Sorry Hollywood Bowl and Stern Grove, you're just not as pretty.
I had a special treat catching the Capetonian afropop band Freshlyground at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens back in December. It was a gorgeous summer day, we had blankets, food and wine and some kind friends arrived early so that I had a prime viewing spot.
Ever since the World Cup, Freshlyground's popularity has exploded. You remember "Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)" the official song of the World Cup that Shakira sang? Freshlyground co-wrote and performed the song with her. I was happy to see lead singer Zolani Mahola, violinist Kyla Rose Smith and guitarist Julio "Gugs" Sigauque appear for a second in the official video as well at 2:18.
This video has over 300 million hits by the way... yowzers!
I loved their dancing, especially from bass player Josh Hawks. They put on a great show.
Manual at an end-of-the-year Christmas party for a program where kids learn to recycle (he has the best smile)
These videos are super special to me. I arrived in Cape Town from London early on a Sunday morning and headed directly to the Sustainability Institute and Lynchdoche Village, located east of Cape Town in wine country on the way to Stellenbosch.
The sun was out, it was warm and windy, and it was gorgeous country. I didn't really know what to expect from this place, and since it was Sunday, school wasn't in session and it was really REALLY quiet. During the week, these pictures would be filled up with people.
looking north: The crèche on the right (where kids play during the week) and some homes.
Then I heard some music. So I followed it (as I do) and found these guys: Manual, Dwayne and Brian (and Brian's little sister) playing music. Brian lives in the village, I'm not sure where Manual and Dwayne live, but it would be in the general area in small homes. All three go to school at the government run school located in the Sustainability Institute.
Brian's mother Makka runs the guesthouse where I rented a room. She just finished paying off her house (behind them) and was one of the first eco-village residents a little over 10 years ago. (Her tiny two-story home has a solar panel.) Brian is 11 and the oldest out of this bunch.
I love the extension chords leading out of Brian's house. Manual played that plastic trashcan lid like a pro. Brian's guitar was hardly tuned, but he would bar the frets to get a reasonable harmonic sound out of it. I later found out that he had taken guitar lessons, so this kid knows how to play chords and he's actually very musically talented. So he's chosen to play this particular instrument without much tuning. I found that really interesting.
I'm not sure what the first song is, but I imagine that it's a South African gospel tune. This second one definitely is. Gospel is really popular in the rural parts of Cape Town. Brian taught me how to play this second tune "I've got a Feeling" on his guitar. I also went and pulled out my ukulele which he tinkered around with.
Please ignore the fact that I interrupted them at the end, so I could give Dwayne the chance to play if he wanted to. Only now do I realize that Brian says "He can't play!" haha... oops.
This was really sweet though, and a wonderful way to welcome me to this continent/country/city.
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.