Text and Pics by Chris Marais
Karoo Space arrived in Richmond last week to sing a song – and left with two festival awards in the bag.
It was the occasion of the JM Coetzee/Athol Fugard Festival, an early-winter precursor to the annual Bookbedonnerd gathering in October.
The little Northern Cape village with its Booktown Main Street was humming, and I was a little worried as I steered the Spacemobile past the open shops and restaurants.
The festival organiser, a persistent chap called Darryl David, had called me up earlier this year to sing at this affair.
“You mean, like a gig?” I could not believe this phone call.
“Yes. You’ve got a helluva voice. Come and sing to us.”
The Loadshedding Huiskonsert
“You must be crazy. Maybe we can stage a Loadshedding Huiskonsert,” I suggested in desperation. “I’ll strum a song in a bookshop somewhere and invite members of the audience to join me. Maybe a little Khumbaya Moment, yes?”
If you’re South African, you’ll know all about loadshedding – scheduled power cuts. Ditto with the “huiskonsert“, which is an impromptu unplugged home concert involving voice, guitar, sauce pan and basically anything musical.
Darryl David added us to the showbill.
So as Jules and I drove into Richmond, I kept looking out for my mate Antony Osler’s vehicle. This legendary author of Stoep Zen and Zen Dust is an old jamming buddy and he’d promised to come down and help me out.
Not only was Antony there with his big-ass double-bass, but an extra gelukkie (bit of luck) had arrived in the form of an Osler family friend called Ginger Seipp, who brought along his banjo and acoustic guitar.
We gathered for a first-time 20-minute practice on the back stoep of An-Ra Guest House and ran through a couple of chestnuts. Jules said we sounded hot, so off we trooped to the Booktown HQ to see Athol Fugard in the flesh.
Fugard in the Flesh
During a short interview, he told Jules:
“Of all South Africa’s landscapes, the Karoo is the most spiritual.” Right on, Athol.
In a remarkable workshop with his partner, Paula Fourie, the 82-year-old Athol Fugard discussed The Painted Rocks of Revolver Creek, one of his latest plays.
And then, while the newly-formed Popcorn Groove Soggy Bottom Fellows Band was setting up at Die Huis Van Licht & Schaduw up the road, Fugard’s The Island was successfully staged.
Listen. I don’t think we’ll be getting calls from Bruce Springsteen’s management after the show, but we didn’t do too badly for an amateur first time out. Ginger’s banjo and Antony’s big-ass double-bass were the stars of the show.
Popcorn Groove Soggy Bottom Fellows Band
And then Darryl David announced to the crowd that Karoo Keepsakes II had won Best Photographic Travel Book and that Karoo Space had won Best Karoo Website for 2015.
Judge Denis Beckett said a lot of good things about the book, like:
“Chris and Julienne’s Karoo Keepsakes II strikes right chords from the start. Their distinctive and possibly unique little fat square format works exactly right for this book, in fact uncannily right…
As to the range of topics, to say that the authors must have met half the population of the Karoo might be a stretch, but it’s not hyperbole. Few people on this planet can personally know as high a proportion of people across as large a land area.
From the Calvinia traffic cop’s Elvis weekends to the Professor of Water to the Williston Band to the Nama Riel to the Cango crocodile cage to some 130 other tales, the reader is introduced to a wider catchment of people and practices than I think you’d think possible.
Tall stories there are – sometimes you see the wink in the author’s eye – but on the whole we here have real tales of real people, made plausible by avoidance of shouting and overstatement, with low-key deep-chuckle humour and a prevailing flavour of respect.”
“Karoo Keepsakes II is a pioneering book. It is a hymn to the Karoo and the people of this region. But it is so much more than pretty photographs. It captures deep knowledge about the Karoo and the eccentric figures that inhabit this land of thirst.
If for nothing else, read the description of the love dance of the ostrich.”