CULTURE: NAMIBIA’S BIG MUSIC FESTIVAL
A peacock applauds a guitar solo at sunset:“Kee-ow! Kee-ow!” Namrock has just kicked off.
Rock ‘n’ roll, Namrock style!
Namrock, the biggest rock music festival in Namibia, turns 11 this year. In 2014, the West Nest Lodge between Windhoek and Gobabis hosted this weekend-long jam session. We went along to see what it’s all about.
This event seems to have all the ingredients for an awesome African rock festival: a stage surrounded by thorn trees, a swimming pool to relax in, a deck with a view of the party and a restaurant with braaivleis and beer to make sure no one goes to bed hungry or thirsty. There are also activities to keep the kids busy: mini golf, a rock-climbing wall and a zipline.
The main sponsor is Tafel Lager and they have a banner on stage that reads: “Born and brewed in Namibia.” The same goes for the performers: Namrock is for Namibian musicians only.
The first incarnation of Namrock was held in Northern Industrial Area in Windhoek and played host to only five groups, including Mugshot Parade and Cheese on Muffin. Back then, those bands were the sum total of what Namibia had to offer, says founder and organiser Mike Ott. Mike and his wife Tania are also musicians and run the popular Warehouse Theatre in Windhoek. Ten years later, at Namrock 2014, there were 23 groups playing everything from reggae to heavy metal and even boeremusiek.
“You have to take initiative and let things happen,” says Mike. “Our music scene is probably where South Africa’s was 15 years ago. But things are starting to heat up...”
Namrock is an incubator for new groups like Trippin’ on Cables, which formed specifically to perform at the festival. Given Namibia’s tiny population, musicians often have to help each other out. Drummers, especially, seem to be in short supply – quite a few groups make use of one particular guy.
“Everyone knows everyone,” says Tania. “Some have dated the same girls!” Tania and Mike are both bass players, but for different bands. “People start bands, fight, break up and form new bands. But it’s all about the music. And the beer.”
They insist that Namrock should remain an exclusive platform for Namibians. “South African bands often contact us and we’re happy to arrange a few gigs for them in Windhoek, but they’re not going to play at Namrock,” says Tania. “The only exception is if at least three members grew up in Namibia, like the blues group Crimson House.”
West Nest Lodge is 170 km from Windhoek so most festivalgoers make a weekend of it and pitch a tent in the campsite. There are also chalets and luxury tents available. One group has painted an old school bus purple and they’re getting to know their cool boxes under a gazebo. As an Oppikoppi veteran, I love to see these Namibians living out their passion for music. With only about 500 attendees, Namrock has that cosy atmosphere you only find at small festivals. It feels like you’re at a vibey private party.
Just before The Fate of Miss H returns for an encore, the guitarist addresses the crowd: “Sorry, I got carried away and threw my plectrum off stage – can someone find it for me please?”
Highlights for me include The Hunt for Higher Ground, who play instrumental metal music, and Rushour, led by Klaus Rennack (68). Klaus was the vice-principal of the German school in Windhoek until a few years ago.
“I enjoy making music with young people,” he says. At Namrock, everyone enjoys everyone’s music, no matter how different the genres might be. When the Windpomp Boereorkes takes to the stage, even the toughest tattooed rockers langarm around the swimming pool.
According to Doane Madeheim of Brown Paper Bag, a blues group from Swakopmund, the biggest challenge Namibia’s musicians face is the vast distances between towns. “It’s hard to find time to practise when your band is scattered between Windhoek and Swakop,” he says. “We send each other chords by e-mail.”
The people at Namrock are a small but passionate group of musicians and
fans. As photographer Christie Keulder says: “You’ll drive 500 km for a party without a second thought.”
Two of Namibia’s top groups, Tonetic and Penilane, are performing on Saturday night. Penilane has been in the business for a decade and performed at Oppikoppi in South Africa in 2005. Their first fulllength album, Wear it Well, was recorded by Grammy-award-winning sound engineer Alan Sanderson. Sanderson might have worked with greats like The Rolling Stones, but according to him, no group enjoyed their beer as much as Penilane…
“I don’t know what your pension fund looks like, but this is where I want to retire,” says festivalgoer Gert Vermaak from Windhoek.
When Crimson House floods the night air with their blues rock later on, I have to agree.