Oppikoppi 2011: Gazelle’s protest pop

By Sipho Hlongwane 8 August 2011

They’re a synth-pop/house band bar none. Nobody but Gazelle would wander on to a stage in a costume clearly designed to show the middle finger to every tin-pot African dictator, and absolutely get away with it. SIPHO HLONGWANE caught up with Gazelle’s Xander Ferreira and Nick Matthews a few hours before their performance at the 2011 Oppikoppi Unknown Brother Festival in Limpopo.

With 15,000 grubby people in every direction, standing out has become something of an art at Oppikoppi. No matter whether you’re a band, an act or even as a festival-goer. Some do it less successfully than others. We can never un-see the woman who decided to wander about with her star-spangled underwear pulled over her crème-soda-green leggings; no doubt a zef nod to Wonder Woman. Some attempts to be different fall flat on their faces for being too stupid. Gazelle is one band whose satire skirts the very difficult ground of African politics and agitation, threatening to fall at any moment, but never quite doing so.

A few hours before they rocked the Skellum Stage at Oppikoppi, Xander Ferreira and Nick Matthews explained the thinking behind their stagemanship.

“We do not want to be wannabe African,” Xander says. “We want it to be an authentic act. We view it as an opportunity to comment on policy and demographics in Africa through satire. And we definitely get a reaction.” But they didn’t start out that way. It was something they sort of grew into.

Photo: Xander Ferreira and Nick Matthews (Daily Maverick)

But, says Matthews, it’s not like they are trying to be anything other than musicians. “We are not trying to ruffle people’s feathers,” he lies. “This is not comment above and beyond the fact that we are musicians. A lot of local bands are capitalising on the South African aesthetic without examining what it means. [Our act] does get taken the wrong way, but then it’s really not our fault. Then those people should look at themselves, and ask what their reaction says about them. They should also try to look at the music from the artist’s perspective and see what we are trying to put across on stage.”

And yes, despite the jarring image of two white men dressed as Idi Amin if he had raided a curio shop, they do get away with it. It is mostly due to their sound – it’d probably be described as Afro-house music had it been made in the 1980s. This band does not take itself seriously at all once the beat starts.

Watch: Gazelle featuring Teba – Chic Afrique

Gazelle are properly weird. Xander and Nick are subdued in the interview – slightly apologetic even. They’re very eager to be understood. On stage, they shed their self-consciousness. Nick’s transformation to DJ Invizable, his hyperactive masked alter ego, is particularly profound.

The band says they have a new album of remixes coming up soon, called “The Revolution Will Be Remixed”, and then a fresh LP after that called “The Rise and Fall of an Empire”.

This year was the first Oppikoppi for Gazelle, and they are particularly proud of the achievement. “The biggest pilgrimage,” they call it. Xander considers Gazelle to be a band that caters to all tastes and markets, and the crowd that gathers to watch them do their thing at Oppikoppi was certainly reflective of that. Gazelle’s liberal use of contrasts – the self-important costumes with the happy music, Xander’s white costumes to the back-up singers’ black – the contrasts are numerous if you look hard enough.

And the band is very aware of what they are doing. In their final act, they stretch the contrasts almost to breaking point by bringing out Belville zef rapper Jack Parow to sing “Hosh Tokoloshe”. Now that is cool. DM

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Photo: Daily Maverick



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