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Music Reigns Supreme

by Ts’eliso Monaheng / 05.04.2012

Vusi Mahlasela goes wild, demonstrating stage antics befitting a funk legend as opposed to the afro-folk he is most well-known for. With no guitar in hand, he belts out successive yelps and contorts his face with every note sung. The audience is overjoyed, ecstatic even. On guitar is Bheki Khoza, strumming up and down the scales intently, demonstrating why he should be valued more than he is in this country. We are at the after-festival jam session where fictional combinations of bands are most likely to be realised: Patti Austin and James Ingram on the microphone, Third World’s Lenworth Williams on drums, and David Sanchez on saxophone.

For two days in a row, native Capetonians, tourists, and jazz refugees (presumably mainly from Johannesburg) filled up the Convention Centre’s enclaves in search of the ever-present, sometimes-elusive allure of live music. Some found it in its entirety, some had to wait due to delays in scheduled performances to get it, while others got it, got vexed, and felt the need to vent their frustrations on social media (as was the case with Laury Hill’s eagerly-anticipated appearance). Some experienced it through telecasts on other stages, and others just chose to hang around warmer surroundings when Friday’s chill became a tad overbearing to withstand.

I finally found my fortress at the jazz festival; for the past three years, it had been teasing me with Kyle Shepherd’s exhilarating wizardry, Robert Glasper’soff-beat mastery, and Christian Scott’s untamed chivalry. This year, the Moses Molelekwa stage stepped up to the challenge yet again with gems and unexpected pleasantries. I got to hear Sophia Foster lament the days before television when “we had to feel what we were doing, and therefore lyrics in those days mattered, absolutely”,before she peaked into the depths of every woman’s soul to sing a song about ‘a chair being a chair even when no one is sitting there’. I held my breath repeatedly in awe of Alfredo Rodriguez and his band’s improvisational abilities, marveled at the spiritual significance of the father-son combination of Steve and Bokani Dyer, and felt a bit of consternation at Xia Jiang and his trio’s rather tight-fitting, non-free-form approach to jazz.

Jazzfest - Zakes

I played the regular passer-by at Kippies, usually en route to Bassline. But I did hang around as Vusi’s sheer conviction to his singing sent trembles through the room during Bra Hugh’s tribute to Mama Miriam. Zolani tried to tell me to meet her at the river, but I had to let her know of my date with Rosies at the end of the terrace upstairs. Mama Dorothy, still graceful in her old age, warned me of policemen and other ills of society. “I wrote this song ladies and gentlemen, in the early fifties, and many artists in this country have sung this song”, she said of her composition “Khauleza”. Her approach was conversational; she laughed often and cracked jokes about abo-bari, rallying the ladies to sing along before rounding off with a warning “bazo-s’shayanamhlanje”.

HHP did his best rendition of Famo dance, but to an experienced eye, his efforts fell short. He fared well in other aspects though, running through a catalogue of crowd favourites and gems from his new offering, “Motswafrika”. For the umpteenth time, I gave Jean Grae a chance to leave an impression, but she still fell short, so I left to experience, in quick succession, Allen Stone’s quasi-soul stoicism and Chonguica Moreira’s refined contemporary jazz. But I settled for the piano, bass, and drum combination of Rodriguez, Rios, and Ruano.

The Cape Town International Jazz Festival is, to me at least, as much about the missed moments, technical glitches, and delays in schedule as it is about the musical treasure which lay abound waiting to be ripped open, harvested, and copiously consumed. It is about the circles of people forming at Bassline and dancing tirelessly to Professor’s “Imoto” while waiting for Zakes Bantwini to emerge; it is about the snide comments one hears from the audience: “they should have chosen a different backing vocalist”, or “that is NOT Zolani”! It is also a far-cry from the bulk of Cape Town’s festivals; one notices a more encompassing linguistic bracket: Afrikaans, English, Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, they are all here. I also get to discover that ‘Hugh Masekela’ sounds more enticing when spoken through the doddering lips of a German tourist.

Jazzfest - Nouvelle Vague

For all their pop sensibilities and incredible live show, Nouvelle Vague got short-charged by the MC at Bassline who chose to invade their set just as they were about to perform their last song. Marcus Miller made his bass sing over at Kippies, and gave a mesmerizing show which did not fall short of his list of achievements ever since being picked up by Miles Davis all those years ago to join another incarnation of his band.

While many got huddled up at Kippies to watch Lauryn Hill, my hip-hop senses emerged and, along with a handful of people in semi-circular formation from the front of the stage to about twenty feet backwards, I got to witness the full wrath of PharoaheMonch’stime-tested, near- perfect showmanship. Beginning with“W.A.R”, he ran amok through old, not-so-new, and relatively brand-new material. He dedicated his verse on “Oh no” to Nate Dogg, demonstrated a more reflective side on “My life”, and brought out a ‘special guest’ in the form of Jean Grae on “Assassins”. His right-hand woman, MelaMachinko, did justice to Jill Scott’s part on “Still standing”. All the while I thought ‘woe betide allye who missethPharoahe’s first thirty minutes’! The Executioners’ DJ Boogie Blind’s scratch routine alone was worth it, not to mention the absolute ferocity with which Mela belted out those high-pitched notes.

Jazzfest - Strike a Pose

More people did come eventually, and Monch never faltered with his flawless, non-farcical and intelligent flows. He rallied everyone in the audience to “release their anger” by raising their middle fingers up in the air for ‘Fuck you’, and emerged as a reverend for ‘Let my people go’ before rounding matters up on a very rowdy note on ‘Simon says’.

For all its shortcomings; scheduling woes, late starts and sound glitches – the Jazz Festival represents a focal point for the appreciation of live music, featuring a wide ranging list of established artists and exciting new talent. Back at the jam session, ntate Vusi’s voice fades to the background and bab’y Bheki’s guitar takes over, conversations flow, like-minds mingle. Once again, even if for a brief moment, music reigns supreme

Jazzfest - Jean Grae

Jazzfest - Bra Hugh

Jazzfest - Zakes does his thing

Jazzfest - Novella Vague kicks it up

Jazzfest - Middle finger in the air

Jazzfest - Stealing the show

Jazzfest - Nouvelle Vague Duo

Jazzfest - Sing it back

Jazzfest - Harmonizing

*All images © espAfrika / Thania Petersen, apart from Hugh Masekela, shot by Rashid Latiff.

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