Cape Town’s music scene: an insider’s perspective

Cape Town is a creative melting pot of talented musicians, a potpourri of styles, and a host of great venues. Music editor Tecla Ciolfi, of popular music blog Texx and the City, gives us her scoop.

For live music, my favourite venue in Cape Town has to be The Assembly in Harrington Street. For almost eight years it has hosted every kind of event imaginable; from metal to hip hop to staple student parties.

For something a little different, I do believe that Manila Bar has to be experienced at least once. Even on a night when there isn’t a live music event happening on the top floor, there’s bound to be crazy karaoke shenanigans happening on the floor below. I also really like The Annex in Kalk Bay. It’s great for a chilled sundowner after a day at the beach, or dinner and a show later in the evening.

The word “iconic” means different things to different people, but in my opinion progressive rock group BLK JKS are iconic in a South African context simply because there is no other group quite like them. For me, they challenge the conventions of the genre pigeonhole, while creating a space and sound all their own.

Koos Kombuis is another iconic artist, not only because of the incredible body of Afrikaans rock that he has produced, but because he was one of the forces behind the “Voëlvry” movement, an anti-establishment group of Afrikaans artists that stood against the atrocities of apartheid at a time when it was not a safe or fashionable thing to do. A band like Fokofpolisiekar immediately springs to mind as legendary. They’re pretty much the bastion of South African rock ‘n’ roll, having spawned a movement and given voice to a disenchanted group of South African youths.

Cape Town abounds with young up-and-coming bands and artists. Ska/rock band Grassy Spark is currently probably the most exciting band on the scene. I’m also really enjoying rapper Dope Saint Jude’s material.

Whether you’re a visitor or a local, a Sunday afternoon concert at Kirstenbosch Gardens is simply a must-see. The venue’s location is unparalleled and the acts are always local stalwarts. If you want to experience a South African music festival in the Cape Town area, then Rocking the Daisies would probably be the pick. This festival, held in early October, is an institution and has grown to become the biggest weekend festival in the Western Cape.”

Is The Waiting Room the best live music venue in Cape Town? Maybe…

While managing a popular live music venue in trendy Observatory in the late 1990s, Angela Wieckl developed a passion for South Africa music. Today she’s a premier DJ who shares her tips for top venues, and memories of events gone by.

As far as my favourite live music venues go, after years of trying I still struggle to match the energy of The Waiting Room. The intimacy of that space when you’re watching an emotional performance is chilling. And when it’s packed to the brim, people singing along to their favourite band, the unity is euphoric.

I also think the real secret with acoustic shows is to follow the punk or ska kids, they were band nerds in school so they have really great music knowledge. They’re in pubs, coffee shops, crazy little joints where you grab a table and three beers later you’re part of the gang.

In terms of live music it’s no longer about the venue, but rather about the artist. People will go where the music pulls them, so the trick is to find the band you enjoy most and go out of your way to see them in as many places as possible.

I have been fortunate enough to be on the support line-up of a few very popular artists. What that leads to is a lot of mania — I’ve seen girls cry and hyperventilate. I’ve seen metal crowd barriers crumple like paper. I stand in awe every time a group of a thousand people shout out song lyrics at the same time.

Where to dance to the beat of African drums

As cosmopolitan as Cape Town is, with its proliferation of shopping malls and trendy cafés, it is most definitely still part of Africa – and home to stimulating ethnic African music. Here’s where to get into the rhythm.

In the heart of Long Street, itself an essential part of any South African adventure, Mama Africa offers a vibrant and authentic African experience that is made all the more magical through music. Every night a live marimba band takes to the stage and rocks the restaurant with a variety of musical stylings till late into the night.

With a wide range of eclectic dishes and lively African entertainment, Marco’s African Place is where the rest of the world meets Africa. Conveniently situated a stone’s throw from Cape Town’s Fan Walk, Marco’s will greet you in true African style for an evening you won’t forget.

Only 20 minutes from the centre of Cape Town lies the township of Gugulethu. Here, the Thuthuka Jazz Café offers visitors a night filled with authentic local flavour, with world-class jazz mixed with traditional musical elements. Here you can expect a truly South African experience.

Based in the Cape Town Convention Centre, the Marimba Restaurant often features live music from bands that include some of the finest Congolese, Mozambican and South African musicians.

For an experience that will definitely stand out on your travels, Gold Restaurant in Green Point combines spontaneous, interactive entertainment with a delightful cross-section of African-themed food. Food is served as a set menu, but includes 14 different courses (tapas style), which means that your taste buds will almost certainly meet delicacies they have never met before. With three different performances throughout the course of the evening, this is one entertaining experience!