By Julienne du Toit
When we first moved to Cradock at the beginning of 2007, local people would mention the term huiskonsert, mostly with a sigh of nostalgia.
They told us there used to be great huiskonserte around town, but in the past few years they’d dwindled almost to nothing.
What was a huiskonsert? Locals explained it was exactly as it sounded – just having a musical evening at someone’s house. With sop en brood and whatever dop you bring. Anyone can play, or not play. Just come and listen or if you feel moved, or sing, or play an instrument. Or just kuier.
It is probably a tradition that started on farms. Poke around Eastern Cape farmhouses, and there’s usually a piano in some corner, maybe a guitar in a case, and a mondfluitjie in the cupboard. People needed to entertain themselves before the advent of electricity and television.
We also discovered that Cradock is a town full of amateur musical talent. Apart from Tannie Delene on piano, there was Stephen on penny whistle, violin and accordion, Collie the guesthouse owner who played drums.
Dominees & Divas
There was also the NG dominee who plays the organ like a maestro, our neighbours the Smitte who sing and play the guitar. I won’t even mention the keyboard-playing education department official, the police psychologist guitar hero or the doctor who plays the classics.
After hearing the quality of the music in town, we invited our muso friends down from upcountry, and huiskonserts were revived – a least in our little cul de sac.
Mostly, the huiskonsert would be at Frans and Melina’s place. Every time, there was bread, soup, gluhwein and sherry. Sometimes apple pie.
The Night of the Silver Creek
The audience is just as important as the talent, and the people of Cradock are pretty expert at being both. They’ll bring their friends, fill the hall, clap enthusiastically and often sing along.
Just ask Rod Dry from the Silver Creek Mountain Band about a certain summer night in 2013, and how warmly the locals welcomed them when they played at the Victoria Manor Hotel. They were so impressed that, a couple of months later, they moved down here permanently.
The band has since relocated, but the fond memories remain.
Playing ‘The Fugard’
Fast forward a few years. In 2015, Darryl David, organiser of the Athol Fugard Literary Festival in Richmond, prevailed on writer Chris Marais to sing a few songs at the end of proceedings. Chris roped in fellow Karoo writer Antony Osler with his double bass.
Antony brought along his brother Maeder who brought along his friend Ginger Seipp who just happened to be a genius banjo player and one of the original founders of the Natal Folk Music Association. Maeder was asked to play his harmonica but demurred for fear his false teeth would fall out.
They had a quick practice session in the street behind the magistrate’s court, and then sang a few bluegrassy songs in front of a bemused but delighted audience. This is what Antony had to say about it in his latest book, Mzansi Zen:
“..we end in an unrehearsed multiple pile-up with a final strum plink crrssh boom, our chests thudding, unable to talk from the excitement, three men on the edge of a heart attack thinking, ‘What a way to go!’”
Antony Osler was booked to present Mzansi Zen at the Schreiner Karoo Writers Festival in Cradock at the end of July 2016. A plan was hatched to do a few more numbers, an informal Karoo jam at our home.
Somehow the organisers caught wind of it and the huiskonsert was put on the programme as a wild card event.
There were cold feet and a vague attempt at cancelling the whole thing but Antony said: “No we can’t! Ginger is coming all the way from Cape Town especially for this!”
So the band’s name changed from the Soggy Bottom Boys to Froggy Hollow to the Well-Hung Biltong Bits and by the time of the performance had naturally morphed into Ginger’s Fault.
The Secret Weapon
The night before the show, there was a practice session in our lounge with soup, bread and wine. It was the first time the guys had seen each other in a year. But they now had a secret weapon: Antony’s brother Maeder had new false teeth and was joining the lineup with his array of mondfluitjies.
By the end of the first two numbers, the Wives and Girlfriends (WAGs – Margie Osler, Lesley Osler, Ruth Seipp and I) had decided our men were so good that the next night, we would be throwing panties and thongs.
And so it came to pass that Pep Stores in Cradock’s main road did a roaring trade the next day in floral and luiperdlap bikini panties along with enormous beige Bridget Jones broeks.
The secret venue for the huiskonsert turned out, fittingly, to be Melina and Frans Smit’s Coffee Place on Durban Street. There was hardly standing room. At some stage Melina yelled there was lap room only.
First up was a very talented Cape Town band called Kraal, introduced by Cradock-born writer Toast Coetzer.
Guitarist (and novelist) David Cornwell and singer-actress Daniella Rodin got into some bluesy percussive numbers that had the audience clapping, stamping and shouting for more.
Oh What a Night!
On trooped Ginger’s Fault – two writers, one sheep farmer and one retired accountant – playing bluegrass classics, Welsh coal mining songs and folk songs from the Sixties.
What a fabulous success. The audience roared their appreciation, sang along and called for more. The boys obliged.
The panty-flinging was priceless. Broeks were hung off double-bass necks, the banjo had panties on and even Chris’ guitar sported a lovely pair. To top it all, the coltish Maeder Osler wore a pair on his head. And they played on.
This time it was four men, flushed with the music, and a room full of happy people who all raised their glasses and sang Forever Young – like they really, really meant it.