I have always had a profound respect for any person who can tackle a challenge that many others would not dare. Combine this with a cause, and you have something that may very well be documented in history books. Our very own Ann Jangle, musician extraordinaire, ventured where very few have before – and on a bicycle.
Ann needs no introduction to music fans in South Africa and beyond. Her Facebook page words it well:
Her ominous style of dark folk, eclectic rock, gypsy infused, theatrical, soulful style of writing & performing leaves a long-lasting impression. She belts out her voice on stage like she was born there. This South-African born singer/ songwriter/ producer has performed her way onto a vast variety of stages all across Europe & Southern Africa and shares the stage with many different artists to bring a heartfelt performance that resonates.
Since the start of Ann Jangle, she has received a substantial amount of airplay & very good write ups all over South-Africa and Europe. 2012 gave way to the Debut album ‘Acoustic Archive’. With a very acoustic sound, deeply rooted in the blues. Ann’s love for Dark, underground sounds & odd music genres called her to a greater challenge, a deep desire to break free from a box and create her own style.
The much anticipated 2nd album ‘Kicking Sawdust’ launched in Cape Town, South Africa in March 2015, with a more powerful sound than ever before. On this album, Ann is joined by an 8 piece band on different instruments including Trumpet, Cello, Banjo, Saxophone, Accordion and many more. With a Dark Folk, Gypsy-undertone, Ann’s passion for experimenting has driven her to many great recipes for entertainment.
I have seen Ann perform live a few times. Too few if you ask me. I try to never pass an opportunity to experience her husky voice, profound lyrics and soulful sound. Fans will have a chance to experience a more intimate gathering with Ann since her return from an epic bicycle trip “African Dream Parade” through some of Africa’s toughest countries.
After following every single post since she “set sail” into the great unknown, I became addicted to her adrenaline-filled adventure, where her main focus was to raise awareness for animals in need and uplifting communities through music. There were tough times and there were joyous times – all from my perspective. So, I decided to catch up with Ann and picked her brain and her memories to find out exactly what her soulful spirit experienced during both the treacherous times as well as the celebrations along the way.
STM: You have recently returned from an epic bicycle trip outside the boundaries of your home country. How many days in total did you spend on your bicycle? Where did it start and where did it end?
AJ: I’m not sure exactly how many days were spent on the bicycle but from the 1st day I started cycling until the day I landed back “home” it was 228 days in total.
STM: Which countries did you travel through?
AJ: Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya.
STM: What you have done is not only brave but such an inspiration. What brought on the decision to take this journey on your bicycle?
AJ: Hahaha! I could write a book answering this question alone. I was sick of the rat race, the rut, the industry, myself. When I say “myself” I just mean things like the way I felt and acted in certain ways and I wanted to understand the root of it. We are all programmed to respond or act in certain ways due to our past, our environment or due to conditioning. I’m a very deep person and I’ve experienced so much in such a short lifetime and I wanted time out before transitioning into the next phase of my life. I knew it was now or never because once life swallows you (and you start “adulting” really hard) it’s very difficult to get some time for yourself to figure out what it is you really want and don’t want. I also did this to prove a point. We can do anything we put our minds to. Anything. A woman is capable of anything too. I went into areas where I was not allowed to show any skin and men wouldn’t even look or talk to me purely because I was a woman. I had to keep everything covered because you, as a woman, can be a temptation to the man. I mean, God forbid he sees your ankles, you know?!
Initially, I wanted to drive to Kenya (where I would perform at Kilifi New Years Festival) with my 2 rescue dogs, Kevin & Kezzy. I got their documents and required inoculations up to date. I was going to do this after I had already sold everything I owned in July 2018 and toured 24 000 km across South Africa to raise awareness for domestic animals. I was joined by my soul brother, a great friend and epic sound guy, Mike Hunter.
Together we played over 100 shows across every province and gathered over 3 tons of dog and cat food which we donated to Welfare Organisations in the area. Living in a van was great but I felt my carbon footprint was working against the good I was trying to do. (During this time we also adopted 2 more dogs and withstood many arguments which would later make Mike my best friend who I can honestly say, I will never tour without.)
About 2 months before embarking on this epic next adventure, I started playing around with carbon-free travelling ideas. One month before the set-off date I met a woman called Blanca Fernandez a.k.a “Blanca on a Bike” in the Eastern Cape. She arrived at the backpackers I was staying at on a bicycle. This was super weird for me but very intriguing and we got chatting. Blanca, at the age of 62, later to turn 63 on the road, cycled woman-alone from London to China, flew to Cairo, cycled Cairo to Cape Town via the East Coast of Africa and back to London via the West Coast of Africa. We got chatting, she showed me her bicycle with all her gadgets and I knew then and there that this would be my vibe. I was shit scared but more excited, I guess a little naive too because I had no idea the colossal task, I had lying ahead of me.
STM: Tell us about the country that touched you the most.
AJ: Tanzania. I immediately heard the soundtrack to “The Lion King” blasting in the back of my head upon entering this country. I guess it was because I had absolutely ZERO expectations. Above all, Nature and the incredibly friendly people made me want to live there. Plastic bags are banned and just coming from Malawi, this was very noticeable. Tanzania is huge. It’s wild. It’s the jungle I was praying for to experience. It’s where I felt most confident as a solo traveller. This is where I let go of my gas burner and just started living wild off the land. Fruit and nuts and local street food. People were so kind and the poorest of the poor offered me food and a place to sleep in their huts. This is also where I had to learn Swahili because English is non-existent in most villages and I would’ve probably starved or not be able to refill my water as many times as I did because I learned the words. The Tanzanians are always laughing and the children are more respectful. I really miss Tanzania…
STM: You must’ve had some close calls. We all know Africa is not for sissies. Can you recall one such incident that you’d like to share with us?
AJ: Botswana made a strong woman out of me. After that country, I was ready for anything. I got mock charged by an elephant on the road. I was so scared I couldn’t cycle the rest of the day and I also threw up a little. A hyena sniffed my head through my tent. The hyena stank and made me eventually pee in my cooking pot because I was too scared to leave my tent. I had elephants around my tent breaking branches. I could see them as I didn’t sleep with my tent cover on, so basically, I was sleeping in a tiny mosquito net. Falling asleep watching the moon and stars made up for the 2 petrifying incidents I experienced.
I also thought 1 night that I was going to die of the cold. I didn’t do a lot of research so I started cycling Botswana, on the Trans-Kalahari Highway, in the middle of peak winter. I always knew the heat was a problem so I forgot to take into consideration the opposite weather conditions. My shitty sleeping wasn’t made for the cold and I laid in my tent that night wearing everything I owned as well as wrapped my tent cover around me. My eyeballs froze and it was my first time wild camping so I was scared of everything that didn’t even exist outside of my tent. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep at all that night. Other than that, I always felt safe and the further I went from South Africa, the safer I felt.
STM: Your dogs are your life, your children. How did you cope not being able to see, touch, hear or smell them?
AJ: The human mind is an extraordinary thing and once you push your limits you will be surprised how much it can cope with once it goes into survival mode. Every time I got to a point where I missed them too much and I wanted to give up or just crawl into a ball and cry, something would switch and I would go numb, but get extra strong too, because I knew I had to finish what I had started. This was, however, the hardest part of my whole journey, being away from my dogs.
STM: How did you manage to fund this endeavour?
AJ: I had some money saved after starting a Welfare Organisation. It wasn’t much but I didn’t care. I knew once I put my mind to living cheaply, I could survive. That was the mission anyway: to survive, to feel uncomfortable, to experience life like those in Africa who have nothing. The only way to understand is to put yourself in their shoes. Once I accepted this reality, I was blessed in abundance. My friend, Melissa Lewis, owner of Adventure Lifestyle Show and most importantly, Mama to my dogs while I was away, set up a crowd funder and I received a lot of donations that kept me going. I was very moved by this and at times, these donations – not the actual money – but the gesture and to see how people were supporting my cause, this kept my light shining through very dark, exhausting times.
I am still so moved by this it makes me want to cry right now answering this question. People are good. People also love animals even if it doesn’t look like it with all the bad news going around. FOCUS ON THE POSITIVE! Also, I was blessed with a Martin Mini Backpackers guitar by Chris from Sandbar in Bushman’s River in the Eastern Cape so I was able to play for my food and accommodation or use it to say thank you.
STM: What was the response from the children you visited in villages, when you explained to them what your journey was all about?
AJ: I still don’t think they fully understand what I did because it just doesn’t exist in their world, so I focused more on getting the message of conservation across. They were mostly very young so I had to keep it very simple, very entertaining and very basic. The singing was the fun part, after which it would sometimes get quite serious. In areas where there was a big rape culture, I would talk about respecting women. Mostly it was how their relationship with nature directly affects themselves. They love singing their songs to me too so once we could connect on a musical level, the rest just flowed.
STM: Tell us about your culinary experiences. What was your favourite traditional dish?
AJ: Oh wowzers, I had some great ones and some really, really bad (chicken heads, worms, the goat I just played with) ones. My favourite is in Tanzania, they have these local deep-fried chips in an omelette. It’s called Chipsi Mayai (Swahili for chips and eggs). It usually comes with some freshly chopped tomato and this electric, luminous red chilli sauce and too much salt. It was great for cycling and super tasty. Super cheap and you buy it anywhere on the side of the road.
STM: How many times did your bicycle let you down?
AJ: Not once. My ignorance did many times though.
STM: You did a stellar job of updating your followers on Facebook. I, for one, followed avidly with each post. What was the general response of your followers once you achieved your goal?
AJ: Phenomenal. I was blown away by the support and messages of love and it was amazing to have so many people celebrate the victory with me!
STM: Whilst travelling (and nearing the end) you came up with the idea of Conscious Concerts. Please tell us more?
AJ: I was thinking about it a lot, where exactly I wanted to go with music. I have played festivals, I have done the pubs, the clubs, the private shows, the European tours, the corporate gigs the studio sessions, albums, movies, producing, the big bands, the intimate stuff and then it hit me… I need to do what makes me happy, and what makes me happy is when I get my message of love across. The only way I could do this is by creating my own events where I could create a space for people to be part of the experience.
Most people go to a show, watch the music, either jump around or end up talking in the back, or maybe they really enjoy it enough to actually listen to the whole way through without talking about their new series on Netflix or what an asshole the neighbour’s dog is or whatever, you know, and then they leave, back home to feed the cat. People’s attention spans suck more and more each year so the key is to keep the performance short and powerful and mix it with a sense of freedom. It’s to make them feel incredible feelings that will move them, to give them the opportunity to experience my journey with me.
This is why I decided to do my favourite type of show and that is an intimate house concert. There will be a photo exhibition where people can buy my photos, a screening of a short documentary made up of all the footage I took combined with an interview and some aerial footage, small music performance and some storytelling and a mini vegetarian pizza. You are welcome to bring your own drinks because it will be in the comfort of my own home. 30 people maximum per show, tickets are R250 per person and it will be in a space where I can share details of my experiences as a woman cycling alone through Africa with a mini guitar as my way of communicating and raising awareness for endangered wildlife.
There are only 2 shows in Cape Town for now and tickets are almost sold out. There will be 1 in George and then we are looking at Gauteng due to high demand. I want people to feel inspired and brave enough to do similar, radical things for the earth. We need to act now.
STM: There must have been very tough challenges for you. How did you manage to clear your mind and keep your spirit intact?
AJ: There where many things that contributed to this. The main things were my determination and I guess my own ego as I will absolutely NEVER quit before achieving what it is I set out to do.
Secondly, Melissa Lewis. I met Melissa at a Women’s Day gig I played in Pringle Bay a few years ago. Little did I know that she would later become the most important person in my life over the course of my journey. She took care of my dogs and this was a major comfort and strength knowing they were being well looked after. I also could call on her during my mental and emotional meltdowns, she organised some bicycle gear to be sponsored and sent up to my location in the middle of nowhere. Melissa even came to meet me in a few countries across Africa where I was performing at festivals and a few other occasions too.
We were escorted by a boat filled with army generals holding AK47’s to land in Zambia which is still one of my fondest memories. This woman owns Adventure Lifestyle Show and helps with AfrikaBurn and is one of my greatest inspirations in life. I didn’t know that level of hard work and loyalty still existed until I met her. She is a very beautiful person. I wish that everyone on earth had a “Melissa” because we would all be better and stronger people.
Aside from that I just ate my Moringa powder and sucked it up because Africa is no place for sissies and when you’re facing that mountain, the only option you have is to bite the bullet and literally climb the damn thing. The rain never lasts forever, neither does the sun.
STM: Did you make life-long friends with people along the way?
AJ: Oh YES.
STM: Tell us about the reaction of your dogs when they saw you again after all this time.
AJ: They went dead silent when they heard my voice opening the door from the other side. They couldn’t see me at first but they knew who it was. What happened next, I can only show you… There is a video of them seeing me for the first time on my Instagram and Facebook Page. Kevin cried like a little baby in a high pitch, distressed, piggy-squeal that ended in ecstatic headbutting because we were just all over the place, hugging, grabbing, doing cartwheels.
STM: Would you consider doing something like this again in your life?
AJ: ABSOLUTELY. Once you have a taste of that pure freedom and adrenaline, nothing will satisfy you quite the same way again. Maybe for some periods of time, but it’s always there in the back of your mind, subtly hinting at another adventure. It’s a feeling that very few people can relate to, but it is something we all desire. Freedom, living life to the full.
STM: What lies ahead for Ann Jangle?
AJ: Right now, I am just focusing on coping with “normal” day to day life. Traffic. Washing powder. Cutting my toenails. It’s very overwhelming. One moment you’re eating beans and rice with your hand in a village where they don’t speak a word of English, next to some goat and some donkeys, watching the sunset over a grass hut, wondering why we can’t all be this happy with so little, and the next, I’m freaking out about Eskom power cuts resulting in an uncharged cell phone. I am focusing all my energy on “Conscious Concerts” and getting my documentary ready…but the call to cross that next border on a bicycle is louder than I imagined it would be.