Hallelujah Moments | Cape Town Jazz Festby Lindokuhle Nkosi / Images by Iggy Mokone & Tseliso Monaheng / 03.04.2014
My first hallelujah moment happens right in the middle of the Snarky Puppy set. The people in the rows of chairs in front of the Moses Molelekwa stage disappear. There is no-one here but me, the band, and… something else. It feels like a fire, like a blessing, like a shadow. It has crept in. Off the stage, from Bill Laurence and Cory Henry’s keys. It has crept in and taken over. Hands in the air. Eyes closed. Something spiritual is happening here. The New York-based collective summoned something that would stay with me for long after the show ended. That same intangible sense would resurface again, under Abdullah Ibrahim’s almost mathematical direction. And again when Dr Philip Tabane, Randy Weston and Erykah Badu played.
An 80-year old Dr Philip Tabane takes that stage at Rosies more than 50 years after the release of the Malombo Jazzmen’s Foolish Fly. On Friday, the Good Doctor came to heal. With his son Thabang Tabane on percussion, he too summons and commands spirits and other things that have no names. He moves across the stage as if possessed, dressed in black, his guitar an extension of himself. The crowd is on their feet. They’re screaming and crying. Whistling and clamouring over each other to get to the aisles, to dance and shake free. Somebody is shouting out izithakazelo zakhe; calling the names of all those who came before, who are surely here now, back from beyond for a taste of the magic man’s medicine.
A few hours later on the same stage, a griot takes his place in front of the piano. Mr Randy Weston has an indelible relationship with South African jazz. When the Sponono cast left South Africa to tour the States in 1964, many would not return home. Caiphus Semenya and Ndikho Douglas Xaba would take turns crashing on his couch, building a relationship that endured decades. In 1977, he traveled to Nigeria for FESTAC, the Festival for Arts and Culture, held in Lagos. In his book African Rhythms he writes “Fela got his band together for the performance and he called me over and said ‘Randy, you sit there.’ He had an English film crew capturing his every move. He started playing this little rhythm on the piano, then the band came in and he grabbed his saxophone. The rhythm was totally infectious, but you have to hear it live, you have to be where people are dancing to this band to fully appreciate this groove. ” Randy Weston brings this same kind of anecdotal wisdom to his music. You can hear in it, supper with Fela Kuti, drinks and benders with Ndikho Xaba, and jam sessions with Max Roach. Earlier on in the day, I overheard a conversation between Gwen Ansell and Kaz from Networx PR. They were wondering if selling Eykah Badu as the lead was the right thing to do, when it’s clear that Randy Weston is the bigger star.
Abdullah Ibrahim is precise, conducting his band from behind the keys with scientific genius. Mostly, I see his back. A tall frame hunched over a glossy black grand. Occasionally it will sway, his head will dip, buck and bend, but his eyes are steady. Maintaining an intense gaze, championing the set. This is the same leadership that saw the formation of the Jazz Epistles in 1959, with Makhaya Ntshoko on drums, Jonas Gwangwa on the bone, Kippie Moeketsi on Sax, Hugh Masekela on the trumpet and Johnny Gertze on bass. Again, he assembles a phenomenal horn section with Ekhaya. It is the most coherent, most enchanting I hear all weekend. Cleave Guyton, Lane Bryant, Marshall MacDonald and Andrea Murchison play with professional control. Nothing leaps away from them. None of the solo’s are self-indulgent. Everything is just enough.
Erykah Badu closes the weekend with a set that runs a little over two hours long, 10 years after her last performance in the country. It is also her backing singer and little sister Nayrock’s birthday. The whole performance is emotionally charged. Kippies, the main arena, burns electric. I know how these reviews are meant to go. I’m meant to tell what she was wearing (black leather jacket, blue shirt, red eyeshadow). You want to know whether she was on time (10 years late). Is she as good as expected? Does she run through all the favourites? Yes. Maybe. I don’t remember. Everything is on fire. I am dancing in the flames. She is 20 feet tall. I am consumed by the healing. Hallelujah.
Erykah Badu images © Iggy Mokone
All other images © Tseliso Monaheng