Sunday, January 30, 2011

Music in Cape Town: Abavuki and marimba bands at Mama Africa

Abavuki live at Mama Africa

In my search for "authentic" African music (which is a dangerous rabbit hole to start down, because really, what is authentic?) I came across marimba bands. Ironically, the place I found the "authentic" Capetonian music was at restaurant called Mama Africa.

Mama Africa is a tourist destination restaurant that serves up pan-African foods and animals. You can get warthog, springbok and zebra there (and yes I did try it, and yes, I did like some of it). The walls are covered with African art and thatch, just to make it as "authentic" as possible. I was warned about this place. I had heard that the service sucked and the food was overpriced. I knew there was music, but I just assumed that it would be cheesy. Every night there is a live band playing for the tourists and most of these bands have bi-weekly gigs here.

But on my last night in Cape Town before heading to Namibia, I ended up there with several other backpackers. The food was actually pretty good and the band playing that night was Abavuki, a Capetonian marimba band. Being the good Ethnomusicologist I am, I had to ask some questions. (No food poisoning this time.)

Talking to Mzwamadoda Matsila, the trombone/alto marimba player, I found out that marimba bands are indeed Capetonian and that the guys in the band do make a living playing music. Our final bill charged each costumer a 10 South African Rand ($1.50) music fee. There were some people at my table that were upset about this. Yikes. I tried to explain to these people that these gigs probably earn the musicians the bulk of their living wages.

The musicians of Abavuki are from the black township of Langa. I noticed that most of these guys played at least two instruments. There were three sizes of marimbas: bass, tenor and alto. The soprano marimba does exist, but they just don't use it. A couple of these guys also doubled on saxophone and trombone. They also switch off playing various percussion instruments. They also ALL sing - with some pretty cool harmonies.

These guys probably play for at least four hours every night. They played hard for us, and I appreciated it. I had a great time. It was much more entertaining than the cover band with a pre-recorded drum track I had heard earlier in the week down the street.

These are not my videos, but are pretty good representations of what I saw. The music is fast, virtuostic, hard-hitting and danceable. I am super glad to have stumbled upon it.

And another:


Anonymous said...

Heard these guys in Mama Africa during last year's world cup. Been looking all over for them as I could not remember the name of the band and stumbled on this site.
Awesome and soulful sounds. thanks.

Jamie: said...

Hey, that is such good news! I'm so glad I was able to help out. They really do put on a good show don't they? Cheers and hope you enjoyed your time in South Africa!

Bridgett said...

Anyone who's heard them perform live is so lucky! How I wish I could hear them play live music Long Island, too.