Too much ego, not enough info
Stars, Bars & Guitars: A journey in South African Music by Jon Monsoon
South African music is incredibly poorly documented and so I was excited about the prospect of a book that aimed to tell the tales of some of this country’s finest pop, rock, reggae and industrial musicians and bands.
But, as soon as I got my hands on a copy of Jon Monsoon’s new book, my excitement turned to disappointment.
This is not the book that groundbreaking musicians such as Battery 9, Prophets of Da City, Nine, Lark and No Friends of Harry deserved. Not even close.
What you get is not what the book’s jacket promises—“a fascinating peek into the lives of some of South Africa’s most famous bands and musical heroes”—but rather a peek into the less-than-fascinating life of a music critic, DJ and musician, who is determined to take centre stage throughout.
Monsoon’s book is a half-baked recount of a life in the music industry that focuses more on “I was there, you weren’t” posturing than the musicians and the music.
Stars, Bars & Guitars is lazy and overburdened with personal anecdotes and light on actual biographical facts, musical analysis and the voices of the musicians.
The chapter on No Friends of Harry is a description of the alternative crowd that made up their fans and gives very little indication as to what kind of band they were and what kind of music they made.
The chapter on Lucky Dube is a recount of a reggae festival that took place in Soweto in 1991. Monsoon’s patronising tone in which he manages to mention 12 times in four pages that people were getting high—which I think might have been a given—offers little insight into Dube or reggae music in South Africa.
The chapter on Fetish comes off as little more than a love letter to lead singer Michelle Breeze, while the chapter on Nine is a tale about getting stoned with drummer Jerome Reynard at a gig.
Added to these flaws in the book’s content is the fact that the design of Stars, Bars & Guitars is truly horrible.
The book is overly busy, relying too much on scanned album covers, press passes and ticket stubs and a lot of the photography is sub-standard.
Even some really great pictures by Toast Coetzer and John Hogg are used badly in the layout.
Let’s hope that someone out there is busy crafting a thorough collection of writing that will document this era of South African musicians and their music with the respect they deserve.