20 December 2013

14. - 20 Dec.: Cape Town tour and music

Tour of the city with Teddy, a big colored man in his mid-thirties who is passionate about his country and especially his city. He takes us around in his van, the two of us together with two Indian couples in their sixties from Delhi.

As he drives along he fills time with his personal anecdotes. A predictable but nonetheless moving one is his memory of the day Mandela was freed in 1990 and spoke to the crowd. It could have been the beginning of the end for the country. Blacks and coloreds were waiting for their day of revenge, or at least of payback. Teddy tells with still vibrant emotions that they were all waiting for a signal to go and get them... But Mandela spoke of peace and reconciliation, and South Africa lived.

He drops us off at the bottom of the cable car that will take us to the Table Top, the landmark mountain of Cape Town and  Natural World Heritage Site of UNESCO. We are lucky today: not only is the weather great: sunny and just slightly breezy. But, most importantly, there is very little wind, and wind is the main reason why the service is shut down on most days. Now however the cable car runs with hurried alacrity, ferrying hundreds of people up and down the mountain.

Not only that: at the bottom station of the cable car, a huge bill board proudly announces that Table Top has been declared a wonder of the world. Well...

The view from the top is indeed stunning. Lots of people but enough space for everyone to enjoy his personal corner with Cape Town, Robben Island and the ocean as background.

As we continue our tour, a more interesting and unusual story we hear from Teddy as we drive by the city court house. It is that of his brother, whose skin is very fair. While they sahre the same parents, Teddy came out much darker. It happens. because of his whitish skin, his brother Henry was taken away from his family and sent to white orphanage. It was not considered acceptable for a "white" kid to be brought up in a colored family. Henry spent some time in the white orphanage, while their mother tried all possible legal recourse to have him back home. It took some years, but in the end she prevailed. That a mother had to go through all that ordeal to prove a kid was her own son highlights once more, if needed, the absurdity of the foundation upon which the apartheid regime was built.

Evening of jazz with Sobelo, of Flipsidetrails. He is a dynamic jolly good fellow who organizes special tours ...off the beaten track. We are going to spend the evening and the night with local jazz musicians.

Our first stop is at the home of Hilton Schilder, in a suburb of Cape Town that we reach after a 20-minute drive. Hilton and his wife welcome us at the door and we are led into their small but comfortable house. After we take our seats in the living room, in front of a grand piano, Hilton tells us a bit about his personal history.

Hilton grew up in a musical family: he is the son of famous jazz pianist and band leader Tony Schilder. He was around when his dad’s jazz band rehearsed and secretly climbed on drummer Monty Weber´s drum kit when rehearsals were over. At the age of three he was given his first very own drum. From an early age he began to play in many different kinds of groups. There were jazz bands, Carnival troupes, disco bands, hip-hop groups and he was part of all of these in one way or another.

He now plays several instruments, though the keyboard is his main choice. Today he is playing an electric keyboard for us because his piano is out of tune.

In the 1980s he founded with Mac McKenzie The Genuines, which specialized in the music of the Cape Province Goema. He introduced experimental concept bands like African Dream and Iconoclast (with Victor Ntoni and Vusi Khumalo) to combine traditional South African music with contemporary genres. In addition, he led his own groups, he has performed with Festival on the Cape Town International Jazz, and went on tour with John Enders.

This band also performed in Germany, Holland and Italy. He has also performed solo in France. He was the driving force behind the band, Iconoclast, and he is a regular member of Robbie Jansen's, Sons of Table Mountain as well as substantial contributor to these groups' repertoire as a composer.

His first album under his own name No Turning Back (2003) was nominated in the category 'Best Contemporary Jazz Album' for a South African Music Award (SAMA). It offers a range of music from Cape Jazz, through rock/pop to electro ambient sounds.  With Alex van Heerden, he founded the duo RockArt, the direction in acoustic and electronic jazz minimal moves and also appeared in Switzerland. With Mac McKenzie he has launched in recent years, projects such as Namakwa, the District Six band and The Goema Captains of Cape Town to life. In 2008 he was given the opportunity, his various activities as Artist in Residence in the Bird's Eye Jazz Club in Basel imagine

Hilton's cultural roots are ever evident in his work. He is intensely aware of his social and political surroundings. He describes himself as a "mind freedom fighter".He has also been a fighter against his liver cancer, which at one point seemed to have seriously threatened his life but from which he now seems to have recovered.

Finally, his eclectic personality spans over the visual arts as well. He like painting and has produced interesting etchings.

by Hilton Schilder

In the meantime his wife is putting the final touches on her meal. As many South Africans, they are of mixed blood and also mixed culinary heritage and tonight's fare blends some Malay flavors with more purely African meat and veggies.

A simple but delicious meal and when we are done it feels as if we'd been friends for ages. I am sure we'll meet again.

But the musical evening is not out: after leaving the Schilders at around 10:00pm, we head back to twon for the Mohogany room pub, where Shane Cooper and his famed double bass are playing with a small band of piano, sax and drums.

On the way, Sobelo slides a CD by Abdullah Ibrahim, another symbol of the country's music, into his car's player.

At the Mohogany Room we are welcomed by a pretty lady at the door. After paying our ticket we walk inside and take our seat a few rows away from the stage. After which we go and grab a drink. I go for my usual boring gin and tonic, but Yan is faithful to her Sex on the beach. As always, she is met by a giggle and a shaking of heads from the other side of the counter... The wooden chairs in the small room is packed with an audience of perhaps eighty, and quite a few more are standing by the walls. It is quite hot and stuffy but the rythms.

Shane Cooper

It is quite warm though a couple of A/C machines pour a cold avalanche of freezing air right on top of our heads. I love it despite the fact that my skull is no longer protected by hair, but Yan finds this artificial breeze annoying. I tell her that there is not much we can do, it is hot as it is and it would be unbearably stuffy if they turned it off, and plus can we ask the management to make everyone else sweat, including me, because she does not like A/C.  But, as always, she has her way: during intermission she politely asks the lady at the counter if anything can be done and while I bury my head in my hands and look the other was the lady simply stops the A/C's swinging blades so that the cool air is now directed to the ceiling and not down to our heads. Simple.

When all of this is sorted out we can start enjoying our music. Shane Cooper, as often with double bass players in jazz, is a bit overshadowed by the piano, the drums and especially the sax. He does stand out in a couple of solo improvisations though, and his natural talent as well as his precise technique immediately strike me as out of the ordinary.

It's been a long day in Cape Town, and one to remember for a long time.

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