One of the countless special performances at Straight No Chaser
The golden era of 2 of the most iconic venues in Cape Town, Tagore’s and Straight No Chaser (formerly known as The Mahogany Room) has closed. This fact is little known to the general public. Due to their minute sizes in comparison to most “clubs’ they made for an intimate setting for audiences passionate about music and performances in taste of whats commonly referred to as niche. In other words close to devoid of cliche. That’s not to say the individuals fortunate enough to experience the growth of so many young jazz artists currently on the rise are more special than the rest of the population of Cape Town but rather to point out the lack of spaces like this in the city.
That lack limits an amount of information going out hence reaching a smaller audience. The information is that there is a fruitful scene of youngsters making moves in the local jazz scene. That and the fact that their music is filled with the yearning to connect with the heritage of a people long lost in the historical narrative and education thereof. Cape Town’s mixed race population termed in the Apartheid era as the ‘coloured’ race in particular are much in need of this information in order to reconnect the dots of a mixed and near missing identity.
The mixed raced community and culture has long been referred to by other cultures and races in Cape Town particularly as ‘man with no culture’ but thanks to activists through time and especially more prolifically in the present education of the heritage can be traced through the San lineage, Cape Malay ancestry and linguistic dynamics rooted within the culture. The arts are at the forefront of this movement as artists, poets, musicians and filmmakers are compelled more and more to express knowledge of this heritage through their craft and gradually eliminate stigmas and stereotypes. The mark they now make echoes the voices once forced into exile because they were not allowed to perform the messages that may evoke and provoke freedom of thought nor knowledge of heritage during the Apartheid regime.
Many of these artist activists needed spaces within Cape Town to discuss relevant or irrelevant issues related to these topics, relax and to also get loose and feel comfortable. Tagore’s in Observatory became a space where the arts community could congregate and meet music lovers from all over the world thanks to Observatory’s global backpacking community. Ntone Edjabe chief editor of independent news magazine, Chimurenga set a tone for a music listening and dancing experience on Thursday nights which affectionately became known as ‘Church’. He would rock up with 5 or 6 crates of records and spin vinyl from all over the world but most predominantly highlighting sounds and grooves from the African diaspora. His sets were well respected as locals and foreigners for its educational aspect along with the ability to make bodies move and sweat as the venue filled to its brim on his nights.
Ntone Edjabe hosting ‘Church’
The Mahogany Room as it was known from it’s birth til the venue changed the name to Straight No Chaser was a jazz club for the purists founded by jazz artists that could sit quietly an attentively listen to live music. Since it was owned by jazz artists who shared the vision of a top quality venue drawing from inspiration of the intimate settings of New York jazz clubs. Kesivan Naaidoo and Lee Thompson not only shared these attributes as owners but also played frequently developing platforms for themselves as well as burgeoning young artists from the city and other parts of South Africa. Many of these artists also shared the love of Tagore’s as most of them used to share the stage there. As did DJ’s who specialized in vinyl. Tuesday nights were vinyl nights at Straight No Chaser where we played records as Future Nostalgia who shared the sentiments of Ntone.
Bassist, Shane Cooper was one of many local musicians who played at both SNC & Tagores
Together these space, artists, DJ’s, poets and collectives merged as like one extended family. If there is something that we at Future Nostalgia took away from the experience is that there is power in unity when you share love and like mindedness in things that shape and grow whats important. Hopefully, in time the interest and support of the general public will grow…. if we can only stick together – Futurist of Future Nostalgia
Future Nostalgia and Burning Museum collaboration.
El Corazon aka Atiyyah Khan hosting Future Nostalgia
The legacy of Tagores
By Atiyyah Khan (also known as El Corazon & founding member of Future Nostalgia)
Iconic music venue Tagores in Observatory closed its doors on Wednesday 30 March. This is a severe loss to the musical landscape of Cape Town, as another essential space dissolves under the pressures of sustainability.
For many, Tagores is more than a live music venue. It became a ‘love movement’ with distinct personality. Since it’s inception, it has been a home to musicians, djs and artists that all found themselves united under one creative space. Walking in at any odd hour of the night, one would find debates, philosophys and ideas exchanged between all kinds of writers, artists, musicians and even the odd Valkenburg outpatient.
The venue was opened by owner Kevin Nair in 2007, initially attracted to the cosy interior of the 1889 building. When Nair bought Tagores, it was a restaurant previously. He used to run a second-hand music store in Observatory and naturally wanted to open up a music venue. “I had to scuttle around to see how to round up the money to buy the spot, because I loved it as a space,” he says.
Tagores opened as a music venue and restaurant, with Hilton Schilder being one of the first musicians to play there. The following of the venue soon grew as people began to enjoy the relaxed feel and ambience of the space.
At first glance, the size of Tagores has always been shocking to many who make it inside, but Nair jokes, “the surprising thing about Tagores is that the walls expand the later it gets.” The venue at max appears small at first, but can manage about sixty people through it’s doors when full.
As a music venue, Tagores is unique in it hosts music seven nights a week including live music and poetry and there is no cover charge at the door.
Over the years, Tagores has not only hosted some of the biggest names in South African music, but more importantly been the breeding ground for many young jazz musicians who have gone onto flourish, such as pianist Kyle Shepherd, pianist Bokani Dyer, drummer Claude Cozens, vocalist Sakhile Moleshe and trumpeter Mandla Mlangeni. It has become a nurturing and free performing space for many of the younger generation, and interact with older musicians. Nair’s late wife, Wendy, is spoken about by many as a figure who helped looked after many of the musicians, from cooking to nurturing them in other ways.
Many international artists have often graced the stage over the years. Some of the last performances by music legends such as vocalist Saathima Bea Benjamin and saxophonist Zim Ngqawana were at Tagores before they passed.
Manager Leroy-Jones Hemmings is known by all who visit the space. Hemmings started working at the space in 2008 and has been an essential element in the running of the space. He says, “Tagores has been about making quality music accessible to everybody, without any kind of discrimination.”
“In all the time of being open, we’ve never had any big incidents or had to call the police for any reason,” Hemmings and Nair comment, but instead laugh that without calling them, the police arrive regardless to intimidate crowds.
Hemmings shares an anecdote of trumpeter Marcus Wyatt’s first performance there, “Marcus said, ‘Now I know why all the musicians wants to play at the space. On that stage you’re confronted by the sheer nakedness of your own sound.’” The stage itself was built by both Nair and Hemmings.
With the rise of the vinyl resurgence in Cape Town, Tagores has played a pivotal role. It all started in 2009 with Thursday nights ‘Church’ run by Ntone Edjabe. These would be five-hour long sets exploring Edjabe’s extensive record collections and grew to guarantee a packed venue every Thursday night.
The venue has been running for almost ten years, but the reasons for closing are many, including financial difficulty, lack of support and constant police harassment. In previous years, public campaigns were launched to helped raise funds which were successful but it’s been difficult to continue on many levels and it is no longer viable as a space.
Guitarist Reza Khota comments on the space closing down, ““Tagores is the center of liminality in Cape Town. It’s the space of intersection. The crossroads where notions of race and class are colorfully disrupted.This naturally is fertile ground for musical and artistic imagination.” Bassist Shane Cooper adds to this,“It was one of the only venues in Cape Town that had a completely open policy towards the kinds of music artists could perform there. It is a massive loss to the creative music scene here.”
Tagores has been sold to a new owner had the last gig was performed on Wednesday 30.
All photos below by Reza Khota
Spotlight On: Straight No Chaser jazz club
By Atiyyah Khan
One of South Africa’s best and most-loved venues for jazz, Straight No Chaser, will close its doors this weekend. This comes as sad news, as we recently reported the closing down of music venue, Tagores in Observatory at the end of March.
Straight No Chaser, situated in Buitenkant street in the CBD became the home for jazz in Cape Town, since it opened in December 2011. Originally called The Mahogany Room, the venue was modelled after clubs like the Village Vanguard in New York as a serious listening artist space. The venue became known for it’s intimate nature and the great jazz photographs captured by Rashid Lombard and George Hallett that hung on the walls. It is probably the only jazz venue in the country to have a strict policy of silence when the musicians were on stage.
In its four years, Straight No Chaser became a nurturing space essential to the jazz scene in the country. It helped create a much-needed platform for many musicians in the city and showcased an entire range of local and international artists. It also helped carve a new audience of discerning listeners. It became the home for jazz in the city for a few years. The loss of Tagores and Straight No Chaser within a space of two weeks is a severe knock to the local music scene.
The creation of the venue was the coming together of the vision of two musicians, drummer Kesivan Naidoo and trumpeter Lee Thomson, who were friends but also artists looking for a space to play. They started the venue together with the financial help of a third partner Lawson Naidoo. In 2014, the venue underwent a restructuring in ownership and the name was changed to Straight No Chaser. Recently music journalist and writer, Miles Keylock has been involved in the management and running of the venue.
However, as is often the case with many music venues, financial costs have become too heavy for the space in addition to outrageous property rentals within the CBD. This has led to the venue closing down. The management however have expressed that they would like to continue the philosophy of the space by instead moving and doing pop-up jazz concerts around the city.
Legendary drummer Louis Moholo will perform this weekend. He will be joined by special guests tonight and by pianist Kyle Shepherd and bassist Brydon Bolton on Sunday. See Straight No Chaser’s Facebook page for more information and updates.
Atiyyah Khan’s “The Legacy of Tagore’s” piece appeared in The Weekend Argus March 27, 2016 and Spotlight on Straight No Chaser April 9, 2016 in The Weekend Argus.