Start with the Heart
I couldn't, I wouldn't, I shouldn't but I will, I must, I can. AND I DID —for the me that resonates in you.
Our Story of Southern African jazz' is a story that IS because it is a story that has become its writer. I was awakened by the patience, understanding, tolerance and forgiveness of many jazz musicians, jazz ambassadors, jazz warriors and jazz professors. I address you as a jazz messenger and a jazz disciple undergoing my own transformation into a jazz musician. As much as my life has been formed and shaped by SA Jazz, SA Jazz has been formed and shaped by different lives lived in every multi coloured shade of human experience. There is truth, acceptance, warmth, generosity and transformation in this music. SA Jazz is built on the foundation of her musicians, her champions, brothers, sisters, comrades and friends. SA Jazz's open heart welcomes so many searching youths from all walks of life, as in this company, one can really find oneself.
Jim Bailey was an African adventurer. Right at the end of his life he befriended me and made a massive impact. He was the first to introduce me to great friendships with African people. He showed me some of the incredible mysteries of our ancient history, the great jewels of learning that lie in African travel, the power of music to transform one, the unity that exists in diversity and the way to present it to the media so as to bring about an increase in consciousness and awareness. His influence rubbed off on me. Jim had an incredible appreciation for the street theatre of life and particularly the unique life of an African City.
The jazz world opened its arms to me in Cape Town 1999. There was an ad on the radio for a jazz gig happening at the 'Kraal' in Gugulethu. The Kraal was a large venue in the township with a very long and well stocked bar. It used to be known as the Yellow Door. It holds a mythological status in the history of Southern African and Cape jazz for what lies beyond the Yellow Door was often a baptism of jazz.
Winston Mankunku Ngozi and his big band were playing South African jazz. They kept a giant hall packed with jazz lovers, totally entertained, totally enthused, totally liberated. Where there is liberation, there is freedom. All barriers are broken. This fun filled and freewheeling sound caught me, like a bear catching a salmon. Winston Mankunku was playing alongside his brother Thulie Ngozi (trumpet). They enjoyed an ego-free zone, which is the essence of Winston's music. Other musicians would shine and sparkle in his presence, such as Tete Mbambisa (piano) and Spencer Mbadu (bass). Mankunku was a very prolific composer and performer. After seeing him perform once I dedicated my career to jazz journalism. The jazz music that Winston Mankunku and the big band had played that night out at the Kraal had given me a sense of purpose. The tool I had at my disposal was a pen. South African jazz is intuitive. I began searching on the net for jazz journalism. The first jazz word I learnt was ‘free-wheeling.’ Together with Iain Harris we began a monthly series of columns for the Big Issue Magazine in Cape Town. Not knowing too much about the music, we studied the hats at first. We wrote...
Since its beginning, jazz has worn the panama hats of big-band swing, the stetsons and afro-berets of bebop, the inverted-Andy-caps of fusion, the colour-blaze brim of African, and the bandanas of smooth. And SA jazz follows this trend! Many musicians wear many different hats. Some of the horn players wear the peaks and dambuza's, some of the pianists wear fez's and 'sportis,' some of the bass players have got brimmed hats, some drummers floppy hats and others have no hat.
What does that prove? SA jazz learns, morphs, changes and remains fresh, always building on what has come before. Many new jazz names and albums popped up.
Winston Mankunku’s album 'Molo Africa' won the SAMA award for best traditional album. And Jonas Gwangwa continues with his golden touch. Multi-instrumentalist Zim Ngqawana touched our hearts with his wild and adventurous jazz, Hugh Masekela’s 1997 album 'Black to the Future' shows a glorification of the popular music of youth culture, mixing up the old and the new, mbaqanga, jazz and kwaito and McCoy Mrubata, Paul Hanmer, Moses Molelekwa and Marcus Wyatt all ignited the scene with fresh and often funky interpretations of old styles with new sounds, acknowledging the past and experimenting with the cutting edge...
From the profound melodies to the wild and free playing, swift syncopation and raging expression of virtuosos with a furious edge and enthusiasm for improvisation; this music is heard, lived and loved. The South African sound brings all these influences together with its own individuality, its own style, its own invention. There is one foot in the roots and the other in the passion; creating this everlasting raw, fresh and innovative sound of African jazz