“Die STRAB van”, “Conrad’s mobile home”, “The kombi at Up The Creek”, the rock ‘n roll kombi, the hippy van, the painted rock machine or Mabeline.
“I don’t know why she is called Mabeline, someone called her that once and it stuck. Some people still call her that” says Conrad Jamneck as we sit down to chat at Blue Moon before a Van Coke Kartel show. He is one of the most popular (and some say the best) sound engineers in the country and one of the great musical minds behind the STRAB music festival in Mozambique. I met Conrad over the years working at Blue Moon and I have survived a few music festivals with him. I think doing a road trip in Mabeline with this man through the country with bands like Black Cat Bones and Juggernaught would be the ultimate experience for me but hey that’s just me daydreaming.
The STRAB van has not only been a mobile home to Conrad and many of his wonderful friends over the years. It was a stage at this year’s Up The Creek on the banks of the Breede River, which was constantly harassed by Kobus of Black Cat Bones. From 1996 till 2001 it was the travelling machine behind Casper de Vries while on tour. And every year this kombi makes it along the thick 4×4 sandy roads of Mozambique. I asked Conrad if he has made any modifications to the body of the kombi “Nope, I just put my foot heavy on the gas and she makes it over the dunes”. The engine was replaced in 1993 (Ford JT 3L SX conversion) and it’s been more than 16 years that he’s been happily driving his beloved van.
As a kid of the 80’s I remember driving down to the Cape in a kombi for the summer holidays. Our family including one grandma and our chihuahua, Vlooi would all pile in. Riding in a kombi as a kid is the coolest thing. You have space to sleep on the floor, crawl under and over the seats like a jungle gym when you are bored and you get to shotgun the back seat all to yourself.
Conrad’s kombi doesn’t look like anything else I’ve seen or heard of before. It’s totally lined in bright orange fur and when I asked why “because why not?” was the answer he gave me. From his first school photo to his first Oppikoppi Ticket, a Motley Crew vinyl to love letters from ex-girlfriends, photos of ex-girlfriends and his first packet of condoms – obviously empty. Decorates the inside walls of the kombi. Don’t expect seats inside unless you sit upfront. There is a double bed which fills the back with a ’50s looking cupboard above it for clothes. It also has lots of storage space underneath for gear and bags (or beer).
I asked him how many festivals has he attended in it “Sjoe, there’s been many” he sighs and thinks for a while… “14 Oppikoppi’s, Splashy Fen, White Mountain Music Festival, Up The Creek as you know, Smoking Dragon and many STRAB’s. I think I’m leaving out a few of them right now though”.
I couldn’t help but ask him about the bands that have travelled with him, giggling he replied “I can’t tell you about all the things that go in that van on weekends but Soil 7t7, Valiant Swart, The Black Cat Bones among many have been in it… Ag, at Oppi it’s like a taxi to and from the campsites”. Not only has this van travelled all over South Africa it’s been cross borders too. It has travelled in Namibia, Angola, Botswana, Swaziland and Mozambique. It’s been used in a band’s video (he can’t remember which band), seen many photoshoots and was even once used for a TV ad for M-Net.
I begged for at least one good juicy story about the van, and I giggled as he mentioned the Akkedis Broers. Anyone who has seen identical twins Rudi and Arthur Dennis will know how hard it is to tell them apart. Especially seeing as they both sport long beards, long blonde hair and sun kissed skin. Despite being grown-ups they still act like naughty little boys. But we love them for it! He gives in and shares a few stories with me.
“We were in Oudsthoorn and we tried to push start the van. For some reason we all fell flat with our faces in the ground, and the kombi just kept on going!” I’m not sure if they were sober or not but I deduce not…
“Once I tried to cross a river and got stuck. We slept in the van that night with the river flowing around us. The next day a farmer had to come and tow us out”. Many festival goers can surely relate to the experience of when you are at a festival and stumbling into your tent after a long party you find strange people already in it. In Conrad’s case, it’s his van. He recalls waking up to couples doing the ‘naughty monkey dance’ against it giving the saying “The motion of the ocean” got a whole new meaning.
“Once years ago, we filled the van with the smoke from a smoke machine (the ones you use in a club) and we drove to the closest petrol station but with all the windows closed. Once there we all jumped out running away from the van with smoke pouring out. The petrol attendants ran for their lives and I think some of them are still running!”
He mentions that the van has been repainted 4 times and that the current design has been on for 2 years already. If you want a close-up of the artwork you will have to come to STRAB and see it for yourself!
I’m yet to experience a drive in the Mabeline but hopefully one day I’ll be able to report back with a story of my own, of a drive with some good rock ‘n roll being blasted through the speakers, a drink in my hand and the open road ahead of us. To see what’s so special about this van catch Conrad at this year’s STRAB festival in Ponta Mahologane on 22-26 May 2013.