Alma Cafe: Julian Redpath and Howie Combrink

Down a side street off Liesbeek Parkway in Rosebank lurks a gem. The Alma Café, latter day corner café, and now live music/dinner venue, is a throbbing little heart of a place in an otherwise suburban area. It’s a small, cosy, venue, seating about 40 at long communal tables with a tiny stage to one side and an incredible sound set-up. It’s obvious that this place was made by a musician for musicians and we, as the audience, score!

The musician in question is owner, Richard Tait, who runs the place together with his wife and son.  And I mean literally run it. They do everything from the cooking to the cleaning to working the sound desk. And they do it well. A home-cooked meal is served with each show.  Last Thursday it was delicious burgers, with homemade patties and round potato chips with their skins still on, like my mother always made.

We were treated to a double bill of musicians hailing from Jozi. First up, Howie Combrink, the drummer of Watershed (or Woodshed, as Richard Tait mistakenly called them, resulting in much hilarity). Combrink has added a solo repertoire to his achievements and is a damn fine guitar player, too. A friendly chap, he has an easy stage presence and a voice that’s just as easy to listen to.

As a crack of light shone through the signature-covered kitchen door, Combrink played his song, ‘Change’, off his fabulously-named album Eat It While It’s Hot. It’s quirky, upbeat, toe-tapping and makes everything seem do-able.

Dessert was served during the break – chocolatey, nutty deliciousness in a tart.  At the next table, a small man in a yellow cap sat with some friends. They looked like students – watching some music on a week night, a break from exam swotting, perhaps.

Turns out the guy in the yellow cap was Julian Redpath, and there is nothing small about him. Okay, except maybe his size (I’m almost six foot, it’s not a fair judgement). His talent is huge. He is a little awkward on stage (“Playing in front of people is kind of cool, but drinking water in front of them is kind of weird.“) But absolutely incredible.

He’s joined by cellist, Clare Vandeleur, and I am struck once again by the fact that musicians always have beautiful hands. Together Redpath’s guitar and Vandeleur’s cello make a sound that perfectly breaks my heart. This is music that burrows deep into your soul.

Julian Redpath is exquisitely uncomfortable on the tiny stage of the Alma Cafe, but his audience is entirely entranced as he plays his repertoire of melodic, beautiful, self-written songs, including a breathtaking improvisation of Johnny Clegg’s ‘Spirit of the Great Heart’. He is an artist, in its truest and most pure form.

“May the weekend slither like a snail.” Richard Tait’s farewell greeting. Just, perfect.

This review appears on the Whats On In Cape Town site.

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