Review: City Hall Sessions


City Hall SessionsThe Thursday jazz evening of the City Hall Sessions mini-festival was an enchanting musical journey that led its audience through slow alternating solos and suspenseful tutti sections. Often these melodies culminated in dramatic frenzies while the instruments blended together penetrating the room with a colourful, filled-out sound.

Early on the Cape Jazz/ Ghoema legend Errol Dyers pleased the slowly filling hall with some guitar melodies reminiscent of Antonio Banderas in a softer version of the opening scene of Desperado. Rheza Khota joined him later on electric guitar and soon the music turned into a filmic rhythm backed by dramatic drum beats that quickly had the crowd clapping in time. I found myself thinking of frolicking forest fairies as I soaked up the mysterious melodies and jungley beats.

Khaya Mahlangu then joined in on sax and the music became full of anticipation before turning into more of an action theme. This was definitely one of those journeys where fast paced highs alternate with relaxing in-no-way-negative lows. I found myself whisked away on the music, only to be brought to earth with a bump at the announcement of a break.

The second set kicked off with a toyi toyi tribute to Nelson Mandela accompanied by a voice-over of his famous words: “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination,” from his first speech after his release, delivered in the very same building in which we were hearing it now. Combined with powerful beats and chirping saxophones it had a hypnotic, even awe-inspiring quality. Rightly so! Music was, of course, one of the important forces of the struggle and, evidently, it is still a tool of extraordinary influence.

Zolani Mahola from Freshlyground completed the pacifist army to sing a version of the South African national anthem. Her penetrating voice bedazzled and made me want to assume a protest position for the short time she was on stage. Quickly, the show came to an end and it was time to go home get in some sleep and some work in before heading back to City Hall for the second of three nights .

On Friday night the first set of the so-called ‘urban club line-up’ was better than I had hoped for. I had been sceptical about a line-up combining the 12-piece City Hall Chamber String Ensemble, Inge Beckman, Closet Snare, EJ von Lyrik and Bokani Dyer. Can classical music sound good when it’s mixed with Hip Hop and electro swing jazz? The answer is an unequivocal yes. Inge Beckman’s opera-esque vocals were almost paralyzing in their intensity, holding us in their beam as if we were being dictated to by a higher force. EJ von Lyrik then swept in, smashing Beckman’s hold with her energetic rap, while Closet Snare added some groove and the strings simply made everything sound a little more romantic.

The second set – judging by the reaction of the audience – was clearly the highlight of the evening. It didn’t take long until MXO had his listeners running on the spot as if, having run out of Ritalin, they were trying to get their knees to touch their stomachs.  MXO’s rap was soulful and so powerful that the girl standing next to me had to leave the room because she couldn’t deal with its intensity. It quite simply blew the crowd away until Joe Nina took over and calmed everyone down with his soft gospelly vocals. Nevertheless, everyone was still dancing and cheering.

On Saturday the headlining guitarist Madala Kunene started off with a bland and suffering sound. Yet I reprimanded myself for judging him way too early when he began a song reminiscent of Irish folk music in melody, which then morphed into a very interesting and clear African tune with a strong drum beat. Amazing.

Festival headliner Caiphus Semenya kept the spirit up and even got the crowd to sing a verse perfectly – even though some of us didn’t understand a word.  But the performance highlight from this leading South African composer, musician and singer was a jam with his guitarist. An exchange of enthralling guitar riffs and vibrant vocals made for a catchy sound and a packed City Hall went nuts.

Christine Hogg

City Hall Sessions took place at Cape Town City Hall 5 – 7 July 2012.


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