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Visit the Home of Aesop’s Fables’ Isango Ensemble

Cape Town, South Africa


This summer, we’re highlighting five of the nine countries our 2019-20 shows hail from. The fourth stop on our journey around the world is Cape Town, South Africa—the home of Aesop’s Fables’ Isango Ensemble.

Isango Ensemble has been creating vibrant work since 2000, drawing artists from Cape Town and its surrounding communities to join its operatic productions. Isango Ensemble has previously performed at the New Victory with A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2015) and The Magic Flute (2014). 

Located in the Western Cape province, Cape Town is one of the three capitals of South Africa. Like the United States, the country has three branches of government, but, unlike the U.S., each branch is located in a separate city. Cape Town is the legislative city, Pretoria is the executive city and Bloemfontein is the judicial city. 

Keep reading to get to know more about Cape Town, South Africa—the home of Isango Ensemble!

Did You Know

The continent of Africa has 54 countries officially recognized by the United Nations and the African Union. These countries are grouped into five subregions—North Africa, East Africa, Central Africa, West Africa and Southern Africa (not to be confused with South Africa, the country).

In the 17th century, European countries colonized the continent of Africa for political and material gain. As a result, European languages, or colonial languages, became the official tongues in most African countries. While this remains true today, most families across the continent report that their first language is an indigenous African language and their second is a colonial language. 

South Africa has 11 official languages—Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Pedi, Sotho, Swati, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu. The two non-indigenous languages, Afrikaans and English, are products of Dutch and British colonization, respectively. The most commonly spoken in Cape Town are Afrikaans and Xhosa. Listen closely when you watch Aesop’s Fables, the cast sings in a mixture of South African languages, notably English and Xhosa.

  • Try out some South African slang: 
    • Lekker [lek-uh]
      • A widely used term indicating that something is “great” or “nice.” 
      • Eg. “The food was lekker,” or, “We had a lekker day.”
    • Kief [kif] 
      • Derived from Arabic (kayf), meaning cool, great, awesome or neat. 
      • Eg. “That’s a kief car!”
    • Aikona [eye-koh-na] or [hi-koh-na]
      • A Zulu term used to express shock or disbelief when talking to friends or family.
      • Eg. “Aikona! I can’t believe she’s moving.”
    • Eina [Ay-na]
      • Ouch! Usually expressed when someone experiences a sharp pain of some sort.
      • Eg. “Eina! I stubbed my toe.”
    • Slap Chips [slup-chips]
      • An Afrikaans word describing soft French fries. These are usually mixed with tomato sauce and vinegar.
      • Eg. “Let’s get an order of slap chips.”
    • Ubuntu [oo-boon-too]
      • A word from the Nguni Bantu language used to describe the feeling of humanity and family, meaning “I am because we are.”
    • Yebo [yeh-boh]
      • This word is often expressed as a double positive by combining it with the English “yes” in “Yebo, Yes!” or as an extremely expressive “Yeeebo!” This Zulu word is used regularly in South Africa to show agreement or approval with something or someone.
      • Eg. “Yeeeebo, what a lekker meal.”
    • Robot
      • In South Africa, a robot is a traffic light at an intersection. Signs saying “Robots Ahead” are referring to the next set of traffic lights!

What to See

As the oldest city in South Africa, Cape Town is often called the Mother City. This major tourist destination is particularly renowned for Table Mountain, a mountain with a flat top that rises to 3,300 feet above sea level. The beautiful natural geography is just one of the main pulls of this city. The wide variety of beaches, a huge amount of biodiversity and a favorable climate all make Cape Town an ideal city to visit. 

BONUS FACT: At least two couples per month get married on Table Mountain, seen below. 

Table Mountain

Here are a few other places for families to spend some quality time together.

How to Travel

It’s going to take Isango Ensemble about 19 hours to reach New York City. They’ll most likely take the N2 highway to arrive at the Cape Town International Airport, about 21 miles away from the city’s center. 

When Isango Ensemble isn’t jetsetting around the world, they have plenty of other methods of transportation in their city. The Golden Arrow Bus is an affordable option that’s been around since 1861, while MyCiti Bus is more modern but less extensive. The most popular option is the booming minibus taxi business—in fact, 69% of households travel this way!

Minibus Taxis

How to Chow

Chomp on these South African dishes. 

  • Gatsby
    • This local fast food is made of meat, pickles and french fries on a roll. 
    • The first incarnation was created out of polony (bologna), slap chips (french fries) and achar (a type of pickle) when the owner of a restaurant in Cape Town’s Athlone neighborhood didn’t have much to feed the workers he hired. 
Gatsby Sandwich
  • Biltong
    • This common South African snack is similar to jerky.
    • While both chicken and bacon biltong do exist, beef and game are the most common. Game refers to animals of the bush, including impala, kudu, wildebeest and ostrich!
Biltong
  • Koeksisters
    • This donut is braided and crunchy. The syrup it’s drenched in is flavored with cinnamon, lemon and ginger.
  • Melktert
    • The melktert, or milk tart, is made of a sweet pastry crust that holds a creamy filling created with milk, flour, sugar and eggs.
Melktert
  • Sosaties
    • Sosaties are lamb kebabs grilled on a braai (Afrikaans for barbecue) and marinated with apricot jam, curry powder and garlic. 
Sosaties

What to Jam To

Check out this playlist on YouTube, filled with contemporary and classic hits from South African artists.

In Your Own Backyard

If you can’t make it to Cape Town, visit or connect with these New York City institutions!

Now that you’ve learned about Cape Town, join us for Isango Ensemble’s Aesop’s Fables this season! In the meantime, stay tuned for next week’s final New Victory Travel Guide.

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