Mahogany Room is the jazz club SA has been missing

Veteran trumpeter Hugh Masekela. (Nadine Hutton)

Veteran trumpeter Hugh Masekela. (Nadine Hutton)

When Hugh Masekela played at the Mahogany Room, Cape Town’s newest jazz venue in late March, the trumpeter was startled to find that he was paid about R25 000 for the gig – in cash!

The sizeable stash was just about all of the gate takings, from the night when the veteran musician played at the venue co-owned by drummer and band leader Kesivan Naidoo, lawyer Lawson Naidoo and NGO worker Lee Thomson.

The venue, opened just before Christmas last year, has already hosted the likes of trumpeter Feya Faku, British saxophonist Soweto Kinch, local pianists Afrika Mkhize, Kyle Shepherd, Bokani Dyer and Mark Fransman.

Once, on a visit to New York’s famed Village Vanguard, Naidoo got an idea of what a “proper jazz club should be like. When I heard the music I knew what was missing in South Africa”, he said, about why he and his partners bought and furnished the venue with a Steinway and Sons grand piano for more than R200 000.

About the stately instrument that squats on the Mahogany stage, the drummer said: “The piano has resonance.
There is magic which happens in acoustic jazz; this needs to be represented with acoustic instruments, a keyboard would spoil this ambience.”  Naidoo added: “The experience of a band playing with a keyboard is different to that of a band playing a grand piano”.    

Music in mind
The idea behind the small venue (with a capacity of 50 people) was to strike a balance between “artistic integrity and business sensibility.” The intimate venue was “designed with music in mind”. When you go there for one of their concerts it is to listen to the music not to chitchat. “The culture of listening to music is greater in New York” Naidoo says. His mission is to conscientise the South African music public of the difference between jam sessions and concerts. “Even though it’s a small space, it doesn’t mean it’s not a concert. We want to get people to appreciate that jazz music is listening music” the drummer explains.

The venue’s stage hosts the piano and drum kit; there is a bar that “doesn’t stock everything. We stock what we like. We like chemical free beer; we don’t stock SAB Miller beer.”  The walls are adorned with original portraits  of musicians such as bassist Johnny Dyani that are for sale.

Naidoo says the venue is 70% complete; the trio plans to install in-house recording equipment. “The details of the space will sort itself out,” Naidoo says of the venue that is open from Wednesday to Saturday.
The Mahogany Room, Address: 79 Buitenkant Street, Cape Town. Open Wednesday to Saturday

To book: 076 679 2697

Percy Zvomuya

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