Review: Freshlyground Live at Kirstenbosch


freshlyground kirstenbosch Yet again on Sunday I was struck with the full force of how damn lucky are we are to be able to sit in the largest botanical garden in the world and enjoy the sweet melodies of one of South Africa’s most successful bands. I looked around in awe at Kirstenbosch Gardens. The diversity of the famously varied CapeFlorathat we sat amongst was reflected by the 6 500 people on the concert lawn.

Freshlyground, as a band, is an extension of this. With members from all over Southern Africa, from all races and minority groups, they are the perfect bunch to express the need for diversity and change, their songs comprising of political sentiments and sorrow-filled lyrics of a land lost and people hurt.

This dynamic group, which came forward during a time when South African people were misplaced in their own country, was a band for the moment, a band reflecting the people’s own revolution and recovery.  As I looked around me and saw people of every colour dancing together, sharing bottles of wine and eating out of the same chip packets, I questioned whether Freshlyground is still as relevant now as it once was, now that we have reached a stage where we need to put the past behind us and look to the future.

But it seems the band has realised this and its focus now is less on the political and more on the conservationist.  It’s new voice is not that steady yet, but there are some big fish to fry out there, and I’m hoping that Freshlyground figures out how to heat up the stove plate, because they have so much to offer.

Regardless you can always expect a good performance when watching Freshlyground: their energy levels and the passion for the music they make is self-evident. And they know exactly how to entice the audience: Zolani Mahola and Kyla-Rose Smith doing their co-ordinated dance moves, and the boys on flute and bass shaking their skinny-white behinds to the jumping fans at the foot of the stage.

High levels of energy were present during their hit songs ‘Doo Be Doo’, and the 2010 FIFA World Cup anthem ‘Waka Waka’, but the set list was a bit of a slow roller coaster ride, peaking with liveliness then dropping again so that the audience would go from up its feet, gyrating and clapping, to suddenly slinking back down onto the grass as Mahola belted out a slow number.  This ebb and flow was not Freshlyground at its best, and the real low point came with the encore – a lethargic cover of someone else’s hit.

No, that’s not quite right.  The biggest disappointment was what they didn’t sing. I stood on the lush green lawn, eyes as wide as saucers, bottom lip fat and protruding as I realised they were not going to sing ‘Pot Belly’. I couldn’t believe that the one song which can get all the chubby folks on their feet, waving their bingo wings, jiggling their thunder thighs and rubbing their boep bellies was not going to feature. How could they not play the most liberating song ever made to oversized, consumer-cultured mankind??

A band that has been as successful as Freshlyground has a lot to live up to, and there are bound to be disappointments.  Sunday was one of them.  But there is no doubt that Freshlyground is indeed an icon of South African music talent, and I will not write them off simply on one ill thought out playlist.  They were good, great in fact.  Just not as great as I’d hoped.

Nonetheless, sitting and listening and swaying, I’m sure I was not alone in experiencing that moment when the eyes drift beyond the stage and up to the mountain, drinking in the sunset, the oh-so-green botany, the people, the blue sky…  that moment when, with a complacent smile finding its way to your face, you hear the lyrics to ‘Waka Waka’  and nod your head in agreement to the enigmatic words, “… ‘Cos this is Africa.”

by Caro Malherbe

Freshlyground performed at Kirstenbosch on Sunday 18 March 2012 as a part of the Old Mutual Summer Concert Series.

If you liked this review, read our review of the
Parlotones at Kirstenbosch.
Lira at Kirstenbosch
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Goldfish at Kirstenbosch



Discussion1 Comment

  1. Thanks for a super review! I will be keeping watch as to when they will be performing again. Sorry I missed it. As you say, and I agree, they sometimes lose the momentum with a rocking crowd when they suddenly switch to a low mood song while everyone has just been warmed up for a “waka waka’- beat! Please, Freshly Ground, write some more ‘UP-BEAT!” Maybe Claire Johnston can give them some “Mango Groove” tips as to how to keep a crowd rocking and on their feet.


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