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NSJF: Prepare your senses for a heady, pulse-raising experience

Waldo Muller

The North Sea Jazz Festival (NSJF) will hit Cape Town’s flashy Foreshore this Easter for the very first time when the hugely popular two-day music fest is staged at its new home, the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC), just a stone’s throw from South Africa’s tourist destination numero uno, the V&A Waterfront.

Once again, for the fifth consecutive year since the inception of NSJF Cape Town in 2000, leading international musicians will be flown in from all corners of the globe to grace the event. We will be able to experience top jazz and jazz-related musicians from North America, Cuba, Brazil, Japan, India, Sweden, Britain, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Angola, Hawaii and the Caribbean, as well as from all over South Africa — a varied sound spectrum from Jozi kwaito to Cape goema and many other musical flavours of local origin.

The NSJF is, in fact, not just a jazz fest: free-spiritedly it ventures into anything from hip-hop and soul to traditional music, even featuring a bit of conventional pop and a touch of rock ’n roll.

This year’s NSJF Cape Town takes place on the Saturday and Sunday of Easter weekend (10 and 11 April). On Saturday the music starts at 17h00 and on Sunday at 18h00. Both nights will end in the region of 03h00, with a number of star attractions taking the stage only after midnight. The Monday is a public holiday.

The festival is heady, pulse-raising stuff for music lovers: the programme offers 40 acts (of which at least half are African) performing over two days on five stages simultaneously. More than 15 000 people per day attend the event, aspirationally dubbed “Africa’s Grandest Gathering”.

NSJF Cape Town 2004 coincides and has official links with South Africa’s “Ten Years into Democracy” anniversary celebrations. Later this year (in July) the Dutch city The Hague will see its 29th annual edition of the original NSJF, which started back in 1976, long before the dawn of the new South Africa. Since then, the Dutch mother festival has grown into the Netherlands’ biggest event in terms of media attention. It is one of Time magazine’s Top Ten Events of the World.

Apart from African and South African headliners like Femi Kuti, Abdullah Ibrahim, Miriam Makeba, Jonathan Butler and Freshlyground, NSJF Cape Town 2004 will also bring us performances by current international stars like neo-soul singer Angie Stone, Grammy Award-winning Blue Note jazz diva Cassandra Wilson (Time’s pick for America’s Best Singer 2001), and firebrand hip-hop poetess Ursula Rucker; as well as some vintage legends, elder statesmen of the jazz world: bassist Stanley Clarke, guitarist Al Di Meola and reed master Lou Donaldson and his Quartet (featuring keyboardist Lonnie Smith and percussionist Idris Muhammed).

The following South African acts will perform in addition to those already mentioned: Alvin Dyers and his Quartet, Breakfast Included, Daryl Andrews Jazz Band, Feya Faku and Friends (including Lulu Gontsana), Gloria Bosman, Harold Jephta, Hotep Idris Galeta (as sideman in the “Let Freedom Ring” Sax Summit), Jonny Cooper Big Band with vocalist Donald Tshomela, Loyiso, Mark Fransman’s Strait and Narro (with Melanie Scholtz), McCoy Mrubata, Ngcukana Brothers, Ray Phiri and Stimela, Sakhile (featuring Sipho Gumede, Mabi Thabejane and Khaya Mahlangu) and the Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Band.

The festival organisers, Cape Town’s esp-Afrika and Dutch MOJO Concerts, rightfully described their event in a press release as “the two most exciting and important days on the South African jazz calendar”. The NSJF’s closest rival is arguably the Grahamstown National Arts Festival’s jazz component, but there is ultimately no comparison, largely owing to the vastly bigger array of international acts at the NSJF and the latter’s jazz-transcending, eclectic spectrum of music styles.

The community of Cape Town will be treated to a free concert by the NSJF organisers on Thursday, April 8, at Greenmarket Square, the historic site where slaves from the East and elsewhere in Africa were sold (and mistreated) during earlier centuries.

As in previous years, four of the stages at the CTICC will be named in honour of four of South Africa’s most famous jazz clubs. They are Kippies, Manenberg, Rosies and Bassline. The name of the new fifth stage has not yet been announced.

Below is the stage-by-stage programme and performance schedule for the festival, although unforeseen circumstances could necessitate last-minute changes, according to the organisers. Let’s hope not. Life is complicated enough for the driven, focused festival-goer who likes to work out a personalised/customised attendance schedule across the five stages in advance.

Here is all the information such a keen culture vulture would need  ... Most performances last about an hour (or just over an hour), unless otherwise stated.

SATURDAY, 10 APRIL

Kippies
This is the largest performance venue at the CTICC, with seating for 1 000 people and standing room for a further 7 500.

  • Sakhile (18h30): Legendary SA fusion outfit reuniting specially for the NSJF. In the 80s they performed in the UK, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Finland, the Soviet Union and several African states. A highlight was when Sakhile appeared at the massive Nelson Mandela tribute concert at London’s Wembley Stadium in the early 90s.
  • Stanley Clarke (20h30, playing for 90 minutes): Grammy winner considered the world’s greatest living jazz bass player. With a career spanning more than 30 years, Clarke is revered as composer, conductor, orchestrator, arranger, songwriter, producer and recording artist.
  • Angie Stone (22h30): American R&B/soul star who has collaborated with the likes of Mary J Blige, D’Angelo and Lenny Kravitz.
  • Jonathan Butler (00h30): Singer/guitarist equally comfortably in pop, R&B, and smooth jazz, making occasional ventures into African, world and gospel music.

Rosies
A solid dose of jazz played by smaller combos will be featured in this 1 500 all-seater auditorium on Saturday night.

  • Miriam Makeba & Trio (18h30): Playing an extra-long set consisting of two 45-minute sessions. Backed by Severieno Diaz de Oliveira, Leopoldo Fleming and William Salter.
  • Harold Jephta & Trio (20h45): Cape Town pianist whose career stretches back to the 50s.
  • Abdullah Ibrahim (22h30): Veteran SA jazz pianist whose international career took off 40 years ago when he played at the Newport Jazz Festival, followed by his first tour of the US — which led to collaborations with Duke Ellington. In 1988 Ibrahim wrote the award-winning soundtrack for the film Chocolat.
  • Lou Donaldson Quartet (00h15): Versatile US sax legend backed by equally big names Lonnie Smith (keyboards) and Idris Muhammed (percussion).

Manenberg
This is the outside stage with standing room for over 5 000 people.

  • Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Band (17h00): A product of the South African National Youth Jazz Festival, which is part of the Grahamstown Festival. It is the country’s most significant youth development initiative in jazz and this year the band is under the leadership of Darius Brubeck, Head of Jazz in the Music Department at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
  • Gloria Bosman (18h15): Popular jazz vocalist and SAMA winner, originally from Soweto.
  • Dondo (19h45): Featuring Vusi Khumalo, one of SA’s top drummers, and Lawrence Matshiza on guitar. The two met in the 80s when Vusi drummed on Paul Simon’s Graceland album.
  • Sadao Watanabe (21h45): World-famous Japanese saxophonist (70) who will perform with four Angolan percussionists.
  • Basilio Marquez y Eclipse (23h45): Cuba’s top jazz trumpeter, renowned for his complex Latin arrangements of jazz standards as well as new treatments of Cuban classics.

Bassline
This area has room for 2 500 fans, both standing and seated. It will also have a chill lounge.

  • Freshlyground (19h00): Fast-rising Cape Town seven-piece offering an intercultural mix of styles ranging from African folk music and jazz to pop, reggae and dance music. Featuring a young female violinist, Kyla, who will also be playing with Tumi & The Volume. Vocals are by Zolani Mahola, who is known to South Africans for her role in the TV series Tsha Tsha.
  • Tasha’s World (21h00): Fronted by Dutch singer Natascha Slagtand, whose organic neo-soul music has been compared with that of Jill Scott and Erykah Badu.
  • Tumi & The Volume (22h45): New-school beat poetry backed by SA’s first totally live hip-hop band. Featuring the same Kyla on violin who plays with Freshlyground earlier in the evening.
  • TY (00h45): Intelligent, underground hip-hop from a Nigerian-British artist who recently worked with Fela Kuti’s famous drummer, Tony Allen. A live band backs TY.

5th Stage
This is an all-seater with room for 600 people.

  • Breakfast Included (18h00): Cape Town jazz-funk group.
  • Soweto Kinch (19h45): Young Caribbean-British saxophonist and rapper (with the perfect first name for a UK artist to have when he is introduced to his first South African audience!). Soweto was the winner of the prestigious BBC Radio Jazz Award for Rising Star, 2002.
  • Mark Fransman’s Strait and Narro (21h30): Featuring vocalist Melanie Scholtz, saxophonist Buddy Wells (Tribe), trumpeter Lee Thomson (Golliwog, Springbok Nude Girls), drummer Sean Ou Tim (Max Normal) and bassist Wesley Rusten (Gramadoelas). The group fuses SA jazz and modern sextet jazz with the rhythms of contemporary dance music.
  • Amanda Sedgwick and Gilbert Matthews (23h15): Swedish saxophonist collaborates with Langa-born SA drummer/percussionist who has been in exile in Europe since the sixties.

SUNDAY, 11 APRIL

Kippies

  • Ray Phiri & Stimela (18h30): Cult SA group whose controversial albums achieved gold and platinum status in the 80s. Stimela worked with Paul Simon on his Graceland album.
  • Cassandra Wilson (20h30): Top contemporary jazz singer from the US.
  • Al Di Meola (22h30): World-famous jazz guitarist with over 21 albums to his name.
  • Femi Kuti (00h30): Nigerian Femi Kuti, eldest son of and musical heir to anti-establishment music hero Fela Kuti, performing with a dynamic, 17-piece Afrobeat orchestra.

Rosies
The second night at Rosies belongs to the saxophone: 3 out of the 4 acts are sax-centric!

  • McCoy Mrubata (18h30): SAMA winner and one of SA’s leading young saxophonists.
  • Joe Lovano Trio (20h15): American alto saxophonist who has recorded more than 20 albums. Featuring Idris Muhammed on percussion.
  • Feya Faku & Friends (22h00): Top-notch trumpeter hailing from New Brighton in Port Elizabeth, but these days working with leading jazz talent, recently having played on Abdullah Ibrahim’s Cape Town Revisited and also regularly collaborating with Winston Mankunku Ngozi.
  • South African Sax Summit (23h45): With Jackie McLean, Rene McLean, James Moody and Gary Bartz, backed by Hotep Idris Galeta, Nat Reeves, Ronnie Burrage and Okeyrema Asnate.

Manenberg

  • Jonny Cooper Big Band with Donald Tshomela (18h15): This is a 19-member big band replicating the exact structure of the famous Glenn Miller Band. Tshomela will add vocal tributes to the likes of Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong and Nat King Cole.
  • Azymuth (20h15): Brazilian trio who have recorded more than 20 albums since the 60s. Their music is described as “an intelligent, high-voltage blend of Brazilian rhythms, jazz, and funk”.
  • Ngcukana Brothers (22h00): A performance of traditional yet sophisticated SA jazz as a tribute to local legends like Kippie Moeketsi, Chris McGregor and Duke Makasi.
  • Hiroshima (00h00): Los Angeles-based quartet whose music combines world, jazz, pop and R&B. They include some traditional Japanese instruments to add a distinct flavour to their sound.

Bassline

  • Kabelo (19h15): Kwaito star who became famous as a member of TKZee.
  • Soweto Kinch (21h00): A repeat performance by the Caribbean-British saxophonist/rapper.
  • Ursula Rucker (23h00): Cutting-edge hip-hop poetess from Philadelphia in the US.
  • Loyiso (00h45): This former member of the Drakensberg Boys’ Choir started out working with TKZee and in recent years established a solo pop career, doing mostly R&B.

5th Stage

  • Daryl Andrews Jazz Band (18h00): This 13-piece Cape Town group plays jazz-funk and Latin.
  • Raga Afrika (19h45): Consisting of four musicians from India and four from South Africa, this ensemble will conduct a jazzy marriage between Indian and African instruments, creating a sound with “different shades ranging from spiritual to groovy”.
  • Alvin Dyers Quartet (21h45): SA guitarist who blends jazz, goema, Latin and African music.
  • Toon Roos Group (23h30): This Dutch saxophonist and his group play a mixture of jazz, funk, rock, Latin, bossa nova and African sounds.

For those interested in both jazz and photography, there will once again be a photographic exhibition — this year featuring South Africans George Hallett and Alf Khumalo, as well as Herman Leonard, the famous American photographer of jazz greats like Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk.

As in previous years, there will also be a corporate side to NSJF 2004, complete with “gold”, “silver” and “other” sponsors. Once again there will be a corporate village, that holiest of holies for capitalist achievers, and very much off limits to the proletariat.

North Sea Jazz Festival branded merchandise will be for sale, as well as jazz and jazz-related music.

It is interesting to note that the NSJF brand is still expanding: starting this year, there will be an Asian version of the North Sea Jazz Festival in the Arabic state Qatar as well. On June 10 and 11 the first edition of North Sea Jazz Qatar will take place in the Sheraton Hotel in the capital Doh, creating an unusual mix of international artists and Arabic musicians across five stages.

I believe Cape Town’s NSJF offers much better value for money than last year’s over-hyped Mandela 46664 concert did. The latter had too much of an American/British feel, and musically speaking was not very hip or Afrocentric, great altruistic/humanistic intentions aside. At 46664 you were trapped in front of one stage, squeezed like a sardine into a not-so-black throng, and you had nowhere to find musical relief, no alternative, when Bono or Peter Gabriel belted out their umpteenth tiresome pop dirge. At the NSJF you can at least move from one stage to another (through a crowd full of stylish/beautiful Africans), and you can keep moving and mingling, bound to get joy, musically or in whatever other way might tickle your fancy.

According to the organisers the glitzy, spanking new CTICC will facilitate a “far more comfortable and user-friendly jazz festival” than the apartheid-era Good Hope Centre, the home of the four preceding festivals, and a building erected on the ruins of District Six by the same white supremacists who bulldozed the Six to smithereens and relocated its people to the Cape Flats.

Despite this historical outrage, the Good Hope Centre (if judged on a purely stylistic-aesthetic level, in a Wallpaper magazine kind of way) could be considered a cool retro structure by some. The same cannot be said of the CTICC. Architecturally it is a beautiful space, but it is also very glossy and shiny and high-tech. Not the natural or traditional habitat of jazz. Not downtown New Orleans. Not Sophiatown. Not the township. The Good Hope Centre’s feel seems much closer to that of the conventional, downtown jazz den. But hopefully the CTICC, in its own, 21st-century way, has what it takes to host a great music festival. Maybe a groovy, vibrant-yet-laid-back jazz atmosphere can be achieved there. Let’s see.

I do suspect, however, that the basement of the Good Hope Centre will be sorely missed, no matter how good a venue the CTICC turns out to be. Consider the strong likelihood that something like the elevator-music-resembling, smooth jazz of the super-slick Jimmy Dludlu would really make sense in the CTICC. Jimmy is not on the programme this year, but Tumi & The Volume and Ursula Rucker are. The aura of the latter two acts is much more underground than the CTICC, much more ghetto. Such acts would have created a radical and mind-blowing atmosphere in the Good Hope Centre’s basement, just like Godessa and Matthew Herbert did last year. People even smoked ganja near the stage when Godessa performed their black-conscious, female power chants. Somehow one doubts whether the CTICC could host something equally irie. But let’s see. Watch this space.

The NSJF will also be a true test of the CTICC’s acoustics. I attended the MCQP there last December and the sound sucked. Maybe it was not the building’s fault, but that of the sound engineers. Last year was the first time that the annual MCQP, Cape Town’s biggest gay fancy-dress, was held at the CTICC. The event did not have as great an atmosphere as previous MCQPs had at places like the Castle of Good Hope, Artscape and the River Club. The CTICC seemed a bit too clinical for a really festive, unrestrained MCQP. But I trust that the excellent and varied music on this year’s NSJF programme will more than compensate for the possible shortcomings of the seemingly too swanky venue.

Musicians performing at the NSJF will again be involved in a series of music workshops for the public in the run-up to the festival. I attended some of these last year at Artscape. Considering that they were free I was amazed at the low turnout of people. It was an incredible opportunity to get up close and personal, to ask questions directly to master musicians of their genres, even world-famous ones. The workshops, convened by Prof Hotep Galeta, are a fantastic opportunity for anyone truly interested in music. For more details, go www.nsjfcapetown.com.

The NSJF Cape Town hotline can be reached at 083-123-JAZZ (or 5299). Tickets cost R260 (single day) and R399 (weekend). Most artists perform on only one of the two days; so if you can afford to attend on only one of the nights, select your night according to the programme, considering whom you would most like to see. Tickets are available at Computicket.



LitNet: 1 April 2004

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