Seconds of Amazingby Lindokuhle Nkosi / 12.07.2012
The glass of wine I’ve been forced to down is warming its way into my system. A slim Zolani Mahola belts out Sibongile Khumalo’s “Yakhal’ Inkomo” accompainied by The Bridge, who read like an All Star cast of current and up-and-coming jazz maestros. She shimmies around in pointy red boots. Her voice is like an additional instrument on the stage. David Isaacs narrates the show, weaving words into the melody. Speaking into the harmonic silences, into the lilt of the horns and the pluck, pluck, strumming of the guitar. Khaya Mahlangu, Errol Dyers and Morris Goldberg take centre stage under the direction of The Mahogany Room’s Lee Thompson and Kesivan Naidoo. The first night provides a full and pure jazz experience. Unadultered, it fills the gilded cavernous hall. Horns bellow into the hollows and the drums cascade from the decorated ceiling. It’s strange to imagine jazz occupying such a classical space. Gigantic organ pipes linger in the background, paying silent respect to the music stirring them up from the inside.
On the second night, Closet Snare open the show. A few familiar faces from the night before take stage. Bokani Dyer is on the synthesiser at the back, a twelve piece string section to the left and EJ Von Lyrik and Inge Beckmann on vocals. The set is promising, if not a little empty. They reach and reach but never quite get there. Building up to a non-existent climax, it feels a little like they lost their way on the path to the peak. It sounds as though each musician perfected their own instrument. Working at it with energy and fervour, but never rehearsing together. As though random solo’s were thrown together with the odd hope that what resulted would be melodic, musical. Even the images projected onto the screen behind them only serve to amplify the dissonance. What actually happened was moments. Tiny moments. Seconds of amazing, of hope, of “maybe I can see where this is going”, but the seconds were not enough. The set was haphazard, ill-planned and undisciplined.
Mxo took the stage after the interval. Unfortunately, most of the audience had left during the break. Cape Town’s prince of funk however performed with the enthusiasm of the unjustly forgotten. Reclaiming his stage posture and following. Reasserting his rhythmic right. Vibrating across the stage, he managed to an entertain an audience you imagine wasn’t really here to see him.
Kwaito kid turned Afro-fusionist, Joe Nina gave a high-energy performance worthy of a stadium crowd. He worked his way through the archives, everything from his ode to Maria Podesta, to cautionary tale “Sbali”, tying them together with the requiste, cheesy shouts of: “Are you there?” and “are you ready?!” Understandably,the last time he performed was probably at a bash in between Mdu Masilela and Brenda Fassie. “Everybody say scream!”
Shiny wedding suits and lyrics aside, Joe Nina is performer. He eases into every song with the comfort of a professional, and fosters a mutual respect between performers and the audience. His awareness of the space, albeit one visibly unfamiliar to him (at some point he felt it necessary to translate the mediocre lyrics into English), was impressive. Twelve years later, he has a commanding musical presence and an endearing persona.
The min-festival wrapped on Saturday night with Madala Kunene and Caiphus Semenya. Madala Kunene, King of the Zulu guitar is the male equivalent of the better known and greatly missed, Busi Mhlongo. Like Busi, he has subverted what jazz, mbaqanga or maskandi should sound like; and recreated it into an ethereal, almost mystical occurrence. His music sounds trance-like. An incantation. A spiritual moment you have been allowed to witness. A musical connection to a god, the gods. He channels something big, almost intangible.
Caiphus Semenya was the festival’s headline act. Years of experience make for a polished, refined act. It is seamless. Clean but not sterile. He knows what the audience wants, and he gives it to them. Even if that means performing “Ndiphendule” three whole times. He defied his age, performing with more zeal than some of his younger counterparts. The mass was dancing, reminiscing. Allowing the music to make them nostalgic, to root in the enjoyment of the moment. A fitting end to an experiment festival. He closed off the show with the skill and know-how afforded by decades of experience.
*Images © City Hall Sessions / Steve Gordon, Jonx Pillemer, Eugene Arries and Rafs Muyet.