Thousands of people have already flocked to enjoy a magical musical evening in the magnificent setting of Cape Town’s world-famous Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens during the current Summer Sunset Concerts series.
The 2010/11 series of Sunday-evening concerts launched on 21 November last year with a performance by contemporary rock outfit Just Jinger, and will continue until 3 April 2011 when pop-rock band aKing will bring the programme to a close.
According to Sarah Struys, events and centre manager for the South African National Biodiversity Institute at Kirstenbosch, the weekly events draw an average audience of about 5 000, meaning some 75 000 people have enjoyed the current concert series so far.
In addition, thousands more attended the traditional Christmas carols services that were held on four consecutive evenings in December. The New Year’s Eve concert got 2011 off to an energetic start with performances by Cape Town band Loading Zone and the ever-popular “white Zulu” Johnny Clegg, an icon of South African music who has delighted and inspired his audiences for more than 30 years.
In a testimony to how the concerts have evolved and grown in stature and popularity over the years, Struys points out that the early shows held in Kirstenbosch nearly two decades ago attracted about 200 people. Since being introduced as a fundraiser for the botanical gardens 19 years ago, the Summer Sunset Concerts have developed into a favourite fixture on the Mother City’s annual entertainment calendar.
The blend of quality performances by leading acts, a stunning natural setting in the gardens on the eastern slopes of Cape Town’s famous Table Mountain, warm late-afternoon sunshine, and friendly crowds soaking up the music and mellow atmosphere while enjoying a sumptuous picnic on the lush Kirstenbosch lawns has attracted ever-growing audiences.
According to Struys, thanks to the series’ huge popularity, the programme now features some of South Africa’s top music artists - but over the years has also served as an invaluable launch platform for many of them when they were still rising stars.
Artists who have already graced the stage at the Kirstenbosch amphitheatre this season in a varied programme designed to cater for all music tastes include Just Jinger, Mango Groove, Freshlyground, top electronica outfit Goldfish, Jesse Clegg – son of Johnny – and rock groups Prime Circle and the Parlotones, among others.
Among those still to come are all-girl group Jamali, the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra - hailed as one of the most versatile orchestras in Africa - and aKing.
The concert series has been by sponsored by Cape Town-based financial services provider Old Mutual for the past few years - only the second sponsor in its history - and the programme features several “Old Mutual Encounters”. Originally introduced in late 2004 in the legendary Kippies bar in Newtown, Johannesburg, the concept aimed to bring together two artists from different musical genres or creative backgrounds. The original Kippies Encounter featured rocker Arno Carstens and jazz diva Gloria Bosman in an electrifying performance that delighted the 100 specially invited guests.
Artists still to perform at Kirstenbosch this year in these unique and exciting one-off collaborations include South African songbird Simphiwe Dana backed by a 40-piece orchestra; soul queen Lira and house duo Crazy White Boy; and jazz and neo-soul singer and songwriter RJ Benjamin joined by hip-hop artist Slikour.
Trove of biodiversity
Now spread over an area of 528 hectares and featuring an enormous biodiversity, the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens were founded in 1913. Today they are on Unesco's World Heritage list and feature among Cape Town‘s top attractions.
All proceeds from the 90-minute Summer Sunset Concerts go towards the upkeep of the gardens, says Struys. Thanks to the amphitheatre’s covered stage area the events go ahead in all kinds of weather - and the odd bit of rain usually adds an extra dimension to an already enchanting experience for the open-air audience.
In addition to serving as an important fundraiser over the years, the concerts have also attracted large crowds to Kirstenbosch, thereby helping to introduce the gardens and their many floral and other natural delights to an extensive range of markets, Struys says. The team makes the most of this opportunity with exhibits on various biodiversity conservation themes, including climate change, at the top of the concert lawns.
Kirstenbosch’s many attractions include a peninsula garden featuring some of the 2 500 plant species found on the Cape peninsula, and fragrance, medicinal and water-wise gardens, as well as a glimpse into the Cape’s rich history provided by the surviving indigenous wild almonnds of Van Riebeeck’s Hedge, planted by the Dutch colonists in 1660 to protect their cattle.
The visitors centre includes an information desk, various retail outlets and a coffee shop.