The third annual production – an official World Design Capital event – was once again a melting pot of musical influences, a sonic broth bubbling with energy, created by artists and storytellers from all cultural backgrounds. In addition to the two stages, the festival included talks and conferences, with TED style lectures known as ‘Lightbulb Sessions’ in which creative and dynamic individuals shared their concepts.
Ottoman Slap, a blend of Eastern European, Spanish, Middle Eastern and gypsy musical elements, opened the event with a bang. The band’s instruments range from double bass to accordion to saxophone, with the combinations changing with every song. In an appealing twist, a traditional dance was initiated by one of the band members, who interpreted the exotic sounds with graceful movements, allowing her body to flow along the contours of the musical tapestry. The vocal work by the lead singer was elegant and provocative, accentuating the modal and exotic scales utilised in the band’s repertoire. Ottoman Slap set the tone and warmed up the stage for the rest of night’s artistic explorations.
A highlight along the journey to musical discovery was Bongeziwe Mabandla,. The opening act of the seated acoustic stage, he launched into an expressive dialogue of dynamic lyrics and ideas. The audience crammed into the small space to listen, and became lost in his musical output and his intense voice which conveyed messages of hardship, love and life. Mabandla exuded an excitement in his stage presence but also a sense of sharing and modesty, where the boundaries of performer and audience did not exist.
Dubbed the “The Hendrix of the Sahara”, the great Vieux Farka Touré proved to be a performer of great stature and musical depth. His trio performed original numbers influenced by everything from the traditional rhythms of Mali such as the ‘takamba’, to western progressive rock structures. His guitar solos held a trance-like repetitiveness which was highly expressive, with a nod to the blues tradition. The audience following his musical inventions were raising their hands in adoration. Towards the end of Touré’s set, Bongeziwe Mabandla made a short appearance to lend his vocal tones, before a final send off with a rock reference to ‘Frère Jacques’.
Local guitarist Derek Gripper took to the acoustic stage and, with his relaxed and composed demeanour, dazzled his listeners with his immense skill and emotional depth. Using each note thoughtfully, Gripper created the effect of a Kora (a 21 string African harp-lute) on his guitar as he interpreted traditional Mali folk songs. His fingers danced along the fret board while conjuring up images of nature and vast open spaces. At one point during the performance, the heavens opened and the rain came tipping down onto the tent in a rhythmic pattern that seemed to sync with Gripper’s playing, as if he and Mother Nature were engaging in a spiritual conversation.
By this time during the sonic voyage, the audience was scurrying about the marbled halls, digesting the music and engaging excitedly with one another. The main stage was buzzing with the exuberant and organic sounds of the Carlo Mombelli, one of the heavyweights of improvised music in South Africa. His masterful utilisation of the electric bass in a solo role was backed by a superb rhythm section and vocalist, creating a sophisticated harmony with a great syncopated flow that was both beautiful and grooving. Mombelli’s blitz of effects erupted and splashed over the hall and into the ears of the enthusiastic crowd.
During the rest of the evening electronic artists entertained an eager audience at the smaller stage. Miss H, who hails from Durban, delighted the crowd with a mix of funk, dub step and hip hop, layered with both vintage and modern Bollywood music. Okmalumkoolkat then enticed the party animals with infectious dance moves and tight, hard-hitting lyrics, before the quirky, energetic and intense Jakobsnake caught the crowd in a euphoria of beats.
Meanwhile the main stage came alive with the Latin/reggae vibes of Los Tacos, a large ensemble consisting of a rhythm section, percussion, two horn players and two vocalists. Their sound has the Latin rhythmic element, varied with reggae syncopation as well as straightforward rock rudiments. Tight horn section riffs, fiery percussion duels and rapping Spanish vocals created a musical fabric which kept the crowd highly entertained and had the entire hall beginning to shake with youthful abandon.
The eccentric and powerfully original The Brother Moves On was extremely engaging – each musician immersed in the group’s sonic world. Their social and political narrative inhabited a realm of afro-centric chant riffs, exploding unexpectedly into progressive rock and psychedelic idioms before evolving into free form improvisation, revealing a remarkable musicianship and clear musical understanding.
The Cape Town World Music Festival proves that, in the right space, human beings can express their stories and ideas in ways many of us could not imagine, opening up sights of life on another plane and sharing it with those involved. The journey for its audience might be over for this year, but the path is only just beginning for the Cape Town World Music Festival.
Gareth Harvey is a performing saxophonist and music solutions manager at Octave Leap Music.
The Cape Town World Music Festival took place at Cape Town City Hall on 18 & 19 July 2014.