Dancing with the Diaspora

Grahamstown National Jazz Festival

Grahamstown National Jazz festival sponsored by Standard Bank is pioneering in the way that it has amalgamated a schools jazz festival and professional jazz festival to bring an equal focus on education and entertainment.

At the Grahamstown jazz festival true talent can come through. For instance in 2012, the Sans Souci girls school from Cape Town Newlands act ‘The Jazz Cats’ featured youth from grade 8 to 12. The highlight was grade 8 trumpet player Zanele Mthuze. Her solo on the Chuck Mangione tune ‘Children of Sanchez’ was inspired. When I asked her what is the key to improvisation, she said, “Relax and let go and let the music come to you. Trust yourself.”
Benjamin Herman is a saxophone virtuoso from Amsterdam. He is running a radio programme in Amsterdam on jazz music from around the world and he plays a lot of South African jazz music. He is particularly fond of South African jazz music. Benjamin's fourteenth album is a dedication to Dutch composer Misha Mengelberg, called ‘More Mengelberg.’ Misha was in contact with South African jazz in exile and played with Dudu Pukwana. He wrote a tune for him called Kwela Pukwana.

Situated three kilometers from the jazz stages at DSG was a free township jazz festival, the Dakawa Jazz festival, held at the Dakawa community centre. Tickets were free, the hall was not packed beyond capacity and people had a good time, some sitting and listening, some dancing and others sharing their food. The performance space was shared by young and old together.
At the Township Jazz festival, Lex Ngqawana performed with The Dakawa Jazz Ensemble. They performed music from the classic era made famous by Sophiatown shuffle and bands such as Elite Swingsters and the African Jazz Pioneers. This genre of music is known globally as ‘township jazz.’ It is loved for the jive dancing that often accompanies it. I spoke to Dakawa Jazz ensemble saxophone player, Lex Ngqawana. He is 79 years of age. Mr Ngqawana and his colleagues started playing in 1954 and are still going strong. Like most of the district bands featured they are very effective in nurturing young talent. He said, “Township jazz is composed and arranged and played by people from the township. It is not hard core jazz, it is not American jazz. People dance to township jazz, they do not sit down.”
The National Jazz Festival is a fantastic platforms to express the very best of our music. Together these two festivals create an irresistible force of integration. South African jazz is South African jazz it does not know the colour of your skin or the colour of your money. South African jazz initiatives ought to unite under one banner, and an unbranded banner would be true to our cause. South African jazz is unity for audiences, musicians and students.


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