A concert in the park

Part of the "Concert In The Park" album cover

It was 32 years ago today that I was here: The Concert In The Park.

No, not the Simon & Garfunkel one — this one was held at the Ellis Park Rugby Stadium in Johannesburg on the 12th of January 1985.

It was an event of a previously unheard-of scale.

In 1985, economic and consumers boycotts, mass demonstrations and general political turmoil was at its height. South Africa was on the brink of a state of emergency. Yet one brave radio station, through the power of music, pulled off [a] historical event which captured the imagination of a troubled nation. This was the Concert in the Park.

702 Music Radio, broadcasting on medium wave, called to action over 100,000 people, from all walks of life, to celebrate South African music and to demonstrate their concern for the country’s hungry people. So successful was the call that, as the day progressed, 702 had to send out appeals to the public to stop coming to Ellis Park because by late afternoon the stadium was jam packed and crowds were gathering outside.

There is no doubt that this was a significant political and musical milestone in South African history. — Solid Gold

Never before had such a huge crowd gathered for a music event.

Integration was (officially) still a big, fat Aikona!

The smell of boerewors and dagga hung in the air as thousands upon thousands of people of all races converged peacefully at the hallowed grounds of Afrikaner whiteness: The Ellis Park Rugby Stadium. Only the fewest would appreciate the magnitude of the 10-hour event at the time.

Ticket to jive

I don’t remember exactly what it was that made me go. Perhaps it was the group of fellow troublemakers from school who came along, perhaps it was good promotion, or perhaps it was the fact that the stadium was “just down the road” from where we lived at the time — but one thing’s for sure: it was an awesome event for a 15-year-old!

While the African (black) bands were of little interest to me personally, it was Petit Cheval, Via Afrika, Ella Mental (with their legendary performance of See Yourself), Hotline, and particularly éVoid (whom we’d seen live at the Chelsea Underground before) that were the main drawing cards.

The concert reached a climax with Juluka, the only mixed-race band […] “Johnny Clegg showed us that day why he was world class,” remembers Alex Jay, the MC on the day. “He was just a man on his volcano. He was spectacular.” It was to be one of Juluka’s final performances. — Mahala

The Concert In The Park has since been reduced to a curious and nostalgic footnote in the annals of music history, one which the ability to relive this performance by Juluka today, in 2017, via the internet manages to move me to tears.

Thanks, Next Music, for putting up these fantastic gems.

Images via mahala.co.za, hmvh.net

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