The way that we listen to music is just as important as the music we listen to. Music is a living breathing thing with varying effect and changing forms, even when it comes to a single song. Hozier’s ‘Cherry Wine’ is beautiful enough with headphones on but imagine experiencing it from a rooftop. His windswept hair accompanying that delicately strummed guitar and quiet for miles around. This is the experience Sofar Sounds brings to your city.
In 2009, Rafe Offer invited some friends to his flat in London for a gig. Eight people and one performer were in attendance. They sat on the floor, shared a drink and listened to their friend perform. Ten years and 433 cities later, Sofar is still the intimate experience it started as.
Sofar Sounds exists as an attempt to redefine the music experience through regression and not innovation. Instead of an elaborate stage and speakers the collective height of the NBA All-Stars, there’s a carpet and an acoustic guitar. Instead of a blinding light show and hundreds of roaring attendees, there’s the bulb above you and 10 other people just chilling.
In one word, Sofar is unique. Even acquiring a ticket is unconventional. You first apply online, subscribe to the newsletter and if you’re lucky enough, win a ticket. Considering that they purposefully host a small number of people, the chances of that are slim. Chia can tell you that for herself lol.
(Chia’s Note: I am personally salty because I applied for a ticket twice and never got an invite.)
Another reason people are drawn to the concept of Sofar is the anti-concert experience of it all. It’s BYOB so there’s no cash bar queue blocking your way. Attendance is small and controlled so you aren’t forced to clamor to the front to see. The best part is, you know how every concert-goer is doing the most to record every performance like it’s a contractual obligation? Well, Sofar has a no video policy. Imagine attending a concert without dozens of phones in the air? Strange, I know.
I had the privilege of attending a Sofar gig this past Sunday. The setting was intimate. It was hosted inside a music store, guitars hung from the walls around the room. There was enough floor space for two dozen or so people. At the center of the stage, there was a mic and drum set right behind it. For a moment, I felt like I was in high school again, waiting to hear (and enthusiastically clap for) a classmate fumbling their way through ‘Wonderwall’. Instead, I witnessed a host of talented musicians who one by one blew me away.
Another interesting characteristic of the Sofar experience is that the lineup is secret. You only know who is performing when they are right in front of you. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t make sense because the purpose of going to the concert is to see the acts. But this is no ordinary concert.
The performances felt natural and unrehearsed. It felt like a bunch of musicians who happen to know each other and found themselves in the same room. In fact, many of the artists joined each other’s performances. No one seemed to be performing because they had been paid too.
Bensoul performed everyone’s favorite song, Tito Monako showed us what it means to be talented, YUBU music gave us a lesson on the connection between Blues and Reggae while Red Acapella entertained us with a profanity-laced performance that had many of us laughing long and belly-deep.
Sofar is doing the most to redefine what it means to see an artist live. From promoting artists that deserve more credit than they’re not receiving from the industry, to creating a space where everyone feels and is, comfortable. I hope my next invite application succeeds. I hope this isn’t the last Sofar I get to attend.
(Thank you to Sofar Nairobi for providing us with the opportunity to experience live performances in a whole new way)
(Also, thank you to Hedgehog Creative for hosting the event)