Resplendently unflustered in loud Hawaiian shirt, James Small is casually serving drinks behind the bar. The wardrobe may suggest hard times, but the rugby legend hasn?t resorted to serving beer for a living; the bar is his, and a smiling Small is warming up for another momentous night at Caprice, the jewel in Cape Town?s Camps Bay beach strip. It?s not merely another dose of models, cocktails and postcard sunsets, though: Caprice has prepared a 19-track dose of self-indulgence, and it?s time to let the resultant album loose on the world.
The legend that is Caprice has spread well beyond Cape Town, Jerry Springer and Bono joining the hordes of local glitterati to have soaked up the designer sun of Cape Town?s ultimate beach location. Board shorts and Ray-Bans, sarongs and frameless Gucci?s: sand gear meets label in a seamless buzz of cool attitude. It can all be a touch intimidating to the first-timer, very much see-and-be-seen ? all set, then, for a pretentious addition to the never-ending flow of Cafe Del Mar-style knock-offs, that gather under the increasingly redundant banner of ?chilled music??
At which point, thankfully, presumption is well off target. Perhaps Small?s choice of tourist garb is a clue to another side of Caprice; even if it is, though, it?s scant preparation for the eclectic mix of reggae and soul that catches you off guard before drawing you in. This is no sunset at Ibiza selection. Instead, it?s a surprisingly well thought out collection of genuinely good music, a throwback to neglected gems that somehow manage to sound fresh and retro at the same time.
Not big heels and Afro retro, mind; think Gregory Isaacs and his original ?Night Nurse?, for instance, without quite the same energy as Mick Hucknall?s later version, but with oh so much more soul. Or Bill Withers? ?Lovely Day?, another gently addictive original that?s been through the commercial butchery with many a lesser artist since. Peter Tosh (?Legalise It?), Finley Quaye (?Your Love Gets Sweeter? ? and so does the song) ? the Caribbean vibe is deliciously laid back, and yet somehow quite at home so far from West Indian shores.
The album was put together by the improbably named Milk Bar Kid, resident DJ at Caprice over the summer past, and a music aficionado with a healthy streak of nostalgia, and a penchant for something a little bit different.
Cue Serge Gainsbourg?s ?Couleur Cafe?, the soft French infusion of street cafe and cigar smoke, offbeat, catchy, carefree. Or Ismael Lo?s ?Dibi Dibi Rek?, as instantly recognisable as the artist is destined never to be remembered.
And there?s local flavour, of the right sort, slipping in unnoticed for its country of origin, appreciated for its contribution to a collection welcome in its novelty. 340ml with ?Midnight? (listen to the lyrics ? who hasn?t been the desperado-playing-it-cool in forlorn pursuit of unrequited love), the underrated Max Normal (?Good Old Fashion Lovin?). Lekker stuff.
Gentle brass resounds throughout, calypso flirting with laid back jazz (and there?s a sitar in there somewhere, which I can never seem to find when I?m looking for someone to back me up). This is what ?chilled? should be, but ?Cafe Caprice? doesn?t deserve a throwaway label. It?s not the album you expect as the convertibles pull up and decant suntanned models and famous faces into Caprice?s prime location. But take your eyes off the people and cast an ear to the music next time you?re there, and you?ll find the album is a lot more on track than first impressions may suggest.
And if the beaches of Cape Town are out of your way, simply settle down, grab a beer, and unwind: were that all such self-indulgence proved quite so communally satisfying. There?s more to Caprice, it seems, than first appears ? but then the familiar looking bloke in the Hawaiian probably could have told me that already.