my obvious lack of musical talent, I had actually managed to build up a sizeable local fan base and release 13 albums (though the thirteenth album had been a disappointment to some people).

The thirteenth album was a collection of non-commercial semi-spiritual songs with an unremarkable cover design. I wrote most of the songs for that unlucky last album sitting by a camp fire under a Karoo sky, drinking red wine, staring up at the stars, and thinking to myself: “Surely this must be the end. Rock ‘n roll is dead. I might still do a few un-plugged concerts here and there, but from now on I’m staying far away from the big crowds, the dust of Oppikoppi, the madness of constant touring and partying till daybreak.”

And I was perfectly happy with this decision. It didn’t bother me that my last album was not selling all that well. I had peace of mind.

But one day Oppikoppi wrote to me, asking: “Koos, come and do it one more time.”

And I couldn’t say no.

I had to go, because those guys were my friends. I had to go, because we had had countless jols together. I had to go, because through the years we had become blood brothers.

So I packed my suitcase, paid the excess fee for my guitar case at the Kulula counter, and I flew to the Bosveld for one last journey into the dark heart of rock ‘n roll.

And I got up on that Oppikoppi main stage again. And I sang all those songs again. Even though I hated being there. Even though I much rather wanted to be in the Karoo, warming myself by the flames of a camp fire, drinking red wine and staring up at the stars.

Then the miracle happened.

In the middle of a duet with folk-singer Andra, singing with my eyes tightly closed so that I didn’t have to see the crowd, I dared to take one peep … just one more peep at the 20 000 people out there … just for a second during the last verse … and saw …

… a field of stars. Like the night sky above a camp fire in the Karoo.

Out there, it had suddenly gone pitch-black, and everybody was holding their cigarette lighters, humming together, and swaying to the melody of “Lisa se Klavier”.

In that moment, my soul went completely still, and I felt utterly at peace in the surprising knowledge that, in spite of all the ghastly things I had done to others or experienced myself, I had come full circle, that I was home, among friends, and that everything was okay, and that I had no regrets about anything.

Thank you, Oppikoppi, for healing all that pain. Thank you for that moment of indescribable joy.

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