Tradition and improv find musical foundations at Rootspring with Amathongo

An evening at Rootspring, a tall house originally built for an opera singer, just meters to Muizenberg’s False Bay beach, is guaranteed to swallow patrons into a vortex of known and unknown musical originality – wedding the traditional with improvisation that produce acoustically pleasing and sometimes surprising sounds. There’s also an experience to be had as the nontraditional seating ranges from movable chairs and large stuffed cushions on a bouncy floor made for dancing, to pillows on the stairwell to enhance the view onto the stage as well as the sound – in last Saturday’s case – of the five-piece Amathongo group.

Hidden away on the razed wing of the large main room is a wooden stove firing much welcomed heat on this wet wintry Cape Town night. Patrons arrive early to chat with friends and peg their seats, and perhaps open that bottle of wine they’ve brought and hope the cork doesn’t break into the bottle. When the gig starts sharp at 7pm, a hushed silence welcomes the incredible sounds and rhythms that break out for the first set.

https://youtu.be/cICllz9zfBE

Amathongo, an ethnically diverse group of musicians, entices you to connect with ‘ancestral spirits’, which is the isiZulu meaning. In keeping with Rootspring’s philosophy of promoting musical creativity, Amathongo describes itself as an evolving world music project, unique, South African and original. Its use of improvisation is also deeply rooted in traditional African styles. The sound strongly features traditional Southern African musical bows and other traditional African Instruments made popular by singer Madosini with her varieties of Uhade bows, and Pedro Espi-Sanchis on traditional flute. Get ready for a journey that beckons the listeners to explore their own ancestral roots!

Hilton Schilder outside his home in CT- credit Franziska Lentes

What makes a concert exciting is to see how each musician projects sounds within a classical musical scoring that allows for free flow solos. Pianist Hilton Schilder, known for his allegorical stories around the Cape ghoema music, most recently on his album, Alter Native, brings a spirituality to his piano. Coming from the legendary Cape Town musical Schilder family, Hilton has mastered traditional instruments that are home to the khoi/san roots of the Cape.


The keeper of the ancestral soul of Amathongo is Madosini on Xhosa bows, who centers the musically emotive storytelling within the group. All add their vocals to her isiXhosa praising and healing chants. Madosini is also the comic, with body language and facial expressions that jerk suddenly, waking up the otherwise meditative audience.  https://youtu.be/Gemr9gru72U

Madosini’s fellow singer and percussionist, Lungiswa Plaatjies, adds vocals and rhythms which enchant. Seasoned by her uncle, Dizu Plaatjies, professor of African indigenous music at University of Cape Town, ‘Lulu’ as she is called, became lead female vocalist of South Africa’s famous Amampondo group with her uncle. Their album, Ekhaya, became a popular eclectic, Xhosa-language version of Marvin Gaye’s Inner City Blues. Lulu has also reached music heights by being the first South African female musician to play the imbira and incorporate it into her compositions.    https://sarafinamagazine.com/2019/05/14/a-conversation-with-lungiswa-plaatjies/

One of Rootspring’s visionaries, guitarist Johnny Blundell, adds strings and box percussion that makes Amathongo sound eclectic with raps of folk and jazz.

Pedro with Madosini

But the eyes stare at the antics of Pedro Espi-Sanchis, known as ‘Pedro the Music Man’ from his long-running children’s television series in the 1990s. Rarely seen with Amathongo lately, Pedro proudly presents his kelp pipe flute, stringed guitar on tortoise shell, and a gourd-cased mbira.    https://youtu.be/XUFgqiCIYDk

Born in Spain and raised in France, Pedro has pleased audiences in South Africa for over 30 years through performances, education with young audiences, and storytelling. He can leave kids (and adults) spellbound as he shows how found objects can make music – paw-paw leaves, kudu horns, cow-bells, calabashes, seaweed, and more. It was the latter that he played on this inspiring Amathongo evening at Rootspring that excited – a Lekgodilo flute made from kelp pipe. Go down to your friendly Cape Town beach and find some black rubbery kelp pipe, cut it properly, and start blowing! Pedro shows how     https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=89&v=AN1OAXyjf9c

According to this instructive vimeo, the flute produces a lydian scale which becomes chromatic after the 6th degree. It is here where the roots of Jazz, i.e. improvisation, started from early times.    https://vimeo.com/8274470

Johnny Blundell, who also comes from an illustrious musical family in Cape Town, has visions and supports to make Rootspring one of the most eclectic, original, and progressive musical venues in greater Cape Town. Well-marketed with its newsy email Newsletter, it tells well in advance the types of bands booked for the month ahead. Sign up! http://www.rootspring.co.za  Become a Rootspringer!

Tickets are at www.quicket.co.za and include a pensioner price as well as pre-booked dinner wraps as a meal for those wanting a munch during the concert interval. Glasses are provided for your bring-your-own drinks or wines.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Carol's Musings, Live Performance Reviews

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.