Blog May 5, 2012
Capetown Jazz Festival Report

Continuing its history of success, the 13th edition of “Africa’s Grandest Gathering,” not only sold out, but the last tickets of the 40,000 three weeks in advance! As result, festival director Rashid Lombard and his team can hopefully look forward to the enlargement of the Cape Town International Convention Centre, home to the festival since 2004.

While the actual festival takes place on the last weekend of March, many activities occur in the days immediately before it. Artists frequently arrive early for workshops and master classes, and courses in arts journalism and music business are made available. For the second time, people from the Berkley College of Music came all the way from Boston for two days of auditions in which young South African artists were able to apply for scholarships. Those who could not afford festival tickets, or those had simply missed their opportunity to purchase them, had a chance to see some of the performers from the festival at the traditional free concert held on Wednesday evening in Greenmarket Square. At the Convention Centre, a jazz exhibition featured works of photographers from South Africa and Angola.

Youth Jazz Group
From its start, one of the festival’s primary objectives has been to book half of its featured artists from within South Africa. As a result, the audience was able to cheer not only big names from abroad such as Marcus Miller, James Ingram or the reggae veterans of Third World, but also homegrown artists such as the legendary singer Dorothy Masuka or trumpeter Hugh Masekela. The latter performed a moving tribute to his ex-wife Miriam Makeba who had passed away in 2008. Special guest vocalists in this show included Thandiswa Mazwai, the former lead singer of Bongo Maffin, Zolani Mahola from South Africa’s prime pop group Freshly Ground, and Vusi Mahlasela, one of the country’s best singer/songwriters.

Adam Glasser
In addition, there were also impressive performances from the likes of the Chinese Xia Jia Trio and the Puerto Rican sax player David Sanchez, whose band featured the Beninese guitarist Lionel Loueke. The Cuban pianist Alfredo Rodriguez lead his trio through a more experimental set, decomposing Cuban classics and reassembling them into a variety of original formulation. Herbie Tsoaeli, one of South Africa’s top double bass players, introduced his first project as a leader. Cape Town-based Mozambican saxophonist Moreira Chonguica and his band played Afro-funk, in a lineup that prominently featured singer Wazimbo from Maputo. A very special performance was given by London-based pianist Adam Glasser, an artist who has deep roots in South African musical history (His father was the musical director of King Kong, South Africa’s first black musical in 1959). In Cape Town, the city of his childhood, he performed originals and new arrangements of South African classics with fellow ex-pat singer Pinise Saul (also currently based in London), as well as guitarist Bheki Khoza and other Johannesburg musicians.

Unfortunately, the Angolan singer/songwriter Gabriel Tchiema and his band ran into bad luck. While traveling from Luanda via Jo’burg, they had problems with their connecting flight and missed their show in Cape Town. However, Rashid Lombard and his team arranged another time slot on a different stage. As a result, the Angolans were forced to start their set at 12.45 in the morning.

Sandile Gotsana

One of the main highlights of this year’s festival came on the day following these performances. Over the last few years, Cape Town has lost many of its most famous jazz, most notably the Manenberg and the Green Dolphin. Finally, the residents have a new club, the Mahogany Room, located on Buitenkant Street in an area that is considered to be an up and coming “hip” neighborhood. The club was started at the end of 2011 by trumpeter Lee Thompson, drummer Kesivan Naidoo and his cousin, businessman Lawson Naidoo. The venue is tiny, (about 50 seats) but has both a Steinway grand piano on its stage and no shortage of excellent music between its walls. Among the famous artists that have already graced its stage are Hugh Masekela and his former fellow-student at the Manhattan School of music, pianist Larry Willis. On the night after the festival, they performed as a duo.

In the early 2000s, Masekela owned the record company Chissa. However, due to mismanagement by the CEO, Chissa went broke a few years ago, and Hugh Masekela swore never to start a label again. Last year, his nephew Pius Mokgokong somehow persuaded his uncle to change his mind. The first release on the brand new HOM (House of Masekela) label is a box of four CD set of Jazz. Three of these were recorded with Larry Willis on the piano and “Brother Hugh” playing flugelhorn and occasional singing. This duo had their first live performance at the Mahogany Room, where they played to a small but electrified audience. Although it was for just 50 people instead of the 10,000 at the Convention Centre, it was the perfect finale to a weekend full of music!

Contributed by Wolfgang König

and special thanks to edelweiss air for helping Wolfgang with a ticket.

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