Meet Kalk Bay’s beloved buskers

By GroundUp

Vanessa Solomons loves busking, but she says she would prefer to have something more stable like a gig in a restaurant.

Vanessa plays guitar and whistles. As a child, she would lie in her bed in Manenberg and listen to the birds tweeting outside her window. And she would whistle with them. 

Today she is one of the many buskers working along the Kalk Bay main road. She plays guitar and whistles the melodies of popular “old school” songs, as she calls them. Songs by The Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel.

Growing up, Vanessa and her brother started their own band with instruments they made themselves. She says she built a guitar using polished tin, nails, wood and gut. Her brother made a bass guitar from a wooden box, rope and a broomstick. They jammed together. 

Her inspiration for music came from her father.

“He played guitar and loud music in our home,” she says.

Now 59, Vanessa has been busking in Kalk Bay for 11 years. 

“The whole Kalk Bay knows me,” she says.

She can be found whistling with her guitar under the tunnel that leads to the Brass Bell restaurant; she tries to go there every day from 8 am to 5 pm. She says the streets are too noisy and she chose this spot because of the echo.

“I’m a whistler. The sound must travel,” she says.

“My music is my career. This is my only income.”

Vanessa earns about R300 a day, depending on pedestrians.

“In winter it is very difficult,” she says.

“There is less foot traffic and it is very cold.”

Living in Westlake, it costs her R52 to travel to Kalk Bay and home daily. 

She just loves busking. “Music uplifts your spirit,” she says.

According to the City of Cape Town’s by-laws, no permit is needed to perform on public land but there are some limitations. The performance must not be dangerous, involve animals, or last more than 45 consecutive minutes. After 45 minutes the busker must move to a different location. Buskers are also expected to respect those around them regarding noise levels.

Melvin Dirks has been busking for over 30 years. He says he started performing in Camps Bay during apartheid but was chased away by police back then.

Sixty-year-old Melvin has been playing the saxophone for most of his life, performing in Simonstown, Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. Melvin says that he only comes out on weekends. He arrives with his saxophone anytime after 10 am and leaves on his own time. 

“I can’t put any stress on me,” he says.

He says he started playing when he was only nine years old after listening to his uncle play. 

“I’m a natural musician. When I picked up this saxophone I didn’t have any knowledge, but I played,” he says.

On a good day, he says that he used to earn up to R1,500, but following the Covid pandemic things have got worse. He says that he now earns about R300 to R400 a day. Melvin lives with his wife and children in Pelican Park. It costs him R64 to get to Simonstown and back.

Pictured above: Vanessa Solomons

Image source: GroundUp


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