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Last night at the Bassline: “In music we trust”


Set in the golden era of 1994-2003, the “honeymoon decade” where South African people united openly for the first time in many years, Last night at the Bassline: “In music we trust” tells the story of The Bassline, Johannesburg's best live music venue at the time, documenting a unique period when South Africans were united by freedom and celebrating together as a nation.

The book is authored by David Coplan - a veteran of African jazz, with an early career in South Africa as a percussionist with Philip Thabane between 1975 and 1977. In 1996 he became Professor of Social Anthropology at Wits, a post he still holds today. He is the author of the jazz history book, “In Township Tonight!” His knowledge and personal experience adds valuable titbits and historical padding to ‘Last night at the Bassline,' making it not only a great story but an important resource.

Interview Brad Holmes

David Coplan is writing a book about you and the Bassline?

David has been firing away. He is on chapter four. He kind of gets it. I think the main reason why he gets it is because he was there every night drinking whiskey. He was very much part of the process. He probably came four of five times a week for four or five years. The reason why my bar turn-over was so good was because of his brilliant bar tab! Not really. But he understands what happens there. I bumped into him at the bowling club a long time ago. I said to him that I kept all my diaries. This is 2015, this is 2016. (Brad shows me a pile of A5 120 page hard covers) I write everything down. I have been doing that since 1994. It is not necessarily saying today I thought about the lovely flowers in Riebecks Kasteel. It is more about today, this is what happens. I met Bheki Khoza at 10 o clock, we discussed the following. I have all of that information, 22 years of it which I have kept in my state of inebriation, at least the first 4 years. We went through all the diaries until 2003 which took a year every Monday between 6 and 10, he came to my house and we went through the diaries. David also had a whole lot of his own recollections because he was there. He basically literally started off the whole process from when I was a little kid and then goes into 1994 when we opened the Bassline. The book is about Bassline and the two people involved in it.

David has taken the '94 – '98 period and puts it with Sophiatown, the analogies of what happened during the Sophiatown period where there was artistic freedom going down and between '94 and '98 where there was massive artistic freedom. There is basically a similarity, although very different. In one sense we were not free and in the other sense we had just become free. And he uses a lot of referencing to the Sophiatown time. You will probably find a lot of people will read it at school, or people studying the history of South African music, like ‘In the Township Tonight', or your book will probably be similar in that sense.,

Why did you start the club?

I saw a gap because there was nowhere for the bands that I was managing to play. I also had lots of restaurant experience being a waiter. I had run restaurants and managed restaurants and all that kind of shit.

And you did music festivals?

We do three or four festivals a year. I did Arts alive for six years, Africa Day since 2004, Fete de la Musique, Maftown Heights. We've done numerous amounts. Probably 30 or 40 gigs - not in the venue.

What is the origin of Africa Day?

25th of May is Africa Day, first done by the AOU. “Africa Day is the official African Union day of celebration and commemoration. It recognises the need of all Africans to embrace our collective identity and rejoice our unique rich heritage and culture. Africa Day promotes unity and solidarity of the African states and acts as a collective voice of the African continent through arts and culture. Africa day celebrates African vibrancy, dynamism and globalism.”

When you moved across here you became more Africa focused than jazz?

Jazz doesn't pay the bills. We did jazz every Wednesday for two years recently. I love it and listen to it at home, but I don't have to pay for that. I turn on my hard drive and choose who I want to listen to and listen to it in my own time. Jazz is very difficult. Aymeric at the Oribit is keeping that flag going. We are multi-cultural, multi-genre. As long as you are not Steve Hofmeyer, you are in. We are not a Barnyard, we don't cross into commercial theatre and things like that. If you are a decent death metal act and there is a market for it and the promoter can sell a thousand tickets, we are in. And if there is a decent kwaito act we are in too. A perfect weekend, raga, Oliver Mtukudzi, followed by Wishfest which is death metal. Then you have got poetry, raga, gay pride afterparty. And then there is raga, followed by Ringo Madlinglozi followed by Pataranki who is a massive Nigerian star.

We are expanding to a 2500 capacity. If everything goes accordingly it will be ready in September, which is our 22nd birthday.


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