The Dalai Lama was in Cape Town last week, for the World Paliament of Churches. The papers reported that he was gently critical of the parliament, for not doing enough with their position.

He also opened the Festival of Sacred Music, at Kistenbosch Botanical Gardens, which I attended with some theatre friends of mine. The setting was stunning - a backdrop of Table Mountain, green sloping lawns, chattering birds. We were asked to “have compassion” by sitting down to allow people at the back to see. The South African wicker hamper brigade were much in evidence, blankets and cloths spread about and wine and champagne corks popping.

Represented were several South African musical groups, some drummers from Burundi, and the Taico drummers from Japan.

The Burundi group had drums about a foot in diameter, two feet long, which they carried on their heads while playing. This enabled them to walk around, and dance, while performing.

The Dalai Lama then arrived, with his retinue and several political figures including the Mayor of Cape Town (a well-spoken black lady) who had visited the Dalai Lama at his home-in-exile in India. Also in attendance was the minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology, the breadth of whose porfolio echoed “master of none”.

The Mayor made a nice speech, sprinkled with post-apartheid political epithets. The Minister made a better one, with thought-provoking references to Africas role in the next millenium. Maybe his title was deserved ..

The Dalai Lama was delightfully informal, starting with the obligatory thank yous to all the volunteers for all their work, and the presence of his guests. He made these through his interpreter, obviously easier for him, and then made the rest of his speech in somewhat halting English. His message for the new millenium was “Optimism” and “Responsibility”.

He recounted stories from his recent visit to the UK, one of which was having tea with the Queen Mother, and discussing how things have changed with the world during their lifetime. The picture was evocative.

While he spoke, a rainbow appeared in the sky.

After he had spoken, made a few presentations, and left, the music continued. The Taico drummers I had seen with Anita and Mikie in Colorado Springs some years ago, and words fail me.. They have a strict regimen that includes daily 25Km runs and prayer. When the Japanese set out to create perfection, they can get closer than anyone else. Their performance is a choreographed piece, named after the Shinto Genesis. There is one huge drum, maybe 4 feet in diameter, and a lead drummer, and another ten or so 1 foot drums. Every kind of rhythm blended together, including a piece where single drums would play and chatter to other drums. Another long solo by the big drum. A piece where half the drummers were a tiny bit later than the other half. They all also played the flute. Truly magnificent.

A tough act to follow, but the next act was some older women from the Transkei, one on a bow. This was played like a violin, with the top of the bow held in her mouth, and combined a flute. Truly bizarre. Difficult to amplify and mic, but they did. Backing vocals were ululating nonsense words. Well, I guess you had to be there ..

Cheers, Andy!