If 2011’s annual Splashy Fen music festival is anything to go by, Durban is on a musical upswing.
For years, as I regularly attended South Africa’s oldest music festival, I found myself lamenting the fact that it seemed that all Durban was capable of producing was B-grade punk and metal bands.
The city that had once produced some rather larger-than-life musicians had lost its ability to punch above its weight and had finally lost its mojo.
But 2011 was different, with lo-fi folk-punks the Car Boot Vendors and folk-pop outfit Thomas Krane showing that Durban’s music scene has finally produced some bands of substance. The most impressive of the Durban bands on display was Fruits and Veggies, a ska-punk band whose own Facebook page punts a quote describing them as the “drunkest, rudest, most homeless band this side of the equator”.
Having never met this group of reprobates, I can’t vouch for the above quote, but I can tell you that stumbling into the Splashy Fen marquee to catch their set was the best thing I did all weekend.
Frontwoman Purity Mkhize is possibly the most dynamic bandleader in South Africa at the moment. She is so electrifying on stage that watching her reading the dictionary would seem vital and alive with possibility.
Formed in 2008, the members of the band quickly earned themselves a reputation as troublemakers, failing to pitch up for some pretty high-profile gigs and getting themselves banned from some live-music venues.
The chaos that ensued meant that some of the band members moved on, but the current line-up of Mkhize on vocals, Loopy on bass, Terrible Lu on drums and James and Zohan on guitar is a powerhouse combination.
They also appear to have left behind their more troubled earlier days, finally getting some recording done.
The result is the mini-album, Ndaa, a seven-track whirlwind ride through Durban’s streets through the eyes of the hedonistic slacker scene from which Fruits and Veggies hail.
Songs about hitching across town to get drunk at a party (Without a Gwaai or a Cent) sit snugly alongside songs about disillusionment with the world of adults and the tedium of getting a day job (The Way, the Truth and the Lies).
This is teenage rebellion Durban style, with some great catchy hooks and some fierce attitude, which adds up to 29 minutes of stellar music.
Fierce, yet oh so friendly
Joining Fruits and Veggies in their slacker glory were the Car Boot Vendors, a lo-fi folk-punk band whose songs about Durban and its people really struck a chord with the audience at Splashy Fen.
Named after a Sunday car-boot market opposite Durban’s Greyville racecourse, the idea for the band first started to gestate in singer-songwriter Max “The Beard” Wilson’s head when he received a new acoustic guitar from his brother for his 24th birthday.
“The market represents not everything, but a lot about Durban,” says Wilson.
“It’s vibrant, packed and colourful, it’s dingy and chaotic, it’s fierce, yet oh so friendly. In some strange way that little old market at the bottom of the hill represented everything about the music I was making.
“I might be a middle-class kid, but I’m a working-class musician.”
The group’s new EP, titled The Flop, highlights influences like the Clash, Rancid, Woody Guthrie, Billy Bragg and the Pogues, which the band channels into its own unique slacker vision of Durban.
What is so refreshing about both of these bands is their lack of pretentiousness when it comes to their music.
They sing songs about their life in Durban in a wonderfully colloquial way, which means that the audience can easily connect with it because it’s their lives that are playing out on stage.
In the same way that British punk in 1976 brought the rock star back down to Earth and placed him/her among the rank and file who were attending the gigs, Durban’s up-and-coming bands, Fruits and Veggies and the Car Boot Vendors, are making music that is both for and of the youth of Durban and that is very exciting indeed.