I attempt to convince myself that I shouldn’t be alarmed by the fact that the Facebook event page for the festival shows 2500 attending RSVPs and not a single person I know is part of that count.
I read the “none of your friends are attending” note and scoff, who even uses Facebook event pages these days? I have intelligent friends, people with excellent taste in music and inquisitive minds – they’ll definitely attend, and they don’t need to click a button on social media to affirm that. But as I sit on the bus, watching the rain torrent off the roof of the vehicle and streak down the windows, I can’t help but be aware of Cape Town’s notoriety in such weather. We can’t drive safely, we call in sick at work and we most definitely don’t go out and party. I say we, but I can’t include myself in this clique.
So where does that leave us on this wet and cold Friday night? I begin to mentally prepare for an unfamiliar experience, I know a few of the acts but essentially I am about to enter the fray with a mass of strangers as I listen to music I’ve never heard before. Have I found a unicorn?
If you have not heard me say it before, then hear me now. Cape Town City Hall is absolute perfection as an inner city music festival venue. The majestic belly of the building boasts a gargantuan organ and the aesthetic is enough to have you drooling, the architecture of the room is both romantic and dramatic. This room plays host to the festival’s main stage and I arrive just before Fantasma begins. I explore the rest of the venue as the band does line checks and fiddles on stage.
The room where the seated and DJ stage is situated is warm and electric, draped in black curtains with multi-coloured décor and lighting strung above everyone’s heads and smooth vinyl selections emanating through the speakers courtesy of Paul Waxon. I return to the main stage shortly after Fantasma begins and I hope for the best. The “best” I speak of, is the hope of some fluidity, some sense of understanding in this performance. I have had several conversations about Fantasma, including one on this night. The general consensus amongst my music writing peers is very similar to my own insight. For all our attempts to enjoy Fantasma, for all the logical reasons why we should enjoy them live, we simply can’t. Spoek Mathambo is charismatic, energetic and a true soldier in the struggle to make the world aware of the talent in South Africa. So why does the music he make with his band of inimitable musicians sound so amazing on an album and just makes no sense live?
To be fair, tonight is the most comfortable performance I have witnessed and I enjoy most of their set before jetting off to the DJ stage for Boiler Room’s Thris Tian and Blackfoot Phoenix.
The inclusion of this duo is genius. The beauty of CTNWF is the uncanny ability to showcase unexpected and mind-blowing artists from all over Africa. We don’t really need 2 UK DJs to come spin Fela Kuti songs for us, what we do need is for these guys to witness the majesty and life that courses through African music culture, in both traditional and modern forms. We can also learn from the style of DJing they adopt, playing varying beats and jumping across genres so that the entire dancefloor feels included at some point in their set rather than relying on a constant and monotonous beat to entrance the revellers.
Back in the main room, it’s time to tick off a bucket list item. I finally get to experience Simphiwe Dana live for the first time. Although the festival’s attendance isn’t as high as they had hoped for, there is still more than enough people to fill the entire room and most of the balcony seats. The stage falls into darkness and the crowd erupts in applause and rapture. As the stage relights, Simphiwe Dana is front-and-centre, looking every bit the diva she is. Fists are raised in the air, voices are raised even higher as the songbird’s melody fills the hall, with a choir of hundreds of festival goers as her back-up. Her performance is breath-taking, heart-breaking and unlike anything I could have imagined. I use Simphiwe Dana’s music as my calming soundtrack when I’m anxious and from now on, when I close my eyes, I will be able to picture the moment I got goose bumps during her performance.
I do my best to support the artists who play smaller stages when headlining acts are playing at the same time as them. Card On Spokes is one of South Africa’s most underrated electronic producers. He gains acknowledgment and awareness more and more at each outing, but there are still too many people not listening to his music. His set began with a room full of diehard fans and familiar faces, but as it progressed he coaxed open minds into the room, spreading the gospel of his sweet beats to new ears.
The real highlight of Friday’s line-up was always going to be Riky Rick. There was a complication with his flight to Cape Town that caused delays in his arrival and therefore affected his performance time. To fill the gap until he arrived, the Boiler Room crew took to main stage to DJ for the crowd remaining from Dana’s performance. An accidental announcement by one of the Boiler Room guys, that Riky Rick wasn’t performing anymore, lost a chunk of the attendees but the information was swiftly re-announced as a delay, which helped convince the rest of the crowd to stay.
At 1:20am, almost 1.5 hours after his original set time, Riky Rick stormed the main stage. His performance was well worth the wait, and thank goodness for that. He blazed through his hits, ‘Amantombazane’, ‘NAFUKWA’ and finally when he decided the crowd was ready, ‘Boss Zonke’. There is an undeniable magnetism between this artist and his crowd. He shares his life and his values so openly with his followers that his performances feel relatable. He performs with a smile glued to his face and it resembles bewilderment, like he can’t really believe that he gets to do this every night. Sadly, less than 30 minutes later his performance is over.
Toby2Shoes was at the helm of the DJ stage for the last set and one of the food truck crews even shut down early in order to not miss his set. Whether you ended your night bouncing around a sweaty dancefloor to infectious Balkan beats or shouting “fok julle naaiers” at the main stage, you succeeded because you attended. I feel sorry for anyone who chose to stay at home.
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All Day 1 photos courtesy of Laura McCullagh.