10 October 2010 by Chris Marais

The Guitar Man Of Intabazwe

Some time ago, I found myself on a tour of Intabazwe township outside Harrismith in the Eastern Free State. Someone told me to go to the shack section of the township if I wanted to hear music from the heart. So I did. And these are my notes from that day..

“James “14” Tshabalala emerges from his tiny squatter hut, carrying a fine Spanish guitar and dragging out a portable amplifier. He connects the guitar lead to the soundbox, strums a bit, closes his eyes and wanders into that other world where really good musicians go, from time to time.

Nothing matters now, as he begins to sing an instantly made-up song of welcome, interspersing his words with clicks and whistles, a surprisingly high sound quality emerging from the old amplifier. In that secret minstrel’s place, there is no poverty, no thrashing rain on the exposed body, no sickness nor hardship. Just pure, unadulterated joy at the escape that music brings.

On the tip of the township hill he stands playing for us, with the legendary Platberg in background and the town of Harrismith in the middle distance. It is as if “14” Tshabalala is in concert mode, and this beautiful part of the Free State is his favourite amphitheatre. His closed eyes and wide, toothy grin say it all. Ragged and poor, this man remains a true artist…”

Category: Culture & History

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