Did you ever gaze into a dancing flame and let your mind wander into a blissful fleeting dream? Because that’s exactly what it felt like, absorbing Tony Cox’s instrumental strumming and picking, laced with storytelling of his African childhood and upbringing.
Cox displays the humble confidence and easy-going manner of a master musical craftsman, assuring himself that his audience is about to be entertained. His on-stage presence is as warm and welcoming as if he is having an off-stage chat over a couple of beers. Seated at the rear of a packed but tiny Seaside Blues Restaurant in Melkbosstrand I could see Cox’s face but found myself stretching my neck from side to side to catch a glimpse of his hands at work, just to make sure he wasn’t cheating with an extra limb. Cox shows almost no facial intensity, just a cheeky smirk while his dancing fingers shred guitar riffs with ease. At then end of each song he responds to the tumultuous applause with a slightly bashful “Ag thanks man” as if we’re being too over generous.
Song after song he led us on an African jouney, wafting us from a hot-as-hell Maputo Harbour to his home town of Redcliff, a small mining town in the midlands of Zimbabwe. With sharp classical technique Cox infuses an all-African style of guitar playing; laid-back and confident with an irresistible foot-tapping groove. Many of the pieces he played were self-composed but he also threw in a few cover versions of songs such as Henry Mancini’s ‘Baby Elephant Walk’. There’s no doubt that this is a man at the top of his game. At the top of everyone’s game, for that matter.
It struck me that Cox is purely in it for the music. How refreshing, in a world starstruck by the celebrity life, to come across someone who does what he does simply because he enjoys it. Phenomenally talented as he is, he remains untainted – by choice – from commercial success. As such he is one of Africa’s best kept secrets and the audiences in the intimate venues in which he plays take away with them an almost evangelical glow from their encounter.
As I am writing this review I can see my own acoustic guitar in the corner where it has been sitting dormant for far too long. Apologies to my neighbours now as I remedy four years’ of procrastination with sore, peeling finger tips and distorted chords. Tony, you’re an inspiration.
Tony Cox was playing at the Seaside Blues Restaurant on 16 July 2011. He performed again in Paarl on 22 July and with fellow maestro and long-time friend, Steve Newman, at the Olympia Bakery in Kalk Bay each Friday and Saturday in August 2011.