How would you like your music? Sculptured around a terrain of hills, valleys, boulders, and ponds, all sculptured by the artist himself, Dylan Lewis, who turned this land into a fairy-like garden for his own giant and small sculptures?
Music sculptured in old-school kwaito with a gypsy swing by a clownish band of Balkan enthusiasts and jazz aficionados, all dressed in multi-coloured, polka-dotted overalls, some with Afrocentric designs, and painted faces to match their costumes?
The Stellenbosch Woordfees 2018 turned heads by offering a unique experience to ‘concert goers’ who thirsted for something different, interactive, and outdoorsy, as art-meets-music-meets South African talents at their best. And interactive it was, as the Saturday, 10 March, event at the Dylan Lewis Sculpture Garden outside of Stellenbosch joyfully took off from 6pm. Early birds could enjoy feasting on the visual beauties of mountains lit up by a distant cloudy sunset. A lone duck in the garden’s pond peacefully lulled lookers-on, oblivious to what was about to happen.
The Polish accordion player serenaded us in the garden with Italian love songs. The stage was set; the band had finished their sound check. But by 6.30pm, where was the band?
As I sat on a small rock watching the waning sun reflect in the docile pond, sounds emerged: the eye followed, catching the saxman (Sisonke ) standing under a giant sculpture on a mound on the other side of the pond; then trumpeter and leader of the band, Marcus Wyatt, dressed in bright red overalls with a hat to match, bellows out nature’s sound of a trumpeting elephant; then a petit singer dancing on another mound; then far to the left, the oomp pah pah of the blaring sousaphone, with only its bright silver head moving in a comical sway through the reeds near a stream that feeds the pond. Then, the trombone howls. The instruments magically form a harmonic union as the musicians meet on the same path and lead the dispersed crowd of some 50 people closer to the stage.
The party begins! This is how the Bombshelter Beast likes it: an inspiringly beautiful setting, outdoors, so that their whacky and wonderful sonic outbursts can engage listeners. The three lead singers carry the comradery, pulse, and zaniness of the songs composed and arranged by legendary jazz trumpeter Marcus Wyatt. The singers entice the audience with a scatty rap, funny facial expressions, and funky hip-hop dances, with linguistic jols between them in different South African languages.
They’re a motley lot: Pule (meaning ‘rain’ in Setswana) is ‘white’ with impressive experience in African cultures where he raps in Zulu and other South African languages. Sort of a Beast Johnny Clegg on staccato steroids. His style moves from funk to heavy metal screams to hip-hoppy humour. It’s no wonder that he has also studied to be a clown, and is now embarking on a Ph.D. in Linguistics.
The two African lady singers, one large and voluptuous with a huge head of hair, the other thin and petite with large wide eyes, add to the clownish humour. Their exaggerated burlesque dancing and singing extends to jumping into the crowd to wiggle about and make faces. The dancing crowd howls in appreciation. The Army helmeted sousaphone player, himself larger than life, and a 60-something opera singer, made their contrasting mark on the skillfully choreographed stage from which hung various country flags to add to the splash of colourful textiles.
These free-spirited AfroBalkan musical buffs fit coincidentally with artist Dylan Lewis’s connection with his ‘authentic, untamed inner nature’, and the non-judgmental inspirations from nature which tames and nurtures this ‘authentic wild self’ to find an inner peace.
One would hope that the Beast could match this paradox. And alas, its raucous and occasional outrageous outbursts did mellow as its ‘Dance of the Chicken’, the title of the Beast’s album, resolved into skadubhall and free-fall. Maverick and ragtaggy? YES!! And delightfully festive!
But why the Balkan take? Composer Wyatt was asked to write a soundtrack for a film called Taka Takata in 2010 about a clumsy football team that plays in a parking-lot. The film has yet to be released and features several comedians, including Trevor Noah. Wyatt ended up writing a lot of Balkan music about this ragtag football team, and through networks and reworkings, converted scores to become the Bombshelter Beast. Wyatt boasts popular albums in the jazz genre, such as with the Voice, The Prisoners of Strange with Carlo Mombelli, Language 12 (music being the 12th South African official ‘language’), and the Blue Notes Tribute Orchestra (tributes to past legends).
For some reason, the Beatles’s song, Octopus’s Garden, kept ringing in my ears afterwards, spurred on by the ‘Chicken’s Dance’ of the Beast, both songs reminiscent of a love affair with nature and its wonders.
The Dylan Lewis Sculpture Garden is viewable by appointment Tuesday to Saturday. Booking information can be found here.