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On The Rooftops

by Dudumalingani Mqombothi / 13.12.2013

On Sunday 8th December Ballo was officially launched on a Loop Street rooftop. The view from the rooftop cuts every building in sight in half. The venue itself seems to be floating, at least in that moment – a moment separate from all others – there seemed to be no evidence that the buildings around me were reaching the ground. The downside of the rooftop, at least on that day, was the scorching Cape Town sun. Without a single cloud to distract its attention, the sun focused its heat on us. People seek solace by the bar and wherever else shade reigned.

On the line up for that Sunday afternoon was Taxi Violence, We Set Sail and Kimon, and a late night dance off for the attendees to exchange moves for shades.

Alistair Barnes, the man behind the Ballo brand, spent some of his professional life working with different brands. At one particular time he supplied wooden glasses made by 12-year-old kids in a factory in China to South African shops, a factory that possibly crammed a thousand kids in a small room and had no ventilation. Possibly. But he did do so unknowingly. When he found out the bitter truth, which was that the sunglasses were in fact being made in China and not by three brothers in America as he had been initially told, he was enraged and he quit immediately. The details about the factory are not entirely accurate, though they are not beyond the bounds of possibility. The rest of the story is true. Later he started Ballo, a brand that is worth keeping an eye out for.


Ballo started selling products in July this year, but was in development as early February. And it is a truly Cape Town brand. Their office is in the Gardens and the factory is Kuilsriver. But the bigger plan, Mr Barnes tells me, in between the beat of punk music, the chattering of attendees and the voices yelling from the streets beneath the rooftops, is to move the factory and the offices into one space, preferably to Woodstock or Observatory, and link up with his brother Cameron, a woodworker himself. If you meet the man, this plan captures his entire spirit. He is about family. “Family is very important to me,” Alistair Barnes says, “all the style names are families that have played an important role role in my life.”

Pizza is served and the attendees assemble around it for a few minutes and then it disappears, and all that’s left of it are empty boxes with pizza crumbs. During the day, people gather by the bar to fit the Ballo sunglasses and caps. All stare at a mirror and looked quite pleased with themselves.


We Set Sail, with their eager lead guitarist, took to the stage, they bring energy that excites the crowd. They play their songs in quick succession. They bring in a saxophonist for some. The set is instrumental. It is only when saying goodbye and introducing the band members does the eager guitarist speak to the crowd. Taxi Violence take their time to play, setting up the sound they way they prefer it, whichever way that is. Their set is quick too, but energetic. Only interrupted by the lead singer changing chairs and telling a young woman that she can have his kids.

By now the night had wrapped itself around the rooftop, and the attendees were close to pulling it around themselves and falling asleep in its embrace. Until Kimon took to the decks, and slowly, with the skill of wizard, he sent out rhythms to bounce them to their feet.

Around the rooftop, the attendees are scattered on the fake grass and tables and drinking beer and juice. It is packed, such that one needs to beg their way through the crowd to get anywhere. I disappear from the rooftop at around 22:00. Not before I catch a glance at the city buildings and find that they have become nothing else but dots of light floating in space.

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* Images © Dudumalingani Mqombothi

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