Feature Opinion

Wandile Mbambeni at Cafe Roux

There isn’t anything quite like an exceptional live performance from an artist you admire to soften the harrowing thought of venturing back home in rather endless stormy weather. Yet small talk makes it rounds as individuals of all walks are seated in the warm and sheltered milieu of Café Roux’s admirably quaint and intimate venue. It’s a considerable turnout despite the unfavourable climate as the evening’s growing attendance eagerly await the imminent start of soulful singer/songwriter Wandile Mbambeni’s equally expressive set.

Noordhoek played host as the prime spot for the very first instalment of a series of concerts in support of the production and release of Mbambeni’s forthcoming EP “Maturation.” It’s an album Mbambeni characterised during the performance as a reflection of his artistic growth that authentically demonstrates the development and current direction of himself as a producer and musician. This served as but one explanation from several throughout the evening in which Mbambeni contextualised and expanded upon either the inception of a specific song or the history of his artistry. In this manner he also adopted the role of storyteller as he merrily engaged with the audience in narrative form.

‘Fuck The Fairytales’ and ‘Lovers Like You’ are performed first, Mbambeni and his acoustic guitar alone, before three recruited session musicians make their way to the platform. He introduces the latter track by way of a comical anecdote, disclosing how the original title spoke of friends instead of lovers, which he felt sounded “just a bit too cheesy.” The tale that follows is a commending introduction of the additional members who were set to perform alongside him for the remaining duration of his act.

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They cleverly begin with a cover of Tom Misch’s jazzy lounge instrumental, ‘The Journey,’ as an opening indicative of the evening’s fuller proceeding sound. Together they masterfully attain the groove inherent to this track, smiling at one another and shaking their heads in disbelief as they slip in and out of its fluid motion. Bassist, Prince Ntsikelelo Mafu, effortlessly glides through the leading bass melody in an undeniably smooth and velvet-like tone, met by the shimmering bright notes of a keyboard as Nkosinathi Matomela’s fingers gently gloss across its keys. Tefo Mahola’s downtempo and skilful syncopated rhythmic structures of percussion affords the group its final piece of instrumentation to perfectly balance the combination of soul, jazz, and hip hop merged within their set.

The fusion of genre is favourably welcomed as heads instantly begin to bop and sway along the ensuing patterns of rhythm and melodic progression both meticulously and vibrantly delivered in the tracks that follow. There’s a great amount of chemistry between the group visible in the clear admiration and respect they harbour for one another, sporting variations of a pout or frown as they enjoy each other’s talent. Mbambeni stretches his hands out as his sings, moving his fingers in the air according to the ascending or falling phrase of a melody. His vocals are pleasantly coarse and throaty at times, suitably reflecting the emotive and spirited nature of his lyricism.

Members of the audience begin to dance alongside the infectious rhythm of the final few tracks like ‘Our Lives Matter’ as the group nears the end of their set. “Let’s get tribal!” Mbambeni happily remarks as he encourages those out of their seats to continue dancing. An encore is then passionately requested and immediately fulfilled as an additional two songs of a similarly mobile and dance worthy calibre are presented. The evening thus successfully faced a heightened end in a zealous and gripping finale of a soulful and immensely skilled performance.

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Watch Wandile perform ‘Lovers Like You’ below.