Ugly Creatures bring live music back

The “uglies”, the “creatures”, are words that don’t roll well on a born-free’s tongue but the Ugly Creatures is of a calibre the born-frees must still learn from.

Ugly Creatures is an electrifying band from the 70s, back by popular demand. Most people wonder why that name (the name made me trip across it several times when I talked to the members)!

According to them, a cynical guy (Alien Rubrect von Francois), entered the room where they, as young lads, were fretting about a name for their band. Von Francois pointed out, “All of you are ugly creatures.”

And from then on, the band formed its name, becoming a household name during the apartheid era.

The band was started with members such as, Axali Doeseb (composer of the National anthem), keyboardist and trompone vocalist, Nicro //Hobeb, trumphet vocalist, Johnny Adams, vocal saxophonist, Late Jefta Noabeb, bassist, Siegfried Jousie !Hoaseb, drummer, Heloi //Hobeb, bass guitarist and Baby Doeseb - lead guitarist.

Core members were Harold !Urib - saxofonist, Alphie Witbooi – keyboardist, Gerson Doeseb – keyboardist, John May - vocalist and a few permanent guest artists.

Their music is a manifestation of crooked medleys; high pitched saxophone tunes that make a comrade soft on the knees. Yes, a band synonimous to the Old Location and Cybil Bowker Hall - the band that made Namibians dance their blues away back in the day.

But says Heloi //Hobeb, the name brought them fame,”People did not like the name and were curious to know who the Ugly Creatures were. And that curiousity brought us money and fans,” he smiles.

In a country where people were limited by all sorts of passes and curfews, music came as a balsamic ointment and was the one thing that made them forget their tales.

Even the white oppressors invited the Ugly Creatures to their farmsteads to entertain their guests.

“We had the support, not just from one section but accross ethnicity. We could play everywhere and draw a full house. We even played in the Sam Cohen Hall; a dominantly white hall on two ocassions - once for a birthday gig in which people were stomping and moving around. After that, another white fella took a chance on us and organised a gig. We played a few Sarie Marais and despite the Swapo flair, everyone was besotted by the band,” Heloi and Baby say swirling in their chairs with a “such were the days” look on their faces.

The 70s were quite a rolla-coasta time for the band who had seen themselves persued like fugitives because of their alliance with Swapo.

“A special task force was introduced to screen incoming songs through which they would censor song lyrics. They would take a sharp item and scratch the part of an LP where a specific song was, this could damage the needle of the gramaphone. It was all done to discourage Namibian artists from turning out like Bob Marley. The airwaves were overcrowded by our song, the SWABC regime undertook and censored it,” relates Heloi.

Because of the political situation, members were forced to leave the band.

“We were harassed. We had to report to police stations in each town where we would be scheduled to perform. Eventually, most of the band members quit including the core members. In 1978, the Koevoet was appointed as a special force to monitor people including bands, they would come to rehearsals, and beat up band members.

“This partially caused the break-up of the band. They even damaged our instruments one evening as well as the car of the band,” lamented Heloi and Baby.

After this, the band was never the same even though they continued to tune gigs in the alleys and suburbs. It would just be a matter of time before they finally had to face the music and move on with their lives.

In order to survive, the band members looked for other ways to sustain themselves. Some went to study while others went to work, until Swapo bought them new instruments after which they reconeccted and went to South Africa for the recording of the second LP. But after this, the band slowly moved into a 31-year sabbatical.

Then came the Old Mutual Jazz festival and by popular demand, the Ugly Creatures returned to the entertainment scene of Namibia where they were once kings.

Now you will see them gracing the stages of Namibia’s live stages. And in a corner of the Back Stage Theatre, you can spot them amongst a collection of the theatre’s era tokens of remembrance; a heart plucking effort to close an era of not only gloom but the birth of live music straight from the finger tips of the Uglies. PF