• 21 Aug 2010 /  General Blogging

    I have spent an incredible five days in Varberg, Sweden working with some of the most accomplished African musicians in the world to run workshops for students from Sweden, Iceland, Norway and South Africa.

    We all stayed in the most incredible accommodation, housed in the jail cells of a medieval jail at the Varberg Fortress.

    Jail Cells at Varberg Fortress

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    Inside the jail complex

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    My humble abode

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    This was my view each morning:

    Here are some of the friends and colleagues that I was working with.

    Soryba Touray and Ross Johnson

    Soryba Touray is in my opinion one of the best djembe drummers in the world. He is a Master drummer from Guniea and has an effortless style of playing that is a pleasure to watch.

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    Max Soumah and Ross Johnson

    Max Soumah is also from Guinea. He is an incredible dancer and teaches West African dance to people throughout the world. What really struck me about Max was his relaxed, friendly nature.

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    Randy and Amy McIntosch

    Randy and Amy were really great people to connect with. The run an operation similar to amaAmbush in Boulder Colorado called Kutundara, where they teach over 200 students the Zimbabwean style of playing marimbas. I enjoyed many great memories with them, and really felt a part of their family.

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    Julia Tsitsi Chigamba and Ross Johnson

    Julia became a close friend over the course of the week. All of the lecturers from Southern African spent a lot of time together. Julia is a master dancer, singer and instrumentalist from Zimbabwe. She is now based in the USA. It was really great to see her in action. To see her website, click here.

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    Andreas Akesson and Ross Johnson

    Andreas is one of the most humble musicians you will ever meet. He is an incredible Kora player, and we were lucky enough to watch him perform on multiple occasions.

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    Baboucar Camara and Ross Johnson

    Babucar comes across as an exceptionally powerful musician. He has a dark, deep African. He is a master Sabar drummer, and his performances are both rural and raw.

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    Kaw Secka and Ross Johnson

    Kaw Secka is a great character. He is a master Sabar drummer currently living in England.

    These are just some of the great people that I had the pleasure of working with during my week in Varberg.

    The reason we were there was to run workshops for the students that had gathered from around the world. Zama and I were to run three workshops a day with each one being two hours long. The students ranged from complete beginners to professional African music teachers. This made each workshops unique and interesting.

    Each workshop was broken down into three sections, Marimba playing, drumming and gumboot dancing. Here are some videos of the results:

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    The students were all very enthusiastic and motivated. It was a pleasure to work with them all.

    I would like to thank Peta Axelsson of Zimba Marimba Band for making the whole camp possible. She was the head coordinator, and driver of the whole project. She is an inspiration and mother figure to so many young musicians. It is incredible to work with her.

    Peta Axelsson

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    My flights back were crazy crazy crazy. I have never experienced anything like my journey home. In total I flew over 20 000km. Thats the same as flying from the North Pole to the South Pole. It started by driving from Stockholm to Copenhagen.

    Copenhagen

    Copenhagen

    This was followed by a flight from Copenhagen to Beijing. I could not believe I was back in China and after clearing customs and immigration again, I had a 20 hour wait at the Beijing airport. I developed a sort of Airport Zen, where I learnt to be completely relaxed, let go of the concept of time, and live in the moment. It was great.

    I then flew from Beijing to Dubai – it is so hot there!. Then form Dubai to Johannesburg and finally onto Cape Town. It was so great to be home.

    I am home for around 7 days, then I turn around and fly back to Sweden to perform with our group of hand selected students – amaAmbush Abantwana. We will be performing the the Queen of Sweden in Stockholm.

    I will keep you posted.

    Peace

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  • 14 May 2010 /  General Blogging

    Hi everyone

    I am writing this blog from a cold, wet and windy Cape Town.

    I am gigging with Simphiwe and and Mabuti for a tree planting ceremony at the top of town.

    Looks like its going to be an interesting experience!

    We have played our first set, and we are now into the speeches. The Executive Mayor of Cape Town, Dan Plato is here in his suit and Wellington Boots!

    Mayer Dan Plato

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  • 09 May 2010 /  General Blogging

    Hey everyone,

    Today I went to the Palmiet River in the Kogelberg Nature Reserve with my father and brother. It was our first time out on the river this year, and we were keen to introduce Brent to the joys of white water kayaking.

    The drive was great, and after a breakfast at Wimpy, we arrived at the river. It was cold, cloudy and wet – perfect weather for my new dry-top! It is really amazing, I can wear a warm top underneath, and it stays completely dry. I bought one from a kayak shop in Joburg, made by Peak-UK.

    After unloading our gear, we walked down to the put-in under the bridge. The water level was quite low, but this was not a problem, as we were keen to play around in the bottom section of the rapid (Judgement Day).

    My brother Brent at the put-in under the bridge

    My brother Brent at the put-in under the bridge

    We showed Brent how to ferry across the flowing water, and went to play in the hole (a small rapid that can flip you if you are not careful)

    Me playing in a small rapid

    Me playing in a small rapid

    Ross about to do a roll after being caught off guard

    Here I'm about to do a roll after being caught off guard

    Next we decided to do the bottom rapid – Judgement Day – in sections. This involved pulling our kayaks over the rocks on the river bank, to get half-way up the rapid. From here we could do each section.

    Ross and Brent half way up the rapid

    Ross and Brent half way up the rapid

    We scouted the best route through the maze of rocks, and I went for it first.

    Me staying upright after a nice drop

    Me staying upright after a nice drop

    I was followed by Brent, who was doing well until his edge went under, and he flipped, running the rapid upside down!

    Brent looking good just before his filp

    Brent looking good just before he flipped

    Dad did the rapid with style, and it was time to move to the top section of the rapid. I paddled into an eddy and climbed a rock to find the best line.

    Finding the best way down

    Finding the best way down

    I then ran the rapid…

    It all started out well, with me going down some technical sections. I was really enjoying myself, when I hit a rock and became stuck. I pushed off the rock and was hit by a wall of water.

    Before I knew what was happening I was upside down. My head was bumping against the rocks on the riverbed. I could feel rocks pounding my arms and upper body. It was too shallow to get my paddle forward to set up for a roll, so I just protected myself. It was a terrifying experience.

    Eventually after running a significant portion of the rapid on my head, I managed to roll up. By now I was quite shaken and out of breath, but had only run half the rapid. I focused, and setup for the next drop.

    Down I went, rocks and water passing me in a blur, I went through a chute, and flipped again. This time, I felt my kayak jam against some rocks, and I pulled by emergency line. This made me drop out of the kayak, and I ended up swimming the last few meters.

    I pulled my kayak up onto the rocks, and coughed out some water. I took a deep breath to steady myself, then climbed back to where my father and brother were, to watch them try the difficult run.

    Down went Brent, running the rapid flawlessly!

    Brent going down for first drop of the rapid

    Brent going down for first drop of the rapid

    Brent lining up for the second part of the rapid

    Brent lining up for the second part of the rapid

    Next down the rapid was my dad, who did very well before capsizing near the end due to taking the wrong line. We floated at the bottom of the rapid feeling like we had survived a battle.

    By this stage, it had started to rain heavily. It was incredible to see how fast the river was rising. Small sections of flowing water were fast becoming raging currents. This actually makes the rapid better to run, as the rocks are less exposed.

    My father and I decided to run the rapid again. This time, from top to bottom without stopping.

    We walked our kayaks to the put-in above the rapid, had some quiet thoughts, and went for it. It was two minutes of exhilarating balancing, paddling, leaning, edging and bracing. I felt elation, fear, joy and adrenaline. I found a beautiful line through the whole rapid, and shot through the final drop feeling on top of the world.

    I turned around to watch my father slide easily through the most difficult parts of the rapid only to be turned side on by some rocks just after the half way point. Over he went, grinding through the rapid upside down. One failed roll attempt, two failed roll attempts – I was shouting, “Come on dad!” As he flew upside down over the final drop, he made a superhuman attempt to roll, jamming his paddle into the rocks, wrenching it out of his hands. He washed up next to me, paddleless and beaten.

    We now had the problem of his paddle stuck in the rapid!

    My dad's paddle in the middle of a rapid

    My dad

    It was quite a sight to see it pinned in the middle of the white water. It looked like there was a paddler underneath trying to roll upright. After many attempts we were not able to get to the paddle. The river was rising fast, and my dad was getting cold. We made the difficult decision to leave it.

    After walking back to the car, getting into warm, dry clothes and packing up the gear, we decided to have one last look for the paddle. Luckily it had dislodged itself and washed up against a rock. After doing some careful footwork, I was able to retrieve the paddle.

    We all drove home, content after our adventure.

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  • 10 Mar 2010 /  General Blogging

    Wow, as today was last day in Sweden, I knew it was my last chance to try to ski. I have never tried it, and was sure that I would enjoy it.

    So I was up early this morning, and got off the ship, and started to walk towards the ski-slope. It was such a beautiful day. The temperature was 4 degrees, but after so many days at -4, this seemed like a warm summers day.

    To get to the slope, you have to take a ferry across the river:

    This was an experience in itself, with the crystal blue sky, and clean water. While on the ferry, I made friends with a couple all kitted out for the ski-slopes. This proved to be a great help, as they showed me how to get to the slopes, and how to buy a ski ticket and gear up.

    I decided to snow board rather than ski, as I had no instructor, and I have had a lot of board experience through my kite-surfing. This proved to be a very good choice.

    I had my fathers advice ringing in my ears as I climbed the snow slope, “You have to take lessons or you will hurt yourself”. Well there were no lessons, and no instructors available. At least I was surrounded by skiers, had the right equipment, and was at the right slope.

    Ross all geared up and ready to go!

    Ross all geared up and ready to go!

    I started by strapping my snowboard to my snow-boots, and hopped on a conveyor belt. This carried me about 100 meters up a gentle slope. I felt quite safe as I was surrounded by beginners.

    Ross at top of snow lift

    Ross at top of snow lift

    It was now or never…… and off I went:

    Haha, it was like learning to kite surf all over again – lots of excitement and pain!

    After a few more tries, I got the hang of it. Some guys at the slope said I was doing very well, and gave me some advice. It seems that it is all about edging – same as kite surfing and kayaking.

    What an incredible experience. I would like to thank my new found friend for his help on getting me started on the slopes:

    What a life experience! I am catching my taxi that will take me to the airport in a few minutes, and then its back to South Africa

    See you all soon.

    Love

    Ross

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  • 09 Mar 2010 /  General Blogging

    Hey everyone,

    Thanks for the comments:

    Greg – Yes Zama and the guys have found the Gym. It is open to staff 24 hours a day. A typical day runs as follows:

    09h00 Wake up, shower, breakfast

    10h00 Gym

    11h00 Take a walk into town

    13h30 Back on the ship for lunch and relax

    16h00 Band meets to prepare for first performance

    16h30 – 22h30 Band performs on and off for around three hours in total, having supper between sets

    22h30 Band meets in the mess room for movies, chats with other staff and snacks

    23h30 Sleep

    And it all happens again the next day, and the next, and the next, and the next……

    Sha: Congratulations on your Graduation! I am sure it must have been a challenge in heat, hard to imagine when is is -4 degrees this side.

    Tracy: Thanks for all the support you have given over the past 10 days, I can’t wait to see you again.

    Mike: Thanks for the message. We are now in a routine, and there are not many new things happening, so you will not be missing out on too much. The main challenge for the bands is now to stay motivated for the full duration of the trip.

    Jenni: Thanks so much for the message. I am glad that you were able to find the blog. I have now added amaBush to the tags on this blog, so it should pop up if passengers search according to the incorrect ship program.

    We all love Finland and Sweden. It is very different, and we have found the people to be friendly and helpful.

    I  showed your comment to Mabuti, and he laughed and said that next time you must speak with him. We really enjoyed it when your friend played the pill-bottle shaker, he is welcome in our band any time.

    Peter: Thanks for the comment. Felicity and her band changed ships today, so they will be enjoying a change in scenery.

    Tiana: Thanks for the message and info. The Syncronized Skating was really an incredible sight to behold. Such grace and emotion shown through movement. They must be hard to compete with, as it seems to be such an integral part of the Finish culture.

    To say thank you to the band, the Cruise Director gave us complementary tickets to the guest restaurant. So to mark my final night on the boat, and the handing over of the leadership baton to Toto, we will be having dinner together.

    I have really enjoyed my 10 days in Sweden, and would like to thank everyone that has made this trip possible for me:

    Tracy – Thanks for heading up amaAmbush in my absence, and for leading some difficult gigs. You are incredible to be able to do this on top of your full time job and masters degree.

    Greg – Thanks for being a source of strength, and for helping with the driving in my absence.

    Gavin – Well done for holding the office together, and for both driving, teaching and leading gigs.

    Grant – You must hold the record for the most teaching ever done in 10 days. Thanks for all the substitute lessons and gigs that you have done over this period

    Gill – Our pillar of strength, thanks for being so accurate and reliable, as well as for providing much needed comic relief.

    To my family, and the families of my staff – Thanks for putting up with the late nights and extra hours.

    I see this as the first phase of the tour complete. The next phase will be for the remaining duration of the tour, and the final phase will be getting all players and instruments back safely.

    amaAmbush in action

    amaAmbush in action

    Peace

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  • 06 Mar 2010 /  General Blogging

    Hey everyone,

    Thanks for all the views and comments.

    Peter: Thanks for the comment

    Dad: I’m glad you enjoyed the Amarula dance!

    Mike: Nice idea, but no food products are allowed to be brought into South Africa, sorry.

    Mum: Thanks as always or the news from home, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Thanks for all you have done to create our incredible family:

    The Johnson Family

    The Johnson Family

    As requested by Greg, I will be showing you my living quarters. We are in a unique position on the ship. We have both Crew status and Passenger status. This means that we are allowed to go just about anywhere on the ship except for highly restricted areas such as the bridge.

    We are staying in guest cabins, while most staff stay in staff cabins. On the plus side, we each have our own cabin, and we all have windows facing to the ocean. The difficulty is that the cabins are designed for one-night stays, so there are no cupboards. This is easily remedied by using one of the beds as a place to lay out our clothes.

    Let me take you on a walk through my world:

    Each cabin has the following:

    1 x couch that converts into a bed

    Couch in my cabin

    Couch in my cabin

    3 x fold away beds

    1 x on-suite bathroom with the following

    - Toilet

    - Shower

    - Basin

    - Towel Rack

    We have a thermostat that literally lets me choose the temperature of my room. Once selected, the temperature is adjusted instantly. So in the night if I am cold, I can choose to put on an extra top, or turn the dial a few notches. I’m going to miss this little luxury back home!

    Any temperature, any time

    Any temperature, any time

    I took another walk into Stockholm, this time to check out the ski slope. It looks amazing, and I will definitely give it a try on our next stop over.

    I am having the time of my life, and the band is doing very well. This trip has been such a great experience.

    Ross on the ship

    Ross on the ship

    Peace

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  • 05 Mar 2010 /  General Blogging

    Hey everyone,

    I have had a very eventful two days, and am having the time of my life over here.

    Firstly, thanks again for the comments;

    Dad: We have been in contact with the other marimba group. They are doing very well, and both bands have well received. I phone Thulani about once a day, and he is always in high spirits. He says the group is getting along well.

    I will upload some pictures of my cabin over the next few days.

    Our total daily playing time is around 3 hours spaced over 7 hours. This works out well as it gives us ample time to get to the various performance venues on the ship. So the guys are taking the performing in their stride. We are also playing only one high energy set – on the stage in the night club, so they are having no problems with their muscles.

    Peter: Thanks for the message. I am glad that you were able to view the videos. I check often on the other group to make sure that they are doing well. Thulani says that Felicity is fitting into the group well, and is enjoying herself.

    Mom: Thanks for the message and news from home, I will be arriving home on the 11th of March, and the band will come back in early May.

    Keith & Wendy: Thanks for the message, it is great to hear from you! I really appreciate all the incredibly hard work that Grant is putting in to allow a trip like this to happen. Thanks for all the support.

    On Day three, I decided to spend some time outside on the deck of the ship. So I put on the following clothing:

    Thermal pants
    Jeans
    Thermal ski-socks
    amaAmbush Shoes

    Thermal top
    amaAmbush T-Shirt
    Wool long top
    Hoodie
    amaAmbush ski-jacket

    amaAmbush beanie
    amaAmbush scarf
    amaAmbush gloves

    Feeling like Father Christmas, I climbed the stairs from my cabin on the 5th floor to the deck on the 8th floor. (This was actually a long, hot walk)

    As you open the door to outside, there is a rush of hot air that escapes from the ship. You step out into this bubble of hot air and close the door. Then the cold hits you like a thousand needles sticking into any exposed skin. Your hands start to throb and go numb almost instantly, and your lungs burn from the cold air you are inhaling. Your first instinct is to open the door and go back into the warm ship.

    Fully geared up

    I find that the biggest factor to the cold is actually the wind-chill. Standing in a protected area on deck is bearable, but when I walk into an area with a 20 knot wind blowing in my face, it is incredibly cold.

    The reward however is some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen in my life – these were taken with my phone camera:

    Amazing Views

    Winter Wonderland

    Winter Wonderland

    The band played for the South African Ambassidor to Sweden. She came aboard the ship because of the South African theme. She really enjoyed the music, and the band was well recieved by all the VIP guests.

    On day four I had my first excursion off the ship. We were docked at Stockholm, and it felt incredible to stretch my legs and get onto land.

    A view of our ship from shore

    A view of our ship from shore

    As can be expected, it was very very cold. It was snowing, and there was a 15 knot wind blowing. I was loving it.

    I followed the signs to the city center. It was about a 5km walk from the harbor. I just loved taking in sights and sounds of the city, the people and the surroundings. I took a walk through the city and felt like the luckiest person in the world. What an experience. The street is lined with little shops, and resturants, with everyone going about their daily lives.

    I had so much fun in the snow. There was a park where the snow must have been half a meter deep. I was jumping and running and making snow balls.

    There are lots of chocolate shops selling every kind of chocolate in every shape you can imagine. It looked divine.

    Chocolate and sweet display in Stockholm

    I walked to the Stockholm observatory which is on a hill in the city. It was so much fun walking up and along the slope in the snow. I think I would really enjoy skiing.

    Some observations about Stockholm:

    - No beggers or homeless people

    - No visible poliece anywhere

    - People everywhere are shoveling snow. There are cranes in each road, chipping ice off roofs and gutters. There are trucks transporting shoveled snow to an area where they dump it into the ocean. Snow seems to be a real logistical nightmare.

    - Everyone seems really nice and friendly.

    -There feels to be a lot of culture and history in the city.
    It was then time to walk back to the boat, and get onboard. I will be spending more time ashore in both Stockholm and Helsinki over the next few days.

    Each evening, the band plays in the Tax-Free shop – similar to what you find at airports. The shop coordinator asked the group to sing a song about Amarula Cream. This is one of the funniest things we have seen on the boat so far:

    The videos of my time ashore are taking a long time to upload, so I will do them when we get into port. Be sure to check this post later this evening after I have updated it.

    All in all, we are having the time of our lives, and are ensuring that we give each performance our full focus and energy.

    Peace

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  • 02 Mar 2010 /  General Blogging

    Hey everyone

    We were up at 05h30 to get ready and have breakfast before our flight to Helsinki. We were accompanied by the main contract coordinator from the Swedish side.

    Zama about to leave our hotel in Stockholm in all his amaAmbush gear

    Zama about to leave our hotel in Stockholm in all his amaAmbush gear

    We are really thankful for all the gear supplied by amaAmbush. They have made moving around here a pleasure. We have found that as my fellow employee and friend, Gill Young told me, “It is all about layers”. We are finding that if we put on many thin warm tops we are actually able to get hot!

    Ross testing out his gear in zero degrees

    Ross testing out his gear in zero degrees

    Once we arrived in Stockholm, we drove to the harbor, received our crew cards, and boarded the ship. The terminal at the harbor is like an airport, with moving walkways, an announcement system, and multiple terminals.

    Once aboard the ship, we met our Cruise director, Zoltan. He took us on a tour of the ship.

    It is a beautiful boat, even when compared to my experiences on the QE2 and Crystal Serenity. It is very spacious and does not have a feeling of claustrophobia or recycled hotel air as i had imagined. It is clean, efficiant and relaxed aboard.

    One of the first things we did was to unpack and check the instruments. As both sets were packed together and our flight was delayed, I had to tell the contact person how to separate the two sets over the phone. It sounded like this,”You need to find the bass tablet with the darker keys for amaAmbush A, and the lighter keys for amaAmbush B.” This got more complicated when it come to the legs! Everything worked out, and we had the perfect instruments onboard.

    Toto unpacking the Bass Marimba

    Toto unpacking the Bass Marimba

    It was then time to have a rehearsal, and play through some songs. It felt really grounding after all the traveling to be able to play.

    It was then time to gear up, and set up at our first performance area – Arrivals. This is what guests see when they board the ship:

    amaAmbush ready for action

    amaAmbush ready for action

    As you can see, our green tops fit in perfectly with the foliage brought into the ship – thanks Gavin!

    We made a decision to paint our musicians faces to ensure that the band has a true African look.

    Zama 'The Lion" Qambi

    Zama 'The Lion' Qambi

    Banzi 'The Tiger' Moya

    Mzubanzi 'Banzi' Tema

    Sindile 'Toto' Moya

    Sindile 'Toto' Moya

    Thamsanqa 'Mabuti' Msweli

    Thamsanqa 'Mabuti' Msweli

    Our next performance area was in the Ship’s theater. It always feels like night time in here.

    amaAmbush set up at the on-board night club

    amaAmbush set up at the on-board night club

    At this point, the ship departed for Sweden. Our liner travels one day from Stockholm to Helsinki, and then the next day back from Helsinki to Stockholm. The passengers board at around 16h00, and the ship leaves at around 18h00. The amazing thing is that the sea is completely frozen. We are breaking through ice all the time. It is quite a sight:

    Thanks for the comments and for following this blog, it feels comforting to know that I am in touch with the people I care about back home.

    Tracy – Thanks for everything you do back home to make these trips possible for me. I really appreciate the help, guidance and comfort you give me.

    Gill, Gavin, Grant – Thanks for keeping everything going, and maintaining the high standards of the company.

    Love to my family back home

    Peace

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  • 27 Feb 2010 /  General Blogging

    We are off to Sweden!

    amaAmbush is providing two bands to perform on the Swedish Ferry Cruises – Viking Lines. We will be performing for 61 days on the M/S Mariella, the M/S Gabriella and the M/S Cinderella.

    amaAmbush tour members

    amaAmbush tour members

    On this trip are our following musicians:

    Ross Johnson

    Thulani

    Zama

    Simpiwe

    Toto

    Banzi

    Felicity

    Zwayi

    Mabhuti

    The guys are really excited about the trip, and are looking forward to a whole new way of life for two months.

    I will do my best to keep this blog updated with pictures and videos of the trip.

    Peace

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  • 17 Nov 2009 /  General Blogging

    Yesterday I had the privilege of seeing, first hand, the new Greenpoint Stadium (Now called Cape Town Stadium)

    It is absolutely beautiful. It looks clean and efficient, and you feel very connected to the field. I was performing with my two Bishops bands.

    The gig was organized by Stuart Scott of Bishops Prep.

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