The Cape Town Fringe Festival started on the 24th of September and ended on the 4th of October this year and show-cased some familiar faces and some new talent to the theatre community and festival-goers. With over seventy productions on multiple stages in different venues around the city—City Hall, The Fugard Theatre, The V&A Waterfront’s Watershed, Galloway Theatre, Alexander Bar and Gugu S’thebe in Langa—the Festival provided audiences with a unique cultural experience and a taste of its mother-festival, the National Arts Festival that takes place annually in Grahamstown. Not as big or as long as the NAF, the Festival did bring to Cape Town audiences some of the more successful shows and winners at this year’s NAF. From veterans such as physical theatre’s Craig Morris, of the one-man play Blood Orange, to relative new-comers the cast of Egoli—a Xhosa musical theatre piece—the Festival offered an exciting mix of performances.
In only its second year, the Festival managed to bring to Cape Town some of the country’s rising musical stars. Maya Spector, a Capetonian performer brought to a City-Hall stage, an entertaining and unusual set—a combination of original songs and covers arranged in an incredibly musical way. A vocal power house, her jazz and musical theatre roots came through in an impactful and accessible way. Performing with a three-piece band, she displayed real intuition in her improvisation and boldness in relaying the emotions of her songs. Maya’s approach to music finds its source in more than just her training in music at the University of KwaZulu Natal, but also in true empathy and artistic imagination. Viscerally expressed through her dynamic voice and stripped-down performance style are messages of hope, tales of love and heart-break and honest reflection.
Acatears, a duo from Sharpeville, Gauteng were a hit in Grahamstown and did not disappoint in Cape Town. Sipho Hlanguza and Rebaballetswe Selematseola have developed a unique acoustic sound reminiscent of 60’s and 70’s Johannesburg township music and the Sotho oral tradition of Difela. Influences from more recent genres are apparent such as Afro-Pop and Afro-Jazz, but deeply imbedded in their music is a real sense of nostalgia; even melancholy, but not separate from joy.
The highlight for me however, was watching singer/song-writer, Asanda Mqiki do her thing on stage. I had last seen a set of hers in 2010 in Johannesburg. I had seen her briefly collaborate with acapella sensation, The Soil and knew that she often worked abroad. She was a phenomenal performer when I last saw her, so the news of her Standard Bank Ovation Award at this year’s NAF came as no surprise to me. I couldn’t wait to see her perform after five years. I couldn’t have prepared myself for her performance at the Festival. The richness of her voice, the generosity of her performance, her versatility and authenticity all astounded me. She was the same lyrical, charismatic and gracious Asanda Mqiki, but with more depth and complexity than I could have anticipated. Her music is dynamic in style, tone and texture, but her Eastern Cape musical pedigree is a constant. A product of the National School of Arts, her emotive and often spontaneous way takes nothing away from her skill. She transitions from celebratory to thoughtful, Xhosa to English, Pop to Jazz, seamlessly. Watching her perform was an engaging exercise in feeling and listening deeply.