Where 300 years ago a fortified emplacement bristled with heavy guns, a red carpet now enticed guests inward for wine and canapés.
It is a wonderful irony that this building, dug down into the rocks below sea level and created solely to provide aggressive – and deafening – gunfire, should be found to have such perfect acoustics. But that being the case the Chavonnes Battery Museum is now the venue for a series of elegant ‘Acoustic Underground’ gigs with top local performers.
The upper floor of the Chavonnes Battery Museum was last night overlooking a stage that was neatly positioned between parts of the original walls of the Battery. Tables and chairs were arranged around the stage in such a way that the atmosphere adopted a comforting intimacy for the capacity crowd of just 200 guests.
Performing first was Jeremy Olivier, a Zimbabwean born singer and songwriter. He sang in clear and penetrating tones, describing emotions of love, appreciation and happiness. His rendition of ‘All of Me’ by John Legend had me taken aback as his voice is almost identical to that of the original artist. A self-proclaimed family man, Olivier’s performance was almost nostalgic. Each song either reflected a personal story or was a dedication to the people he loves. He gives an exceptionally touching live performance and more than once I caught a glimpse of someone welling up.
Olivier’s performance, however sentimental and beautiful, was brief and compact, and he was quickly followed by Jazz heavyweights, Judith Sephuma and Camillo Lombard. Lombard is a founding member and principle of the Cape Music Institute, so it is no surprise that he plays the keyboard with sharp precision while making it look effortless.
An unusually casual Sephuma belted out a big “Hellooooo” to which the audience returned an elated cheer, before she launched into ‘A Cry, a Smile, a Dance’ from her first album, Iya Iyo, released in 2001. It is certainly one of her most popular songs, judging by the reactions of the crowd after she sang the first lyric. Throughout her performance Sephuma interacted with the audience and encouraged them to sing along and engage with her. Between songs she playfully joked about her age, and shared personal stories.
Staying within the theme of Women’s Month, Sephuma dedicated one of her songs, that she wrote when she was just 14, to all the “strong women in the house”, an announcement greeted with cheers of appreciation and solidarity. She sang other songs from her album as well as the classic, ‘Killing Me Softly’. A little girl, presumably her daughter, spontaneously ran up on stage to give her a hug: an innocent moment that surely melted the hearts of everyone watching.
With her last song of the evening, Sephuma belted out the words, exuding passion and confidence, while Lombard’s fingers agilely traced the surface of the keys – it was amazing to think that she was accompanied by no other instrument. Clearly, Sephuma has an innate love for her occupation since the last song seemed to never end. Lyrics turned to scatting and a select few in the audience downstairs stood up to start dancing.
As an event, Acoustics Underground certainly delivered in terms of talent, hospitality and brilliant acoustics. In terms of venue, there are some shortcomings when it comes to the upstairs VIP seating area as it only gives a view of the backs of the performers, but there is the option to move freely between the upper and lower sections to take advantage of all angles.
Regardless of where your seat is, the sound quality of the Chavonnes Battery is outstanding. Coupled with the sweet pipes of Sephuma, the agile fingers of Lombard and the eclectic atmosphere created by its hosts, Acoustic Underground definitely ended its concert series on an exceptionally high note.