By Vanessa

(So Terribly Radically Awesome Booya!)

I have been writing this article in my mind since the beginning of STRAB. There is so much I want to share with you, and not enough space. Not enough time. So, I’m going to try my best to relay to you one of the best experiences of my life. I hope that it will not only serve as a decent guideline for you to use when you next travel to STRAB but that it inspires you to support local music as well as the festivals that host these amazing artists.

Vanessa and festival buddy Basie in Ponta Malogane, Mozambique - photo by Vanessa Massyn
Vanessa and festival buddy Basie in Ponta Malogane, Mozambique
(photo Vanessa)

The road to Ponta Malongane in Mozambique is a long one as you have to drive around Swaziland via Pongola to the Kosi Bay border (as the road between Maputo and Ponta Malongane is still in progress and is rather dodgy in places). Eight hours later, we found ourselves at the border along with many other Strabbers. Driving through the gate onto the sandy roads through the coastal bush – well, that is just beautiful. Mozambique is a traveller’s paradise – we were fortunate to be in a 4 x 4. After deflating our tyres, the short trip to the venue was a divine drive with the sun setting as this magnificent backdrop of the African sky. We were excited. Very, very excited.

In our minds, we arrived early. The beach party was due that evening, so all we needed to do when we arrived was set up camp and go boogie. How very wrong we were! People from all over South Africa had been arriving in dribs and drabs since the weekend before, so camping was already rather packed – and extremely festive! Here’s your first tip: get there EARLY. And when I say early, I mean arrive the weekend before. This gives you time to set up your camp, explore the venue (it’s large – lots of little food stalls, bars and music stages.) We managed to secure ourselves a beautiful spot under the coastal forest, behind a dune with the beach within spitting distance. Trust me, you want to be under the trees. The Mozambican sun has a nasty way of baking your hungover body out of your tent. It is also important to try and camp next to the dune because if you are exhausted and need sleep, the sound of the ocean comes as a comforting distraction from noisy party people.

We managed to secure a guarda (helper) the minute we arrived. This is a must; just make sure you negotiate the price with him beforehand. There are many of them available to you, just make sure they’re “approved” by the STRAB organisers. I think due to the fact that we arrived later than other Strabbers, we were left with a very trusted, super-efficient and friendly Julio who had been tending to campers around us for the past couple of days already. So, needless to say, in absolutely no time, our camp was set up and we were ready to go and do what we came for PARTY!

On the first night, STRAB hosted a Beach Party with amazing live acts and music. We had Cirque de Malongane up first and with their acrobatics and excellent live performance, the stage was certainly set for what was going to be one of the best experiences of my life. I don’t want to say too much because I really do want you to get off your ass and experience STRAB for yourself. So, for now, I will leave you with keywords for the beach party: chicks with guitars and grinders, acrobats Cirque Du Soleil style, a kick-ass drummer, a chick with a voice like an angel, and girls playing the violin. Combine all of that with the gorgeous tropical weather, the Indian ocean roaring behind us, a sky dotted with stars, R&R’s and a very large crowd of very enthusiastic and happy party people. What a way to start the festival!

The lineup for STRAB 2017 was incredible and at this point, I need to thank the organisers for making it such a huge success. We were entertained by Anton Goosen who spectacularly performed a medley of all his songs alongside Albert Frost on guitar. We were blown away by the angelic vocals and instrumental talents of Manouche. My hair was blown back by Slow Jack and The Black Cat Bones. And we got to spend an entire day with the band De Wallen, drinking far too many R&R’s, taking over Ponta Malongane and then watching them perform superbly later on that night. Every single band or artist that performed at STRAB 2017, was phenomenal. I honestly cannot recall a moment where I thought, “Oh dear, these guys needed some more band practice”. Thank you, Ann Jangle for completely sweeping me off my feet with your baritone vocals, and thank you to The Oh So Serious. This band will put you in a good mood even after doctors tell you that you only have 2 days to live. Every single experience was unforgettable and so many to mention. But every moment at STRAB was a moment that will remain in my memory forever.

Ann Jangle performing at STRAB - photo by Vanessa Massyn for Small Town Music Blog
Ann Jangle
(photo by Vanessa Massyn)

Of course, the highlight was on the last night when Albert Frost won the SAMA award for best rock album. This was relayed via someone who had been keeping an eye on the awards and announced to Albert while he was performing. What a moment for Albert, and what a moment for us as fans! Well done, Albert. It is well deserved, hard earned and so bloody well received! You do remain one of South Africa’s top blues artists, and we salute you. Your father, the late Frank Frost, would be very, very proud of you!

Albert Frost performing with Anton Goosen - photo by Vanessa Massyn for Small Town Music Blog
Albert Frost performing with Anton Goosen
(photo by Vanessa Massyn)

Now, to get on with a few the little things that people like me notice. Those things that make an event worthwhile, besides the music…

A massive shout out to the bar staff at STRAB. Those guys had more patience than a granny busy sewing a quilt. With some 1000 plus drunk people whose ultimate mission over the 5 day period was to get even more intoxicated: these guys stood their ground, served us with smiles, and sincerely earned their tips at the bar. Then, everyone involved in keeping the party people’s bellies full: Braaiboy (braai master extraordinaire), the stall that made the burgers and best of all the Rissos (and oh, my aching tortoise! That chilli sauce!). The little restaurant just outside the camp: best prawns EVER – not to be missed! And of course, the organisers: jeez, you guys… I’m pretty sure you had your hiccups, whatever they were. Events like these cannot possibly just run smoothly by itself. I notice the little things, oh yes I do.  

But from a 1st time Strabber’s perspective: you did great. In fact, flawless in my eyes. I had toilet paper each day in the ablutions, a semi-hot shower, fresh food, cold beer, great sound and music, awesome fellow Strabbers, and no hassles whatsoever. From beginning to end. It was worth every single cent I spent to get there, party there and return home safely (and by the way, we decided to take the route via Maputo to Nelspruit to get home – not too bad but you MUST have 4 x 4, a little bit of patience and a sense of adventure, and if you do, you are able to cut your trip short by at least 2 hours).

I will do STRAB again and again until STRAB is no more. I will draw hearts on all of you again next year because there was just so much love shared between people. How very comforting to see that so many of us support local music and especially festivals such as these where effort, time and money have been invested in helping all of us have a good time.

So, just to recap: beautiful white sandy beach that brings the waves of the warm Mozambican current to its shore, a bar on a deck overlooking the sunrise in the East over the ocean with bands playing their best tunes as a backdrop, camping under the gallery coastal forest with monkeys and birds in abundance, traditional Mozambican cuisine readily available and fresh from the sea, R&R’s and 2M – nice and cold – and lots of it and affordable prices, the cream of the crop when it comes to the selection of bands and artists (trust me, it does not get much better than this) and finally, a bunch of people brought together through music. I can honestly say that I have never met so many nice people in such a short space of time in my life.

In the words of Leonardo DiCaprio in The Beach: And me? I still believe in paradise. But now at least I know it’s not some place you can look for. Because it’s not where you go. It’s how you feel for a moment in your life when you’re a part of something. And if you find that moment… It lasts forever.

I made many friends and I hope to see you all again at the next STRAB along with Piet Botha, of course! This time, I shall have my permanent marker for the hearts, and no, Arthur Dennis, I refuse to wear a leash!

Marley is the founder and owner of Small Town Music. Born and bred in Nelspruit aka Nelsparta. Marley loves music (rock being a firm favourite), tattoos, festivals, animals and South Africa. Self-taught photographer and writer.