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Culture, Music

Freedom Jazz

by Setumo-Thebe Mohlomi / 14.05.2013

The Cape Town City Hall, carries history in its bricks; probably the most well known recent event to take place at the City Hall is Nelson Mandela’s speech from the balcony in 1990 after he was released from prison. This is a once-off Freedom Day City Hall Session which marks the day when South Africa had its first truly democratic election. In the hands of the musicians billed for the concert, the audience milling about the foyer and churning out clouds of cigarette smoke outside the venue, oozes a raw kind of excitement that in some way serves to parallel that Election Day in ’94.

Surprisingly, some people in the audience don’t have the advantage of the harrowing memories which living through apartheid can bequeath to one. Some might even be born frees.

The hors d’oeuvres for the musical banquet which was the 7th City Hall Session were a local delicacy called Amaryoni. They are a five piece Mbube band with an arresting stage presence and close to key perfect vocals. The most ironic moment in their first appearance was the applause they got from the non-Xhosa speaking members of the audience for a song which warned black people about their relationship with white people.


When he was a kid, in the early seventies, McCoy Mrubata received his first musical tutelage informally from the likes of Winston Ngozi and Robert Sithole. A few years later when he had been steadily gigging in Cape Town, he moved to Joburg to play saxophone for Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse’s band. Since then, his legend in South African jazz, and South African music in general, has grown to dwarf his petite physical stature.

A few neighbourhoods away, in Crawford around the same time, Mrubata’s friend and musical accomplice Paul Hanmer was learning to play the piano before his feet could reach the pedals. After establishing himself in Cape Town with a number of different bands, Hanmer also left for Jozi Maboneng in 1987 to pursue his career in music.

The two have collaborated many times before and the musical conversation between them on stage, notably facilitated by trumpeter Feya Faku and drummer Ayanda Sikade, is native, almost intuitive for both of them. Hanmer says one of the bigger challenges when he and Mrubata were asked to play the City Hall Sessions together was trying to decide what not to play from their long list of compositions and collaborations in the past. At the end of their set, the audience is convinced that they planned all of the right songs.

Paul Hanmer

After Amaryoni do a couple of lively numbers, the MC who can not pronounce their name, comes on stage to announce the final act for the night. The Moreira Project is the brainchild of Mozambican born, UCT South African College of Music graduate, Moreira Chonguica. The saxophonist rallied some of his most talented friends to create the Moreira Project. They released an album The Moreira Project Vol 1 in 2005 and are now working on material for their third offering.

Moreira fuses the experience of an old jazz hand with the slick of a contemporary pop artist. He surpises the audience with his entrance, playing the opening song in darkness and then having the spotlight trained on him at the bridge. The Moreira project as a whole is a band which can be taken seriously but with enough gimmicks, like dark shades indoors and one-handed playing to make them entertaining.


It takes a while to get the audience’s vocal chords warmed up for the call and response segment of their performance. But when the voices do get warm, they scream nothing but praises at the end of the band’s performance.

* All images © Setumo-Thebe Mohlomi

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