Breaking Bread with peer duo: Keenan Ahrends and Sisonke Xonti

Mankind has always explored ways to bring people (e.g. strangers) together for amusements, discourse, and perhaps wallowing in mystery. From amphitheaters of the early Greeks, to jousts which hurt, to musical bands on a stage with glittering lights and fake smoke jets to wow the audience – all achieve one motive: to make people ‘feel good’ and escape from some horrors of everyday life!

On a more positive note, one could say that ‘breaking bread’ connotes a kinder, more compassionate way of interacting with one’s fellow sapiens, that feeding one another food for nourishing body and mind sustains integrity and societal cohesion.

That happens at a smallish house, at 373 Koeberg Road in Rugby, a suburb of Cape Town: The open plan kitchen becomes the social hub with its fridge packed full of beer and stove top covered with pots full of ‘traditional’ African dishes. That’s for the hungry, at R80 a plate, after the first set of the musical duo of Standard Bank Young Artists guitarist Keenan Ahrends and 2020 awardee saxophonist Sisonke Xondi, both graduates of the University of Cape Town’s School of Music, Jazz Studies.

Both young men played songs from their respective albums: Ahrends Narratives (2017) which is a delightful mix of home-grown Cape ghoema, grungy blues rock, free jazz, and bits of traditional South African music. Xondi’s Iyonde album (2018) presents layers of emotion and discourse about some of his life experiences. Both musicians are featured on each other’s album.

Back to breaking bread… It’s about having the experience. One must pass through this sociable kitchen in order to get to the listening venue, a long oblong space with cushions (no chairs) and one couch for the elders with unbendable knees. It’s a cozy, meditative space that leads to a patio where the ‘stage’ faces more cushion seating. No amplification, strictly acoustic sounds pleasantly passing over heads silently awed by this improvising duo. During the long break between sets, one engages in vibrant conversations, meeting new people, and chatting with the cooks-owners of the venue, all animated with spirits flowing (both liquid and heartfelt) as the DJ plays his choice of vinyls that complement the human vibrations of the evening. I watched the men hosts take our drinks, while the ladies dished out generous plates of samp and beans topped with pulled, roasted brisket of meat, red cabbage and grilled zucchini. Thobile Ndenze, one of the managers of these Sunday evening events, explained how it all worked: food, live acoustic music, informalities, with an intergenerational buzz and relaxed, appreciative patrons – all produces a contagious vibe.

A graduate of the University of Capetown’s College of Music, Ahrends has immersed himself in musical open markets for absorbing jazz expressions, particularly from Norway where he studied at its Academy of Music and collaborated with those artists, and from parts of South Africa through his peer friendships. Similarly, but on a different musical course, Xonti veered from his study of law to pursue jazz more seriously – “musicians seemed to be happier people than lawyers”, he was quoted as saying in one interview.

Xonti was named Standard Bank’s Young Artist in Jazz 2020 and is seen collaborating with various bands both in Cape Town and in Johannesburg where he has spent a long residence. Influenced by John Coltrane and the late South African legend, Ezra Ngcukana, from his home area, Xonti mixes fast, clean improvisational runs with textures of emotions, from wailing to soft slower ballads, carefully adapting to his feel of the now.

I think I made several friends at Breaking Bread, a wonderful venue for intimate house concerts, and the music certainly nourished my weary soul on this Sunday night, making the week ahead sure to succeed.

Stay tuned to Breaking Bread’s Sunday eve activities at:
tel: 079 601 1313;

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