South Africa has never had a shortage of formidable musicians, but when it comes to venues, artists and fans have often been limited in their choice. Some artists enjoy playing to crowds that follow the Bieber philosophy of “all I need is a beauty and a beat” – and there are some pretty good venues around for those who are into that. Loud bars and clubs are great for dancing, drinking and some good old rock ‘n roll. But there are those artists whose music requires a little more attention from listeners – and a different sort of live music venue.
Café Roux in Noordhoek is considered by many to be a bulwark of the local live music scene. Over the 12 years since opening its doors in Noordhoek, the restaurant/venue has gained a formidable reputation, not only for hosting some of the best artists around but also for creating a space where fans can appreciate artists’ work, and by this I mean actually hear the notes they play and the words they sing. Too many venues stick artists in the corner to be seen, not heard – and then still play the “live music” card. But Café Roux has positioned itself as a family-friendly platform for the appreciation of local music.
So when I, as a music lover who pays particular attention to lyrical storytelling, heard that Café Roux had opened a second live music venue in Cape Town’s CBD, I had to go check it out.
“Eclectic-cool, meets urban-chic”
After the ritual vulture-like hunt for parking in Cape Town’s congested heart, I made my way to Shortmarket Street, where Café Roux’s narrow doorway leads into the dimly-lit venue, which is described in the terms “eclectic-cool meets urban-chic”. I’ve never heard those 4 adjectives used together, but the venue certainly has a warm and relaxed atmosphere with an earthy aesthetic.
The place was packed! Stephen Murdoch, a remarkable Capetonian singer-songwriter, had attracted a superb turnout. After a considerable amount of chaos, while the excited crowd found their seats (requiring more than a little convincing from frantic staff members), I sat back and had a look at the menu: Italian-style, featuring a range of woodfired pizzas, with vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options. I went for the margherita, which was simple, fresh and pretty delicious. The food envy still kicked in, however, when my friend’s Parma ham, avo, feta and rocket pizza arrived. These flavours were phenomenally balanced and the ingredients were top quality.
On the wall, to the left of the stage, is a larger-than-life size picture of David Bowie with a finger raised to his lips, telling people to be quiet and listen to the music. The message was echoed by signs on each table – “shhh… let’s listen to the music”. And when the host stepped onto the stage, about to announce the main act, the crowd obliged.
On stepped Stephen Murdoch to roaring cheers.
Stephen Murdoch’s peculiar demeanour and crystal clear voice, which he wields with astounding ease, immediately draws you in. His lyrics are masterfully crafted with a freedom of metaphor that takes flight with the imagination.
“Tug me, I’m a tug-boat, I got the holes and I got the ropes so you can patch me up”
He performed 5 songs accompanied only by his acoustic guitar, after which he was joined by a drummer, an electric guitarist and a bassist. While he eased the crowd into things with his gentle acoustic set, his four-piece band exploded into an alternative rock groove that elicited screams from the crowd.
And so it went until the last note was played.
A lot has happened in the world of music in recent years – locally and internationally. The rise of streaming services that provide access to millions of songs, has also seen the rise of those awkward baskets in Game and CNA, filled with CDs that no one is buying. MacBooks are now considered instruments.
But Café Roux is a testament to that which will always remain: the power of music to bring people together, to inspire, to influence and to entertain.
Café Roux Cape Town is situated at 74 Shortmarket Street, Cape Town City Centre.