There’s nothing nicer than gathering a group of friends and heading off to catch some live music, whether it’s picnicking on the grass at a daytime festival or chilling out in a tiny jazz venue late at night. Gauteng attracts South African and international musicians, and there are always many gigs to choose from. Here are some of the top spots for catching live tunes in South Africa’s cultural hub.
The Orbit Jazz Club and Bistro
81 De Korte Street, Braamfontein, Johannesburg
Barely two years old, The Orbit Jazz Club and Bistro is an institution on the Johannesburg music scene. Patrons fill it six nights a week, and no one serious about jazz has not crossed its threshold. Run by Aymeric Péguillan, Dan Sermand and Kevin Naidoo, the jazz club on a busy Braamfontein street was born after months of intense brainstorming with musicians, to ensure what was created suited their needs. bistro downstairs – don’t be surprised if you are asked to descend there if you are more interested in catching up than catching tunes.
3 Corlett Drive, Illovo, Johannesburg
The “little cake and coffee shop” that is Wolves has a live music gig on Thursday evenings. Called Howl!, the event is a must, and the venue is one of Johannesburg’s hippest. Owned by Angie Batis, art industry creative and cupcake queen, and her husband, Shane Durrant, lead singer of local band Desmond & the Tutus, this is the place to be seen come Thursday night.
The Radium Beerhall
282 Louis Botha Ave, Orange Grove, Johannesburg
Johannesburg’s oldest surviving bar and grill, The Radium Beerhall is a favourite among musicians for its intimate, unpretentious setting. The scarred bar, rescued from the demolition of the Ferreirastown Hotel, is the same bar on which “Pickhandle Mary” (Mary Fitzgerald), a fiery woman activist, gave stirring speeches during the 1922 Miners’ Revolt. Some of South Africa’s top acts perform here, from Jessie Clegg and Arno Carstens to Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse and Wonderboom. The food is great too, Portuguese cuisine as unpretentious as the creaky chairs and the maroon walls, covered with memorabilia.
39 Gwigwi Mrwebi St, Newtown, Johannesburg
More than a place to catch live music, Carfax is an events venue, artists’ workshop and cultural hub where wacky is the new normal. It has hosted art exhibitions, fashion shows, theatre performances and “mega-dance” parties since 1995.
167 Perth Rd, Westdene, Johannesburg
The Bo, as it is affectionately known by those who love it, is as famous for its pizza (half price on Mondays) as its music. For almost 30 years it has hosted some of South Africa’s hottest bands, even given birth to a few. Live music happens at least twice a week. Opposite the University of Johannesburg, The Bohemian is the haunt of students, academics, writers, musicians and artists. There’s a jukebox inside and a sunny beer garden out back. The vibe is so laid-back it might as well be horizontal.
Afrikan Freedom Station
41 Thornton Rd, Westdene, Johannesburg
No gig guide is complete without Afrikan Freedom Station. Set on the edge of the iconic, music-filled Sophiatown, the music and art venue was established by historian, filmmaker and cultural archivist Steve Kwena Mokwena and his wife Nirvana Singh. Its gig guide includes musicians such as Herbie Tsoaeli, Tumi Mogorosi and Estelle Okot. It’s more than just a music and art venue, creatives also use the space to collaborate and produce.
The Neighbourgoods Market
73 Juta Street, Braamfontein, Johannesburg
There is hardly a cooler place than the Neighbourgoods Market in Braamfontein on a Saturday afternoon. Everyone who is hip is there. The live music venue is outside in the Highveld sunshine, with a massive mural of Nelson Mandela as a backdrop. Downstairs there is great food, drink and creative craft on sale. It’s a crush, but one that’s worth it.
3 644 Pela St, Orlando West, Soweto
There is hardly a more important club on the Soweto music scene, and perhaps even on the South African one. It’s where icons such as Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse, Mara Louw and Lebo M started, and it’s where many who defied apartheid met and were sometimes arrested.
Kitcheners Carvery Bar
5 De Beer St, Braamfontein
Johannesburg’s second-oldest bar, Kitcheners is more than 100 years old (mature for a city that was just a gathering of tents in 1886), and one of the city’s grooviest live music spots. The old fittings and trimmings are intact, and form a backdrop, on Thursday nights and at weekends, to cool tunes, both classic and up to the minute. Expect funk and soul on Thursdays and the best from the city’s coolest DJs at the weekend.
10 Henry Nxumalo St, Newtown, Johannesburg
Founded by Brad Holmes in 1994, the year democracy came to South Africa, Bassline has moved from the inaugural, intimate spot on Melville to Newtown, where it can host concerts attended by 1 000 fans. The venue has hosted more than 3 000 live acts over its years of existence, and has been instrumental in the careers of artists such as Vusi Mahlasela, Moses Taiwa Molelekwa and Marcus Wyatt. From hip-hop and kwaito to Afro-Pop, this is one of the essential spots on the South African music scene.
The Good Luck Bar
1 Fox St, Johannesburg
This newish place quickly carved a place of honour in the Johannesburg music scene. As one fan said on Facebook, these guys really know how to throw a party. The Good Luck Bar is nestled in the oldest part of the city, right where 1886’s gold-rush tented camp was before Johannesburg could lay claim to being a city. It’s part of the Sheds@1Fox complex, a recently restored warehouse complex, the warehouses dating back to 1893.