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We are all a part. We must all give something if only a little sweat.

Climbing stairs is so not Johannesburg. Climbing a fuck load of stairs wound around an open lift shaft, with nothing to encourage you onward but the broken to bits lift down there at the bottom since who knows when all dust and shattered glass broken windows and yes, in this part of town. That's so not Johannesburg.

Quick and easy, not today. Your reward for climbing this filthy Everest is an icy wind augmented by the howling Frown, the voodoo plastic sheep dog chasing demented strippers while Mr Gold and the rest of the Brother Moves On wail and chant over droning guitars.

The word BOES is still up there, about the only proof that such a night happened. Soon even that will be gone and Joburg will have moved on. This moment shared by 500 people on a cold roof swept under the rug with the rest of the dust.



When Koos first told me he wanted us to burn a piano, I thought, “oh my god, no.” We all looked at each other, thinking the same thing. “How utterly horrifying!” In the seconds that followed, the pain in my chest accompanied by striking images and sounds and smells and smoke took me away. “We HAVE to!”

A piano is an almost sacred object in the western world. Popular culture from the 1700’s to present has been dependent on it. Mozart, Beethoven, Liberace, Little Richard, Jelly Roll Morton, Thelonius Monk, Nick Cave all wrote their masterpieces on it. Young middle class children all over the world spend endless painful hours practicing scales and learning to read musical notation.

As a musician I have a profound respect for the piano. I can hardly play it, but I can feel that when you touch the instrument, it touches you back. It moves and vibrates, as if it’s thousands of tiny and intricate and giant and cumbersome parts are working like the inside of a beehive. My feeling is that most instruments are partner to their player, coming alive in the right hands. But a piano is alive all on it’s own.

“Surely we can find a piano for 500 rand”, Koos says to me. I just missed a few bargains on the internet classifieds, but I did eventually find a piano for 500 rand. The man on the phone tells me it’s very out of tune, his kids learned on it and now it’s just in the way.

I drive out to one of the seven billion sprawling gated communities around Johannesburg and begin the mission of loading this piano onto the bakkie. Five of us are sweating and puffing until we get it on and tied up and the piano’s previous owner asks me and my friend, Mpumi, where we’re taking the piano to.

“To town.”
“What... to TOWN town?”
“Like to the CBD town?”
“Yes, down to Fox Street.”
“Sho. Better you than me. What are you doing down there?”
“That’s where we do our things.”

This short conversation was a reaffirmation of everything that Invisible Cities is. Here is a middle class coloured1 family living in some kind of military-like castle with a high wall, barbed wire and a security guard outside the door, and two musicians working mostly in the city centre, both groups watching each other from opposing sides of an imaginary fence,
curiously pondering the other’s unfortunate situation. It reads like the opening line to a joke: There was a white guy, a black guy and a coloured guy standing around a piano... The only thing separating us was our ideas about what our city is.

Of course I didn’t tell him I was going to burn his kids’ piano. I told him we were musicians. And truth be told, I always wanted a piano. I never dreamed that one could just go and buy one for such a small sum of money. And I certainly never dreamed that if I were to buy one, it would be to set it alight.

We drove the 45 minutes back to town and while waiting for some friends to help get the piano off the bakkie, I opened it and hit a few keys. Now a piano is magical and alive, for sure, but a piano in the middle of a desolate city street is just another thing completely. Such a delicate music that bounced off the walls of these looming dark buildings. Again this pain in my chest. “I canNOT burn this fucking thing!” I felt like I would be burning a person or an animal. Mpumi, Mpho and I looked at each other with such an odd sadness in our eyes. And I thought, if this makes us feel so much, what will other people feel?

Coming back to Invisible Cities, this piano and our interaction with it became a metaphor for how we see transformation in our city. This dormant piece of beauty with so much potential to bring joy and inspiration in any number of ways, was buried in a dark corner of the city. In giving it our time, sweat, emotion and thought, we found a way to interact with this instrument, to coax new sounds from it, to transform it into something new, to bring it into it’s next stage of life as an object. We carried it up onto a scenic rooftop, installed self built microphones inside, recording the sound until the microphones also became something else, and recorded many images and videos of this long process. It gave us a new kind of music, striking imagery and a lot to think and talk about.

In the time leading up to the action, many people begged and protested, don’t burn the piano, give it me, give it to a school, but in the end everyone stood in awe of the beauty of this transformation.

This is the kind of transformation we are bringing to Johannesburg, our city. It is a living breathing organism, in constant transformation, with or without our contribution. We feel compelled, however, to contribute. Johannesburg will not lie in a corner collecting dust. It will become new, and new again, and new again.