It hardly seems appropriate to refer to the immense talents of two young guitarists as precocious, when, in reality, Italian guitarist Andrea Valeri and South African guitarist Richard Onraët, a protégé of South African virtuoso Tony Cox, display a level of skill and maturity that belies their youthfulness. Having arrived home in South Africa for the first time in four years, it was a stroke of good fortune on my part to discover that Tony Cox’s International Guitar Night was on at Mark’s Park Sports Club in Emmarentia, a suburb of Johannesburg. Dragging my eldest brother along for the evening, he was suitably blown away by the sheer brilliance of three such fine acoustic finger-style guitar talents, the likes of which he had never witnessed before, in particular, the star attraction of the mini festival, Andrea Valeri.
Not one to shy away from musical indulgence myself, it was without hesitation, therefore, that I hastily contacted a Cape Town-based brother of mine prior to flying down to the Mother City, to persuade him to share in my repeat of this magical experience. The venue for the event was the old Olympia Bakery in the tranquil seaside village of Kalk Bay, nestled off Cape Town’s False Bay. Served a plate of the most delicious linguine seafood pasta at the adjacent, somewhat Bohemian Olympia Café beforehand, we were still early enough to join the queue and grab front row seats.
Richard Onraët was first up on stage, playing his own compositions primarily off his first cd release. In contrast to his slightly shy, nervous disposition when communicating with the audience, his playing style is confident and smooth. Trained at the Stellenbosch Conservatoire, the story goes that he came to Tony at the tender age of 15 seeking lessons, having already mastered a most of Tony’s repertoire. Richard has written some beautiful, heartfelt melodies and his compositions coupled with a gentle style and flawless technique, are both warm and engaging. ‘ I particularly liked Relief‘, allegedly written during a dark period in his life, which starts off gently but soon picks up tempo. His set closed with a countrified version of Led Zeppelins Stairway to Heaven.
What can one say about the legendary Tony Cox that hasn’t already been written? A wonderful story-teller with a wicked sense of humour, Tony’s rather shortened set compromised songs  showcasing his eclectic style and virtuosity, including tunes off his latest cd entitled The summer comes my loves, which included the title track, 8th Nerve and Salty Towers, all featuring his custom-designed Mervyn Davis guitar. Tony must have read my mind, as he concluded his set with the tour de force classic You asked for it.
Extraordinary Italian guitarist Andrea Valeri, described as the ambassador of the acoustic guitar in his native country, was at 18 presented with the Excellence of Italian Music Award. Warm and charming and a total extrovert on stage, it’s not hard to see why Andrea has received a plethora of accolades at such a tender age. He is a truly remarkable and brilliant guitarist and captivates his audience totally . Tony recounts a similar experience when seeing him for the first time at a guitar festival in Italy.
What struck me as I sat in the front row of this rambling old bakery in Kalk Bay, was the sheer ease and fluidity of his playing style. His set features a couple of covers, including Roy Orbison’s Pretty Woman and Dire Straits’ Sultans of Swing, plus many of his own compositions that highlight his mesmerizing skill and musicianship, some off his latest cd Maybe. Not without humour, Tango & Vai is just one example that demonstrates his finger-style technique.
As part of the encore, Richard Onraët was invited back on stage, as the two delivered a blistering rendition of the 1968 guitar instrumental Classical Gas, knocking sparks off one another in the process.
The show personified what I love most about music. This is not pre-packaged X-factor style schmaltz but a demonstration of true, honest musicianship at its best. Having previously brought the likes of Antonia Forcione to these shores, Tony has once more pulled off a coup, by introducing us to the talents of Andrea Valeri. May this festival continue to grow and gain the support it richly deserves.