“So what is your relationship to Felix?” I ask, looking at Chris holding his violin.
He thinks for a while then answers slowly:
“I have the impression that I met a Man for the first time.”
In terms of masculinity and humanity, Felix is indeed an interesting dude…
He isn’t a person you will meet at every street corner, even if he is playing the guitar almost every day on a bench in the Company Gardens in Cape Town, home to endless streams of tourists, commuters and street dwellers.
I had only met him a few times, but his mystical and strange appearance caught me. His face is tattooed with hundreds of black dots running in circles around his powerful dark eyes. He is full of color, adorned in beaded jewels and treasures and dressed in a traditional Masai fabric. His flip flops are made out of pneumatic rubber. His expression is that of one who knows.
Once, following the advice of a friend, I sat on the bench next to him and stayed for a few songs. I realised that this attraction was not only operating on me but on most of the people walking passed the bench. Kids, grandmas, Chinese tourists; it is even the park keepers’ favorite spot. Every hour, at least three people ask to take a picture of him, or with him. Felix has his fan club. Today, 3 girls that had brought refreshments and straws are sitting on the ground, talking with him and Chris, closing their eyes to hear the music while rocking their heads gently.
At one point, an entire tribe of kids coming back from school stop and ask him a million questions. It is fascinating to see how his voice and presence affect people, grabbing them from their every day lives and setting a smile in their eyes again. Sometimes, I feel our life in society would be much more appreciated if these kinds of simply inspiring people were allowed and encouraged. Instead they seem to exist illicitly, outside the stream of society, where the conditions are designed to make them struggle.
But for Felix, there is no struggle in life; it must be taken as it is and everything happens for a reason.
What then, is so powerful in Felix ? I am not sure it is music, though I really like it. There is something more.
He plays and acts with such energy and sincerity, it is as if he was playing from another world. His song is his seance; almost a direct connection with the almighty. His bright eyes are shining like two precious stones.
Last time I saw him – the weather was colder then – he told me :
“You see in my tribe we would never ever let people without a shelter. Here, all these empty offices in huge buildings… and people are just dying in the front. And nobody says nothing.”
He didn’t look sad about this, neither dramatic. He was even smiling: for him, this was just a huge absurdity he would never ever understand.
Felix comes from the central region of Singida, Tanzania. He was born in “the jungle”. He wears the typical dress of his tribe, the Wataturus (very close to the Masaï people, except the Masaï live in village and the Wataturus, in the jungle). He has 22 piercings covering his face. Eight circles of tattoos surround his eyes to the bottom of his cheecks. He says the first three of these circles are meant to protect his eyes. The others are designed to protect the warrior inside him. He just got the five last ones done by a tattoo studio in town. “Now I have lived in the street, I am a warrior,” he says.
One month ago, he started playing with a 24 year old South African music student, Chris, who handles his violin with the gentle passion of a lover. And to Chris, Felix is the first Man he’s ever met.
Felix had a few past lives before this one. He is now 44 years old and lives in a guesthouse in Woodstock, at 50 Rands per night. He has been traveling a lot in Africa, predominantly as a cook. He tells me he is a master chef. When I say my roommate is also a very good chef, who won Masterchef TV show in Italia, he isn’t impressed:
“Let’s make a contest, I’ll beat him ! Because, me, I use magic when I cook !”.
The meals he likes to make most are Tandori chicken, Indian food in general and what he calls a Chana Dahl. Felix knows how to read and write because he went to a “horrible” village school in a rural area when he was ten. His Auntie had asked him to live with her so he could take care of his little cousin.
He started learning construction while he was living with a family for 5 years. That is when he learnt how to cook, with the lady of the family. Living Tanzania in 2001 was not a hard choice for him, as he was feeling very alien to his dad, who was alcoholic and who had been beating his mom for years. All the wisdom of his grandfather – which he lives by – had not been transmitted to his father, for whom he had a very little respect. He traveled in various countries: from Dubaï to Somalia, Mozambique and Kenya, and finally to settle in Cape Town.
He has only been playing the guitar for one year. Because he knows one must practice 10000 hours to become professional, he plays every day in the Company Gardens from 9 to 2 p.m. He always has a stick on him. His grandfather’s stick; mandatory equipment for this connection to the almighty.
Felix never properly met his grandfather, who died before he was born. Yet, he had heard a lot about him through people who had known him, back in the days in his tribe in Tanzania. They told him how rich and wise his grandfather was. To Felix, he was the last witness of his peoples’ customs and spirit in the times of western modernity. To reach the spiritual aura of the old folk, Felix realized he must follow a deep spiritual path, according to the ancient traditions of his people (tattoos, piercings, specific hair cut and clothes…)
Strangely, it was only in Sea Point, when he arrived in South Africa and moved in with two white chefs, that he learnt how to connect with his grandfather. The two cooks taught him “tricks” to connect with one’s ancestors. For that, he needed a wooden stick, which has always followed him in his moves since then. After 2 years in Sea Point, the cooks offered him his guitar and told him he had to learn. At that moment, he received a message from his grandfather telling him he had to live in the street to be a warrior. He obeyed this will and has been homeless since then, busking in the Company Gardens. That was in April 2015. After four months in the streets, he went to a shelter during winter. And after two other months, he went to live in a guesthouse in Woodstock, where he is still living now. The spirit of his grandfather had told him that if he practiced everyday, after nine months, big changes would happen to him.
This leads us to the 11th of Jan 2016. When I ask him if he feels the change, after one week, he says to me with a wide smile: “Everything is changing: I have had these warrior tattoos for free,” he points to the 5 new lines of dots around his eyes, “and then I saw you, and your help is the most precious for me.”
After my day with him, I proposed to record his songs while Chris was still in Cape Town (he returned to his studies in Grahamstown). With the help of my roommate Shane, we spend 5 hours recording Felix’s songs to make a CD he will be able to sell in the streets. Felix and Chris are here, sitting on my bed, playing to us. Shane is in front of his laptop on the desk and Catherine sits beside me on the floor, her eyes closed. The music brings us to that place of joy sometimes found when people share the emotion of sound. I feel this joy, cannot believe that from the first session of “My Day With”, we have been doing so many passionate things, helping someone who has so many things to bring to “civilized” world.
One hour after he left, Felix calls me again. Someone he just met in the neighborhood is asking him to play music at his event in February. I get to talk to the man on the phone who explains to me that Felix only wanted to take a decision after consulting his manager, a.K.a me…
What is Felix’s purpose in life? It is not to get a good pension, nor to buy a tiny house in Betty’s Bay. It is not to look for a sexy young girl to finish his old days with. His aim is simple: it is to reach what his grandfather had mandated him to do. Felix feels a strong rope holding between himself and his forbearer. Sometimes it is looser, sometimes pulled taut.
When he goes back to Tanzania, he can take up his royal function. Indeed, Felix is the Prince of the Wataturus. But to be a good prince and to have a peaceful reign, he must first become a very rich music artist, at least as rich as his honorable grandfather, King of his tribe. He wants to gain back this wealth so he can redistribute it amongst his people.
But before becoming the richest man, he needs to have some other piercings as his grandfather has instructed. To him, the honorable number of 70 piercings is the condition to be eternally strong and respected, by his people but also by the wild animals in his part of the jungle.
Listen to Felix first EP :
(you can buy it from him directly at the bench, donation based)
- Mtoto Asipolia
In this song, Felix tells how woman should say their feelings because they usually don’t and then get sad.
- Mona Lisa
This is an ode to beautiful ladies like Mona Lisa, who need cream to take care of their beautiful skin. For that Felix asks for money, so he can fulfill the needs of a Mona Lisa.
This song talks about Africa, which is like beautiful lady when they talk and they walk.
This song was written for a woman, Cristine, who encouraged him to get famous. He explains how he is wandering on the continent to play music.