Jesus Christ. Here’s a bit of realism on a Thursday night. We turn off Old Main Road into Pinetown. Corrugated garage doors and steel gates line dark, cabbage soaked streets. An old fashioned one-way system pulls us towards the taxi rank at the end of the road. Broken wood and other debris lines the pavements post apocalyptically. Park in front of the Chicken Licken sign, left past three dudes smoking a pipe in the front of a taxi and there you are. The Rainbow Restaurant: a sanctuary of jive and jubilation.
The place looked like an old Mango Groove video. Brought together by Jo’burg based Mozambiquans, 340ml, the crowd was an eclectic and diverse mixture of “new South Africa.” From BLK JKS to Hobo Chic. Friends of mine tucked into plates of bean curry, phutu, chicken livers and cheap beer, to the grave-rattling dub vibrations of DJ Peter Webb.
Opened in 1981, during Apartheid (the same year that the first Chicken Licken was opened in Ridgeway, Johannesburg), The Rainbow Restaurant has quite a backstory. Located in a white area, according to the infamous Group Areas Act, The Rainbow was the first Kwa Zulu Natal establishment of its kind to sell alcohol to black South Africans. And like tonight, its patrons were a mixture of liberal South Africans, brought together by jazz and beer and unconcerned with the stigma of race and segregation.
If you’ve seen 340ml once you’ve seen them a million times. Back in Durban to play a catch up gig for the Vintage Sundays fiasco a few months ago. You can read all about that here. As a live band, they never disappoint: you always get exactly what you paid for. I just wonder how frontman Pedro remembers the lyrics. That’s a joke, of course, because with 340ml, lyrics take a backseat to hypnotic dub rhythms and body movin’ loungey grooves. The repetitive vocal melodies become almost brainwashing, like mantras casting a spell on time.
With 340ml, I always end up watching drummer Paulo. His setup’s modest and lean and his cymbals look like old bombshells (he didn’t even have any padding to separate them from the metal of his cymbal stands), but his rhythm’s impeccable. Smiling almost non-stop, he’s an engaging character with lightning quick fills and syrupy grooves.
Minus his long hair, Guitarist Tiago’s so smooth, he gets picked up mid-song. It was unbelievable. I’ve seen drunk chicks hitting on famous musos before, but never halfway through a song:
“Remember me? I saw you in Cape Town!” she yelled at him. “Tiago! Do you remember me?”
Tiago just smiled with a look of disbelief on his face and carried on playing his guitar (and singing).
After an encore of “At the Midnight Drive In” (what else?), Peter Webb took over again and the party continued. According to owner Neil Comfort, tonight’s performance at The Rainbow was the first night time, entry fee gig in the venue’s 28-year history (if you discount the time he flew Bed On Bricks up from Cape Town for his birthday). And without any sign of the thought (or noise) police, here’s hoping it’s not the last.
All images © and courtesy Yusuf Laher