Oppikoppi: DJs, dust and dangerous beats

Ja. magazine
7 min readAug 18, 2018

Words by Lumumba Mthembu

A week has passed since Oppikoppi Music Festival, which is the time it has taken to recover from the hangover. Aside from the sore throat and dry skin, I am at 95% health. Getting to the festival was not easy. Firstly, it took about a grand’s worth of supplies to ensure we would not be slumming it. Secondly, our driver broke almost every rule of the road trip, from hogging the playlist to eating and driving. The errand he had to run en route to Northam added three hours to our arrival time, caused by three unscheduled stops to locate an open Standard Bank branch on Women’s Day. Meaning, even though we had hit the road from Durban at 5am, we only arrived in Limpopo at 5pm. That is a Greyhound trip to Grahamstown from the same departure point.

On our arrival it was encouraging to see a convoy of cars that had been similarly delayed, pumping beats outside the entrance. We did not know that we were soon to be discouraged by the disorganised media team, who had no forms to sign us in. When we reminded them of the protocol they had emailed to media guests, they told us to set up camp and return later. The same media team sent us emails yesterday requesting “links of all coverage” of the festival. To that I reply, “Where is the goodie bag you promised?”

One disaster followed another as we set up camp. Having forgotten a hammer, we kicked the tent pegs in place until they bent, all the while being savaged by thorns we did not know the Latin names of. As insurance, we weighed the structure down with all our belongings and prayed it would not rain. Speaking of belongings, there is a review on News24 titled, “OppiKoppi 2018 ‘the worst’ as scores of revellers get robbed”. In it Francois Mostert is quoted: “It’s been taken over by pickpockets and criminals. And sad to say it’s all over now.” Is this code for: “The darkies have moved into town,” because we did not experience so much as a missing beer, even though we had an iPhone and a MacBook in our tent? “We are grateful for the honest people at Oppi,” said my sister on our return.

The trials of Hercules ended on our entry into the entertainment area, as we discovered a hole in the wall called DJ Bob’s Jazz Bar. We walked past it once when I remarked, “That’s a dope song,” and returned after a failed mission to find live music. The first Windhoek of the day slid down like ice, as Mama Zeph spun psychedelic funk records. El Corazon was not to be outdone as she transformed the halfway house between hilltop and main venues into the heartbeat of the party. A hundred people jammed in a space the size of a fast food outlet, as we were taken on a whirlwind tour of Reggae, South American, Indian, and West African vinyl.

El Corazon spinning the vinyl at DJ Bob’s Jazz Club. Photograph by Niamh Walsh-Vorster

We returned from our cosmopolitan jam session to find our tent upended, but due to the gross mass of our possessions, thankfully, still where we had left it. This discovery was made with the radiance of a camping torch acquired at Pick ‘n Pay Hyper. Hit them up when you need a compact light that doubles as a knuckle-duster. “Stefany Seymore…told News24…’they even took my pepper spray’,” so a backup might come in handy when someone is drunk on steroids and not booze.

Friday found us tetchy like we owed each other money, even though we had had a surprisingly good night’s sleep, in spite of the Northam wind. Breakfast was had begrudgingly as the previous day’s tensions simmered. It was nothing a morning brew did not fix.

Oppi breakfast sorted. Photographs by Niamh Walsh-Vorster

We got the lay of the land in the sunshine, as colour breathed life into stalls that were monochrome the night before. Daytime also confirmed our suspicion that the 2018 festival was not as well attended as previous editions. For starters, an entire venue had been cordoned off like the scene of a crime committed in 2017. Secondly, seating could be found at all bars including the Red Bull, Ray Ban, Firestone, Windhoek, and Jack Black sponsored areas. Lastly, we did not have to throw elbows to prevent drunks from colliding with our drinks, because there was plenty of room to give them a wide berth.

Northam at dusk. Photograph by Niamh Walsh-Vorster

Not that there was any danger of anyone spilling the Three Ships in my military water bottle, but when it finished there would be no option but to quench my thirst from a plastic cup. These were R5 a pop with the beverage of your choice starting at R30. It is needless to say we saved bucket loads by decanting booze into canisters. The clever organisers, though, set a limit of 750ml to all squeeze bottles allowed in the entertainment area, so it made sense to make maximum use of volume by only taking in the hard stuff.

The only problem with this strategy is that moderation flies out the window, and drinking limits cease to apply. Getting drunk cheaply is fun at the beginning of the day, but the night and morning after hold the horrors of hell. I will not get into the shameful behaviour that led to this public service announcement; suffice it to say that I did not pour a litre of whiskey into my water bottle the next day.

Beer, whiskey and G&T. Photographs by Niamh Walsh-Vorster

Saturday morning began as the biggest day should, with car boot wars happening all round. A lot of people came through looking for booster cables, having tried and failed to outblast the Benson & Hedges van, which toured the campsite at 20km/h, playing the song you were playing until your system gave out. Many a motorist blew a battery competing with the “Boom Boom Room” on wheels, which could have driven straight out of Big Boi’s Speakerboxx.

From one Boomiverse to another we walked with the intention of making the most of the final day. Confirmed was the trend of average bands filling up the daylight hours, but panic we did not, for Oliver Mtukudzi, Blk Jks, and Kwesta would come with the night. The time in between could be guzzled at DJ Bob’s Jazz Bar, discussing the pros and cons of Darkie Fiction: an experimental twosome who deserve honourable mention for their millenial defibrillation of the genre formerly known as Kwaito.

Mtukudzi was so eagerly anticipated by some that our neighbours, who spent all their time at the campsite, braved the entertainment area strictly for him, then returned to the safety of their cooler boxes once his set was over. For others, like myself, seeing the man who had been played over the breakfast table since childhood was surreal. At his age he is as flexible as a man who grew up on sadza can be. He can thank his background vocalists and rhythm section for assisting his two-step.

Oliver Mtukudzi live on James Phillips stage at Oppikoppi. Photograph by Niamh Walsh-Vorster

Blk Jks could have triggered an epileptic fit with their lighting, which illuminated the names of cultural icons on screen. Everyone from Mike Tyson to John Lennon got a shout-out before they rounded up the set with their classic “Tselane”.

Kwesta did not perform for as long as we would have liked, continuing a local rap trend started by Riky Rick in 2016, who also performed for approximately thirty minutes having started the show late. Nevertheless the favourites were there, including “Ngudu”, which still had legs thanks to the injection of live drums and fresh sound effects.

Oppi shut down after Kwesta’s crescendo, as swarms of people foraged for food around darkened stalls. With R250 left on my wrist card I am not ashamed to say I was part of the mob. In the end the money was donated to the gods of Oppi 25, which I will only attend if I enter Northam with a hammer in one hand, and leave with a bloody media goodie bag in the other.

Red Robyn live on Bruilof Stage
Photographs by Niamh Walsh-Vorster
Una Rams.



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