Behind the scenes with Sofar Sounds Joburg
It’s 5 o’clock on a Thursday evening and all around Joburg, Sofarians (as we fondly refer to our kickass crew of volunteers) are frantically packing up their day jobs and fighting their way through Jozi traffic to set up for the evening’s Sofar Sounds gig – the last of 2016.
Sofar, an acronym for ‘Songs From A Room’, is a global volunteer-based movement that puts on secret music events in intimate locations such as living rooms. The purpose? To create a space where musicians and their audiences can truly connect, without the distractions of a typical concert setting.
We’ve put on gigs in sprawling mansions, teeny flats and everything in between. Once, we even held a Sofar in a nursery school, complete with miniature toilets and jungle gyms. This particular gig is not taking place in a home, but rather in a small corner of one of the oldest sports clubs in South Africa.
On arrival, it doesn’t look like much. There’s too much empty space. Too many bare windows. But armed with our trusty bunting, panels of colourful material and enough fairy lights to laugh in the face of load shedding, the crew quickly gets to work transforming the space into something intimate and cosy.
Founded in London in 2010, Sofar Sounds is now active in 294 cities around the world, with Joburg being the first African city on the Sofar map. Having launched almost three years ago, the team is now a well-oiled, albeit slightly chaotic, machine. Despite our vastly different personalities and musical tastes, we’re all brought together by the singularity of our passion: to bring the magic back to live music.
The half dozen or so volunteers who make up the core crew painstakingly devote their time and talents to the cause, whether it’s as videographer, sound engineer, talent manager or marketer. Luckily, we’re also always surrounded by a troupe of helpers, who all-too-often save the day by slipping in last minute with an extra extension cable or handful of batteries.
The guests start arriving, hesitantly sidling into the venue two by two. They don’t know the line-up. They don’t know the guest list. They were only recently sent the address, for Pete’s sake! But they do love music, and in that regard, Sofar never disappoints.
Aimed at showcasing up-and-coming local talent, the evening kicks off with 18-year-old Pasja Schneider, who took time out from studying for his final exams to perform for us. Confident and calm, with lyrics far beyond his years, Pasja’s soulful sounds ease the audience into the night. Next up… Pollinator. Well known for their use of distortion, the acoustic guitar and toned down drums do nothing to detract from their performance.
It can be a challenge to force bands out of their comfort zones, encouraging them to play unplugged (or at least stripped down). Many bands have never played acoustic sets and it can be intimidating to perform in front of such an attentive audience. But the unique experience is most definitely worth it!
Third on the eclectic line-up is rapper, Silva Black. Perhaps one of the most challenging styles of music to perform at a Sofar gig, the charismatic rapper doesn’t skip a beat, saying “it’s like a poetry session with beats”. Finally the evening comes to a close with the infamous Satanic Dagga Orgy, who leave the audience with huge smiles and wanting more.
By Tessa Cunliffe