Ntombe Thongo

The City Hall Sessions, held on a chilly Sunday evening, brought a diverse Cape Town crowd to the City Hall to celebrate Africa Day.

Newcomer Ntombe Thongo (pictured), from the rural Eastern Cape, warmed the audience with an energetic performance that was impressive not only in sound, but dance, too. The Swiss-Ethiopian group, Imperial Tiger Orchestra, on their second visit to Cape Town, eased into their unique blend of groove and Ethiopian funk.

The multiple-award-winning vocalist, Ringo Madlingozi, closed the evening for an enthusiastic crowd who were swaying the moment the star got on the stage.

The sessions continue to introduce Cape Town audiences to music they might not always have access to.

The City Hall Sessions is a project that brings together several partners to present performances that explore the legendary space in terms of sound and lighting and aims to diversify audiences.

The sessions are presented by the Cape Town Partnership and funded by the National Lotteries Development Trust Fund of South Africa. The series was launched in September 2011 with performances by Ray Lema (DRC) and Chico Cesar (Brazil) and has since showcased musicians from more than 12 countries.

The concerts have in the past showcased local and international acts with a heavy slant on Africa and its diaspora, plus contemporary jazz. The series has including Thandiswa Mazwai, Ismael Lo, Paul Hanmer and McCoy Mrubata.

Steve Gordon, the director of the City Hall Sessions, is responsible for curating the series and says organising a line-up always has to do with availability – of venue and artists – plus the resources required for performances.

The City Hall was initially built to cater for classical music and opera, rather than contemporary music. Hence when there are performances that require amplified music or entail percussion, challenges arise.

Gordon works with his production company, Making Music, on managing the most ideal way of mediating the venue’s acoustic challenges, but admits that it isn’t always an easy feat.

Ideally, the venue would need to be fitted with its own equipment that would allow the City Hall to be a space that works for music of all varieties.

While these concerts are made possible by the funding from the National Lottery, there is still a need to support the contribution to the creative capital of the city. Financing and resources are factors that need to be taken into consideration before each event, as it is still largely an independently-run offering. The city could see a lot more of these kinds of events with the right support to help build the venue into a world-class structure.

Admittedly, the City Hall is a magnificent space, and using it in the optimum way is really the aim behind the sessions, in terms of presenting music that adds to the cultural spaces of the city, rather than for popular concerns.

Gordon said he would like to see African Day eKapa become an annual fixture on the City of Cape Town’s event calender.

The frequency of City Hall Sessions events depends on several factors, including the availability of the venue. However, there are gigs planned for July and around Heritage day in September.