The Boland Express suffers no delays. Today it runs like clockwork. The train driver is a smooth operator. No sudden abrupt movements. Pulling away, acceleration, slowing down and stopping all seem to be incorporated into one smooth action.
In a corner of the carriage on the opposite side of us a young man sits oblivious to the world around him. He seems to be in his early twenties. His eyes are hidden behind a famous brand of sunglasses. His foot is rhythmically tapping, gentle, almost unnoticed.
He removes the earphones, turns up the volume on his little ‘boom-box’ device, and the carriage is engulfed in the melodic sound of Ray Phiri and Paul Simon collaborating on the song ‘Call Me Al’.
Commuters are caught by surprise but can’t help but acknowledge that the African rhythm of the song ignites the music in them. Feet are tapping and heads bobbing as a result of the beautiful melody. Older commuters are looking at this young man with admiration and with some degree of confusion. The norm is that youngsters of his age listen to Hip Hop or modern RnB which I am sure some of them find quite irritating.
The next song features Ray Chikapa Phiri with Stimela doing a song entitled ‘Come to Me’. Again commuters can’t help but to be captivated by the rhythm and the soulful voice of Chikapa.
Commuters standing in the aisle are tempted to explode in dance moves expressing their appreciation for the captivating African rhythm. A lady in her twenties can’t contain herself any longer and erupts in dance moves which cause commuters to rhythmically clap along, all smiling from ear to ear. The ‘DJ’ quietly hides behind his dark glasses; his face expressionless; his right foot still tapping.
The lady on the ‘dance floor’ is in full flight, enjoying the sound and rhythm with pleasant sensual moves. As the song fades she returns to her seat saying “Yooh! That was nice! I didn’t do that in a while”.
Commuters respond by giving her a warm round of applause.
“Thank you.” She acknowledges their gesture and at the same time she blows the ‘DJ’ a kiss. His smile is shy, yet he shows his appreciation as he nods in response. He isn’t done yet.
It seems like the Graceland World Tour is going down in this carriage on this joyful morning. The introduction of the song ‘Diamonds on The Soles of Her Shoes’ featuring Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Ray Phiri is the final straw. The lady in her twenties is on the ‘dance floor’ again; this time grabbing a guy by the arm. At first he’s reluctant but her bright smile is enough to persuade him.
In perfect harmony they dance together with “ooh, yeah, aaah,” and handclaps resonating through the carriage. For a moment they’re in each other’s arms, smiling, dancing; lost in the rhythm and the music.
“Oooweeh… Eish… Where’s my station? I must get off,” the lady suddenly shouts.
“I think I’ve passed it,” she says in disbelief.
The smooth operator slows the train down without any discomfort to the commuters. “Now, that’s being lost in music,” a commuter remarks.
The song fades and the ‘DJ’ grabs his bag and gets up slowly, making his way to the door.
“Thank you Mr DJ!” another commuter says.
“Yes, yes, thank you,” almost as if in one voice, others agree.
“Politics will never unite people; only music can,” the DJ responds as he steps out the carriage door with a clenched right fist raised high.
Rest in Peace Ray Chikapa Phiri
Raymond Chikapa Enock Phiri was a South African jazz, fusion and mbaqanga musician born in Mpumalanga to a Malawian immigrant worker and South African guitarist nicknamed ‘Just Now’ Phiri.
Born: March 23, 1947, Mpumalanga, South Africa
Died: July 12, 2017, Nelspruit, South Africa
Music group: Stimela (Since 1982)