A wintry, rainy, cold August night in Cape Town is totally forgotten as 51 patrons fill the intimate Alma Café in Rosebank to capacity, to enjoy an unusual fanfare of music, plus a burger meal with dessert. It’s not every day one can hear Cape Town’s musicians perform unique compositions in different formats of sound reflecting their genre preferences. The Cafe’s family-run business on a tiny slip of road called Alma Road boasts two guitar-playing musicians – country folk guitarist father Richard Tait, known for his creative trouser patchworks and monitoring the sound system, and guitarist son Jono Tait – and mother Raita managing a kitchen which very efficiently delivers meals before the gig begins. After enjoying the first course meal, the stage takes over.
The Café listens to the stage, but allows for plenty of talk time before and during the gig intervals when the dessert is served. The patrons have come out to enjoy the eclectic music from ‘Alternative Folk’ in this small venue with no loud, blaring amplification, or need for ear plugs to protect sensitive ears. One’s bring-your-own-bottle of wine on the table, with corkage fee, kept most comfortably warm.
Jono has chosen one of South Africa’s top percussionists, Ronan Skillen on tabla and shakes, to present an Eastern flavour to Jono’s own folk guitar. It’s not often a musician presents his intimate health issues on stage, but Jono unabashedly introduced one of his songs which is based on his dealing with depression challenges brought on by his own Bipolar Disorder. The song asks us to learn how to ‘slow down’ from the pressures we face in life. This moving piece leaves the listener quite spellbound at such honesty from a sometimes troubled musician. As a comrade in support, Ronan accompanied his guitarist in style and various rhythms that never overpowered.
The colleagues cracked jokes with each other while tuning up their instruments for the next song, allowing the audience to chime in. Musicians are known to feel at ease at Alma, often rapping a bit with the audience who return the joviality.
This set the stage for the next half, after a serving of dessert and coffee, as part of the meal offerings. Another ‘alternative folk’ takes over – a lady duo, both illustrious in their musical journeys. Singer/guitarist/educator Nicky Schrire has explored all sorts of musical genre, from her jazz studies at University of Cape Town to contemporary folk, singing her songs about Paris and back home, ‘Love Letter’ about Cape Town.
She and her childhood friend, cellist Ariella Caira, known for her sterling band membership with the all-female string band, Sterling EQ, combine their musical DNA and present soulful and inspirational ballads in expert unison. Their synchronicity reflects their individual journeys around the world, both performing and studying, in the worlds of jazz, classical, folk, and ‘alternative’ sounds in music. Nicky made the point that “love songs have already been taken care of which is why I focus on things, items, and not necessarily ‘love’ “. Her five years living in New York, plus collaborations with a multitude of domestic and international artists, has helped her combine her original jazz exposure with innovative sonic realms touching on a bit of Celtic and folk, embodied in her own compositions as well as interpretations of other’s works, such as the Beatenberg pop song, “Never Let Me Go” and her “Ingrid Yonker Suite” which blends folk, cinematic and art song genres. Also, think Joni Mitchell.
With a voice that can move from emotion to theatrics, Nicky describes herself as “trained in jazz but a troubadour by choice”. Besides an engaging stage presence, she projects humour, wit, an assertive personality, and storytelling abilities (both verbal and written) that are educative and highly entertaining. Her marketing skills cleverly explore the visual, using for instance the popular Woodstock-based Popsicle Studios’ video productions in Cape Town. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJbm3No_4qA Even Cape Talk radio’s John Maytham Show produced an interesting podcast discussion with Jono and Nicky about the nature of ‘Alternative Folk’, which also highlighted the types of venues artists prefer to perform in. http://www.capetalk.co.za/podcasts/144/the-john-maytham-show/235674/alternative-folk-at-the-alma-cafe
This evening ended with all four ‘Alternatives’ joining their sonic spirits to delight and haunt our understandings about our contemporary music-scape! https://youtu.be/d9Vs5sP2r3M
While many venues face fluctuations in patronage among cash-strapped fans, an intimate and friendly venue like Alma Café hopes to draw all those daring to venture into different sonic worlds for an affordable evening’s experience, rain or shine. Their listings can be seen on their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/The-Alma-Cafe-159089414146612/