Behind the little red door of the bakery, among monster mixing machines and industrial-size bags of white flour, an intimate performance space had been arranged for three acoustic guitar virtuosos: Richard Onraët, Tony Cox and Andrea Valeri.
Cox, who is the instigator of these ‘International Guitar Nights’ welcomed us warmly, and briefly shared his heart and vision about the IGN, before calling on stage the man he described as “one of the finest young, tear-away, rip-em-up acoustic guitarists I have heard in South Africa”, Richard Onraët.
Without exception Onraet’s heartfelt compositions were quite simply astounding, including the first song he ever wrote! His pieces were lively to the point of spontaneity as he made use of contrasting dynamics and melodies characteristic of the blues and folklore. And on top of his phenomenal acoustic performance he turned out also to be a natural speaker, explaining his thoughts and feelings during the process of writing his songs, and elucidating how music flows continually through him. Not only did he inspire me as a fellow musician, but the sincerity with which he delivered his solo performance won the hearts of many. He enjoyed himself too and told us that he could not imagine a greater pleasure than performing for us. (Ag, sweet).
Tony Cox was up next and continued to wow us. His compositions – filled with musical textures, styles and sounds – were a feast for our ears (and our 8th nerve, as one of his compositions was named). His comic insights between his songs had the audience in stitches, and we were eating out of the palm of his hand as he told us stories of his childhood growing up in the bush. Strumming, picking, scratching and hitting parts of his custom made guitar, he really had it all from African beats to bluegrass riffs. His tales and tunes tantalised the travelling tourists for more South African culture, and would make any South African abroad homesick.
Interval time, and what a treat to have freshly baked goods at 9:15 pm! Our senses had been brought to life by the music and now the smell of the bakery seemed heaven sent. There was also wine, tea, coffee, gigantic fresh fruit and help-yourself-to-water jugs. Perfect. Happy and replete, the audience took its seats for the second half.
Confident, tall, and fresh from Italy, nobody was about to judge Andrea Valeri by his young age. His stage presence was strong, and his performance stronger still. His charming accent and exaggerated facial expressions made his set, like the others, interactive and light hearted.
Like the previous artists Valeri had the dexterous knowledge of a veteran. His original compositions were an amalgamation of acoustic blues, country, tango and even a slight South African influence. Whilst playing “Tango and Vai” he showed the audience that he was playing the bass line, drumming on the body of the guitar, filling the harmonies with a rhythm guitar technique and picking the melody as a lead guitarist would do all at once.
The audience was well impressed to say the least. After a standing ovation and much noise, Andrea Valeri and Richard Onraët agreed to deliver an encore, performing an arrangement of a piece played earlier in the evening. From the performers’ faces it was clear that they were having the time of their lives. And so were we – it was a grand ending to a grand night as these two young performers gave in to the urge to really show off… But with skill and talent like that, who wouldn’t?
Andrea Valeri headlines the International Guitar Night which runs 9 – 18 December 2011 at the Olympia Bakery.