When I arrived at the magnificent and historic Castle of Good Hope in central Cape Town early on Friday evening there was a serious party happening at the FIFA Fan Fest on the Grand Parade, in front of our beautiful City Hall.
The music was thumping, the bands were whipping the crowds into a frenzy, the vuvuzelas were blowing, the place was rocking! (If you click on this link, you can see an excellent video of the Parade with 3D models of the FIFA Fan Fest.)
Judging from the loud music, singing and enthusiastic cheering, all the spectators who had just witnessed the 16h00 match between The Netherlands and Brazil, transmitted live on large television screens around the square, were planning to stay and party until the kick-off of the 20h30 match between Ghana and Uruguay.
I climbed up the steps to the top of the walls of the Castle, where I had never been before. Actually, I’m not sure if one is usually allowed up there, but as other people were milling around before the social event got underway, I used the opportunity to enjoy the view from the battlements, and to snap some piccies for all of you.
Then I followed the other guests back down some steps and into the Cape Field Artillery Officers Mess.
(I always wonder why it is called that because it really is anything but messy! It says here: “First appeared in English, mess meant portion of food. In 15th C, referred to group of people that were served same dishes at meal. Sat together.” That’s just too telegram-style for me. Anyone know the real story?)
There are several Officers Messes distributed around the Castle (for instance, the Cape Town Highlanders, the Cape Field Artillery, the Cape Town Rifles (Dukes) and the Cape Garrison Artillery, all have their Officers Messes at the Castle). Some of these are very formal and elaborate, while others are more casual and relaxed.
None are open to the public, though, as far as I know, so I felt honoured to be allowed into these hallowed halls. (No pictures of the inside though – I was too nervous to whip out my camera!)
I had been invited to the function by Lt Col Johan Conradie, the chairman of the Tattoo Committee, which is in charge of organising the now annual Cape Town Military Tattoo.
He very kindly introduced me to some of the other guests.
For instance, I met Mr Mark Wiley, who used to be a paratrooper, but who is currently, I believe, the chairman of the Western Cape’s parliamentary portfolio committee for community safety. He told me that, at the Cape Town Military Tattoo 2007, which I had attended too, both himself and Lt Col Conradie had ziplined down into the courtyard as paratroopers who had come to rescue some captured prisoners, as part of a battle re-enactment. Actually, I could vividly remember that happening! It had been a most thrilling event!
I also met a bunch of photographers, which was particularly nice! They were there because the social function had been preceded by a meeting to discuss the technical aspects of sound and lighting for the November tattoo. Yes, the preparations start very early!
As the event is held in the open air, rather than under a roof, from which you could suspend the various lights, I suspect that it isn’t all that easy to light it effectively, without blinding the performers or the spectators for that matter. (Apart from that, I’m sure they want good photographs and videos to be taken, which need really good lighting.) The slightly elevated and sloped stands for the spectators are arranged on three sides of the large open space, which means that it has to be lit in such a way that everyone can see, even across the entire length of the courtyard.
This enclosed space, in the front courtyard of the magnificent old Castle, is ideal for holding such a military tattoo, because it contains the sound so well. When the cannons thunder, and the drums roll, the sound echoes and rumbles all around, which adds to the drama of the whole performance.
And besides, can you imagine a more suitable location for a military tattoo than in a 330 to 340-year old Castle? Yep, our Castle of Good Hope, which dates back to between 1666 and 1679, is actually the oldest surviving colonial building in the country. They sure used to build sturdy houses in those days!
Once all the guests had arrived in the Officers Mess, Lt Col Conradie told us that he had a little surprise waiting for us in the courtyard. We thus trooped down the stairs with our drinks and clustered around the edges of the courtyard. The elaborate Kat balcony was beautifully lit up.
Suddenly, there was the sound of drums. A small group of seven drummers emerged, marching through the archway from the large courtyard at the back. They were all dressed in black, with jaunty black and white feathers stuck into their black hats. Their drums were painted in the colours of the South African flag. There were six tenor drums, rat-tat-tatting away, and one bass drum, keeping a steady beat. They marched across the courtyard and took up position opposite us.
There wasn’t much lighting, and my little camera flash does not have a far enough reach; I didn’t want to walk up to them, in case I disturbed their rhythm (they were concentrating really hard to stay in sync). So I tried a few longer exposures and larger apertures, leaning against one of the large pillars to stabilise the camera. But long exposures only work on subjects that aren’t moving – and their drumsticks were a blur of speed!
In the end, I recorded a couple of video clips, which worked much better! There were one or two other people with cameras flashing away during the performance, so this proved most helpful when I was trying to do some screen-captures from the video clips afterwards! Their flashes gave me just enough lighting to see the drummers, if I also boosted the brightness in the software. Sometimes you just gotta be clever! 😉
The drummers were excellent. They played several pieces for us, each with their own rhythms and cadences, and one piece even involved some choreography and dancing, and flamboyant drum rolls and twirls of the sticks. I was astounded at how synchronised they were. Even when one of the players lost a drumstick, they didn’t panic, but smoothly reached for a replacement tucked away in their back pockets and continued.
After their delightful surprise performance, we marched upstairs again. Lt Col Conradie explained that these seven youths were in fact performing for the duration of the World Cup (11 June to 11 July), as part of a program of activities organised by the Defence Reserves of the Western Cape, in order to promote the Cape Town Military Tattoo. They were intending to train more young drummers in the coming months, so that there would be a far larger group performing during the actual tattoo. The sound of just these seven drums in this contained space was so powerful. Can you imagine a whole troop of these? Fantastic. I can’t wait!
Back in the Officers Mess, Lt Col Conradie gave a speech to all the guests, thanking everyone who was giving of their time, resources and skills to ensure that the next Tattoo would be even more successful than the previous ones. As he spoke, I began to realise just what a huge undertaking it was to stage this event. As a spectator, it is a performance that is over in one night, albeit one fabulous, entertaining, spectacular night!
The social was attended by Col S.A. Motswadira, SSO Promotions and Marketing at Chief Defense Reserves (C Def Res), WO1 S. Boehme from 3 Electronic Workshop, sound and lighting consultants, and members of the Tattoo Committee organising the Cape Town Military Tattoo 2010. At the function, Lt Col Johan Conradie emphasised the importance of close cooperation between the different role players to ensure the smooth running of the Tattoo.
Here I was getting a little glimpse into all the preparatory work that goes into ensuring that those four (or more) performances are indeed spectacular and unforgettable. There are so many people involved behind the scenes, not just the performers and the bands that come from overseas or upcountry. There is an impressive amount of planning that goes into every aspect of this event. In his speech, Lt Col Conradie also emphasised that it required the collaboration of individuals and businesses from civil society, in addition to military folk, both permanent and reserve force. I hadn’t previously been aware of that.
After the various speeches were over, I sipped my refreshing drinks of passion fruit and lemonade (no vodka!), which two kind gentlemen had organised for me, and chatted with some of the photographers over a delicious supper of traditional bobotie and yellow rice and salad.
Unlike myself, the photographers all appeared to be professionals, with their pictures having been commissioned and published in various magazines, newspapers and formal documents. All of them were really friendly and approachable, full of stories of unusual shoots and articles they had written. We chatted about digital photography and the use of blogging and Facebook, and the possibilities (and difficulties) of getting one’s photographs and writings published.
One of them told me that he had done some aerial shots of the new Green Point Stadium while it was still being built, and he had also taken photographs from a helicopter at a military training exercise, which sounded thrilling but utterly terrifying. I also made friends with another photographer, who told me that she had recently visited the Labyrinth and Peace Pagoda at that farm outside Barrydale, which I had mentioned in a recent post about our visit to that area.
And then, it was time to make my goodbyes, and head back to Mom’s to watch the match between Ghana and Uruguay (which I wrote about here: A blur of World Cup football).
P.S. Here is a PDF of the article I wrote for the Defence Reserves, and which was published on their website: Tattoo 2010 Social Function at the Castle.