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Bizarre man dumps university degree for life on the streets

By David Mwanambuyu

Meet Gregoire Da silva; Cape Town’s most recognisable foreigner. The man from the tiny West African state of Benin has been turning heads in the city. He is adding an African flair to the mother city’s tourism landscape.

Regular visitors to Green Market Square and St. George’s Mall are familiar with the sight: A colourfully-garbed man who goes about balancing a heap of junk atop his tiny head.

He causes quite a stir everywhere he goes. The sight is eerie at worst, awesome at best. It makes people gasp in bewilderment. The picture is reminiscent of a figure from an African folklore movie. It is enough to make your hairs stand on end.

At a distance, Gregoire cuts a lonesome figure. That of an African woman making her way home from the field. Her harvest securely stacked on her head.

Closer inspection, however, reveals a shortish man clad in antique-studded robes with outlandish headgear to match. A painted face completes his weird make-over.

Enter the world of Gregoire Da Silva, the professional wag. A self-made clown endowed with a rich vein of creativity. Daily he trudges the streets of the CBD spotting a zombie look-alike. His antics make multitudes go agape.

He is a humble man with a simple philosophy in life: “I like making people happy,” he declares. Indeed those who have met him couldn’t agree more.

He has transformed his body into a beautiful work of art. It’s a human version of “still-life” art. He goes round displaying his ‘bodyworks’ with aplomb, a toothsome smile always at the ready. It’s the kind of photo opportunity tourists find irresistible.

These ‘services’ earn him R200-R300 daily. Most of it in tips, though on occasion tourists pay to pose with him.

So who is the man behind this public charade? Wait for it. Gregoire Da Silva is no ordinary prankster. He is a computer scientist by training.

Born on July 8 1979 in Cotonou, the commercial capital of Benin, he went to an exclusive missionary school. Thanks to an adoring mother.

A stint at Cotonou University followed where he studied computer science, graduating in 1996.

His choices in life have been nothing short of bizarre. He dumped his university degree to work as a gardener! While his computer skills were gathering dust, he went about preening gardens for a living.

Such exposure cultivated in Gregoire a passion for the outdoors.

Then another career change followed. His creative side came to the fore, resulting in the formation of a drama group called the “Voice of Spirits”.

It was an instant success. The group mesmerised audiences with passionate story-telling and prolific drumming. Poetic citations on cultural and political themes thrilled admirers.

The “Voice of Spirits” relocated to Porto-Novo, the commercial capital of Benin. Success seems to follow in his wake. The group entertained visitors at the National Library and became a permanent feature there.

For 300 CFA Franc (about R3), their shows were always sold out. Invitations for appearances at schools kept them busy.

Gregoire broke away from his group to pursue a solo career. This was met with an invitation to the Market for African Performing Arts (MAPA) in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

Given the honour of opening the fiesta, he did not disappoint. He sang and danced until his voice croaked and his feet ached.

MAPA launched the career of Gregoire Da Silva, the footloose, one-man circus. Complete with a unique stage presence clothed in African folklore. His special talisman being the multi-cultural stage costume he designed.

Soon the whiff of fame drove him to South Africa. Initially it was to attend the North Sea Jazz festival. A dream that turned sour as organisers denied knowledge of his invitation.

This sent him knocking on the doors of Artscape Theatre. To his relief, they facilitated an arrangement where he could showcase his talents at the V&A Amphitheatre.

Little doubt he dazzled many with his shows. This earned him R200-R300 daily.

His knack for outrageous decision-making prevailed again. He traded his custom-made stage robes for R1500. That literally brought down the curtain on his career as a wag.
The attractively bizarre costume forms a part of his repertoire. It complements his stage antics.

Gregoire’s creativity never fails him. In no time, he crafted a fittingly eerie costume.

He is a regular feature at Grahamstown and Hermanus Arts festivals. He says he rakes in as much as R1000 daily at such gatherings.

“Tourists are very supportive, they tip me generously,” says Gregoire. The other day a lady tossed R100 in my palm, just like that.”

“I have never seen such friendly people,” he adds.

These handouts have enabled him build a “big” house in Mandalay’s New Town.

-ends- 794 words

Posted by africapetown1 on 2006-09-13 13:12:45