If you stop by Ferryman’s Tavern on the waterfront in Cape Town on a Saturday afternoon, chances are you’ll happen on a local band playing for an overflow crowd. Some of the songs are original, others are covers of old favorites. But they’re all sung with such hopeful, infectious energy, you won’t be able to walk by without stopping.
The racially-mixed band is called Masala, and its vocalist is Fancy Galada. She says singing heals her. “I sometimes go on stage with burdens, but when I get that first note, I sing, I touch someone, and I get healed.”
The crowd seems to pick up on that healing power, and it resonates in a place dealing with so many wounds. Fancy grew up in a township called Langa, just outside Cape Town, during the height of the struggle against apartheid. She remembers soldiers bursting into her house and putting a gun to her chest when she was only 12. They were searching for weapons.
“They terrorized us,” she says. “That memory is still there in my heart.”
Fancy’s mother worked as a maid and nanny for white families and had to leave her own kids at home while she did so. Their father was out of the picture and, as the oldest, Fancy had to take over many family responsibilities.
“I got to cook my first [meal] at 10, because [my mother] taught me how to create a little platform so I could reach the stove and cook,” she says.
Fancy is now a working mother herself. Her daughters are 11 and 19. She makes a living with her music — but she says it’s not an easy balance.
“I am a mother first,” she says. “That’s my first priority, my two daughters. They’ve made me the person I am. They’ve grounded me, made me sensitive as a person, made me work harder. They remind me of how my mother raised me.”
Ask Fancy about women’s rights and status in South Africa today, and she’ll give you an earful.
“We still have that battle of wanting to be heard as women,” she says. “Just yesterday I saw this guy beating up a woman.”
But what she says next surprises me.
“I felt so sorry for him. Sometimes they go to a place where they’re not supposed to go. I felt sorry for him and sorry for that woman. We grew up in a place where a woman’s value was very low. They were not taken as people. We didn’t think women had value. Our society is changing, but the fight goes on.”
And so does Fancy Galada’s song.
Jeb's stories from Cape Town were produced in collaboration with South African journalist Kim Cloete.