I'd never heard of Hot Water until some point last year when I was gifted with a couple of Gigs of music amongst which were the first two Hot Water albums. I liked this amalgam of mbaqanga, jive, maskande, blues and folk so much that I sought out and bought the third album too. Donovan Copley's very White South African voice sounded a tad odd in the context of the music the band made, but on the whole the records were fun, entertaining and joyous.
For all I knew Hot Water was defunct by the time I got to know of them, despite the many albums, but as it happens it seems that they are quite busy touring the world with the South African music and, judging from the recent show I attended, Copley might be a kind of Johnny Clegg for the current millennium, an ambassador for musical styles that are unique to our country.
Hot Water opened the new season (2013/14) of the "Concerts in the Park" series of live gigs in De Waal Park, an event that is now in its third year. I never got to any of the events of the first year, mostly because I was never around when the acts I would see, played. Last season I got around to Steve Louw, Robin Auld, and Arno Carstens.
On Sunday 17 November 2013 the streets around De Waal Park were crowded with parked cars, obviously attendees at the gig. It was a bit of a miracle that the show took place, as it had literally rained the entire day on Saturday 16 November. By Sunday morning, though, the clouds were dispersing and by the afternoon there was enough blue sky and sunshine to make it a pleasant day after all and just right for a concert in the park.
I arrived on site at about 16h00, the scheduled starting time, and the park was as crowded with people as the cars parked along the surrounding streets would have suggested. This told me that Hot Water must be a much bigger name and therefore much more popular drawing card than I had thought. Both Robin Auld and Steve Louw had drawn crowds but the only comparable number of people had been the attendees at the Arno Carstens show that closed the previous season in early 2013. Once again there was a significant amount of people (I can't estimate crowds but would have said they numbered about a thousand), of all ages, dispersed on the lawns around the band stand, with their picnic baskets, beer coolers, dogs, kids and so on. That the event is free must have been a motivation too, though the size of the crowd could only have been due to the act on offer and not merely the lack of an entry fee.
The younger and more active members of the crowd were on their feet and rushed to the front of the stage as soon as Copley strummed the introductory chord of the first of two up-tempo jive style numbers. The dancers jived all through the show. It was going to be an afternoon of partying to music that defied one not to go crazy dancing in the dust, or at least to tap a foot.
The band is made up of a rainbow nation of musicians: Copley, a Black dude on bass, a White second guitarist, a Black woman on background vocals and the wall-known Tim Rankin on drums. Copley plays a Castrol oil can guitar (he calls it his "South Afri-Can guitar"), once endorsed by David Kramer and which is meant to be one of the iconic images of South African roots music although the original oil can guitars were acoustic resonators and not amplified.
For this season of the Concerts in the Park, there is a Nando's sponsorship and new local MOR radio station Smile FM is also on board. In fact, Eloise, possibly a broadcaster, is the on-stage announcer who keeps telling us that this series of series of shows are "fired by Nando's" (probably the PR slogan) and announces prizes and the like. I guess the concerts will receive more publicity if a radio station makes a point of mentioning the shows, even if it's a new station. The shows are free and large audience numbers will therefore not affect the box office but would be good for the ego of the artists who perform.
The chairperson of Friends of De Waal Park is called upon to give the same speech I heard at every show last season, despite his protestation that he had thought he would not have to do it again this year. It is an interesting story but not so exciting that one would want to repeat it show after show. This time around he gives us the blessedly short version of it.
The opening groove consisted of the bassist enunciating and chanting the phrase "hot water" in as many syllables and with as much gruff authority as he can muster, while he plucks his bass and the drums do a funk thing behind him. It does go on for a bit, a tad longer than necessary but is presumably deemed necessary to vibe up the crowd. Then the previously mentioned two fast jives set the park on fire and from then on it was party time. I recognised many of the tunes. Copley is a showman. He was engaging, lively, funny and appeared to be a guy who obviously believes in interaction with the audience. Apart from the fact that the music was not strictly based on traditional Zulu guitar music, Copley could be a Johnny Clegg for today. There was Zulu guitar music in there, with the typical lyrical lines played on a somewhat distorted electric guitar which gave the tunes a bluesy feel and a more modern attack, almost reminiscent of the desert blues that has become so popular. Copley also did "In my Time of Dying" with plenty of hot slide guitar from the second guitarist, a heavy version of "Tribal Man" and a long, jammy take on a Busi Mhlongo song. During this part of the show Copley invited all manner of audience members onto the stage and exhorted them dance in full public view. The music was markedly more jam band than the carefully rehearsed and played rock styles of Arno Carstens or Steve Louw / Big Sky. It was also a fun experience, it would seem, for both band and audience.
There was no encore. Copley thanked us and left the stage. The crowd dispersed slowly, some just back to their blankets, some to the exits. By now there was more clouds over the City Bowl, the wind had picked up and the temperature had dropped. The Hot Water jive had kept the unpleasant weather at bay and, as if the elements had patiently waited for the show toe end, they now moved in to put their stamp on the rest of the day. A Cape Town summer without wind is no summer.