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Soon after George Lee left town I got a call from Mike Osapanin, Ghanaian trombone player and leader of the band Kabballa.  He admired my playing but out of respect for George found himself unable to ask me to play with Kabballa whilst I was a member of Anansi.  Now that George had left town, would I like to join Kabballa?

 

I listened to the music that they had already recorded and liked the lyrics and the overall feel of the band - a kind of post-disco Afro-Caribbean mix of dance and jazz music which was already making inroads into the UK club charts.  The band had a trombone and tenor saxophone front line, guitar, bass, drums, percussion, bass and keyboards (plus of course, vocals).  The songs were sometimes fickle and simplistic but the band had a colourful appearance and an infectious musical feel.  We played gigs at the usual jazz pubs and wine bars, including Ronnie Scott's, the Bass Clef, 100 Club and others. 

 

Occasionally we would do appearances in major dance venues.  It was at the Hippodrome where I recall the entire band assembled on a large stage in the basement of the building and then on cue the entire stage rose up above the dance floor amidst heaving bodies and laser lights darting in every direction.  It was quite difficult to concentrate on playing the music through all of that!  On another occasion I did a "pa" (personal appearance) with Mike and the bass player accompanied by a backing track at Stringfellows for a private function - something like an 18th birthday party for a young debutante whose father had forked out thousands of pounds to reserve the entire club for one night.  No one was interested in what we were doing; in their drunken states they were falling on top of us while we played, and as I left the club I had to trample over the broken remains of the club's exquisite wine glasses.  This was not what music should have been about, and it left a bad taste in my mouth.

 

The most memorable occasion was the day we took a train from Victoria station to Gatwick airport where we boarded a flight for Antwerp in order to play at an all-day peace festival in a large public park.  I never had a Belgian visa in my South African passport but was assured by the concert organizers that this would not be a problem.  Well, I started doubting this when, on arrival at the airport, I was ushered away into a detention area and deposited into a holding cell.  Whilst there I heard the police making threatening statements to some refugees who had just arrived from Nigeria without passports and I started wondering if I would make the gig or not.  I needn't have worried - Mike and the agent quickly got me sorted out and like a celebrity I walked through without further incident.

 

The gig was a real high point of my musical career in that we shared the bill with Carmel, Desmond Dekker (whose young drummer I had met in my early days in London) and the fabulous Youssou N'Dour.  It was a treat to be able to be standing in the wings watching (and listening to) the great Senegalese band perform.  I was delighted that Kabballa measured up on the day and had no fear of being embarrassed in the presence of such a great artist as Youssou (whom I had seen in concert in Paris a few months earlier in the company of my friend, bass player George Wolfaardt).  That summers evening our flight back to Gatwick was pure magic - I sat in the cockpit with the pilot of the twin turboprop aircraft and, at relatively low altitude, was able to see just how close England and Europe are to one another, and yet so far.  This was surely one day to remember.

 

The time came for me to leave London too, and it was fortunate that Kabballa was booked for a series of University gigs where we shared the bill with vocal group Odyssey and others.  Through them all I was surely helped "Back To My Roots" before making the big move back to South Africa.