Mr Cat & The Jackal. Photo by author.

A Musician's Guide to Cape Town's Indie-Folk Scene

Cape Town Travel Insider Guides
by Nate Maingard Jun 14, 2012
Matador community expert and indie-folk musician Nate Maingard lays out five of his favorite Cape Town spots for watching live music.

I MAY BE BIASED — I’m an indie-folk singer-songwriter — but I believe Cape Town is the heart of the indie-folk music scene in South Africa, with some of the indiest, folksiest, and raddest musicians around. On any given night in the Mother City you can catch skilled and passionate musicians pouring their hearts into people’s ears.

Some names to watch out for include Andrew James & The Steady Tiger, Joshua Grierson, Miles Sievwright, Tim Hutchinson, Gary Thomas, Paige Mac, and Nuka.

I personally favour venues which have a warm atmosphere and an audience that really listens. The following five places barely scratch the surface, but I hope they can act as a springboard into many more nights of cool vibes and high times.

1. Alma Café

This is a café by day, and cream of the crop folk venue by night. Run by the Taits, a local musical family, Alma Café is small, personal, and with the best sound I’ve ever experienced on a small stage. When the lights dim and the spot lights up the stage, the sense of anticipation is palpable. These people really give a shit and it shows. They have a simple bar, serve delicious food, and the very best musicians in the country are lining up to play there.

I played the raddest gig there with Joshua Grierson back in December. The place was packed and we ended up having a crazy bluesy-folk jam at the end with a funk-style bass line topped by the soul-searing violin of Rayelle Goodman. Suffice to say, sweat flew and feet stomped and nothing was ever the same again.

Address: 20 Alma Road, Rosebank.
Contact: Jon or Richard, 0027 21 685 7377

2. The Waiting Room

The Waiting Room is a long-running bar, night club, and music venue. What I love is that although it’s on Long Street, which is Cape Town’s most hip and happening hub, The Waiting Room still inspires a wonderful homely atmosphere when it has indie-folk music on. This could be because of the extremely comfortable couches, or the beautiful and strangely warped wooden wall behind the stage, or it could be a whole bunch of other things. Either way, it’s awesome, and I’ve played and heard many a magical music evening there. It has a full bar, and a cute, fairy-lit rooftop terrace and balcony overlooking the busy street.

Address: 273 Long Street, Cape Town.

3. The Cottage Club

The Cottage Club is the acoustic love-child of Bill Knight and his lady Gail, who have been a part of the folk scene since the 60s. They’ve created a space which inspires nothing short of utter contentment: you are literally in their home. Orange-glowing lamps burn on the wooden tables, tasty home-made soup is available by the ladle-full, and the crackling fire forms the backdrop to the musical delicacies on offer. Plus, they happen to have the country’s best folk musicians playing there on a regular basis.

Booking is almost always essential as the seating is very limited. The Cottage Club can be difficult to find, because it’s on the Southern Peninsula, tucked away in a residential area. Fortunately, Bill and Gail are about as friendly as two people can be, so call them up for directions.

Address: 26 Mauritius Crescent, Capri, Southern Peninsula.
Contact: Bill, 0027 21 7855052

4. Cape Farmhouse

The Cape Farmhouse is slightly different in that it’s an outdoor venue and definitely not primarily a folk venue, although plenty folk happens there. I included it because they are out on a farm near Cape Point Nature Reserve, and so have one of the most beautiful settings imaginable for live music. I basically grew up on this farm, and it has since become one of the most incredible places to listen to South Africa’s top musicians. Expect happy families, jungle gym swings, dusty dance-floor shenanigans, great farm food, and home-brewed beverages.

The Cape Farmhouse is only open in the summer, and is far out from the centre of town, but is so worth the drive. I promise you will make new friends and dance the afternoon away with them, while sipping on beer brewed less than three miles away.

Address: Junction M66 and M65, bottom of Redhill Road; 3kms past Scarborough.
Contact: Sarah, 0027 21 780 1246

5. Blue Bird Garage Market

This is not technically a music venue, but rather a weekly night market in a beautiful warehouse. It’s on the list because out of all the markets I’ve played (and that’s most of them in Cape Town), this is the one where I always get the best response. People sit nearby at wooden old-door tables and listen and applaud, and I always walk away feeling like my music has been appreciated.

The Blue Bird doesn’t have music every Friday, but you should still go if you’re into second hand books, home-made jewellery, home-cooked food, and / or watching hipster parents get tipsy on locally brewed ale while their kids run amok. They’ve also recently installed a new stage, which means that music is going to be featuring much more strongly in the near future. Yay!

Address: 39 Albertyn Road, Muizenberg, 7945.
Contact: Dylan, 0027 82 493 9055

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