Tuesday Night at the Sawubona Music Jam

by | Feb 13, 2024 | Arts and Culture, Johannesburg, Music/Festivals, Soweto | 7 comments

Last Tuesday I put on my big-girl pants — or, more accurately, my young-girl pants — and stayed out past midnight to attend the Sawubona Music Jam in Chiwelo, Soweto. I’ve known about the Sawubona Music Jam, which happens every Tuesday night, for years. But as a middle-aged person usually in bed by 9:30, I could never find the right time to travel to the far side of Soweto for a weeknight show that runs until 2:00 a.m.

Performers at the Sawubona Music Jam
Late night at the Sawubona Music Jam. The singers performing above are Africa Cele (left) and Nomisupasta (right).

But the stars finally aligned for me last week. My friend Sebo (of Caraci Clothing fame) invited me to the music jam and suggested dinner at Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers in Orlando West beforehand. I arranged to spend the night at Lebo’s, which made the prospect of a late night feel much less intimidating, and our plan was set.

Friends at Lebo's Soweto Backpackers
My friend Kristen (left), Sebo’s friend Jasmine (middle), and Sebo (right) posing with me at Lebo’s before the show.

Although I’d been to Lebo’s and done their famous cycling tour multiple times, I’d never spent the night at the backpackers before. I’m so glad I finally did; I loved it and Lebo’s has shot to the top of my list of favorite places to stay in Joburg, not just for backpackers but for anyone.

Signage outside Lebo's Soweto Backpackers
Welcoming signage outside Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers.

A Night at Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers

I wrote about Lebo’s, the cycling tour, and some of the other fun activities and amenities it offers in this 2020 post, so I won’t repeat all of that again. But I do have to share the horrible news that Lebo, a visionary entrepreneur who pioneered the concept of locally run tourism in Soweto, died in 2021 after battling covid. He was only 46 and left behind his wife, Maria (who now runs Lebo’s), and two young kids. I hadn’t been back to the backpackers since then, and it was nice to see Lebo’s legacy commemorated all around the lodge.

Mural of Lebo
A group of Sowetan street artists painted this beautiful mural on a nearby building after Lebo died.
Tribute to Lebo
A nice tribute to Lebo in the backpacker’s outdoor dining area. His death was a huge loss for Soweto and for South Africa.

I’ve stayed in some questionable backpackers/hostels in my life, but Lebo’s is not one of them. The lodge is immaculate, lovingly decorated in a way that is both comfortable and classy, the staff are professional and fun, it’s quiet at night, the food is delicious, and the entire place is a delight. (Also, I don’t usually go out of my way to emphasize this but Lebo’s is completely and totally safe. In fact I’ve never felt safer anywhere in the world.)

Twin room at Lebo's
My room at Lebo’s. This one doesn’t have an en-suite bathroom (there was a private bathroom with a shower steps away), but Lebo’s also has en-suite rooms and dorm rooms. The property also has a lovely campsite and rustic chalets.
Outdoor area at Lebo's
One of the lodge’s outdoor areas.
Lobby area with cat
Pleasant lobby area, complete with cat.
Lebo's bar area
The dining and bar area.
Tsepho from Lebo's in front of the mural
Tsepho, one of Lebo’s staff members, posing in front of the big mural at sunset.

Sebo, a bunch of friends, and me gathered at Lebo’s around 7:00 p.m. for a family-style dinner (available by reservation only). The staff at Lebo’s organizes an outing to the Sawubona Music Jam every Tuesday and most of the other overnight guests were also going; at around 9:00 p.m. we all piled into a few cars and transport vehicles and headed to the show, which is about 10 kilometers away from Lebo’s. (I always forget how big Soweto is.)

The Sawubona Music Jam

The Sawubona Music Jam, like most other music venues/events in Soweto, is hard to describe. It’s not a bar or a club; it’s a residential house, owned by a Soweto musician named Lucky Thobela, that has been kitted out for live music and hosting musical acts for many years. (I heard someone say it’s been around for about 15 years.) Like pretty much every musical gig I’ve been to in Soweto — which has one of the most vibrant music scenes in the world — all of the music at the music jam (even the music played between sets) was fantastic and like nothing I’ve ever heard before.

Neither my words nor my photos will do the Sawubona Music Jam any justice — this is a phenomenon that must be experienced in person.

Saxophonist Sawubona Music Jam
Saxophonist Khaya Mahlangu, who has played with legendary artists Abdullah Ibrahim and Hugh Masekela. The set he played with a full band and three other saxophonists was my favorite of the night.
The room was packed and I was too timid to push my way in front of the stage, so all of my photos are shot from the side. The musician playing here is Mr. Dodo and the artwork in the background is by the iconic Soweto street artist SenzArt911.
Singer from Kombo Nation
The singer from an insanely cool artist collective called Kombo Nation.
Mrisi performing at Sawubona Music Jam
Mrisi, whose name I definitely know and will never forget because he spelled it out for us multiple times before and after every song and made us spell it back to him. I will also never forget Mrisi’s performance — he danced like a maniac and had an amazing backup band of marimba players. The crowd went absolutely wild but all my photos from the wild part of Mrisi’s set are very blurry.

Everyone staying at Lebo’s (me included) was exhausted by around 12:30 a.m., so we left “early”. (The show was still going.) I was safely in bed at the backpackers by about 1:00 a.m. I slept like a baby, woke up to Soweto birdsong, then drove the 20 minutes home to my Brixton workday after breakfast. I was extremely tired for the rest of the day but it was 100% worth it.

A Tuesday night out at Lebo’s and the Sawubona Music Jam makes a perfect midweek Joburg staycation — I implore all the music lovers among you to do it and bring your friends. Contact Lebo’s for more information about both the backpackers and the music jam. If you want to trek to the music jam on your own, you can find the location by searching “Sawubonamusicjam” on Google Maps.

My stay at Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers was complimentary. Opinions expressed are mine.


  1. dizzylexa

    I must still do a staycation at Lebo’s but maybe a lot less calmer like a storytelling evening. The Sawubona music jam looks like such a ‘jol’, don’t think I could even do the 9pm start. ha ha

    • 2summers

      Honestly I don’t know how I did it either 😂

      • dizzylexa

        I don’t even have the big girl let alone the young girl panties to assist me. ha ha ha…

  2. AutumnAshbough

    Out past midnight?! You rebel. Did you have to load up on caffeine? Lebo’s hostel looks so comfy, and I love that it comes cat approved!

    • 2summers

      I had a beer with dinner, which was definitely a mistake. Next time it will be Coke Zero all the way.

  3. Sebo

    What a beautiful write up! I got transported back to this evening, what was also cool the suggested/related posts! Looking forward to experience Soweto more and Sawubona Music Jam ❤️

    • 2summers

      Thanks for motivating me! How you had fun last night.


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