The rhythm and the beat of life

Gavin Ebden

Although the reggae scene in the city centre is “dormant” compared to what it was in the 90s, Gavin Ebden still aims to keep it alive.

“Back in the day, we used to have The Fringe in Canterbury Street who had reggae nights, and The Bass in Shortmarket Street, where we found common ground with the hip-hop artists.

Now, myself and my band play at Baran’s on Greenmarket Square to try to establish a Rastafarian culture and just keep the message of peace and freedom of oppression flowing,” he said.

Gavin grew up in District Six and was born at the old Peninsula Hospital.

Through the apartheid era forced removals, he and his family were moved to Bonteheuwel.

Gavin was involved in the struggle against the apartheid government’s tyranny and mobilised students with freedom songs.

“We all stood for the ‘black’ cause – there were no coloureds at the time, just ‘non-whites’, that’s why all the schools from Athlone, Langa, Bonteheuwel and surrounds stood together, and we were a strong, united force.”

Gavin was then expelled from school for his activism, and became frustrated, and turned to gangs.

“I was arrested numerous times for petty crime, and police also interrogated us during the struggle, and detained us with no trial.

“I landed up on Robben Island for two and a half years, and then in Pollsmoor Prison. While I was there I also became affiliated with the number gangs.”

He was released from prison in 1980, and his family moved to Strandfontein to help him stay away from the gangs in Bonteheuwel.

It was during this time that Gavin discovered Bob Marley.

“This led to me identifying as a Rastafarian. His music had answered all our questions.

“He sings about peace and positive vibrations and living as a people, fighting oppression. His music helped me reform myself and I started becoming more peaceful, living for peace, love and herbs.”

He is now a single father, into fitness and running his business, selling reggae paraphernalia and focused on music.

“I have the band called the Roots Rockers. We were the first to release a reggae album in South Africa in 1989.

“We used to busk on the Grand Parade and make T-shirts and other reggae items and sell that and our music.

“People used to ask us what else we had to sell, and we made more and more things.

“Eventually we settled and started a stall on the Greenmarket Square. Twenty years later, we are still here.”

He said years ago, Greenmarket Square used to be more diverse, with many different market products being sold.

“Now, there are many people from Africa trading here, but we are like a family. We help each other out and we look after one another.”

However, he said, he would like traders on Greenmarket Square to have more voice to better express their concerns. “We would appreciate it if the City of Cape Town would give us more input regarding the market.”

He said one of his aims is to re-establish the Rastafarian culture in Cape Town.

“It is especially great when we play on the streets. We’ve done it a couple of times, and we get a lot more support.

“It will be wonderful if people can support local artists more, but in the meantime, we will just continue with our project to make people aware of the power of change, and prevent our children from being sucked into the negative cycle.”

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