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Cairo Book Fair’s Gleaming New Site Opens Far From Historic Market

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The annual Cairo International Book Fair opened this week in a shiny new venue far away, literally and metaphorically, from the city’s historic book souk – and many of the old market’s merchants stayed away.

Marking the prestige of the event, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi inaugurated the fair’s 50th edition at the Egypt International Exhibition Centre in the affluent New Cairo area on the outskirts of the capital.

Back downtown, among the teetering stacks of mostly second hand tomes at Azbakeya, a book market that dates back more than a century, merchants complained they had been sidelined.

Dozens of them used to exhibit at the fair’s former home in Nasr City, a district easily accessed, including by metro. This year only six were allowed to sell books at the fair after agreeing to stringent conditions.

“We did not cancel the Azbakeya wall, but we set a booklet of conditions to participate in the fair which all publishers committed to,” said Haitham al-Haj, head of the General Authority for Books, which organizes the event.

Authorities are keen to prevent the sale of counterfeit books, which were rampant in the Azbakeya section of the fair last year, including best-sellers such as Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House”.

Also at issue for the Azbakeya merchants was the cost – around 1,200 Egyptian pounds ($67) – of participating, and rules on how they must display their books – stacking them up in high, disorderly piles is no longer acceptable.

“When people are selling old used books, they have a thousand titles rather than one, so, they are unable to display them in any other way, unlike a publisher. A publisher has probably a hundred titles,” said Harby Hassan, a 63-year-old Azbakeya bookseller.

A woman asks a book vendor for information in Cairo’s historic al-Azbakeya book market at downtown in Cairo on January 16, 2019. (Photo by Mohamed el-Shahed / AFP) (Photo credit should read MOHAMED EL-SHAHED/AFP/Getty Images)

The Azbakeya merchants announced their own month-long book fair from Jan. 15, competing with the international event that runs from Jan. 23 to Feb. 5.

Attendance at both was sizeable.

‘Fifty Shades’ author is back with a new title

Customers flocked to New Cairo to avoid the crowds and squeeze of downtown, while others preferred Azbakeya for its highly competitive prices. -Reuters

-Sayed Sheasha, Mohamed Abdel Ghany and Yousef Saba

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30 Years And Still Grooving

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Emotions run high as Mango Groove celebrate three decades of one of their biggest-selling albums. The mixed race band, formed during the apartheid era, reflected the pain and politics of the time in their music. 

South African music has evolved over the years but its African authenticity remains in the notes of the 35-year-old pop band Mango Groove.

FORBES AFRICA shared a few moments with them as they rehearsed in their North Riding studio, 40kms north of Johannesburg, one glorious summer afternoon in February.

To celebrate 30 years of their 1989 eponymous hit album, the band will be performing a one-off anniversary concert at Teatro in Montecasino, Johannesburg, in March.

Vocalists of Mango Groove at 30 years. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

We first speak to Claire Johnston, the lead singer of Mango Groove, who has been with the group for 34 years. Johnston started at the age of 17 when still in school.

Those memories are still fresh. 

Born in England, she had moved to South Africa when she was three with her parents at the height of apartheid. 

“In 1989, things went big for us [Mango Groove]. Prior to that, we had been playing around clubs and small venues. We had a few singles on the radio between 1985 and 1989, and then we had this lovely record deal that got us to all South Africans and huge exposure at the right time. South Africa was ready for a mixed race band called Mango Groove,” Johnston recalls.

In one year, the band sold out six shows at the Standard Bank Arena.

“The album had just come out – we were all over radio, television, and magazine covers; it was very exciting and we were putting on a show at the arena which accommodates about 6,000 people.

We sold the one show, then the second, then the third, the fourth, fifth, sixth and eventually we had to do the seventh, but because tickets were pirated, we had to put on a show for free for all the people who had been conned.


Claire Johnston

That was the night Johnston saw ‘the Mexican wave’ for the first time.

It wasn’t easy being in a mixed race band, because of the racial segregation laws that existed in South Africa. It was during this tense period that they released their Another Country album with a song written by group founder John Leyden about the state of the country. It was an overtly political song, however, their African tunes saw them through. 

There were also instances when the band couldn’t play together at certain venues. They would play in downtown clubs in Johannesburg where black and white South Africans would jam and interact as if restrictive apartheid laws did not exist.

Post democratic elections in 1994, Johnston says she was proud to be South African. She recalls the band’s performance at Nelson Mandela’s inauguration that year as one of her most memorable.

“That experience was amazing. It was just an amazing sense of optimism and possibility. South Africa was on the world stage for a positive reason and for change. Then, we performed for a massive crowd at the Union Buildings, it was black and white South Africans, it was the best time, it was mostly emotional,” she says.

The band, nonetheless, has lost a few members over the years and Johnston sobs as she remembers the late Mickey Vilakazi.

“When I joined the band in 1985, Mickey was 64 and he passed away prior to 1989 and he missed all the excitement, he missed the changes in the country, he missed the wonderful release of The Hotel Room.

John Leyden of Mango Groove at 30 years. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

“It makes me sad that he wasn’t around to have seen that, and of course Banza Kgasoane who’s the father of Mo T (band member of popular South African house band Mi Casa). He was our trumpeter for many years. Phumzile Ntuli has also passed on. We ultimately had to keep going, move on. I imagine if I go, I hope Mango finds someone to replace me,” she says.

As the conversation flows and the band rehearses in the background, a cheerful man wearing khaki shorts appears bearing a glass of whiskey, walking towards a water container to mix his spirit. He is Sydney Mavundla, a trumpet player and one of the new members.

“I joined the band in February 2008, just after getting married. The trumpeter before me was Johnny Bower; I used to play for him when he was not available. He got a full time with an orchestra, that’s how I got the job,” he says.

Mavundla describes the band as family. He used to listen to them growing up; little did he know he would be a part of it. He was fortunate to work with legendary artists such as the late Hugh Masekela.

“We recorded two albums with Bra Hugh and then an album with the late Oliver Mtukudzi. If we are talking about Mango Groove, I want to believe it is different from the beautiful energy the old-timers had. Now it’s a bit youngish in terms of the horns, it’s not the original horn players who started the band,” he says.

Playing a tune, Mavundla talks about the freedom they now enjoy as newer artists.

“I am very excited about the upcoming concert. The first time you heard Mango and the very last time you heard Mango – that is what you should expect to hear. Thirty years is a long journey and that is 30 years of what you are going to hear. Better than that, you are going to see a very energetic, groovy Mango Groove. Come with your dancing shoes if you want, you won’t be disappointed,” he says.

The trumpeter wishes Africans would read more about South African music instead of western artists and their music, and recalls Masekela’s quote:

One day, our kids will be asked ‘who are you’ and they will respond ‘we used to be Africans, they used to call us Africans’.

The band’s founder Leyden also joins the conversation, saying he just wanted to be in a band as a teenager.

Leyden is Zambian-born but came to South Africa at the age of eight. He lived his life through the political transformation of South Africa and as an artist, never affiliated himself with politics. Instead, he started a band.

“In terms of the influences of Mango and what drove me, it was a pop act but we were very easily influenced by South African urban music forms from the 1950s and 1960s like kwela music, marabi music and African jazz sounds. They were music forms we loved.

“Mango was a funny little group of people, some came, some went, it was totally an organic process and we did what we did. When the first album broke big, we were more surprised than anyone.”

Sydney Mavundla of Mango Groove at 30 years. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

For the upcoming concert, Leyden and the gang are working on a huge production. They want the event to be about memories of the late band members, as well as celebrating the band’s journey.

Elaborating further, Johnston says the big night will be about nostalgia, energy and emotion.

It will be the eighties all over again in a country that has neither forgotten its bitter apartheid past nor the music that defined the long hard years of pain and political fervor. 

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Oliver Mtukudzi The Soldier With A Big Voice – Yvonne Chaka Chaka

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In January, Africa lost Oliver Mtukudzi. His friend and fellow musician Yvonne Chaka Chaka fondly remembers the global icon. 

In October 2012, Zimbabwe’s Oliver Mtukudzi, South Africa’s Yvonne Chaka Chaka and Kenya’s Suzanna Owíyo produced Because I Am Girl with musicians from around the world.

It was released to promote the global launch of Plan International’s ‘Because I am A Girl’ campaign, marking the first UN International Day of the Girl Child, on October 11.

READ MORE | Tribute To Oliver Mtukudzi – Zimbabwe’s ‘Man With The Talking Guitar’

Dressed in African prints, they sang together, spreading the word about the empowerment of the girl child.

Mtukudzi’s bass and Chaka Chaka’s soulful voice in harmony, they became more than co-artists; they become brother and sister. It was the first performance of many for the two.

Seven years on, Chaka Chaka is teary-eyed about Mtukudzi’s death 23 days into 2019, when not just she, but Africa lost a music legend.

In a strange coincidence, Mtukudzi died the same day the continent lost the father of South African jazz, Hugh Masekela, last year.

On the phone for this interview, Chaka Chaka describes Mtukudzi as a soldier at work.

“When he was on stage, he was a totally different man. When he had his guitar, it was like a soldier. Like a soldier who has a gun at work,” she tells us.

“I think there were two different people. Offstage, he was just an ordinary man, and on stage, people ate out of the palm of his hand.

“I’ve never known Oliver to never be fit. He has been a skinny man and he would just twist that body with a guitar and that gravel voice of his. A big voice in a small body,” she says.

“He has never called me Yvonne, he has always called me Fifi… Fifi means sister.

“The man was always humble, he never raised his voice, I have never seen him angry and all he has ever wanted is just to see Africa thriving. He wanted to see Africa beautiful. He wanted to see Africa with less disease, less hunger, less corruption, a happy Africa – that was his wish.”

One anecdote Chaka Chaka shares is when Mtukudzi was made a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in Zimbabwe in 2011.

“You know he sat there with me and asked, ‘so, what does this entail, my sister? You have been a goodwill ambassador for a long time. You will tell me what needs to be done. How should I act? How should I react? How should I do things?’

“And I’m like, ‘no, but you know, you are more of a star than me and you have been in this industry long before I’. He was just so down-to-earth and had no chip on his shoulder.” 

The last performance the two did together was in October last year in Harare during the Jacaranda Festival, attended by more than 2,000 people and other artists around the continent.

“Oliver was not in his changing room or at home. He stayed there and watched other artists perform, which was so great,” says Chaka Chaka.

“This year, he promised that we would do it [the Jacaranda Festival] in Bulawayo,” she said. They had planned to make it a big show and use their status as goodwill ambassadors to encourage and inspire more youth.

 But sadly, that promise will never be fulfilled.

“The legacy he will leave behind is a legacy of love, the legacy of pro-African and I think for me he was a pan-Africanist. That’s what he was,” she says.

READ MORE | Zimbabwe’s Oliver Mtukudzi Dies At 66

To this day, Neria is still one of Chaka Chaka’s favorite songs by him.

 Mtukudzi, who died aged 66 of diabetes, was laid to rest on January 27 in his home village of  Madziwa.

Thousands sang and danced to the melodies of his songs.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa declared him a national hero, posthumously, a status that has previously been reserved for ruling party elite and independence veterans.

He may be gone but his music will live forever in the hearts of the fans that loved this legend who soldiered on until the end.

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From Fishing Village To Gastronomic Heaven: Tables Turn For Wolfgat

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In a small fishing village on South Africa’s rugged west coast, restaurateur Kobus van der Merwe is struggling to process his meteoric rise to gastronomic stardom.

He recently got back from Paris, where four days ago his 20-cover Wolfgat was named Restaurant of the Year at the inaugural World Restaurant Awards, also winning the remote location prize.

“In our category, which was for the off-map destination… there are restaurants that we literally hero-worship and we were like, this is insane,” the food-journalist-turned-chef told Reuters TV on Friday in his first interview with foreign media since returning home.

Others on that shortlist included Japanese wild dining sensation Tokuyamazushi.

Of both prizes, he added: “We never dreamed of making the shortlist, let alone winning.”

Situated in Paternoster, about 160 km (100 miles) northwest of Cape Town, Wolfgat’s speciality is seafood.

Van der Merwe’s seven-course tasting menu pays homage to the region’s long-gone indigenous inhabitants, and his signature dishes are flavored and supplemented with ingredients foraged locally, such as seaweed and succulent plants.

They include Rooibos tea-smoked yellowtail with dune spinach and buttermilk rusk, and freshly baked bread served with bokkom (salted dry fish) butter and infused herbs.

Guests at the 130-year-old whitewashed restaurant, nestled above Wolfgat cave within hearing distance of crashing waves, pay 850 rand ($60), or 1400 rand including drinks.

Van der Merwe, who took the plunge into full-time cooking before completing his culinary studies, said he had no wish to expand or replicate Wolfgat in an urban setting.

“We certainly don’t aspire to be in the city because the west coast is our muse and I can’t see Wolfgat existing anywhere else,” he said.

His clientele is split evenly between foreign tourists visiting the village and well-heeled South Africans.

But those who make the two-hour drive from Cape Town had better be sure of their reservations before they set out – because he’s fully booked for the next three months. -Reuters

– Wendell Roelf

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