Cape Town Music Safari: Food stories and all that jazz

A new take on cultural tourism – Cape Town Music Safari. Follow Ishay-Govender-Ypma as she takes a look at this new phenomenon and good food, of course. For The Times (SA), 13 Jan 2016.

Hilton Schilder’s living room is so reassuringly familiar, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were visiting your uncle or aunt. I take in the glass cabinet stacked with trinkets with years of memorabilia, a large black doll next to the settee, a globe on top of a cabinet, family photographs and a small tapestry of The Last Supper. When Schilder, a self-taught multi-instrumentalist, sits at the piano below the tapestry playing Tesna 15, a ballade in a series dedicated to his wife of more than 30 years, you can imagine yourself in a music hall or a jazz club anywhere in the city.

We are in Grassy Park in the Cape Flats, a group of five – a couple from Holland and one from Pretoria and myself, on a “jazz safari” in Cape Town with Cofeebeans Routes, accompanied by tour guide Sabelo Maku. Running for a decade, the tour takes guests into the homes of local musicians where a meal and stories are shared, Cape Jazz is enjoyed and finally, the night ends with a performance at a local jazz club.

Iain Harris, founder of Coffeebeans Routes, Cape Town cultural tourism enterprise, explains that the jazz venues back then were offering a staid and mediocre experience. “We wanted some craziness in the music and the venues that weren’t possible at the jazz venues at the time.” The line-ups didn’t always include the greatest or most interesting musicians either at the then Green Dolphin and Mannenberg’s at its Waterfront location. Operations manager Michael Letlala proposed a tour around jazz music featuring the talented musicians they’d come to know well (Schilder is SAMA nominated), in the form of an intimate home concert.  Harris says: “I’d been waiting for someone to throw that at me. From my previous business,, I had all the connections with the jazz musicians, having worked with them on tours, albums and concerts for five years prior.” The Jazz Safari, initially featuring the multi-talented goema-meets-opera musician Mac McKenzie in his former Bridgetown (near Langa) home, was developed to cater for the obvious gap in the market. From Harris and Letlala’s perspective, investment in sensitive storytelling and giving communities a platform to do this is key to their business.

Both Coffeebeans Routes and Unesco espouse the importance of cultural tourism and having the right mechanisms in place to ensure it is sustainable, non-exploitative and respectful. At a conference on the topic in early 2015, Unesco announced that the one billion tourists who travel across borders offer opportunities for socio-economic development that shouldn’t be missed. “ Cultural tourism has proven to increase competitiveness, create employment opportunities, curb rural migration, generate income for investment in preservation, and nurture a sense of pride and self-esteem among host communities,” the statement declares.

But the pitfalls are plenty too. Speedy drives through townships, visiting sites dedicated to a narrow view of the past, and regurgitating a cycle of exploitation and low wages are commonplace. Working with communities across Cape Town, tours are transformed into experiences with the hosts sharing an unedited story that is truly their own.

As the evening at Schilder’s proceeds, second helpings of Tesla’s chicken curry are served and we are entertained to more ballads (including one dedicated to his infant grandson, Aiden whom he shows us a picture of on his cell phone), nose flute and drums, the musician opens up. Born into a musical family, his first memory of playing an instrument is around age three, when he’d sit in the dining room and watch his father and his friends practice. Like many of the musicians of his time, Schilder can’t read music, instead, he has stored an almost encyclopaedic range of scores in his mind.

Like a jazz riff, Schilder speech becomes rhythmically scattered – excited, and mellow in waves. He tells us about his time in Basel, Switzerland and playing international gigs, the cannabis oil he swears by as part of his post-cancer treatment, and his revolutionary goema-rock band The Genuines back in the eighties and almost getting kicked out of the concert venue in conservative town Louis Trichardt, in Limpopo. “Here Mac [McKenzie, former bandmate], dark as the night, arrives with these blondes on his arms. I thought we’re going to get shot, for sure.” He laughs, and plays s preview of tracks on his upcoming album of World and fusion, a collaboration with Madosini (Latozi Mpahleni), the “queen mother” of jazz, an 80-year-old Xhosa bow player. Everyone in the room requests a copy of Uhambo, which Schilder explains means a spiritual journey, much like the one he has been on the past few years, but it isn’t out yet.

The music on Uhambo is a representation of the present – jazz composed of the sounds of this land, with tribute paid to the ancestors and homage given to the Cape’s ever-evolving music culture.

Asked about his favourite genres, Schilder shrugs, clearly having been asked this many times before. “Well, I can tell you what I don’t like. It’s that old, old country. Man lost his horse, his wife, his life,” he convulses with laughter, as does the room.

Schilder’s brand of Cape jazz, while introspective and moving tells a different story today – it’s fluid, humourous and hopeful.

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