“No one said that freedom would be so hard, rainbow child.” These words from the lead vocalist of South African band The Brother Moves On sent ripples through the crowd at the Cape Town World Music Festival on Friday night.
When I had entered Cape Town City Hall, almost seven hours earlier, the grandeur of a hall adorned with heavy wood finishes, a high ceiling and hallowed organ pipes had already been masked in a haze of smoke that suggested the feel of being in an outdoor venue. The chairs had been cleared, and the hall stood vast and empty before the stage, spare a few first-band supporters and early-comers. Upstairs, the stairway opened onto two placards – one in English, the other in Afrikaans – branding the words “Making progress possible. Together.” — a signature statement of the City of Cape Town.
First up on the main stage was Ottoman Slap, a five-piece band that tuned the atmosphere to their sultry Spanish energy.
Despite my initial concern about the emptiness of City Hall, a steady flow of people, many donning dark winter coats, drifted into the venue and the crowd thickened quickly during the first few sets.
The legendary Vieux Farka Touré played one of the most popular and well-supported sets. By the time the celebrated Malian guitar soloist came into view, enthusiastic spectators wanting a full frontal experience had already pushed their way to the edge of the stage. And they were not disappointed. The noticeable gold jewellery on Touré’s hands had nothing on the lightness of his fingers and the ease of his presence.
Other accomplished performances included the likes of Carlo Mombelli – Johannesburg-based educator and musician, who is dangerous on a bass guitar; afro-folk singer Bongeziwe Mabandla whose vocal versatility goes unparalleled; and The Brother Moves On, one of the most refreshing progressive South African bands of the moment.
At one point later into the evening, after sweating to the popular Miss H’s Bollywood fusion dub electronic set, I needed some fresh air. I walked downstairs and stepped outside towards the Kentucky Fried Chicken across the road, where I could buy a drink for a fraction of the indoor price. A few isolated 24-hour stalls could be seen standing lonesomely on the Grand Parade. I lingered out in the cold air.
The music could be heard clearly from outside. And as I took a curious stroll around the building I discovered two car guards, in a street crammed with cars, dancing fearlessly with carefree energy on the other side of the wall closest to the main stage adjacent. As I watched them moving to the music like they had planned to be there precisely for it, I saw two young men claiming a freedom that exposure to culture invigorated, a freedom that many would buy a ticket for.
Distracted from my whereabouts, I met Simba, a 23-year old member of the ‘outdoor community,’ as he describes it, who came to introduce himself. He, too, was enjoying the music, but unlike most, if not all, attendees of the event, he did not have plans on leaving when the show was over.
If the bodies outside were moved by the reverberations of the electronic stage in the same way as those jamming unstoppably before it, could it not suggest a commonality in spirit amongst citizens of a city so divided by social categories? If the roof of Cape Town’s City Hall were to lift and its walls were to crumble to the drop of one of Okmalumkoolkat’s killer sonic builds, might it be possible that a shared atomic moment of cultural freedom would destroy the walls we, as urban citizens, put around ourselves to dismiss those with whom we consider not to be associated?
If a city can be source of culture, and a promoter of cultural exposure, surely it can be a catalyst in popular realisation of relatedness? If it is a thought worthy of considering, it may follow to suggest that if music and dance allows for one to experience a sense of being at peace with the world that is universal, a tangible sense of freedom may be possible. Together.
images credit: Jonx Pillemer | Cape Town World Music Festival
Based in Cape Town, South Africa, Christy Zinn is a postgraduate researcher and urban thinker striving to interrogate the social and spatial dynamics of cities. Believing that people make a city tick, she focuses on invoking a culture of active citizenship within urban communities.Read older posts from this section