NSJF: Prepare your senses for a heady, pulse-raising experience
The North Sea Jazz Festival (NSJF) will hit Cape Towns 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 stones throw from South Africas 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 years 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 Africas Grandest Gathering.
NSJF Cape Town 2004 coincides and has official links with South Africas 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 magazines 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 (Times pick for Americas 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 Fransmans 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 Towns 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 NSJFs closest rival is arguably the Grahamstown National Arts Festivals jazz component, but there is ultimately no comparison, largely owing to the vastly bigger array of international acts at the NSJF and the latters 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 Africas 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. Lets 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
SUNDAY, 11 APRIL
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 Towns NSJF offers much better value for money than last years 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 Centres 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. Lets 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 Centres 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 lets see. Watch this space.
The NSJF will also be a true test of the CTICCs acoustics. I attended the MCQP there last December and the sound sucked. Maybe it was not the buildings fault, but that of the sound engineers. Last year was the first time that the annual MCQP, Cape Towns 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 years 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.
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