Twenty years of Oppikoppi – merging old and new

The Oppikoppi music festival rolled into the south-western Limpopo border town of Northam this past weekend, bringing its usual brand of music, chaos, delight and colour, with a touch of nostalgia, to its dusty Highveld venue.

Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, the line-up juxtaposed the old with the new. 

Squeal, Urban Creep, and Valiant Swart, who all played at its first edition back in August 1995, were on stage once more, as were other 1990s alumni Wonderboom (three of whom played the year before as The Eight Legged Groove Machine), Springbok Nude Girls, Madala Kunene, Albert Frost (who teamed up with fellow blues maestro Dan Patlansky this year) and Gert Vlok Nel. 

Alongside them, the legendary Hugh Masekela was scheduled to play with fellow legend Ollie Viljoen in a tribute show, though with Viljoen unable to make it due to illness, other artists stepped in to pay tribute before Masekela himself took to the stage. 

Once there, Masekela began with Stimela, his trumpet cutting the air and surrounded the audience in sound, before he moved on to more up tempo territory that had the crowd shaking their hips to his beat. 

Younger local acts
Of the younger local acts, Bittereinder followed up last year’s strong show with another high energy performance, while Zebra and Giraffe, Shortstraw, aKING and Van Coke Kartel, among others, all drew strong crowds. 

Electronic rap group PH Fat drew the largest crowd on the Friday night with a barnstorming performance to close out the main stage, hinting at the growing influence alternative forms of music are having at the festival. 

The dance stage is example of that, with the likes of Das Kapital, Sibot & Toyota, and The Kiffness among many local acts, sprinkled with international talent such as DJ Marky and Sian, that offered the crowd a good “stomp”, especially if they had decided to summit the Koppi on their way to the stage, versus going the long way round. 

Of the international acts on the main stages, Australian rock outfit Wolfmother did not disappoint as one of the headliners, playing to the largest crowd of the festival, while perhaps more was expected from the UK’s The Editors. 

American singer Aloe Blacc offered a well-placed and upbeat departure from the heavier music surrounding him, before fellow Americans Rival Sons and their audience prospered as they rocked out. 

French curiosity The Inspector Cluzo enlightened their crowd away from the main stage, using buckets of panache in the process. 

Like last year, the acoustic stage also offered a strong line-up and hideaway from the louder music elsewhere, with American Willy Mason caressing the ears of his audience with his slow, melodic country-come-blues. 

Sarah Blasko, from Australia, gave one of the most chilling performances at the acoustic stage with her vast vocal range, while among the locals, Kunene and Nel exploited the intimate environment the stage offered to give high class performances. 

“In dust we trust” is an oft repeated phrase at Oppikoppi, and judging by the strength of this year’s festival, that trust from attendees appears set to continue. 

How the festival changes going forward, as it has since its inception, will be interesting to watch. – Sapa

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