Like any place, there have always been bands from Port Elizabeth. Their quality and style varies, the scene waxes and wanes and one’s personal taste will determine whether any of them are any good.
Sometimes consensus, and the respect of his fellow musicians will dictate that, yes, afro-folk singer-songwriter Dave Goldbum is quite good. Perhaps the pop-punk style of a band like The Finkelstiens, or Evolver will reflect the zeitgeist accurately enough to earn them radio airplay and a few years of touring viability.
More than likely, the suspicion that they might not be so bad after all will encourage musicians to leave the Bay and try their luck in Cape Town or Johannesburg. It is thus with most industries besides motor manufacturing.
Jazz/pop songstress Simphiwe Dana did some time on the PE music scene. Zolani Mahola from Freshly Ground did too. Standard Bank Young Artist Award Winner Shane Cooper, a jazz bassist of sublime ability, is from PE.
But to really understand what it means to be a PE musician, it’s useful to consider the life of a muso living and working in PE.
To cater to the Bay market is not the same as coming out of PE and then cracking the mainstream. To stay in town and build a following that is prepared to pay money to watch you takes a proper understanding of PE culture.
Few people manage to do it. But one group who have are Bay rock band The Brothers – Formerly the Brothers Of Other Mothers. They’ve been at it for several years already, and recently released their second album, Black And White.
As you can see below, The Brothers actually have fans. They are a thing in PE.
They headline festivals, play to massive crowds, record albums and tour like any proper band. They’ve done it in an awesomely independent manner of their own, largely because PE isn’t on the map of the music industry.
In a way that happens when things are left to evolve on their own in an isolated environment, The Brothers have also developed a pretty unique sound. They’ve created a feel-good, coastal, surf-rock afro-reggae vibe they call “Skafrican”.
Largely devoid of the emo angst that plagues most contemporary rock music, The Brothers shows are fun, skanking affairs. One of the few bands one can compare them to would be Fuzigish. But without their punk affiliations.
Being largely self-taught, their recording production has taken a while to evolve, but it has reached maturity on Black And White. The sound here has just enough grittiness to give the guitar- and horn-driven songs some attitude.
The band are accomplished musos – many of them play sophisticated jazz in their other lives. But the Brothers sound is simple, straightforward ska-rock, played with a bit of Africanness, lust for life and a tongue in one’s cheek. Just like the people of PE.
The Brothers are not youngsters. None of them is in any danger of celebrating their 21st any time soon. But this seems to have worked in their favour. They know what they like, they’re not trendsurfing, and they also don’t particularly care what you think of them. They’re okes with mooi fuck you, as the local dialect might have it.
The Brothers are also a band of local legends, making them a bit of a PE supergroup. The Wu Tang Clan of the Pipe parking lot, in a way. Guitarist and vocalist Joe van der Linden has been surfing and jamming around the Bay for ages, gathering fans and admirers as he goes. Likewise Ettienne Verster and Jon Allen. Add in SA drumming legend Lloyd Martin, keyboardist Boet Strydom, multi-instrumentalist David Houghton and saxophonist Phumlani Mthithi, and you have a bunch of multi-talented good-okes who make you want to come along to a show and have a jol.
It’s easygoing groove rock with hooks that remind of the golden age of reggae in the late Seventies, like on Got To Feel The Music. But that PE willingness to make a fool of yourself, to be a mullet, is never far from the surface. “You make me feel like a honey bee, ” Allen sings on I Live For You. “You make me feel so warm in my hive…” Elsewhere, perennial classic PE says “If you’re from Wilderness, show off your Wilderness-ness. If you from PE, show off your PE-ness!”
If there is a complaint about the Brothers, it’s that the music sometimes seems naive, too obvious. The lyrics are mostly straight-forward. There’s no mystery to the song titles – they are named after the choruses. The wackiness of the Brothers’ music videos is also best saved for when you’re in a wacky mood. But that may be symptomatic of the cynical irony that we have been trained to expect from contemporary pop.
But this music, the joyful, bouncing, surf-reggae vibes that these guys put out, the afro-jazz flourishes, the odd mbaqanga touch… That is worth savouring. It’s the sound of coastal culture celebrating itself. These are mellow PE goofball surf rockers. And that’s what they sound like. So this could be the most authentic music possible. “Ek soek ‘n bitjie meer Skip sjerrie met my tjerrie, meneer!” as Ettienne points out in the video above.
The album gets ever stronger towards the end before the shambolic hidden track. Ironically, one of the highlights of the album is on 99 Days, where they abandon the ska template for a bit and go on a funk/disco workout. But even then, you can just about taste the sea salt, the kind you get crusted to your face after a long session at Supertubes.
If you get a chance to hear The Brothers, do yourself the favour. Find out more here.