U2’s ‘Beautiful Day’ will forever remind me of a great ten days in Johannesburg this February, with a great friend and her beautiful daughter, and something deeper – retracing my political and musical roots. Thank you Holly! For the trip, for the friendship and for being a part of my VSO journey.
I’d watched excitedly from Uganda as “the claw” was put into position and an incredible 5,600 person crew prepared Soccer City for “the biggest rock band in the world.”
Billed “The 360° Tour” because of the revolving stage that is surrounded by the audience on all sides, the rigging had to be seen to be believed. The big screen suspended from the claw above the centre stage was actually hundreds of smaller screens, a complex multimedia experience simultaneously broadcasting live and recorded footage.
Note: although I live in Uganda where we don’t have anything like this sophistication, I’ve seen a few big bands in my time – but this show was in a league of its own.
With 100,000 people converging on Soccer City (the FNB Stadium), Russell decided to drive us through the back streets of Jozi. Our journey gave me a feel for the sheer size – and sprawl – of the Johannesburg megapolis. The dual carriageways looped back on themselves giving a vista across the city. “How exactly do you know this side of town then?” his wife quizzed. “You’re showing me places I’ve never seen before.”
“Do you know Mayfair in London?” Russell asked. “Well, this Mayfair is the complete opposite.” More Whitechapel than Mayfair, he wasn’t wrong. We drove through an area of typical urban dereliction: sacks of rubbish heaped on street corners, piles of discarded car tyres, a broken sofa lying with its guts spewing out onto the pavement. Men idling outside squat blocks of flats and shabby shops, metal bars on every window of every building we passed. Even the football pitches were made of concrete.
We sped on through.
As dusk fell, we approached the stadium, the red glow of the sky showing the multi-coloured glass it at its brilliant best. In the lead-up to the concert, I’d read in the newspapers a long list of concert do’s and don’ts. One of the banned items was “any whistle, horn, musical instrument, loudhailer or public address system.” Do you mean I’ve come this far not to be able to blow my Vuvuzela?
Walking to our seats, a large black South African man came up to me and gave me a big hug. He wanted to hang out with me but I joined my friends. I gave him a big smile and we waved goodbye.
The sight as you walk into the gigantic stadium bowl is just mind-blowing, especially for a visitor from Uganda! Our seats were halfway up the auditorium. What did it matter that we weren’t close enough for either of us to be the lady who Bono pulls onstage at every show?
While H’s friend Francois gloated by SMS from the hospitality tent, I queued for beer. The confusing beer token system was very African (queue for tokens then queue for beer, why?) the difference being that in Uganda, the main act would be half way through their set by the time we reached the front of the queue ( at which point we’d probably find they’d sold out of beer anyway!)Tick tock.As nine o’clock passed on the big screen, something weird happened. The second hand appeared to be getting faster and the clock seemed to start melting. Not expecting the show to start for a few more minutes, I was caught off guard. The near-capacity crowd went ballistic as the band walked onto the stage. H mumbled something under her breath about the band’s Adam Clayton being too old to wear silver sequins and white trousers. “I hadn’t realised how U2 are the soundtrack to my life” H yelled. For me, ‘I will follow’ takes me back to being a teenager and listening to the ‘Boy’ LP on my record player! (You didn’t know I was that old, did you?)
“People who sit down between songs aren’t real fans” we jibed at the couple in front of us as we sang and screamed our heads off to every song.
I’m not a music writer, in no way can I describe the show and do it justice, so I hope you enjoy our short video U2 – 360 degrees – live in Johannesburg – and if you ever get the chance to see – just go! Bono’s energy was mind-blowing, but the night belonged to Nelson Mandela, on the 21st anniversary of his first public rally after being released.
As the band laid into Sunday Bloody Sunday. the video screen showed images of Egypt and Tunisia in turmoil. The previous Friday had marked the 21st anniversary of Mandela’s release (27 years captive) and marked the resignation of the Egyptian leader 30 year rule. Poignant times.
Bono “the first anthropologist of modern rock” (according to the Saturday Star) paid a very moving homage to Amnesty International.Seeing and hearing Archbishop Desmond Tutu, South Africa’s favourite uncle, up on the big screen was an emotional moment. The appearance of the legendary trumpeter Hugh Masekela during ‘I still haven’t found what I’m looking for’ was a magic moment too. Imprisoned during the apartheid years, he’s one of the first South African musicians I listened to.
All in all visits to South Africa close the circle for me. South Africa politicised me. It was the Anti Apartheid movement in the 1980s that made me decide to study politics at SOAS (the School of Oriental and African Studies). H was a flatmate during those student days. I made my first enquiry to VSO when we lived together and in fact she arrived in South Africa with VSO 12 years ago – and stayed.
It was at dusk, at another stadium – the now defunct Wembley Stadium – in 1990, when H and I were flatmates, that I saw Nelson Mandela, a few weeks after he was released from prison. ‘Free… Nelson… Mandela!’ We sang, and there he was in the flesh. Another day I’ll never forget.
Main Set: Beautiful Day, I Will Follow, Get On Your Boots, Magnificent, Mysterious Ways, Elevation, Until the End of the World, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, North Star, Pride (In The Name Of Love), In A Little While, Miss Sarajevo, City of Blinding Lights, Vertigo / She Loves You (snippet), I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight / Two Tribes (snippet) / Relax (snippet), Sunday Bloody Sunday, Scarlet, Walk On / You’ll Never Walk Alone (snippet)
Encore(s): One, Amazing Grace (snippet) / Where The Streets Have No Name, Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me, With Or Without You, Moment of Surrender