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Heading to the picturesque Cape Town City Hall for any sort of musical affair, let alone an evening of an abundant 15-odd acts, was certainly an unprecedented venture for me. Taking the time constraint of the evening and the generous amount of acts into account, I was initially skeptical of the imminent success of the inaugural Nu-Breed Folk Music Festival backed by Jim Bean and hosted by Real Wired Music – the curators behind the renowned Cape Town Folk ‘n Acoustic Music Festivals. Little did I know that behind the hard-pressed coordination lay an array of determined and successful pioneers of sound, décor and everything in between.
Jules Terea, otherwise known by his monikor Brynn, swiftly set the evening in motion with ominous but strikingly powerful renditions of Leonard Cohen and Damien Rice. Terea’s impressive falsetto control and emotive caliber quickly silenced and captivated the audience. Abruptly and without haste, The New Zealand-hailing songsmith marched off shortly followed by a prompt entrance by the next in line: Grace de la Hunt. With a somewhat feisty persona and an admirable amount of control, Hunt’s resolute, pop-folk-esque approach and silky vocal tone effectively encompassed what the artist’s all about: sentimental dynamism.
Okay, now I see how the evening’s going to progress. The question was: Is two tracks per artist enough for them to perform an earnest and fulfilling showcase? Perhaps not, but it sure was an effective method to maintain audience attention, interest and spirit. Although a number of empty seats were noticeable, the silence during the performances and the abundance of spirit thereafter was exceedingly refreshing.
Slow Jack next took to the stage. Although relevantly new on the scene, the band seemed particularly comfortable under the glares and in front of the stares. Striking a resemblance to Alex Turner and The Neighborhood, this band’s rock ‘n’ roll persona seemed slightly ill-rehearsed. Albeit the supposedly humbling but failed rhetoric regarding Mandela’s dream was undoubtedly unnecessary, at least it fairly related to their single ‘Love To Dream’.
Next in line was opener for James Blunt’s recent South African tour, Chris Werge. Of an amicable nature and romantic, slightly mono-dynamic style, Werge’s charming, adult-contemporary set definitely had many taking his name to note. In contrast, Sam Burger (Opposite The Other) embarked on a timbre-refreshing ordeal. Rolling an upright piano stage-center, Burger’s soulful, powerful and stirring vocal tone, similar to that of Amber Run’s Joe Keogh, scored him the loudest and longest applause thus far.
Prior to and after the first interval, Mumford & Sons-esque collective Royal Commoners and lyrically-dark, Ben Gibbard-esque songwriter Dave Knowles took to the stage respectively. Both showcased that although the evening consisted of folk songwriters, diversity was neither scarce nor unnoticeable. Soon after, bluesman Manny Walters’ set exhibited his solemn and exceptionally heartfelt motive, including his renowned track ‘Joseph’, during which his earnest and moving vocal tone resulted in an appreciative uproar from the audience.
The diversity of the evening persisted, with Fruit Vendor’s comedic lyrical content and noticeably trained and pristine vocal and guitar work, Julia and Tessa Johnson’s (Al Bairre) charming, amicable and quirky covers of Benjamin Francis Leftwich and The Weepies (not to mention their exquisite harmonies), Joshua K Grieson’s heavily underrated, experimental, dynamic and macabre character and, one of my personal favourites, Hatchetman’s impeccably rich and harmonious textures and mellow, Simon and Garfunkel-esque folk, closing with a comment that couldn’t be more true: “I used to perform in a lot of eisteddfods when I was younger, but it’s funny, you never stop shitting yourself.”
Perhaps the unexpectedly fantastic quality of the prior musicians had an influence, but the headliners for the evening appeared in a dimmer light than usual. Josh Wantie performed an all-too-well-rehearsed set that seemed to lack a live presence, while Paige Mac’s set received the biggest applause of the night, not to mention a full-house standing ovation – a tough act for Michael Lowman to follow. Having kept a low profile lately, Lowman’s laid-back renditions didn’t assist his follow-up to Mac’s robust and emotive performance.
A distinct number of fans couldn’t keep still when Majozi’s set had been announced, and who could blame them? His well-disposed presence, carefully-orchestrated renditions of hits ‘Fire’, ‘The Greatest Love’ and ‘Darling’, the latter which featured superlative accompaniment by the Johnson twins, and other song demands from the audience would turn any individual into an instant fan. Finally, the final act for the evening, Matthew Mole, closed the evening off with fan-favourites ‘Autumn’, ‘Take Yours, I’ll Take Mine’ and a showcase of newbie ‘Run’. Predominantly flawless albeit a few minor hiccups, Mole appeared a little absent-minded, but this subtlety had no effect on elevated and eager fans.
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